The Common Good

The Budget's Bottom Line

Sojomail - February 15, 2006

Quote of the Week : It wasn't the hunting license we were worried about...
Faith and Politics : The budget's bottom line
Religion and Society : Loving our global neighbors - and enemies
Black History, Black Present : Their eyes were watching Greensboro
Middle East Journal : Israel and Mordechai Vanunu
Sojourners in the News : This week's media roundup
Boomerang : Readers write
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"It has been brought to the Vice President's attention by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department this afternoon that, although he had acquired a 125 dollar Texas non-resident season hunting license, he lacked a 7 dollar stamp for hunting upland game birds.... The Vice President has sent a 7 dollar check to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which is the cost of an upland game bird stamp."

- First public statement from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney two days after he mistakenly shot Harry Whittington, a lawyer. A second statement, four days after the incident, described Whittington's medical condition, and that Cheney's "thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family."

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The Play of Light: Observations and Epiphanies in the Everyday World
Louis J. Masson

"In lucid and lyrical prose, Lou Masson takes the seemingly insignificant details of daily life, the seemingly insignificant objects and experiences of memory, the brief words and gestures that linger, links them, transforms them, honors, and reveals them to be the vital essence of existence. In The Play of Light, Masson demonstrates a manner, a way of observing that lifts the ordinary into the rare. This collection of essays itself is no ordinary gift but a rare one." - Pattiann Rogers, author, Firekeeper: Selected Poems


The budget's bottom line
by Yonce Shelton

In his State of the Union address last month, President Bush said, "Our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another. So we strive to be a compassionate, decent, hopeful society," one that "comes to the aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency." He also pledged to "renew the defining moral commitments of this land."

His fiscal year 2007 budget proposal, sent to Congress one week later, lacks the commitments needed to support this vision.

Budgets are moral documents. They show us what we value in revealing where we invest now and for the future. Government funding is not the solution to all needs, but the budget process is a road map for how leaders plan to navigate our country's challenges and opportunities. The economic security of every family in this country is a moral opportunity and challenge. But our investment to strengthen families' opportunities - and hope - is being sacrificed for luxuries for a few.

The president's 2007 budget cuts $183 billion from domestic programs - leaving homeland security untouched - during the next five years. It eliminates more than 100 programs. Many of the cuts are to services for the poor. Spending for homeland security, the military, and the war in Iraq amounts to nearly $600 billion, while domestic cuts are proposed in all other areas of spending.

The budget makes the largest cut to federal education spending in a decade. Although President Bush proposed increased funding for math and science education, his signature education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, has a cumulative funding shortfall of $55 billion. More cuts to low-income child care services would result in 400,000 fewer children receiving assistance. Despite Congress deciding not to cut food stamps in the 2006 budget (reacting, in part, to pressure from the faith community), food stamps are slated for a cut that would eliminate support for 300,000 people. Medicaid is again on the chopping block with nearly $14 billion in cuts. The list goes on.

These critical social supports hold families together and save lives. These cuts affect real people.

There is a disconnect between basic needs and national priorities when more social cuts are proposed as poverty has risen in each of the past four years, according to the U.S. Census; food insecurity has risen in each of the last five, according to the Food Research and Action Center; and 9.2 million working families are on the brink of poverty, according to the Working Poor Families Project. Fiscal responsibility arguments hold no water because the 2007 budget would increase the deficit (as in 2006). A major culprit is the budget's $1.7 trillion (over 10 years) to permanently extend tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy. This sacrifices basic supports for the vulnerable to provide extravagances for the well-off. And it calls into question the validity of the administration's claims of steady deficit reduction over coming years.

But deficit concerns are about more than figures. We should be outraged that this approach lacks honesty and realism. This budget includes no analysis for spending for Iraq and Afghanistan past 2007, nor does it offer projections for expensive tax policies after 2006. This sidesteps customary budget practice. Ignoring these major expenses intentionally masks the impact of current tax and deficit policies on our long-term stability. We deserve better fiscal and moral accounting.

Despite claims that tax cuts stimulate the economy and help job growth, the current economic recovery has underperformed past recoveries and investment growth has been below historical norms, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Job creation under President Bush has been the lowest since World War II, and hourly and weekly wages are dropping, according to the American Progress Action Fund. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, told The New York Times recently: "We should not be cutting taxes by borrowing.... We do not have the capability of having both productive tax cuts and large expenditures, and presume that the deficit doesn't matter."

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, years of rising poverty, and declining opportunity for more people constitute threats to our nation's strength. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) called cuts to health and education programs "scandalous." We cannot ignore these needs in the name of a defense-obsessed homeland security. Real security includes a vision for helping families realize the American dream. This demands compassion, not empty rhetoric. These budget priorities do not represent "defining moral commitments" or "aid of fellow citizens in times of suffering and emergency."

An America of strength and security can also be an America of justice and compassion. People of faith must stand up for the least of these, but also increasingly for the average person and family. As Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have told us, our "budgets are moral documents" message has not gone unheard.

