The Common Good

Democracy for sale

Sojomail - July 21, 2004

Quote of the Week Forgive me, I was wrong on Iraq
Politically Connect Bill Moyers: Democracy for sale
Globe Watch Ethnic cleansing in Sudan
Multimedia Comedy with an agenda
Building a Movement Set them free
Culture Watch Summer of the activist documentary
Web Sitings Dear Iraq | Tools for advocacy | The name game
Boomerang Readers write
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"As the only Anglican bishop to have publicly endorsed the Australian government's case for war, I now concede that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.... There is no alternative to concluding that the March 2003 invasion was neither just nor necessary.... I continue to seek God's forgiveness for my complicity in creating a world in which this sort of action was ever considered by anyone to be necessary."

- Dr. Tom Frame, Anglican Bishop to the Australian Defence Force.

Source: The Age


Democracy for sale
by Bill Moyers

There are two Americas today. You could see this division in a little-noticed action this spring in the House of Representatives. Republicans in the House approved new tax credits for the children of families earning as much as $309,000 a year - families that already enjoy significant benefits from earlier tax cuts - while doing next to nothing for those at the low end of the income scale. This, said The Washington Post in an editorial called "Leave No Rich Child Behind," is "bad social policy, bad tax policy, and bad fiscal policy. You'd think they'd be embarrassed but they're not."

Nothing seems to embarrass the political class in Washington today. Not the fact that more children are growing up in poverty in America than in any other industrial nation; not the fact that millions of workers are actually making less money today in real dollars than they did 20 years ago; not the fact that working people are putting in longer and longer hours just to stay in place; not the fact that while we have the most advanced medical care in the world, nearly 44 million Americans - eight out of 10 of them in working families - are uninsured and cannot get the basic care they need.

Nor is the political class embarrassed by the fact that the gap between rich and poor is greater than it's been in 50 years - the worst inequality among all Western nations. They don't seem to have noticed that we have been experiencing a shift in poverty. For years it was said that single jobless mothers are down there at the bottom. For years it was said that work, education, and marriage is how they move up the economic ladder. But poverty is showing up where we didn't expect it - among families that include two parents, a worker, and a head of the household with more than a high school education. These are the newly poor. These are the people our political and business class expects to climb out of poverty on an escalator moving downward.

For years now a small fraction of American households have been garnering an extreme concentration of wealth and income while large corporations and financial institutions have obtained unprecedented levels of economic and political power over daily life. In 1960, the gap in terms of wealth between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent was 30-fold. Four decades later it is more than 75-fold. Such concentrations of wealth would be far less of an issue if the rest of society was benefiting proportionately and equality was growing. That's not the case. As an organization called The Commonwealth Foundation Center for the Renewal of American Democracy sets forth in well-documented research, working families and the poor "are losing ground under economic pressures that deeply affect household stability, family dynamics, social mobility, political participation, and civic life."

And household economics "is not the only area where inequality is growing in America." We are also losing the historic balance between wealth and commonwealth. The report goes on to describe "a fanatical drive to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that have shaped public responsibility for social harms arising from the excesses of private power." That drive is succeeding, with drastic consequences for an equitable access to and control of public resources, the lifeblood of any democracy. From land, water, and other natural resources to media and the broadcast and digital spectrums, to scientific discovery and medical breakthroughs, and even to politics itself, a broad range of the American commons is undergoing a powerful shift in the direction of private control.

And what is driving this shift? Contrary to what you learned in civics class in high school, it is not the so-called "democratic debate." That is merely a cynical charade behind which the real business goes on - the none-too-scrupulous business of getting and keeping power so that you can divide up the spoils. If you want to know what's changing America, follow the money.

Veteran Washington reporter Elizabeth Drew says "the greatest change in Washington over the past 25 years - in its culture, in the way it does business and the ever-burgeoning amount of business transactions that go on here - has been in the preoccupation with money." Jeffrey Birnbaum, who covered Washington for nearly 20 years for the Wall Street Journal, put it even more strongly: "[Campaign cash] has flooded over the gunwales of the ship of state and threatens to sink the entire vessel. Political donations determine the course and speed of many government actions that deeply affect our daily lives."

It is widely accepted in Washington today that there is nothing wrong with a democracy dominated by the people with money. But of course there is. Money has democracy in a stranglehold and is suffocating it. During his brief campaign in 2000, before he was ambushed by the dirty tricks of the Religious Right in South Carolina and big money from George W. Bush's wealthy elites, John McCain said elections today are nothing less than an "influence-peddling scheme in which both parties compete to stay in office by selling the country to the highest bidder."

That's the shame of politics today. The consequences: "When powerful interests shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they often get what they want. But it is ordinary citizens and firms that pay the price, and most of them never see it coming," according to Time magazine. Time concludes that America now has "government for the few at the expense of the many."

