The Common Good

Outrageous, Shameful, and Intolerable

Sojomail - July 16, 2003

Quote of the Week Mark Twain: Astonish people
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Outrageous, shameful, and intolerable
By the Numbers 400 Americans could save 8 million lives annually
Politically Connect New lords of Africa
Soul Works Bruce Cockburn: Love loves you too
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Funny Business A Macedonian nun's tale
Culture Watch Mel Gibson looks to Religious Right for movie on Jesus
Web Scene Baghdad-based occupation watch center | Daily Palestinian life | Calling all puppet masters

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"Always do the right thing. It'll gratify some and astonish the rest."

- Mark Twain

Outrageous, shameful, and intolerable
by Jim Wallis

Jim WallisOutrageous, shameful, and intolerable are the words that come to mind as two news stories recently hit the front pages. The first was about the exclusion of 7 million low-income working families - and their 12 million children - from the child tax credit that other families are receiving. The second was the latest IRS annual report, showing huge increases in the wealth of America's 400 richest taxpayers.

The connection between the two stories was impossible to miss, yet most in the political and media world did. But this time, the moral contradictions may be too great to ignore. This time, the deepening injustice of America's growing wealth chasm may be impossible to justify. It's becoming a moral, and even religious, issue.

The child tax credit debacle is a parable, revealing a spiritual lesson. Most of the country now knows that in a $350 billion tax cut primarily benefiting the wealthiest of Americans, 1% of that amount - $3.5 billion - could not be found for families who struggle mightily just to get by. The claim was that more money was needed for reductions in capital gains tax rates.

When the deed was revealed, the Senate quickly fixed the omission in a way that costs the Treasury nothing. But the Republican leadership of the House, seemingly oblivious to the political damage feared by the White House, brazenly tacked the low-income family child tax credit onto another $82 billion tax cut - primarily for wealthier families - using the restoration of the measure for poor families to further cut taxes on the rich. Like I said, outrageous.

The issue remains deadlocked, and some Republicans have actually admitted their tactic is an attempt to kill the child tax credit restoration altogether. As checks are in the mail for middle-class families, low-income working parents are still left out.

Last week, Call to Renewal joined in a press conference on Capitol Hill to urge President Bush to help pass the Senate bill. While he supports restoring the child tax credit for low-income families, he has yet to unequivocally lay down the law to the House leadership. During the press conference, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the legislation to restore the child tax credit, spoke out on behalf of low-income families.

I also spoke, along with John Carr of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Episcopal Bishop of Washington John Chane, and Dave Donaldson of We Care America. At the press conference, we released a letter to the president signed by nearly 30 religious leaders. Faith leaders are not going away on this issue.

Yet, referring to the tax benefit for poor families, Majority Leader Tom DeLay has said: "There are a lot of other things that are more important than this." Like I said, shameful.

The other story showed dramatically what is happening to the distribution of income in America. In its annual tax analysis for 2000, the IRS reported that the top 400 taxpayers - only 0.00014 percent of the population - now take in more than 1 percent of the total income of all taxpayers. Meantime, their tax payments plummeted, mostly due to substantial reductions in capital gains tax rates. In 2000, the average income of the top 400 increased to $174 million, while the average income for the bottom 90% was $27,000. Even The Wall Street Journal calls it "So much money in so few hands. ...a startling accumulation of wealth at the very top of the income pyramid."

Yet every time this growing disparity is raised, Republicans immediately call it class warfare. There is indeed class warfare raging in this country, but not from those who speak for the poorest Americans. It is a class warfare of tax cuts and budget priorities that make the rich richer while further decimating low- and middle-income Americans. For many in the religious community across the theological spectrum, that inequality is becoming, like I said, intolerable.

A paraphrase of the Bible by evangelical pastor Eugene Peterson, titled "The Message," contains some truth-telling from the prophets Amos and Isaiah about our current situation:

"People hate this kind of talk.
Raw truth is never popular."

"Doom to you who legislate evil,
who make laws that make victims-
Laws that make misery for the poor,
that rob my destitute people of dignity,
Exploiting defenseless widows,
taking advantage of homeless children."

It's the kind of talk we don't hear much these days in America. But we should. If those prophets were around today, they would surely be preaching about outrageous, shameful, and intolerable modern-day laws that enrich the wealthy and make misery for the poor.