We must build on last year's successes in this battle for a moral budget. When national leaders do not offer a road map with a vision for the common good, we must put faith in action. We must use our voice and witness to redefine - to renew - the paths leading to moral commitment, hope, and greatness.

Yonce Shelton is national coordinator and policy director for Call to Renewal.

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Loving our global neighbors - and enemies
by Philip Rizk

The global village is showing signs of its ever-shrinking diameter.

"The Danish have no more work here," the man with a big beard and even bigger gun told me as I approached the security office. Men such as this one matter to me, because he holds the power to welcome or reject me - in this case as I entered a meeting with the fishermen's union in a Gaza Strip city - just as it matters what someone on the streets of Damascus, Tehran, and Basra thinks because he has the power to accept or reject his neighbor, whether she be in Denmark, Russia, or France.

The Daily Star, a Middle Eastern English-language newspaper, reported Feb. 1 that Vebjoern Selbekk, editor in chief of Magazinet, the Norwegian Christian magazine that reprinted the Danish cartoons, said the act was "not aimed at provoking" Muslims and that it was "justifiable under freedom of expression laws." The issue at stake is that these freedom of expression laws may not apply in other parts of the global village. What seems to Selbekk his right to freedom of expression is to my friend with the gun a matter of religious faithfulness, and one that is based on divine laws, not individualism.

It is not Western values of freedom of speech that we must evaluate, but their underlying philosophy of individualism. The Western mind is raised to believe that what it thinks, expresses, and believes is a private and personal matter. In the Arab world, where societies share a collective understanding of self, such teachings are heretical.

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Their eyes were watching Greensboro
by Kate Foran

The original Freedom Summer took place in 1964, as volunteers in the deep South registered blacks to vote. According to Nelson Johnson, executive director of the Beloved Community Center, the freedom struggle of the '60s and '70s represented a rise to power for African Americans unseen since the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.

However, Johnson said, just as gains toward justice and democracy were stymied or dismantled in the decades after the Civil War, the established power structure fiercely resisted the movements in the 1960s and '70s.

On Nov. 3, 1979, when labor organizers planned a march to unite black and white workers in a movement for racial and economic justice, a group of Klan and Nazi party members gunned down demonstrators - killing five and wounding 10. The murders were part of a larger pattern of disrupting, disorganizing, and dismantling movements of social change. There is ample evidence of police and government collusion in this tragic event, as the civil trial's verdict of the joint guilt of police and Klan supports. Despite footage from numerous cameras that captured the shootings, however, no one has been convicted in criminal trials.

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Israel and Mordechai Vanunu
by Paul P. Parker

After serving 18 years in prison for blowing the whistle on Israel's secret nuclear weapons program, Mordechai Vanunu is now on trial again for violating extrajudicial restrictions Israel has placed on him.

Vanunu, 51, an Orthodox Jew of Morrocan origin who converted to Christianity, is an ordinary man living his faith and paying the price for it.... While at the Atomic Research Reactor, Vanunu worked 23 meters underground in a secret nuclear weapons plant processing plutonium for atomic warheads. In college, Vanunu reflected on questions of ultimate meaning and organized pro-democracy demonstrations for Palestinian justice arguing if Jews had right of return, so did Palestinians.

The collision of his two worlds was inevitable. His supervisors at the nuclear weapons plant pressured him to stop all pro-Palestinian activities, and threatened to fire him. But Vanunu believed nonviolent demonstrations strengthened a democracy, and he continued. He had begun to feel a pull toward Christianity, but he was tentative. He decided he had to leave both Israel and the nuclear weapons plant, but he also felt a democratic responsibility to Israel and a humanitarian responsibility to the world to expose Israel's secret nuclear weapons. For Vanunu, to know is to be responsible.

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This week's media roundup

Top stories:

Movement Aims to Recast Values Debate The (Charleston) Post and Courier
Sojourners, a progressive religious magazine based in Washington, D.C., helped organize about 200 State of Our Values watches across the country to broaden debate on values issues. Jim Wallis, the magazine's editor in chief, said that all too often values are exclusively equated with issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, leaving poverty and the ethics of war in the background.

Progressives: Ready to Party? Roll Call
Perhaps one of the more valuable pieces of advice in terms of winning elections comes from Jim Wallis, author of last year's insightful God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. Wallis, in his essay on "Seeking the Common Good," argues for the formation of a "prophetic politics" that is neither liberal nor conservative nor libertarian, but instead embraces a fundamentally moral approach to political issues such as sexuality, popular culture, poverty, and the environment.

Meet Jim Wallis, the Chancellor's Religious Guru Guardian Unlimited
The revealing account by American pastor Jim Wallis, who has developed an unexpected friendship with the Chancellor, offers fresh insight into how both Brown and Blair approached the decision to invade Iraq, the most critical moment of Labour's rule. It will fuel speculation that Brown had some private reservations over an invasion he publicly backed.

