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Newsletters worth your time

or some years now, I won’t say how many, I’ve been receiving a number of issue-oriented newsletters that I find useful for the information they convey and the values they reflect. Belatedly it occurs to me that it may be helpful to others if I list and briefly describe some of these publications. Take that "if" away.

n Pride of place goes to the FCNL Washington Newsletter, published eleven times a year by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The FCNL defines itself as "a Quaker lobby in the public interest" which "seeks to follow the leadings of the Spirit as it speaks for itself and for like-minded Friends."

You don’t go to a Quaker newsletter expecting jazzy language or juicy news beats. What you get from FCNL’s newsletter is careful judgments expressed in plain and measured terms and covering a range of public-policy issues. Naturally FCNL’s opinions reflect the distinctive Quaker ethic, but the newsletter’s judgments on, say, the military budget or the use of sanctions as a tool of foreign policy are not overdetermined by pacifist tenets; the same conclusions could be grounded in the social teachings of Catholicism.

Another example is the content of a February, 1999 issue on "Economic Justice and Systemic Racism." Among other things, it explains with an amplitude of data why it matters that so few justices of the U.S. Supreme Court hire women or "minorities" to serve as their law clerks. The "clerks" aren’t there to keep the filing system in order; they have first crack at deciding the worthiness of appeals from the lower courts and they take part in the drafting of opinions, so that their backgrounds and life experiences matter. Of the eighty-two clerks hired by Chief Justice William Rehnquist over twenty-seven years, exactly one was a person of color; eleven were women. Case proved. In this instance and most others, the writers and editors achieve remarkable clarity in brief compass.

The FCNL Washington Newsletter is free on request, but donations are invited; 245 Second Street N.E., Washington, DC 20002-5795.

n If the Friends’ letter is strong on analysis, the next two on my list are more obviously the products of true believers in the causes they support. CACP News Notes is published by Catholics Against Capital Punishment, based in Arlington, Va. (P.O. Box 3125, 22203). News Notes is, to my mind, top-heavy with papal and episcopal statements opposing the death penalty, but some of the statements are indeed eloquent. The newsletter also tracks legislative developments across the United States, lists future national meetings and conferences on capital punishment, prods pastors into following the lead of their bishops, deplores Catholic officeholders who support the death penalty, and runs quotes like this one: "The minute they start executing rich people, the death penalty will end."

CACP asks but does not require a membership fee of $25. Its 1998 financial report lists income of $9,813.59 and expenditures of $11,108.82. Clearly, these spendthrifts need your help. So join.

n I have a problem with the next newsletter on my list-Action for Universal Health Care. My problem is not that Action is an advocacy publication but that it too often preaches to the choir, relying on inflated rhetoric to rally the troops and on short cuts in argument to prove its case.

It may be true (I think it is) that the challenge of delivering adequate-or-better health care to all Americans at a sustainable cost is an immensely complex problem best dealt with by a (relatively) simple solution: a single-payer system. But while that may be obvious to members of the Universal Health-Care Action Network (UHCAN!), publishers of Action, it’s still heresy to most Americans, including many disillusioned with "managed care." Persuasion is called for.

Action remains on my list because along with its flaws it also has considerable virtues. The most recent issue in my file (March-April, 1999) front-pages excerpts from a speech by Congressman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) that includes a reasonable quota of relevant data within a framework of well-argued political theory. Also excerpted is a Business Week piece by Robert Kuttner alerting business interests to the higher-than-necessary cost of using the "fiercely entrepreneurial health industrial complex" to provide health insurance for their employees. The issue also contains a brief passage from a Nation editorial; a page of "Resources That Work"; and relevant news items from Washington and "the grass roots."

UHCAN! requests a membership/subscription donation of $30. Address: 2800 Euclid Avenue #520, Cleveland, OH 44115-2418.

n Initiatives, published six to eight times a year by the National Council for the Laity, has a narrow focus on a very wide subject: how to be Christian when you’re not in church-that is, when you’re doing your thing as a lawyer or a laborer, a corporate CEO or a middle manager, a nurse or an architect or a teacher or a cook or a parent, whatever; and also whether your milieu is a high rise or a suburban neighborhood, on Main Street or Elm Street, wherever.

For the National Center and for Initiatives, the church is "the people of God in service to the world"-a definition and an attitude derived from Vatican II, but, in the view of the center’s founders, much neglected following the council in favor of "in-house" concerns: birth control, parish democracy, ordination of women, the abortion wars. The Center’s "primary objective," said Initiatives editor William J. Droel in a 1998 interview, "is to maintain a network of people, primarily Catholic, who are really serious about connecting faith and work."

Along with tightly written mini-essays fleshing out this theme, Initiatives runs a multitude of brief segments under the running head "Taking the Initiative" followed by subheads: "Against Sweatshops," "In Higher Education," "On Worker Rights," "Among Health-Care Professionals," "Among Law Students," "In Science," "In the Restaurant," etc. These reports are second-hand, drawn from books, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. From these sources Initiatives puts together an impressive assemblage of "initiatives," mostly but not exclusively Catholic, all aimed at bringing people together in the trades, the professions, and the community to promote social justice. The idea is to spread ideas.

The National Center for the Laity, 10 E. Pearson Street, Chicago, IL 60611, asks a donation of $25, "more or less," for a membership and subscription.

n Confession time: (A) The American Feminist is not a newsletter but a quarterly twenty-eight-page magazine published by Feminists for Life of America. (B) I haven’t been a subscriber but will be before you read this, having been persuaded by the year’s worth of back copies FFLA sent at my request when this piece was germinating.

The organization’s name and its slogan, "Pro Woman, Pro Life," declare its main focus, opposition to abortion, but also make clear that its members share the rest of the feminist agenda. This dual commitment is evident as well in the magazine, and (I assume) helps make it credible to anyone inclined to regard prolifers as throwbacks. Also evident is the magazine’s reliance on factual data, experiential testimony, and well-phrased analyses of abortion-related issues that can’t be dismissed as expressions of inherited, unexamined religious beliefs. It turns out that there is still a great deal to be said about this subject from a feminist perspective, some of it having to do with practical ways of organizing to convey salient truths about the procedure and to provide alternatives.

The magazine is professionally edited and laid out. Each issue explores a single theme; for example, "Work vs. Family," "Victory over Violence," "Remarkable Prolife Women." Regular departments include a legislative update, news briefs, letters, and "Herstory"-in each case, a one-page sketch of the life and work of an abortion opponent of recent or distant times. A statement published in some issues declares the organization’s opposition to the death penalty and assisted suicide.

FFLA asks $25 for a one-year membership that includes a subscription to The American Feminist. Address: 733 15th Street N.W., Suite 110, Washington, DC 20005.

Published in the 1999-06-04 issue: 

The late Robert G. Hoyt was senior writer at Commonweal from 1988 to 2002.

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