The Common Good

Stop the Genocide in Darfur

Sojomail - May 4, 2005

Quote of the Week » Genocide is not a partisan issue
Batteries Not Included » David Batstone: 'If only we had known'
Piece of Mind » SojoMail survey
Religion and Politics » DeLay's ethics impact real people
Values for Life » Less is more
Warning: Satire » Unitarian Jihad
Politically Connect » Bush goes 'progressive'?
Culture Watch » The attack of the chiller flicks
Under the Wire » Headlines you may have missed
Boomerang » Readers write
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Genocide is not a partisan issue

"This is not a partisan issue, for Republicans and the Christian Right led the way in blowing the whistle on the slaughter in Darfur.... Ultimately, public pressure may force Mr. Bush to respond to Darfur, but it looks as if he will have to be dragged kicking and screaming by Republicans and Democrats alike."

- New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, criticizing the Bush administration for backing away from its commitment to end the genocide in Darfur, including its opposition to the bipartisan Darfur Accountability Act.

Source: The New York Times

+ See Kristof's photos from a journey to Darfur last July

+ Learn more about the Darfur Accountability Act


'If only we had known'
by David Batstone

It's a phrase we use commonly in Western democracies once the horrific stories of a genocide reach the light of day. The Nazi "final solution" in Europe, the Cambodian killing fields, and the Bosnian "ethnic cleansing" all serve to jar our trust in human decency. It stuns us that humans could act so brutally toward a people in a sustained, calculated way.

"If only we had known." We utter it as a moral statement that if we learned of a genocide in progress, we would do something to stop it. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton visited Rwanda and made a historic apology to the Rwandan people that the United States under his leadership virtually stood by in 1994 while up to 800,000 people lost their lives to rampant militia violence. Here is Clinton speaking with perhaps more candor than at any other time in his presidency:

We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide. We cannot change the past. But we can and must do everything in our power to help you build a future without fear, and full of hope.... We owe to all the people in the world our best efforts to organize ourselves so that we can maximize the chances of preventing these events. And where they cannot be prevented, we can move more quickly to minimize the horror.

That chance - or better put, moral demand - to do the right thing in Africa has come. Genocide is taking place in Darfur, Sudan. Government troops and their allied militia, known as the Janjaweed, have committed atrocities across Darfur that have displaced close to 2.5 million darker-skinned African villagers. U.N. and U.S. officials claim they have evidence that the government in Khartoum has backed the Janjaweed militia and supplied it with weapons. Human rights groups and aid workers calculate that more than 400,000 people may be dead, and that gruesome total grows by the day.

On Sept. 9, 2004, the Bush administration acknowledged this fact, but frankly it has failed to take sufficient action to stop the violence. We must now urge the Bush administration to take every step necessary through the United Nations to 1) Establish a mandate for an international force to protect civilians; and 2) Deploy such a force in support of existing African Union efforts in Darfur.

The urgency and gravity of what is taking place in Sudan requires people of faith to build new alliances. Both the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches have made strong calls on the Bush administration to make concerted efforts to bring an end to the violence. Both the Vatican and the World Jewish Congress are speaking loudly and clearly for their communities to act now to save Darfur. Our good will must turn into strategic political action, together.

Sojourners is joining in an effort to gather at least 400,000 signatures - to give voice to those in Sudan who have lost their lives in the violence - calling on President Bush to take immediate action, through the U.N., to support international intervention to stop the genocide in Darfur.

In the movie Hotel Rwanda, a journalist remarks that when Americans watch TV images of the massacres, "They'll say, 'Oh my God, that's horrible!' And then go on eating their dinners." We cannot allow genocide to take place on our watch. Take a stand and tell the world: "Not this time."

+ Take action to stop the Darfur genocide

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DeLay's ethics impact real people
by Stephen Mucher

It's been nearly eight years since I last saw Tom DeLay. I was a high-school teacher on the small Pacific island of Saipan. DeLay was on a fact-finding mission. I regret that we didn't get a chance to talk.

I'm sure Mr. DeLay, joined by his wife and daughter, enjoyed his stay at the island's finest resort. But it was government business, not tourism, that brought him to Saipan. Like many residents, I was pleased to see that DeLay had made a personal effort to assess our situation. The island was experiencing remarkable changes. By the mid-'90s, the territory's lenient labor and immigration laws had created a free-market haven for a burgeoning garment industry. Unlike Guam and Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) was authorized by Congress to maintain its own minimum wage and non-resident worker laws.

Local optimism about DeLay's visit stemmed from a belief that the solution to Saipan's problems transcended political partisanship. The Department of the Interior had recommended a gradual annual increase in minimum wage over the next decade and encouraged vigorous enforcement against labor violations. With Congressional approval, these moderate and necessary steps could proceed.