For Call to Renewal's press release and letter to President Bush, see

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400 Americans could save 8 million lives annually

*The top 400 income earners in the U.S. had an average income of $174 million each, or a combined income of $69 billion in the year 2000.

*That $69 billion is more than the combined incomes of the 166 million people living in the four countries that George Bush visited last week: Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and Botswana.

*In 1995, the top 400 income earners paid almost 30 percent of their income in taxes.

*After the Bush tax cuts and other factors, the proportion will be less than 18 percent.

*Based on their income in the year 2000, that tax savings translates to nearly $7 billion.

*A World Health Organization commission determined that if rich countries contributed a total of $25 billion, the increased investments in disease prevention and treatment could save 8 million people from death each year in poor countries around the globe.

*The U.S. share would be $8 billion, given the size of its economy in relation to other donors.

*Source: Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in The New York Times, July 9, 2003.

SojoBlendDoes your church, office, or school serve fair trade coffee?

There's an appalling imbalance in the coffee industry today. While Folgers' sales topped $1 billion and executives at Folgers' parent company, Procter & Gamble, pocketed nearly $37 million in 2000, the average coffee farmer earns about $300 a year.

Something needs to change! Sojourners - in partnership with PuraVida - provides SojoBlend coffee (fair trade, organic, and shade grown). PuraVida guarantees coffee farmers a set price at least four times higher than the industry average, regardless of world price fluctuations. They also go one step further and contribute 100 percent of profits to grassroots ministries in Costa Rica.

  • Ask your pastor to promote justice while brewing the day's coffee at church events.
  • Ask your employer to wake up workers with coffee that makes a difference.
  • Ask your school to offer a responsible coffee option for all-night study sessions.

For more information, e-mail, call (800) 714-7474 x235, or visit .

New lords of Africa
by Saskia Sassen

U.S. investment in oil production [in Africa] is being presented as a tool for development. This is not the first time this has happened, so we have some evidence on the matter. Again, the fine print does not look as good as the headlines. Oil has been a devastating fact for development in Africa: It has concentrated wealth and produced disincentives for any other type of development. Nor has it helped democracy, since entrenched elites lose much more than office if they lose control over the government. The economic shadow effect of oil is largely negative, and it all winds up creating more poverty. Oil-rich Nigeria and its 100 million poor are exhibit number one.

To read the entire feature, go to:,3604,994216,00.html

Love loves you too
by Bruce Cockburn

Some people get to make the news
Some people get to say what's true
Everybody's got to find their own way through
But if you love, then love loves you too.

Some people get to fly by night
Some people get to shine a light
Everybody's got to find their way through
But if you love, then love loves you too.

Some of us hunger for the finer things
Some lust for power like ancient kings
Some have to leave behind everything they thought they knew
Some people don't know how much trouble they can brew

Some take the burden of another's pain
Some spend forever for a moment's gain
Everybody's got to find their way through
But if you love, then love loves you too.

*From Bruce Cockburn, "Dart to the Heart" (1994)

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SojoMail readers hit reply

Linda Grant writes from East Windsor, Connecticut:

Thanks for David Batstone's article on obesity in America. I am struggling daily with this issue in my own life and it is becoming increasingly more troubling to me in my spiritual life. The American ideal of a chicken in every pot still is not true, but the influence of our religion of excess in all we do continues to flourish. Why is the Wesleyan concept of doing all the good we can by all the means we can to everyone we can as long as we ever can so hard to follow? How important is that second (third?) television when thousands die of starvation and disease each day? God help us to overcome this sin.


Mohammad Yusuf Dadani writes from South Amboy, New Jersey:

While I am a practicing Muslim, your SojoMail postings give me an insight into what Christians with conscience are thinking about. Regarding the article on gluttony, I thought it would be pertinent to share with you one of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) in this regard: He advised his followers to fill one-third of their stomachs with food, one-third with water, and leave the remaining one-third empty for easy breathing. He is also reported to have advised that one should eat only when hungry and stop eating while still a little bit hungry. The lesson: Eat less than your appetite and eat only when you really need to.

I am sure that if we all followed the above teaching, we would all be better off both in terms of physical and spiritual health.


Loretta Bandera writes from White Plains, New York:

I don't think people realize that what they eat affects not only their health but the health of the planet. Seventy percent of the grain grown in the U.S. is fed to animals. Many pounds of feed and gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of meat. Reducing consumption of animal products would result in a more efficient use of natural resources and less pesticide use. Supporting local, small-scale farmers at farmer's markets helps the local economy and environment. We have a responsibility to eat in a way that does the least harm.


