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By T. RAY McJUNKINS

Earlier this month, I was privileged to join about 250 leaders from the National Gamaliel Network in Washington, D.C., for a well-organized and powerful two-day leadership retreat. Those in attendance represented a portion of the 1 million person network aimed at stopping lawmakers from making cuts to safety-net programs which will impact the lives of low- and middle-income families in our country.

Those who carried President Obama to victory in the November election voted for a plan to put people back to work, rebuild this country and invest in our communities again. With fiscal cliff negotiations stalled, Congress now faces urgent budget decisions.  These decisions can harm the economy and our families, or put people back to work and grow the economy, all of which will have a long lasting impact on our communities.

While in D.C., we had the chance to impact those decisions as we met with members of Congress and the White House.  My contingent met with U.S. Congressman James Clyburn, Federal Railroad Administration Civil Rights Director Calvin Gibson and staffers from the offices of Senator Durbin, Congressman Schock and Congressman Shimkus.

We carried the message imprinted on our hearts by our faith.  We believe that we have a sacred trust to act with compassion for the poor and most vulnerable among us and to promote a vision for a shared future that serves the common good and provides economic security and equality for all. For this reason, the message taken to both Congress and the White House focused on rebuilding the middle class, protecting low-income people and strengthening our economy by investing in jobs not cuts. We believe that any budget agreement adopted must include the following:

1. GROWING the ECONOMY by CREATING JOBS. Congress must prioritize job creation and economic growth. The budget must include steps to spur private investment and create target investments in infrastructure and education that will grow the economy and create quality jobs.

2.  NO CUTS to MEDICARE, MEDICAID, SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS or shifting cost to beneficiaries or the states. Millions of seniors, children and people with disabilities depend on these vital programs, and they must not be cut. They are the cornerstone of our nation’s healthcare, retirement systems and a promise made to future generations.

3.  NO CUTS to the SAFETY and VITAL SERVICES for LOW-INCOME PEOPLE.  The fiscal cliff cannot be an excuse to slash vital safety net programs. The budget cannot be balanced on the backs of seniors, low-income families and vulnerable children.

4.  STOPPING the SEQUESTER. Sequestration will harm our fragile economy; it will result in substantial loss of jobs in both the public and private sectors and will make harmful cuts in vital services needed to promote health, development plus economic security for people and communities that have already sustained deficit reduction losses.

5.  REQUIRING the WEALTHIEST and CORPORATIONS to PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE, starting with ending tax cuts for the WEALTHIEST TWO PERCENT.   Securing substantial new revenue from those with the greatest ability to contribute will allow us to meet deficit reduction goals, chart a more sustainable fiscal path forward, invest in the job creation measures our economy needs and protect the programs and services that families depend upon.

Rev. T. Ray McJunkins is the president of Faith Coalition for the Common Good (FCCG), an affiliate of Gamaliel, a grassroots network of non-partisan, faith-based organizations in 17 U.S. states, South Africa and the United Kingdom.  The goal of the network is to organize and empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives. For more information, call 544-2297 or visit www.faithcoalition-il.org.

This article originally appeared in the State Journal-Register on December 15, 2012 and is available here: http://www.sj-r.com/top-stories/x65615533/Message-taken-to-Congress-White-House-Provide-economic-security-equality-for-all?zc_p=0

Americans today are working the phones and pounding the pavement to oppose cuts to the safety net. House Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to force a vote on a bill to prevent a tax hike on the middle-class. President Obama says he won't budge on his demand that taxes be raised on the wealthy.

People are working phone banks in Las Vegas, lobbying their congressional representatives in Ohio and holding a visibility in New Hampshire. Some are calling Congress. (You can do it by clicking here.)

As Congress continues to negotiate with President Obama for a budget deal, preparations are being made for a National Day of Action against cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Hundreds of events are planned for Dec. 10.

Yesterday, protesters jammed the atrium of a Senate office building and held a prayer vigil. The Wall Street Journal reports,

About 300 representatives of the faith-based Gamaliel grassroots network and Our DC, a jobs-advocacy group, held a protest and prayer vigil outside the Hart Senate office building Wednesday, urging congressional lawmakers and the Obama administration to ensure they keep the poor from bearing government spending cuts. 
Gamaliel, which says it has a network reaching 1 million people, aims at stopping lawmakers from making cuts to safety-net programs like Social Security. It says tax cuts for high-income earners should be allowed to expire at year’s end, as scheduled, arguing that the wealthy should be required to contribute to deficit reduction.