Regardless of our political leanings, we believed that pressure from Washington was needed to challenge vested interests. Even the island's community of conservative Southern Baptist missionaries - a group not particularly known for seeking government regulation - shared this conclusion. In fact, local evangelicals and Catholics worried openly about an unregulated environment that had emboldened efficiency-minded factory managers to force abortions on their immigrant employees.

+ Read the full article



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Less is more
by Scot DeGraf

While the rich and famous may be able to afford expensive solar panel installations or hyperefficient $2 million homes, even those of us with (much) less money can make a dent in the amount of energy we consume. What follows is a small list of steps almost every one of us can and should take to reduce our energy use. Our particular motivation - to walk more lightly on the earth, to live more frugally, or to direct more money to humanitarian organizations rather than large utility companies - isn't as important as is making some change. While up-front costs for some of these steps can seem daunting, your investment will be recouped in later energy savings.

+ Read the full article

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SATIRE: Unitarian Jihad
by Jon Carroll for The San Francisco Chronicle

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism - 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you??? Whatever happened know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

+ Read the full satire


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Bush goes 'progressive'?

Perhaps you're surprised to see Bush espousing "progressive" cuts in Social Security benefits (i.e., ones that would affect the rich more than the poor). As you ponder the concept, these insights from the Center for Economic and Policy Research may be helpful:

1) According to the CEPR, the Bush proposal would cut benefits on any worker with an average wage of more than $20,000 a year.

2) Wealthy people depend on their 401(k)s and other retirement plans rather than Social Security (which only taxes your first $90,000 of income per year), so the middle class is the group that will really suffer from the Social Security cuts Bush proposes.

3) The private accounts Bush wants would allow high-income workers to partially shield themselves from the cuts Bush proposes (so the "progressive" cuts could in fact be a way to drive large numbers of people to take the private option, something they might not otherwise do).

+ Read more

+ Read a more detailed analysis from CEPR, "The Regressive Impact of the Progressive Indexation of Social Security Benefits"


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The attack of the chiller flicks
by Richard Vernon

Even if you digest popular culture only via NPR and the osmotic seepage from billboards and tabloid headlines, you'll have noticed the profusion of mainstream horror movies oozing out of Hollywood. Alone in the Dark, Hide and Seek, Boogeyman, Constantine, White Noise, Cursed, The Jacket,, and The Ring Two have all hit the screen since the end of January. These are movies with big budgets, high production values, and A-list stars - not the schlocky B pictures of yore.

Critics have long held that our most unspeakable fears are given voice in science fiction and horror films. Where does America go to understand how it feels about communism, atomic science, immigration, AIDS, or terrorism? Where it always has - the back row of the movies. Moviemakers deal in images and metaphor, and in film they give form to the darkest of our terrors. That the screens of our multiplexes are filled with shaky footage of ashen-faced spirits tormenting the newest people to move into their house speaks to deep-seated Western insecurity in a post-9/11 world.

+ Read the entire article from the April issue of Sojourners


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Headlines you may have missed

Abu Ghraib: Questions linger
A study by the Army inspector general - not yet released but reported last week by the media - has exonerated all senior Army officers in Iraq and elsewhere except the brigadier general in charge of US prison facilities in Iraq. Christian Science Monitor

An abiding faith in liberation theology
The movement, which took root throughout Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, focused on helping the poor and oppressed, even if that meant confronting political powers. The Washington Post

People power rattling politics of Latin America
Latin Americans from Mexico City to Quito, Ecuador - much like the citizens of Ukraine and Lebanon - have been taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers. Civic protest is emerging as an increasingly effective - if controversial - political tool. Christian Science Monitor

Anti-drug gains in Colombia don't reduce flow to U.S.
Five years and $3 billion into the most aggressive counternarcotics operation ever here, American and Colombian officials say they have eradicated a record-breaking million acres of coca plants, yet cocaine remains as available as ever on American streets, perhaps more so. Yet no official is willing to fault a failed policy. The New York Times

'Bunker buster' casualty risk cited
Earth-penetrating nuclear bombs would be capable of destroying military targets deep underground, but not without inflicting "massive casualties at ground level," according to a congressionally mandated study. The Washington Post

Israel, on its own, is shaping the borders of the West Bank
Settlement construction is continuing in the West Bank, in apparent violation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's commitment in the first stage of the "road map" to freeze settlement growth. The New York Times

Israel extends Vanunu travel ban
A convert to Christianity, Mordechai Vanunu served 18 years in jail, most of it in solitary confinement, for making public details of Israel's secret nuclear program. BBC



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Readers write

Richard Johnston writes from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania:

I absolutely agree with Jim's comments that Social Security is much more than a "pension" ["Honor your father and mother," SojoMail 5/2/2005]. It is one of the most, if not the most, successful system in the world for providing financial help to "widows and orphans." Jim Wallis' reminder about the Bible's instruction is appropriate. It seems that as we (individuals) become richer, we tend to focus on protecting and growing what we have, rather than sharing.