Moira Langston writes from the United Kingdom:

I was disappointed with David Batstone's article on gluttony, as I would have expected something more reasoned. Research is now showing quite clearly that many of us are in effect enslaved by the food we've grown up eating, and that our biochemistry is all out of kilter - that sugar and other refined foods have a similar effect on certain people that alcohol and heroin do (often the same type of people and it's only by the grace of God that they haven't fallen into these more dangerous traps). If you'd like some more info, do have a look at:

This Web site not only has important "science" data but also feedback from people whose lives have been transformed - that to me is the most convincing evidence, and I would love to see Sojourners, who is all for championing freedom, at the forefront of bringing the good news to those of us labouring under the guilt of feeling we have no will power. Then we will find out who we really are (without the "sugar fog" we're under just now) and know what sins we genuinely need to deal with, and we will have the resources to do so. There's a whole culture of thinking overweight people are just weak-willed, but people have moved on a lot in how they view alcoholism, and how it can be dealt with, that I'm hopeful people will start to see that sugar addiction works in a very similar way, and that those suffering with it need just as much support.


Robert Henderson writes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

Last week's "By the Numbers: Weighty Worries" on obesity reminded me of a question that seems a natural one for Sojourners to address: Is there a relationship between poverty and obesity? My question applies not to the hungry, but, rather, to those who have enough income to provide for basic food needs but can't afford healthier foods. On a tight budget it seems easier to satisfy hunger by buying unhealthy food - fast food, for example - than healthier foods. When obesity and poor eating habits contribute to so many health problems and health care is often unavailable to the working poor, it seems the relatively higher cost of healthy food could be at the root of many serious problems.


Mark Hurty writes from Moline, Illinois:

I was intrigued by the note from Jimmy Lee of New York in the July 9 SojoMail: "Where is the empirical evidence that mergers have been bad for us - in the media especially? I will support it if you can convince me. I used to be an investment banker focusing on mergers in the media industry."

His comment illustrates the extent to which Americans do not understand the value of a rich, diverse, open forum of ideas. Here is a man who had a professional interest in media mergers who claims not to understand the value of diversity in media ownership. Perhaps Jimmy, like most Americans, does not perceive the extent to which we are manipulated by media corporations who have a huge stake in the political fortunes of men like George W. Bush.

The War on Iraq played on CNN, Fox, ABC, etc., as prime-time entertainment. Meticulously coiffured anchors and anchorettes delivered breathless platitudes on our success against Iraqi fighters. Carefully staged events, like the toppling of the large statue of Saddam Hussein, were designed to reinforce the Bush administration's claims that the average Iraqi citizen was eager for this invasion. The network's embedded reporters dutifully reported what the Defense Department told them they could report. And now that the war is "over" the corporate media seems eager to give President Bush a pass on the extent to which he played fast and loose with the truth about the intelligence he used to sell his war to the American public. CNN leaves unquestioned the administration's claim that Bush didn't know the documents he used as the basis for his State of the Union claim that Iraq was attempting to buy nuclear material in Africa were forged. Apparently it never dawned on any of the reporters covering the story to question how the administration came to be ignorant of the quality of the intelligence. Obviously, questioning the president makes him look bad (either he lied or he was uninformed), so CNN does its best to gloss over the story. As control of the media continues to become more concentrated, the diverse voices that will ensure an honest, open debate on issues of critical importance will be silenced.


Penny Brown writes from Cedar Falls, Iowa:

Merging media is a much more serious procedure than merging phone companies, etc. News can also be filtered so effectively that people are unaware of bills that are coming up in Congress or legislatures; popular opinion can be skewed; justifiable criticism is never shown; voters can get only positive reports from candidate A while candidate B gets all negative reports, thus manipulating the results of an election (just in case the Supreme Court is unavailable). The possibilities are endless. One of the first things Hitler did when he gained power was to gain control of all the media, thus the Germans thought they were winning the war until they could see with their own eyes what was happening.


Fred Behnken writes from Midland, Texas:

Mark de Roo of Holland, Michigan, is correct that support for the poor in the U.S is "more than just financial support"; however, the simple recipe that the poor should "take responsibility for themselves, to see the merits of hard work and accomplishment" presumes that a just, living wage is paid for work. Government, churches, and every citizen have a responsibility to: 1) ensure that adequate means are available for concerted effort (i.e., education and job training) that will permit a move up the wage ladder; and 2) ensure that even the lowest "rung" on the wage ladder for a 40-50 hour work week provides the needed income for housing, food, transportation, and medical care. Without the assurance of a just, living wage, the working poor and their children will sink deeper into poverty.


