The Common Good

Partisan Fighting or Fighting Poverty?

Sojomail - November 5, 2003

Quote of the Week Mike Yaconelli on messy spirituality
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: Partisan fighting or fighting poverty?
Colombia Journal Seeds of peace
By the Numbers Latin American elites evaluate democracy
Signs of the Times This little piggy went to the West Bank
Culture Watch Social revolutionary, or just tacky?
Biz Ethics Corporate rights, human rights
Politically Connect Next Stop, Iran?
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply

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You and I are incomplete. I'm unfinished. I'm unfixed. And the reality is that's where God meets me is in the mess of my life, in the unfixedness, in the brokenness. I thought he did the opposite, he got rid of all that stuff. But if you read the Bible, if you look at it at all, constantly he was showing up in people's lives at the worst possible time of their life.

- Mike Yaconelli, from an interview in Christianity Today, August 5, 2002. Yaconelli, a popular Christian writer, speaker, and youth ministry leader, died last week.

Partisan fighting or fighting poverty?
by Jim Wallis

After nearly two years, legislation to provide some modest assistance for people in poverty has passed both houses of Congress. But a conference committee to reconcile the Senate's Charity Aid, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act with the House Charitable Giving Act is being held hostage by partisan politics.

Despite being approved earlier this year by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate, and despite Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's expressed support for the bill, partisanship has placed the CARE Act in jeopardy - and with it, the needs of poor people.

Democrats are preventing the CARE Act from going to conference with the House in protest against their systematic exclusion from conferences this year. In a break with congressional tradition, conferences have become Republican-only affairs, with no chance for substantive input from Democrats. Their complaint is valid, but this should not be the bill on which to make a stand. Unless this stance changes, provisions in the CARE Act to spur private charitable giving, fund programs to promote economic self-sufficiency for low-income families, help smaller social services providers be more successful, reduce barriers facing faith-based groups, and provide federal funding for important social service programs will remain stalled.

This situation is symbolic of how both parties have derailed efforts to reduce poverty because of political priorities. This summer, House Republicans prevented legislation to provide child tax credits to low-income families from being approved. The Democratic Party fought hard for the child tax credit, which would make a dent in poverty. However, the same Democratic leaders are now derailing the CARE Act, which also aims to meet needs of poor people. Allowing the CARE Act to proceed to conference provides an opportunity for Democratic leaders to show some consistency in their message on poverty. It gives them a chance to get beyond tactics that often give Congress a bad name among people of faith working "on the ground" with and for the poor every day. Will they take advantage of this chance?

This standoff also gives Republicans an opportunity to exhibit consistency in their message on compassion. There is a legitimate concern that a bill produced in conference would not include the CARE Act's Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) funding. After all, this funding is not included in the House's Charitable Giving Act and is not supported by the president. However, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), one of the CARE Act's authors, stated that "Senate conferees will fight hard for this increase." He has also noted that the child tax credit for low-income families will be addressed in conference - another priority for the faith community. Finally, he says he has "personally given the Democrats assurances that they will be given full participation in this conference."

These are strong assurances. They should be tested, and Sen. Santorum and others be held accountable. Those Republican leaders making these statements now need to do the tough work of getting commitments from those in their party who do not share their support for SSBG funding. And they should commit to making low-income child tax credit legislation, already approved 94-2 by the Senate, part of a conference bill. Both provisions will help reduce poverty. Firm commitments to support these provisions would make continued protest by the Democratic Party - a party that prides itself on support for social policy that helps the poor - untenable. At the same time, such commitments would foster credibility for the Republican Party, which prides itself on "compassionate conservatism."

If ever there was an opportunity to compromise in the name of helping poor people, this is it. But it will take real commitment from leaders of both parties. Commitments to helping the CARE Act proceed could be concrete and symbolic acts of concern for the poor by both parties. Putting aside partisanship to agree on legislation that promotes both charity and justice could be a step toward focusing on poverty - not politics. The Congress and the country need more focus on policy that helps "the least of these" - and less focus on politics that ignores them.

