The Common Good

Minimum Wage Double-Cross in Congress

Sojomail - August 2, 2006

Quote of the Week : 'Looking for the presence of Christ in Lebanon' | Qana: Images of the week
Action Alert : Minimum wage double-cross in Congress
Faith and Politics : Mercy, mercy, mercy!
Soul Works : 'A conspiracy of cordiality'
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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"Sunday morning, I woke up to the news that an Israeli air strike hit a residential building used as a shelter in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, killing and wounding more than 65 people, including 30 infants and young children. According to tradition, Qana is the village where Jesus Christ performed his first miracle by turning water into wine (John 2).

Now I hear of fellow Christians who enjoy seeing the turning of water into blood in the name of end-time prophecy. Their call should rather be to turn water into wine of gladness, peace, and life. Are we looking for the presence of Christ in Lebanon and Israel or for the presence of U.S. smart bombs?"

- Riad Kassis, executive director and chaplain at the J.L. Schneller School in West Bekaa, Lebanon.

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Qana: Images of the week

WARNING: The following are links to photographs of the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of Qana. They contain graphic images of the reality of war.

+ The New York Times: Night of Death for Lebanese

+ The Washington Post: Deadly Attack in Qana

+ BBC: Israeli strike on Qana

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Minimum wage double-cross in Congress
by Yonce Shelton

" ... my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain" (Isaiah 65:22-23).

Work must "work" for families, and increasing the minimum wage can help. How society treats its workers says much about our values and priorities. The federal minimum wage was last increased, to $5.15, in 1997. Since then its purchasing power has dropped 20 percent and is now at its lowest level since 1955.

This year, Senate Democrats vowed not to allow a vote on raising their own pay until they are allowed to vote on raising the minimum wage. Fifty-eight House Republicans asked their leadership for a vote before the August congressional recess. In late July, 30 House Republicans said they would join Democrats in preventing the House from recessing until there was a vote.

These efforts paid off. Sort of.

Last Friday, the House passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour over three years. But there's a catch. The bill (Estate Tax and Extension of Tax Relief Act - aka "trifecta" bill) would also permanently reduce the estate tax - an important source of federal revenue impacting only the wealthiest half of one percent of our nation's taxpayers, which also encourages billions in charitable donations (according to the Congressional Budget Office, between $13-25 billion in 2000). The bill would also extend other expiring tax cuts.

In essence, House leadership decided it was fine to help an estimated 14.9 million workers making less than $7.25 per hour increase their average annual income by $1,200 to $4,400, as long as 8,200 wealthy people receive an average estate tax reduction of $1.4 million (in 2011). Minimum wage workers earning as low as $10,700 per year are given a raise, but only if a few individuals with estates worth more than $3.5 million benefit as well.

Many elected officials worry about the impact on small businesses of increasing wages. However, one study failed to find any systematic, significant job loss associated with the 1997 minimum wage increase. Further, states with higher minimum wages have outdone those with lower wages in their levels of employment, including for jobs in retail and small businesses. Similarly, many fear dire consequences for family farms of keeping the estate tax in place. But the American Farm Bureau has not referred publicly to any examples of farms being sold to pay estate taxes, according to a recent New York Times article.

Businesses will not be harmed as many claim. But the "trifecta" bill is likely to harm low-income workers, despite the wage increase. The estate tax provision, when fully in phased in (2012), will cost the Treasury $753 billion over 10 years. With $753 billion we could fund ALL social programs covered by the annual health and human services budget. Without tax revenue to provide for social and community needs - highways, education, emergency responses - it's easier for Congress to claim spending is out of control and justify eliminating investments in the common good. It's happened before.

Think back to last year's budget process. Proclaiming fiscal restraint, political leaders cut $40 billion in social services (health care, child support, educational assistance) for the less fortunate. In reality, those cuts made room for $70 billion in tax cuts. Simple math tells us the result was actually an increase in the deficit (by $30 billion) AND more tax cuts heavily favoring the wealthy at the expense of basic supports for the poor. The bill passed in the House last week will have a similar effect.

We will soon mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, when poverty briefly topped the national agenda and the importance of community support and investment for the common good was illustrated. When Katrina hit, the Senate was intent on repealing the estate tax but had to drop that effort. Even President Bush eventually reversed course and reinstated wage protections for Gulf construction workers that he had removed in September 2005. That we are back to fighting an estate tax rollback that is 75 percent of the cost of full repeal, and having to fight gimmicks disrespecting hourly wage earners, says much about our political leaders' priorities.

The House leadership proudly touted its "American Values Agenda" week in July, which included votes on gay marriage, the pledge of allegiance, abortion, and human cloning. Missing from that agenda was the value of promoting family economic security. Integrity of political procedure seems also to have been missing, which isn't new. Before last week's vote, a $7.25 minimum wage increase passed a House committee as part of an appropriations bill. Apparently that committee's values took House leaders by surprise. Stuck without an easy way to strip out the wage increase, House leadership has chosen not to move that appropriations bill forward until after the elections. By denying a straightforward vote and coupling the wage increase with other politically dicey provisions, House leaders are again choosing political charades over people and the common good.

If the "trifecta" bill becomes law (the Senate will vote on it this week), the trade-off for a minimum wage increase will be a sacrifice of other supports for working families playing by the rules but coming up short. Work must "work" - working families, individuals, and those unable to work deserve a living family income. They deserve to be treated with respect - especially by their elected representatives. They deserve an up or down vote on the wages for their labor.