Francis Coyle writes from Chapel Hill, North Carolina:

Anne Yohn's "Communion" just made me wiggle with delight. A real prayer. When our informal poetry discussion group resumes this fall, it will be one of the first things I offer. And imagine, from a fellow citizen from our so often benighted North Carolina.


Stephan Melancon writes from Loyalton, California:

I followed the link to [from last week's Webscene] more out of curiosity than anything else. There are so many organizations, Catholic and other, that can better lead people toward the kind of faith and action necessary to heal our world. Futurechurch and so many other angry, nominally Catholic organizations demanding change will never achieve anything lasting or important. The main reason: They lack humility.

The women who cry out and demand to be admitted to the ministerial priesthood would do well to consider the words of John Paul II: "The distinction of roles in no way favors the superiority of one over the other: the best gift of all, which can and should be desired, is charity. In the Kingdom of God, the greatest are not the ministers, but the saints."


Thomas Pack writes from Ada, Oklahoma:

I enjoyed David Batstone's shedding of light on the child labor situation in Peru. While I'm from Oklahoma, I'm currently in Mendoza, Argentina, visiting friends. Argentina, even after last year's economic crisis, has the second-largest economy and arguably the most western culture in South America and the child labor situation here is deplorable. In light of Argentina's Independence Day (July 9), please keep the children of Argentina in your prayers along with those of Peru and the rest of the world.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

A Macedonian nun's tale

Outside a small Macedonian village close to the border between Greece and the former Yugoslavia, a lone Catholic nun keeps a quiet watch over a silent convent. When Sister Maria Cyrilla of the Order of the Perpetual Watch dies, the convent of St. Elias will be closed by the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Macedonia. She is the last caretaker of a site of significant historical developments spanning more than 2000 years.

At least Sister Maria, 53, enjoys excellent health. She walks 10 miles daily about the grounds of the convent, which once served as a base for the army of Attila the Hun. In more ancient times, a Greek temple to Eros, the God of love, occupied the hilltop site.

Historians say that Attila took over the old temple in 439 CE and used it as a base for his marauding army. The Huns are believed to have first collected and then destroyed a large gathering of Greek legal writs at the site. Scholars differ on why Attila had the valuable documents destroyed - either because he was barely literate and couldn't read them, or because they provided evidence of a democratic government that did not square with his own rule by fiat.

When the Greek church took over the site in the 15th century and the convent was built, church leaders ordered the pagan structure of Eros destroyed, so another Greek treasure was lost. Today, there is only the lone sister, watching over the Hun base, amidst the strife of the former Yugoslavia, and when she dies, that will be it.

That's where it stands: No Huns, no Writs, no Eros, and Nun left on base.

Mel Gibson looks to Religious Right for movie on Jesus

Filmmaker Mel Gibson, whose upcoming movie on the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus has drawn charges of anti-Semitism from Jewish and Catholic scholars, is shopping his film to a more receptive audience: evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, and Orthodox Jews.

On June 26, he surprised a group of 900 evangelical pastors meeting at the 9,200-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs with a four-minute trailer from "The Passion." That afternoon he also showed the entire film to about 30 Christian leaders at Focus on the Family, one of the nation's largest evangelical ministries.

To read the entire feature, link to:

*Baghdad-based occupation watch center

Given the current lack of information about Iraq and knowing that Iraq will receive increasingly less attention as media sources abandon the country for the newest "hot spot," an international coalition of peace and justice groups has launched the Baghdad-based International Occupation Watch Center. Link to:

*Daily Palestinian life

Through photographs and stories, PalestineToday shows the daily life of people living in the Occupied Territories of West Bank and Gaza. The site is a joint effort of Al-Watan Center in Al-Kalil and Nonviolence International to share information about Palestinians and Israelis working for peace in the region.

*Calling all puppet masters

Manipulate it, drag it around, add ghostly flesh, or remove the bones. The Human Wireframe is a marvel of Flash animation that lets you play puppeteer with a virtual man! Using a number of specific points of manipulation, you can move the ghost's wrists, ankles, knees, shoulders, or pelvis, and watch how his body reacts. Have some fun with this thing:

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