When will our nation's political leaders realize that for many people of faith across the country, poverty reduction is more important than partisanship?

For more on the CARE Act, please see:

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Seeds of peace
by Janna Bowman

The mother of a displaced family displays chili peppers grown in her resettled community.
CORDOBA, COLOMBIA - Families forced from their homes by the violence now work in fields alongside church members of a nearby town, tending acres of yucca, plantains, and corn through days of beating sun. The first harvest was a success, and they look forward to cultivating enough of these subsistence crops to provide for the needy in the church and the displaced communities they support.

Beyond just failing them, the current economic and political structures have victimized many Colombians. Government economic policies - largely benefiting international investors - and armed groups empty the landscape to further their own interests. Forced displacement of communities, often through intimidation or murder, is a common strategy for land consolidation. Proposals by the country's power brokers - the government, paramilitary and guerrilla groups, as well as big business and the agro industry - fail to address the needs of most citizens. In the absence of structural options for a dignified life and a sustainable peace, local groups are seeking to create their own, in connection with the national nonviolent movement for peace.

Read more at:


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Latin American elites evaluate democracy

Abundant Earth
In a series of polling by the University of Miami School of Business Administration and Zogby International, more than 500 "opinion leaders" in six Latin American countries were asked to rate their satisfaction with democracy in their country. Among the nations, Brazilian elites (71%) and Chilean elites (69%) are most satisfied with democracy in their nations.

Fewer than half of the elites in other nations say they are satisfied, including: Argentina (49%), Colombia (42%), Mexico (38%), and Venezuela (11%).

When asked to rate their confidence in public institutions, Latin elites express the highest levels of confidence in the church, armed forces, and media. Core governance institutions, including police forces, judicial branches, and national congresses, engender mediocre levels of confidence.

Read more at:


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This little piggy went to the West Bank

Tree Givers
The end is near - the Cubs and Red Sox made the playoffs, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, and now this: An Israeli organization has gained rabbinical approval to train pigs to guard Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Until now, Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian land were guarded by men with guns and guard dogs. But a new idea - guard pigs - has been proposed by an organization called The Hebrew Battalion. The man in charge, Kuti Ben-Yaakov, insists it is a serious proposal. "Pigs' sense of smell is far more developed than that of dogs," he said. "The pigs will also be able to identify weapons from huge distances."

With a finger in the book of Revelation, click here to read more about this sign of the Apocalypse:

Social revolutionary, or just tacky?

Kendra Nordin writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "Last winter, I purchased my first home: a modest condo. In jest, I told some of my swim team that I was considering registering for housewarming gifts. Over the past 10 years, I have spent close to $7,000 being a bridesmaid or attending far-flung weddings, so I figure I'm due a set of matching glasses.... I had a hunch that I wasn't the only 30-something setting up house on my own with mismatched pots and pans and four usable drinking glasses.... It was one thing to conquer the real-estate market on my own when I bought my condo, but was registering for a housewarming party crossing some unspoken line of how much a single woman could ask for?"

Did Kendra go through with this radical notion? Read more at:


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Corporate rights, human rights

Should a corporation have the same rights as a human being - and, often, the ability to buy legislation? As Jeffrey Kaplan writes in Orion Magazine, grassroots activists in Pennsylvania started out trying to protect their fields from sometimes-toxic sludge and their streams from factory-farm runoff - but they wound up realizing that the root of the problem is the excessive rights and influence our legal system gives corporations. Worse still, international trade agreements such as the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas have the potential to undermine democracy even further.