That's why so many people are turned off by politics. It's why we can't put things right. And it's wrong. Hear the great Justice Learned Hand on this: "If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: 'Thou shalt not ration justice.'" He got it right: The rich have the right to buy more homes than anyone else. They have the right to buy more cars, more clothes, or more vacations than anyone else. But they don't have the right to buy more democracy than anyone else.

Excerpted from the August 2004 edition of Sojourners magazine.

+ Read the full article by Bill Moyers

Watch streaming video clips from Moyers' speech [Requires Windows Media Player]:

+ Clip 1

+ Clip 2

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Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. - Matthew 5:9

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Ethnic cleansing in Sudan
by Elizabeth Palmberg

Just as peace is finally within reach in Sudan's bloody North/South civil war, a new threat of ethnic cleansing and mass death is looming elsewhere in Sudan, in the huge western province of Darfur. Government-armed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, with open support from the Sudanese military, are attacking villages from non-Arab ethnic groups. An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people have been killed so far; between 1 and 2 million people have been driven from their looted and burned homes. Most of these refugees are in camps inside Darfur, where Janjaweed openly rape women and steal food aid. The government has repeatedly blocked and delayed humanitarian aid efforts, in a policy predicted to kill 350,000 from hunger and disease in the upcoming months. This is deliberate, ethnically targeted genocide by starvation.

Ironically, the gathering crisis in Darfur has gone on simultaneously with this spring's 10-year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis (and moderate Hutus) died while the world did nothing. The body count isn't that high in Darfur yet, but it's growing. With food stocks burned or looted, the planting season already lost, and the rainy season rendering roads impassible through September, immediate and massive humanitarian aid, as well as disarmament of the Janjaweed, is vital.

+ Read the full article

+ Take action to stop the genocide

+ D.C. area readers - rally TOMORROW, July 22, at the White House


Volunteer Vacations in Nicaragua with El Porvenir

Participate in building a sustainable water, sanitation, or reforestation project, or take the Educational Tour and visit rural water projects and see highlights of the country. Learn about Nicaragua's past, present, and future while working or meeting with many Nicaraguans. Spaces available for September 3-13 and November 6-20, 2004, as well as January 8-22, 2005. E-mail or call for more information: (303) 520-0093


Comedy with an agenda

In this Washington Post streaming video commentary, Arab-American comedians, commentators, and citizens laugh about and lament their experiences of post-Sept. 11 America, their disappointment with the Bush administration, and their ambivalence about Kerry.

"We don't even get a month. There's no Arab-awareness month. The closest we get to Arab-awareness month is when they raise the terror alert." - Dean Obeidallah, comedian and lawyer.

"I love special registration. I thought it was the greatest thing since Basically what they did for me was got all Middle Eastern men under the age of 65 in one convenient viewing location. And they did like a credit check and a background check." - Maysoon Zayid, Palestinian American comedian, actress, and activist.

"While Arab-Americans are upset with Bush, they're not in love with John Kerry." - James Zogby, pollster.

"There is a need for security, and there is a real threat of terrorism. But to go about it this way, violating civil rights left and right - it's a disproportionate way of answering it, of responding to the problem." - Aiman Mackie, who voted for Bush in 2000 but now is considering Nader.

+ Watch the video online


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Set them free

There's exciting new momentum in Congress for debt relief for the world's poorest countries! A new bill would make the IMF and other international public lenders do what studies show they can do - use their own resources to cancel the debts of 50 impoverished countries, many of whom pay more in interest than they spend on education and health care.

+ Find out how you can take action

Register, Pray, Vote! Register to vote, update your address, or change your party registration - because your vote matters! Go to:


Summer of the activist documentary

With growing mistrust of and disappointment with the mainstream media, activist documentarians are picking up the slack with varying degrees of balance, bias, and entertainment value. Here's a sampling of this summer's cinematic offerings:

Fahrenheit 9/11 - Michael Moore's philippic against all things Bush chases many rabbit trails (e.g., belaboring Bush family connections to Saudi Arabia), but hits the mark squarely in its unblinking examination of the human costs on both sides of the Iraq war. + Learn more

Supersize Me - Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days, becomes very ill, and teaches us all some important lessons about the politics of nutrition. + Learn more

Control Room - An inside look at the al Jazeera cable news network that examines the reasons for its sharp contrasts with U.S. media coverage of the Iraq invasion and the U.S. military's treatment of the news media in general - including some especially candid conversations with U.S. military press officers. + Learn more

The Corporation - With interviews of CEOs, activists, experts, and academics, this film explores the history of corporations and their ascendance as the dominant institution of our time. + Learn more

Outfoxed - An unflattering investigation of FOX News and corporate media control in general. Says Eric Shawn, FOX reporter: "It's unfair, it's slanted, and it's a hit job. And I haven't even seen it yet." + Learn more

Did we miss any? Let us know at


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Dear Iraq

This open letter doesn't just apologize for the invasion and occupation, but further states that words be followed by actions that hold our leaders accountable to end the war and provide reparations.