Today, television ads against cuts to the safety net and education went up in Virginia, Missouri, Ohio and Montana. They were sponsored by the NEA, SEIU and AFSCME.

This article originally appeared on Teamster Nation on December 7, 2012 and is available here: http://teamsternation.blogspot.com/2012/12/nationwide-protests-dec-10-against-cuts.html?m=1

WASHINGTON–With fiscal cliff negotiations stalled, some community groups are courting God to intervene.

About 300 representatives of the faith-based Gamaliel grassroots network and Our DC, a jobs-advocacy group, held a protest and prayer vigil outside the Hart Senate office building Wednesday, urging congressional lawmakers and the Obama administration to ensure they keep the poor from bearing government spending cuts.

Gamaliel, which says it has a network reaching 1 million people, aims at stopping lawmakers from making cuts to safety-net programs like Social Security. It says tax cuts for high-income earners should be allowed to expire at year’s end, as scheduled, arguing that the wealthy should be required to contribute to deficit reduction.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Post on December 5, 2012 and is available here: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/12/05/fiscal-cliff-protesters-hold-prayer-vigil/

More than 300 faith, labor and community leaders from 17 states held a prayer vigil Wednesday focused on the fiscal cliff. Brought together by Gamaliel, a national community organizing network, attendees are calling on Congress and President Barack Obama to solve the fiscal debate in a way that "prioritizes investment over cuts to programs and taxes, and that doesn't place undue burden on churches and other community institutions to fulfill government's role of providing a social safety net.
This article originally appeared in Politico Influence on December 3, 2012 and is available here:

Reported by: Gina Mangieri

Developers competing to build supertowers on state land in Kakaako differ on whether they plan to rent or sell the units at a project originally intended to create workforce housing.

The bidders for the 690 Pohukaina project presented their final offers today, though much of the public testimony cautioned about opening the doors to building what could dwarf Honolulu's tallest structures by 50 percent.

Since putting out its request for proposals earlier this year, the Hawaii Community Development Authority got two final bids to turn state land in Kakaako into possibly the tallest living complex Hawaii has ever seen -- up to 650 feet instead of the current 400-foot height limit.

"It's hard, development is difficult," said Jon Wallenstrom of Forest City, "so if you're going to do that much work, we would prefer not to sell it, we'll keep it, we'll operate it, we'll rent it.

"That's Forest City's plan, a single-tower structure with just under half the units at "rent-restricted" or affordable-unit rates starting around $1,700 a month, the rest at market rate.

"For the top floors we have about 24 units that are going to be luxury penthouses,” Wallenstrom said. “Still workforce, but it's a different workforce.

"The other bidder, Lend Lease, has a two-tower plan and would sell the units.

"The market study told us there was no market demand for rental units above the 140 percent of the area median income," said Richard Hawes of Lend Lease.

Their units would sell for about $286,000 for a one bedroom one bath, on up to the largest units at three bedrooms two baths, and no luxury units.

Both projects would cost about a half-billion dollars to build. Both would employ hundreds in construction.

The final height limit relies on approval of what's called a transit oriented development overlay in HCDA rules, geared toward allowing higher density in the urban core.

"What you are trying to do is commendable," said Rev. Bob Nakata of FACE – Faith Action for Community Equity – in public testimony.

"Something like this will help to justify moving ahead with the rail system.

"But other public testimony warned against going taller.

"A structure like this will affect Kakaako, whether it's traffic, strain on infrastructure,” said area business owner Dexter Okada.

"The past tells us that such exemptions soon become the norm," testified Duane Preble, UH professor emeritus.

"These new supertowers would be an intrusion on the beauty of our city," said Bob Loy of the Outdoor Circle, "that must be stopped."

The HCDA is holding two open houses on the project in the coming weeks ahead of the December 13 final vote to choose the winner. The open houses are Thurs. Nov. 29, 3-7p.m. and Sat. Dec. 1, 9am-1pm, at HCDA offices 461 Cooke Street.

This story was originally reported on KHON2 on November 20, 2012; video and text are available here: http://www.khon2.com/news/local/story/Final-offers-presented-for-Kakaako-supertower/FEk3_1bnWk6S9bAUP260kQ.cspx