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1036693826_8a11e4ac03_oThe Christian organization Answers in Genesis, known for its rigorous campaigning against “secular evolutionists” through young earth creationist propaganda, has been struggling financially over the years to raise enough funds to build its $150 million Noah’s Ark theme park. But thankfully Kentucky, one of the few states that can apparently compete with North Carolina when it comes to flawed budget and tax policy, has come to the rescue by approving $18 million in new tax breaks for the project. Meanwhile, 27% of the state’s children live in poverty.

Unless the state means to show blatant religious favoritism, which would obviously be unconstitutional (if not, perhaps, terribly surprising), we will just assume that the officials behind the subsidy are intending to bring in more tourists in order to promote economic development.

So, given that as a backdrop (and awkwardly sidestep the question of whether state-funded creationist propaganda is good for the scientific literacy of the general populace) let’s assess whether this is a fiscally responsible plan.

Initial signs are not terribly encouraging. Read More

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DSC_3624On Sunday at Pullen Church in Raleigh at an event sponsored by the National Farm Worker Ministry, two members of the British Parliament–Ian Lavery and James Sheridan–joined American farmworker leader Baldemar Velasquez to speak to over 200 supporters about their current tour and mission in the U.S. to fight for justice among farmworkers.

Velasquez is the founder and President of FLOC, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, which has been doing battle with R.J. Reynolds in an effort to force its hand into complying with humanitarian standards. R.J. Reynolds, a corporation headquartered in Winston-Salem, has consistently done nothing to prevent their contract farms from oppressing farmworkers. These human rights abuses include abject poverty, racism, sexual harassment, nicotine poisoning, intimidation and threats, exposure to lethal pesticides, miserable housing conditions in labor camps, and the denial of basic human rights and labor protections. As Ian Lavery noted after seeing their living conditions, “rapists and murderers” have it better in prison than many of these hard-working farm laborers. With fury and passion he repeatedly said, “it’s not right.”

British American Tobacco (BAT), a multinational corporation based out of London, owns 42% of R.J. Reynolds. Two members of BAT are also on the RJR board of directors. Because of this business relationship between the UK and the US’s second-largest tobacco company, the British Parliament can play a role in effecting change. Lavery and Sheridan told the audience at Pullen that as they have toured tobacco farms throughout the South, they have been brought to tears on multiple occasions. Both expressed shock at the intimidation, mistreatment, harassment, and poverty they have witnessed. Lavery spoke of a woman he met holding a baby in her arms who told him of how her employer had demanded sex if she wanted to keep her job and get paid. He spoke of a man who had lost a finger who was left bleeding for an hour before his employer was forced to take him to the hospital.

Though at times painful, it was incredibly inspirational to see and hear from two foreign political leaders who had come so far to tour the tobacco farms of the American South. Both men deserve enormous credit for their selfless efforts to expose the horrific conditions of farm laborers who, as Lavery stated, are often not actually “living” but merely “existing.” As he also rightly noted, while there may be poverty in every country on earth, there is no excuse for this level of poverty and dehumanization in the wealthiest nation on the planet. Indeed, the one thing that struck both men the most on their tour was the degree of blatant dehumanization on the contract farms and in the labor camps — dehumanization that would outrage any fair-minded person in any country.

The bottom line: As desperate (and even hopeless) as the situation may seem, there is cause for hope. Last night, nearly 200 activists left the event fired up to reach out to their fellow North Carolinians and demand that they respond in a morally appropriate manner by joining the fight for basic human rights for their suffering sisters and brothers. As Baldemar Velasquez stated, at this point, the immediate goal is not victory but merely to put up a good fight. Only when people of good will begin to stand up and fight against the injustices that plague the nation’s farmworkers will we begin to realize the kind of small victories that can, ultimately, lead to fundamental change.

Let’s get to work.

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In a recent interview with Fox News, Senator Ted Cruz showed a display of false compassion for the refugee children at our border, stating that the more compassionate response is to send them back. He even accused Democrats of actually wanting them to be “maimed and brutalized.” Check out the video below:

At least Wallace questions the veracity of the argument before letting Cruz drone on. Does it get any lower than this?

In another Fox News interview, Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress from a megachurch in Dallas shared his opinion on the border crisis, going so far as to argue that one is being compassionate and imitating Jesus by building a fence to keep these children out. He compared it to building a fence around your pool so that your neighbor’s child doesn’t wander in, fall, and drown in your pool. Because apparently, letting children into the US for relief from the danger they are running from is even more dangerous than sending them back.

It is one thing to send children back out of blatantly selfish interest in protecting the border. It is quite another thing to call it “compassionate.”

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b159f2c3387f4514ba61654e40559275-Photo-3-728x455The President has decided to bypass Congress in an effort to respond to the immigration crisis at the southern border but not in all the right ways. While the Border Patrol has failed in treating its detainees in a humanitarian manner–as seen here–no action has been taken in response either by the Obama administration or other government officials. Just as bad, a Border Patrol Agent has been able to deny any mistreatment of children without any threat of investigation. The ACLU has filed a complaint and is still waiting for a response.

Obama’s response to the crisis is neither deportation nor an open door to American freedom. Instead he is requesting $3.7 billion to delay deportations while keeping more than 50,000 children in detention. Some of that money is to go toward prosecuting drug smuggling networks–one group largely responsible for the influx of immigrant children. In all of this Obama hopes to deter draconian efforts to kick out and abandon these children to the violent and dangerous places they were running from.

The President has the opportunity, extended by Texas governor Rick Perry, to see the humanitarian crisis for himself but has declined. Yet he is still visiting Texas to raise funds and discuss the humanitarian crisis at a roundtable discussion in Dallas with Perry and other leaders and officials. As a result, both Republicans and Democrats will be disappointed with Obama’s actions.

A humanitarian crisis such as this constitutes a moral and ethical dilemma that calls for higher action beyond petty power politics. This is not simply a matter of homeland security but the valuable lives of suffering children who pose no real threat against the U.S. Let’s hope our government officials make the right decisions to respond to this humanitarian disaster in a humanitarian way. Delaying deportation is a good place to start, but preventing their abuse while in detention would be progress too.

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image4Yesterday in Raleigh, El Pueblo, Inc. joined forces with several volunteers to hold a vigil for the approximately 60,000 children currently attempting to escape the poverty, violence, and fear of their hometowns in Central America to find relief, security, and freedom in the U.S. As Mike Figueras of El Pueblo informed me, for each child’s body found in the desert, there are about 10 more still lost. (A new report from the Immigration Policy Center shines more light on the dire situation).

Several people spoke at the vigil including staff members of El Pueblo, volunteers, and people representing We Are Raleigh. As Mike explained to me, they hope to do much more than the vigil. He stated that they don’t want this issue pushed to the wayside as these children’s lives are precious and in danger. El Pueblo will also be making efforts to inform and persuade those who are eligible for registration so they can vote. This effort needs all the help it can get.

One purpose of the vigil was prayer, practiced silently as everyone gathered in a circle for a “moment of silence.” One female speaker stated that faith in God and prayer are important to them as they no longer feel that can trust or rely on the government. It is a sad day when the leaders of the “free world” struggle to do the morally right thing by providing relief and help to thousands of poor and suffering children.

Another speaker made a great point when he informed the group that the Statue of Liberty itself has a plaque with the following words engraved: Read More