More Sojourners in the news:

It's Brown v Cameron, with the PM Sidelined

US Evangelicals Repent, Break with White House over Climate Change Ekklesia News

State of The Union Contra Costa Times

Chasing the wrong age group Charlotte Observer

Chancellor Supports Evangelist's Best-Seller That Criticises War in Iraq

America's #1 Problem

American Invulnerability and the War on Terror The Daily Evergreen

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Readers write

Rev. Josh Guzman writes from Middletown, Delaware:

What seemed so obvious to me a few years ago when this book came out is highlighted quite nicely by Batstone ["The Prayer of Jabez falls short in Africa," SojoMail 2/9/2006]. The magical prayer of Jabez isn't Christian prayer, nor does it reflect the heart of God for the last, least, and lost. Rather, it is itself a reflection of a consumeristic evangelicalism, which has almost entirely turned in on itself.

I am a pastor in a large evangelical, confessional denomination, and while I do not agree with Sojourners' take on everything, I take joy in hearing a clarion call to reevaluate the current American evangelical obsession with wealth and power. This obsession is captured in Jabez, and it's no wonder it doesn't work in Africa. It doesn't really work anywhere - and yet the evangelical church continues down the path Paul warned Timothy to be on guard against: the church is "gather[ing] around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." Batstone is gentler and kinder than I in assessing Jabez, but no less accurate.


Carol Honderich writes from Goshen, Indiana:

Did David Batstone ever actually read The Prayer of Jabez? This book is not about prosperity! "Enlarge my territory" does not refer to asking for land, wealth, or material possessions, but rather refers to the individual's willingness to be used by God, to be open to the opportunities that come our way to share our faith. While Wilkinson's book focuses on the few verses of Jabez's prayer, the overall theology - that as Christians we are sent out into the world as servants - is about as basic and sound a theology as any Christian could want. I have been surprised at the number of Christians who have dismissed this book without reading it, thinking that it was based on prosperity theology.


Whitney Mannies writes from Gilbert, Arizona:

Bruce Wilkinson, as David Batstone suggests, was certainly misguided (if well-intentioned) in his crusade to save Africans. Interestingly, I thought another article in SojoMail pointed to the fundamental error in Wilkinson's presuppositions: Njoki Njoroge Njehu described a capable Africa seeking justice on its own terms, not waiting impotently for a handout from rich countries ["World Social Forum: Another Africa is under way!" SojoMail 2/9/2006]. The World Social Forum in Kenya represents an opportunity to listen to and learn from Africans.

Too often the church, as well as institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, equate a benevolent paternalism with genuine solidarity. Many times the World Bank and IMF dictate economic and development policy instead of letting democratically elected (but indebted) African governments respond to the needs of their citizens. According to the World Bank, Africa pays $15 billion a year to repay its debt to rich nations, but only receives $12.7 billion in aid. Cancelling Africa's debt is just one way developed nations can break the cycle of dependency and charity. Though aid is undoubtedly necessary, Africa needs the chance to keep and use its own resources - not an influx of foreign solutions. Wilkinson, like many others, found poverty in Africa difficult to tackle, but perhaps it was not for him to tackle. Ms. Njehu sees solutions from within Africa and its people: Will the rest of the world have the humility to listen, learn, and follow?


C. G. Walden writes from Lilburn, Georgia:

All That Jabez

Ah, we have found it,
God's on-off switch.
The magic incantation
bringing remuneration
need only be recited
and believed.

To access the divine
Super Wal-Mart and be rich
the poor only need
flip the switch.
It won't be long until all our
territories are increased.

I hope there are territories enough,
to run out would be tough,
or perhaps some will not pray
and God won't have to pay.


Tim Textor writes from Espoo, Finland:

A very timely and well thought-out article that made me look at the cartoon issue in a different light ["Cartoons a symptom of deeper prejudices in Western Europe," SojoMail 2/9/2006]. Krzyzostaniak points out that unfortunately, deep down, people do not like "outsiders" or at best have trouble accepting those outside their group. Rather than looking at this event as East versus West or Islam versus Christianity, or even an issue of freedom of the press and defense of it, we should look at it as what it is - an issue of prejudice.


Brandi Morris writes from Apple Valley, California:

An American, I lived in Denmark for eight years. Denmark has warmly (albeit naively) welcomed a large Muslim population as immigrants over the decade. Recently, however, the press became aware that there was growing self-censorship in art and culture regarding Islam. In the wake of recent violence resulting from cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper, I am disappointed at Sojourners' weak response (thus far) to this hateful attempt at oppression of free speech.

Though they are offensive to Muslims, what right does any religion have to dictate what is allowed in the public domain and the free press? Cartoons of Jesus/God have on numerous occasions been offensive to me, but do not provoke violence among myself or other Christians. Fundamentalist Muslims (not all Muslims) use violence and threats to impose their definition of freedom of speech on non-Muslim societies (self-censorship) in the name of "consideration of feelings."


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