+ Sincerely...

Tools for advocacy

As part of its mission to expand public understanding of the causes of poverty and social injustice, Oxfam has several online guides for social advocates promoting public awareness and action.

+ Learn more

The name game analyzes baby names and their popularity over the past 102 years with data provided by the U.S. Social Security Administration. Plus, top 10 lists of last month's most popular names. Get ready to meet a lot more Emmas and Aidans (and Aidens).

+ Click click bo bick, banana fanna fo fick


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.


Readers write

James M. Reaume Jr., MD, writes from Ionia, Michigan:

So, Jim Wallis is as evangelical as an oak tree [SojoMail 7/14/2004]. As I write this, I can look out my window at a magnificent oak at the corner of my front yard, which has stood since at least 1900, if not longer. It has been constantly upright for more than 100 years. It has not changed a bit as fashions and pop theologies have come and gone. It provides shelter from storms to anyone who happens by without inquiring about their politics or church attendence, because it is its God-made nature to do so.... Thank you so very much, Reverend Wallis, for being as evangelical as an oak tree. May we all aspire to do the same.


Rev. Philip Brown writes from Powell, Ohio:

What are the distinguishing and necessary doctrinal, theological, or ideological positions that define "evangelical?" How is it different from just calling ourselves Christian? Why is it even necessary to use this designation at all? If I choose not to call myself an "evangelical" Christian, what do you automatically assume about those of us who do not feel the need to use that adjective? As I observe you at Sojourners, you may use the term evangelical but I really don't see you in sync with Christianity Today or the NAE brand of evangelicalism. What are the important distinctions between "evangelicalism" and "fundamentalism" - and, for that matter, "liberalism?" I'm confused about labels and why it seems necessary to use them since most of us cross lines back and forth, defying clear-cut labels.


Lowell W. Avery writes from Cheektowaga, New York:

Could the matter really be that those with whom you disagree see those issues [gay marriage and abortion] as most crucial at the present? When Falwell interrupted your comments about what Jesus would be talking about in America today in the face of the increasing number of children in poverty, he said, "I agree with you." Did you hear him? Perhaps the "Jerry Falwells" regard the situation like the first step of first aid: check the airway. If the injured can't breathe it doesn't matter if you stop the bleeding or treat for shock. How can one do justice for a poor child who has already been aborted? How can we hope to be peacemakers between greedy, powerful nations when we acquiesce to war being waged against the weakest and most innocent in our own back yard?


Rev. Stan G. Duncan writes from Abington, Massachusetts:

I am a born-again, twice-baptized evangelical believer in Jesus Christ as my own personal Lord and Savior. Over the years, I have voted for Republican Bill Weld in Massachusetts, Republican Henry Belmon in Oklahoma, and Republican Howard Baker in Tennessee. But this year I will not be voting for George Bush. I am frightened by his imperialism, his isolationism, his elitism, and his disdain for democracy and individual civil rights. And I will allow no one to tell me that the path I take in following Jesus is unchristian because it is not adhering to the extremist policies of one particular political party.


Elizabeth C. Dorsch Maxey writes from Ithaca, New York:

I continue to be baffled by complaints that Sojourners' focus is too "negative." To say nothing of the fact that negativity is undeniably Biblical (the Old Testament prophets had as much reason as we to bemoan their degenerate age), the negativity ascribed to Sojourners should rightly be called intelligent critique. Confronting the traditional anti-intellectualism and the myopic "happy-shininess" of North American Christianity is both a noble and a fitting objective for a contemporary Christian journal. The complicity of professed Christians with the logic of a fallen world is hardly a jolly topic, but surely wrestling with that unpleasant reality is an essential step forward? Evangelism ought to make people uncomfortable, especially those who are content and complacent in their faith, and Sojourners has certainly motivated me to regard Christianity in terms that go beyond prayer and Sunday services.

While my Christian faith has never wavered, I have only recently been motivated by "negativity" to register to vote in my first presidential election - mind you, I am 27 and a Ph.D. candidate at an Ivy League university. However negligible the consequences of this single action in the grand scheme, it represents a radical mental shift, the consequences of which are yet to be seen. Who can say where and how the voice crying out in the wilderness will resonate?


Jacque Metz writes from Hanahan, South Carolina:

I have to respond to Bernie Kida from Atlanta [Boomerang 7/14/2004]. The most misleading statement is: "Contrast the 40,000 Iraqis injured with the number of women who weren't allowed to go to school or work." Women in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were the most liberated in the Muslim world. Women could work, go to college, become doctors, engineers, truck drivers. The fundamentalists who appear likely to dominate Iraq in the future won't allow any of that. The future is looking extremely dark indeed for women in Iraq, potentially like that of the women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Don't get me wrong: Saddam was a terrible leader, a maniac, and a murderer, but whether all Iraq is better off now than before remains to be seen.


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