Read more at:

Next Stop, Iran? Don't these people ever learn?
by Alistair Millar

Is Iran next? Hasn't George Bush got enough to worry about in Iraq? Costs are escalating, troops are dying. Iraqi civilians are still deprived of their most basic needs, and the U.N. is relegated to the sidelines. Senior military officials and experts from both parties are increasingly vocal in their criticism of the administration. According to Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy, the invasion and occupation of Iraq "is one of the most ill-advised and reckless actions that the U.S. government has ever taken."

From the November-December issue of Sojourners:

SojoMail readers hit reply

Connie Yost writes from Whittier, California:

David Batstone rightly notes that "history tells me not to trust Monsanto." In January, the Canadian Supreme Court will hear Monsanto's case against Percy Schmeiser, a 72-year-old Canadian farmer and seed breeder whose canola crops were contaminated by genetically modified seeds developed and patented by Monsanto. The GMO contamination destroyed 50 years of his seed breeding, his life's work, his livelihood, and his retirement savings as he battles Monsanto in the courts. Unbelievably, so far the Canadian courts have ruled in favor of the corporate patent, never mind that the seeds blew into his field. The courts have ruled that Monsanto owns all rights to his plants and profits. As the self-appointed "gene police," Monsanto's tactics also include intimidation, as they ask farmers to inform on their neighbors. Farmers also receive letters from Monsanto alleging that they are growing Monsanto GMO seed on their land and that they should pay thousands of dollars to Monsanto to possibly avoid a lawsuit. The result of these tactics is to instill fear and to destroy the web of trust and community in the rural farm areas. Since GMO seed was introduced in Canada in 1996, all canola and soy seed and crops have become contaminated. The farmers have suffered economic hardship as they have lost their entire European market as a result. For more infomation, see


Julie F. Morris of the T.O. Cattle Company in San Juan Bautista, California, writes:

Thanks for the informative piece on Monsanto's lawsuit against Oakhurst Dairy. As a cattle producer who uses no added hormones or antibiotics in our grass-fed beef operation, I can attest to Oakhurst's claim that there is indeed a difference between our product and those that contain chemicals - if for no other reason that our product serves a niche of customers who want to be told the truth about what they feed their families. Unfortunately, many farmers who are fooled into using rBGH give up this valuable and growing market and hand over all their profits to Monsanto, slowly eroding the honest family farms this country needs so desperately.


Neal Grose writes from Harmony, North Carolina:

As a dairy farmer, I seem to always be in the middle on issues. I am an ardent environmentalist who often finds myself at odds with large environmental groups that do not understand how my industry works, as well as farm groups that think that they are out to get us. I have been against the use of rBGH for almost 20 years...and at the same time, I am rather confident that there are no adverse health effects from its use. What the use of rBGH does is increase supply and decrease demand. This is just dumb. I am not willing to give Monsanto anything. I think that their corporate policies are terrible. Even so, I am faced with a situation here on my farm where profit margins are so small that I may have to use rBGH in order to stay in business and continue to provide an income for my family.


Joseph Allen Kozuh, Ph.D., of Austin, Texas, writes:

[Regarding Sojourners' open letter and action alert about General Boykin]: You must be blinded by "political correctness!" What General Boykin did once, General George Washington did many times! Moreover, please read President Washington's farewell address. Up until the 1940s this address was required reading in most elementary schools in America. This address emphasizes the critical importance of religion in the public life of our country.


Tirus Collier writes:

It is amazing to me that a Christian organization, so-called Christian organization, is leading a campaign to call for the resignation of General Boykin. As a veteran of the Gulf War I find your attack on a true American patriot such as General Boykin despicable. General Boykin put his life on the line for our freedom. It is offensive to think your organization's title expresses the Christian faith but your actions are clearly contrary to the title.


Scott Dow of Augusta, Maine, writes:

I find ironic the juxtaposition of two items in the last issue of Sojomail, those being an article on "Tax Windfalls for U.S. Corporations," which ends with a suggestion that Eli Lilly is avoiding huge sums of U.S. taxes, followed by an advertisement for a Christian project funded by the Lilly Foundation.


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