I suspect my basic distrust of President Bush inclines me to believe that his proposal is a first attack on eliminating Social Security altogether, just like he said many years ago. As means-testing is implemented, Social Security will appear to be more of a welfare system for "widows and orphans" than a pension program for everyone. Over time, the "welfare system" aspects will add pressure to eliminate the system as people who feel they don't need Social Security - so why should they pay into it - begin to push for scrapping it, as has happened to our welfare systems in the past.


Terry Hibpshman writes from Lexington, Kentucky:

Jim Wallis' tortured attempt to link the need for the Social Security status quo with the Old Testament is troubling. If it is wrong for the Right to cloak their conservatism in the Bible, it is equally wrong for the Left to do so, and this is just a transparent attempt to do that. Jim has every right to believe whatever he wants about Social Security or anything else, but he should give some thought to whether this specific program, whatever its virtues might be, is ordained by God. The truth is that there are many conceivable ways to honor one's father and mother, as well as to prevent poverty among the aged, and the proponents of private accounts argue that their intention is to do just that. They might be right or they might be wrong, but nothing is gained by attempting to frame the argument in biblical terms. Jim's motives are transparently political. There is nothing wrong with a person of faith having political motives, but there is something wrong with hijacking the faith in the service of one's personal politics. Faith should inform politics, not politics faith.


Cori Bush writes from Grand Rapids, Michigan:

I agree with your biblical conclusion that we must protect and support the elderly in any way that we can. But the fact is that there are serious problems with Social Security that must be faced. If we reject privatization of Social Security, that is fine, but there must be a change. Although the Republicans haven't offered us a great solution, at least they are pushing for some sort of revamping. I don't see the Democrats offering any better solution, and it even seems that many of them would rather ignore the issue until it actually becomes a crisis. So how do we meet in the middle on this and really make steps forward that will help our country truly protect and support the elderly in our midst? Thanks for boldly representing Christ and being agents of change in our world.


Ron Pagnucco writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota:

Jim Wallis has made important and insightful comments on the "Justice Sunday" event, "Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith" ["An attempt to hijack Christianity," SojoMail 4/28/2005]. I think there is an even deeper problem with the "stop the filibuster" effort by the Christian Right, one that undermines the credibility of Christian witness and shows a lack of integrity.

The Family Research Council (FRC), one of the main sponsors of Justice Sunday, seems to have engaged in the inconsistency and power politics that breeds cynicism about Christian witness. As Keith Olbermann reported on his program Countdown (April 25), seven years ago the FRC spoke in favor of filibusters. As Steven Schwartz of the FRC argued in a National Public Radio interview, rather convincingly I might add, "The Senate is not a majoritarian institution like the House of Representatives is. It is a deliberative body, and it's got a number of checks and balances built into our government. The filibuster is one of those checks in which a majority cannot just sheerly force its will, even if they have a majority of votes in some cases. That's why there are things like filibusters, and other things that give minorities in the Senate some power to slow things up, to hold things up, and let things be aired properly."

The occasion for the statement was the effort of the Christian Right and a minority of senators to block the appointment of James Hormel, a gay man, to the position of ambassador to Luxemborg. Christians must act with integrity and consistency no matter what positions they advocate on public issues or else we are doing the faith and the common good great harm.


Julianne Yarwood wrties from Media, Pennsylvania:

We've heard that religion is being "hijacked" by politicians and church leaders. We've heard this throughout the last presidential campaign, and again recently with the filibuster issue. Strangely, I have only heard the "hijacking religion" claim when right-wing churches were involved. I have been attending what may fairly be described as a "left-wing" church. It is pro-gay and pro-choice. The overwhelming majority of the attendees are registered Democrats. The pastor has frequently spoken unkindly of the president (the man, not just his policies). A church member actually handed out pro-Kerry bumper stickers in the church parking lot prior to the election. People who did not support Senator Kerry in the presidential election are feeling demonized because of their political views.

It seems that when politics is discussed in "conservative" churches, it's called "hijacking religion." When politics is discussed in "liberal" or "progressive" churches, it's called "prophetic." Sojourners likes to repeat the "God is Not a Republican...or a Democrat" mantra. Was the "...or a Democrat" part added to present the image of fairness? How about a little more scrutiny regarding the left-leaning churches? They can just as easily lose sight of the message of Jesus because of their political ideology.


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