Yonce Shelton is senior policy director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

Action Alert

Call your Senators today at 1-800-459-1887*

The Senate is expected to vote on the "trifecta" bill this week! Tell your senators to oppose the bill! This number will get you to the Capitol Switchboard. Once you reach an operator, ask for your senator's office, and once you reach a member of his or her staff, say:

As a person of faith, I think it's morally outrageous that Congress is playing politics with low-wage workers. Vote NO on H.R. 5970, the cynical ploy to slash the estate tax. This bill disgracefully ties a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage to enriching multimillionaire heirs by hundreds of billions of dollars. Reject this bill and simply raise the minimum wage to $7.25.

More Resources:

*The toll-free number is provided courtesy of the American Friends Service Committee.

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Mercy, mercy, mercy!
by Ben Jacques

To many today, mercy is weakness. To insist on punishment, even the taking of human life, shows strength, and satisfies our yearnings for revenge. Yet if we are to learn anything from our greatest poet, and from our sacred texts, we must agree with Abraham Lincoln when he said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."

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'A conspiracy of cordiality'

What we call "church" is too often a gathering of strangers who see the church as yet another "helping institution" to gratify further their individual desires. One of the reasons some church members are so mean-spirited with their pastor, particularly when the pastor urges them to look at God, is that they feel deceived by such pastoral invitations to look beyond themselves. They have come to church for "strokes," to have their personal needs met. What we call church is often a conspiracy of cordiality. Pastors learn to pacify rather than preach to their Ananiases and Sapphiras. We say we do it out of "love." Usually, we do it as a means of keeping everyone as distant from everyone else as possible. You don't get into my life and I will not get into yours.

- Stanley Hauerwas

Source: Resident Aliens

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How Then Shall We Politick? Christianity Today

Liberal Christianity Has Not Yet Risen to the Occasion

In Search of the 'Values' Voter Acton Institute

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.

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Readers write

Nanci Hogan writes from Luton, United Kingdom:

I really appreciated Jim Wallis' and Philip Rizk's articles about the current conflict in Lebanon and Gaza ["The body of Christ in Lebanon," "Meanwhile, back in Gaza," SojoMail 7/27/2006]. I am an American expatriate living in the U.K. and I have been to both Lebanon and the Occupied Territories and was in Bethlehem when the crisis in Gaza started. I am heartbroken by the oppression and injustice that the citizens of both places are suffering. Even Israeli human rights organizations are critical of Israeli human rights abuses in Palestine and now in Lebanon. Lebanon was a flourishing nation recovering from decades of civil war. The Christian community will be asked to respond generously (and I hope it will) to the humanitarian crises in both places. However, it would have been far better had Israel not precipitated either of them by their disproportionate military response.

The root causes of the situation go back to the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe, the rise of anti-Semitism and Zionism as a solution for the Holocaust. The Palestinian people are paying for the Holocaust although they didn't cause it Palestinians are locked in their territory behind a security wall. Palestinian homes are demolished to make way for the security fence which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. Even the Israeli Supreme court has ruled against some of the land expropriations that Israel has sponsored to build the fence.


Peter Sills writes from Marshfield, Vermont:

As an American Jew, I too am heartbroken (twice) about the indiscriminate harm being caused in so much of Lebanon. (Twice because this simply couldn't have happened without U.S. approval.) But as long as I've got a chance to speak to Christians, I'd like to express my belief that Israel no longer cares much about world opinion - and rightly so. Clearly, the Muslims aren't going to be helpful, no matter what happens. But, unfortunately, the Christians in Europe aren't a whole lot more sympathetic. I've talked to and tried to work with a lot of Europeans on this issue, and too many of them just see Israel as evil, deserving whatever it gets. All the Israelis I know just throw up their hands and stop caring. Taking only one side, no matter how oppressed and deserving that side may be, can never lead to peace.


William Phillips, Colonel, USAF (ret) writes from Houston, Texas:

I am very disappointed in how our country has responded to the Israeli attack on Lebanon. I am a Christian and have been all my life. I also spent 30-plus years in the military in this country, including three tours in Vietnam. I have a degree in religion and that makes me even more disappointed in our response.

The media talks about thousands of rockets from Lebanon as if they are not offset by many more thousands of bombs from Israel. They also point out Israeli prisoners but most often fail to mention hundreds of prisoners that the Israeli's hold. There is also little reporting on how much Hezbollah is involved in the life of the Lebanese government. For a government that proposes "democracy" as the best of all worlds, we don't seem to support that view when the opinions of the "elected" leader seem to be viewed as unacceptable by many members of our government. Our actions as a country, in this awful situation, may prove more costly than we think.


Dr. Tamara Fiche writes from West Orange, New Jersey:

Your anti-Semitic articles asserting that Israel is using disproportionate force demonstrate that you do not understand that Israel must eliminate Hezbollah. Israel has no choice but to use disproportionate force. Israel's enemies have vowed to annihilate her. However, whereas Israel gave warnings to civilians to leave the scene of destruction, you can be assured that Hezbollah would relish in eliminating not only the country of Israel, but all of her Jews.


Maha Said-Shariff writes from Rancho Cucamonga, California:

Any respect I may have had for your previous writings has been tainted by the unbearable realization that you, like many in the West, are simple mouthpieces for Israel. This is not about religion - this is about brutal occupation, aggression, and injustices that reign over a land of displaced, disregarded, and brutalized people.


Want to make your voice heard? Click here to respond to SojoMail articles Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views, though we reserve the right to edit published responses for length and clarity.

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