The Common Good

Shameless acts of power

Sojomail - November 20, 2002


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+++++++++++++++++++++ 20-November-2002 ++++++++++++++++++++++++
++++++++++++++++++ Shameless Acts of Power ++++++++++++++++++++

 Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k
     *Mixing oil and testosterone
 B a t t e r i e s   N o t   I n c l u d e d
     *Shameless acts of power

 F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
     *Lipstick at school

 S o u l   W o r k s
     *Pictures of the afterlife

 C a m p u s   L i n e s
     *The real truth about war

 B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
     *Effects of sanctions on Iraq

 C o n s u m e r   W a t c h
     *Free drugs...hmm, prescriptive, that is

 S o j o C i r c l e s
     *Connect with others on war and peace

 B o o m e r a n g
     *SojoMail readers reply

 W e b s c e n e
     *The virtual O'Brien: painter's gallery
     *Photography to change the image at a time
     *Online nonviolence seminar
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Q u o t e   o f   t h e   W e e k

"Mixing oil and testosterone can be dangerous."

                - Dr. Myriam Miedzian
                  author, "Boys Will Be Boys"


B a t t e r i e s   N o t   I n c l u d e d
Shameless acts of power

by David Batstone

Shameless. Without honor.

I can't find any other words to describe the blatant acts of conflict-of-interest that mark politics and big business at the moment.

Two weeks ago I lamented in this column the prevalence of "sham capitalism" - the man (Harvey Pitt) placed at the top of a public agency (the SEC) to punish the fraudulent practices of major corporations was once a lobbyist for the very practices he was assigned to regulate. The rationale: He knows the players and networks so well he can be effective. Right.

In my column, I chose by whim one example of "sham capitalism," the Carlyle Group headquartered in Washington, D.C. The latest scandal of the past week - the resignation of William Webster as chief of a new board to oversee the accounting profession - linked the SEC and the Carlyle Group closer than I ever could have imagined. My reference was a matter of coincidence. The fact it turns out to be proleptic hints at the degree of cronyism that characterizes the halls of power. Here's the brief summary:

William Webster, former director of the FBI and the CIA, was recruited by Harvey Pitt to head a new board to oversee the accounting profession (cooking the company books has become a culinary art in the business world of late). Webster resigned from his post last week after it was learned: 1) Pitt had failed to disclose that Webster was the head of the audit committee of U.S. Technologies, a nearly insolvent company that has been accused of financial fraud; and 2) Whilst head of the committee, Webster had fired an audit firm that alerted the company that it had misrepresented its financial numbers.

This information has been widely reported in the newspapers. But my further investigation has revealed that U.S. Technologies is partly owned by the Carlyle Group. This is how I described Carlyle two weeks ago:

"Carlyle specializes in buying down-and-out aerospace and telecommunications companies, as well as defense contractors -­ all industries wherein government regulation is a key switch for operating successfully in commercial markets. Carlyle then turns around and sells a company when its fortunes miraculously improve with the influx of new and lucrative government contracts. Not coincidentally, Carlyle has intimate links inside the corridors of political power; among the firm's associates can be found former U.S. president George H. W. Bush, former U.K. prime minister John Major, and a bevy of other one-time politicians and cabinet ministers from around the globe."

U.S. Technologies is in the business of contracting out prison labor at low wages. It's not hard to see why Carlyle, with its wealth of insider connections, would find an investment in the company attractive. What better person to have on the board than the former head of the CIA and the FBI?

Despite all of these conflicts of interest, the person chosen to right the ship of fraudulent misrepresentation in corporate America is none other than William Webster. The government post calls for the utmost honor, and yet it appears that no scarcer resource can be lacking in Washington, D.C., these days.



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F u n n y   B u s i n e s s
Lipstick at school 

According to a news report, a certain private school in Victoria recently was faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick they would press their lips to the mirror, leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night, the maintenance man would remove them and the next day, the girls would put them back.

Finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night. To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

There are teachers, and then there are educators....


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S o u l   W o r k s
Pictures of the afterlife

ars moriendi 

by Jude Nutter

Over the hills the snow
has been falling for a long time.

And your body,
full of small
falling journeys
from which I cannot save you,
has begun its slender
and unholy unfolding.

Outside your room
the sane, ordinary chatter of starlings
is like that brief
volley of rain across the window after dark:
a small, comfortable sound
into which we wake, which stands against
all that wide remoteness we discover
in things that have been falling

for a long time. And yet you are so full
with the bird-like, invisible wisdom
of light and distance, and I am trying

so hard to think of less terrible
or beautiful things.

*From "Pictures of the Afterlife." Available at:


C a m p u s   L i n e s
The real truth about war

by Nate Johnston

It's not often that I get goose bumps from reading the newspaper. But when a co-worker showed me an article from Wednesday's "Washington Post," I couldn't help feeling overwhelmed. With all the political debate on college campuses over why the U.S. shouldn't go to war with Iraq, it's easy to over-intellectualize the discussion and lose sight of the human life that's at stake. Here's the article:


A call to arms by an enemy of war against Iraq

by Courtland Milloy

Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine and former U.N. arms inspector, peppered his Veterans Day talk at the University of Maryland with the kinds of questions and challenges that are known to fire up an audience.

"The average age of a lance corporal is 20," Ritter said. "The average age of a college student is 20." Calling the students in the audience "just kids," he asked who among them could wake up the next morning, look in the mirror and honestly say that "what's going on in Iraq is worthy of my life."

At the same time, did the students really know enough about Iraq to sit back silently while others go off to die for them? And did they really understand that war is not the Nintendo game that we see on television, that it is, in fact, about "terminating life" and nothing more?

To read the entire feature, go to:


B y   t h e   N u m b e r s
Effects of sanctions on Iraq

On August 6, 1990, the U.N. Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, prohibiting all imports (except medical supplies) and exports, unless the Security Council permitted exceptions. While the sanctions are intended to limit the regime's access to weapons materials, here's what's happened to the Iraqi people since then:

*23% of all births affected by low infant birth weight

*1 in 4 children under 5 years old affected by chronic malnutrition - double the amount from 1991 to 1996

*Only 41% of the population has regular access to clean water

*83% of schools in Central and Southern Iraq need substantial repairs

*School enrollment has declined to 53%

*Overall data point to the fact that "the country has experienced a shift from relative affluence to massive poverty."

Source: "Guide to Sanctions" (based on U.N. Security Council Humanitarian Panel's report), Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq, March 30, 1999:

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C o n s u m e r   W a t c h
Free drugs...hmm, prescriptive, that is

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S o j o C i r c l e s
Connect with others on war and peace

There seems to be greater respect these days for the anti-war movement as people from all walks of life ­- conservatives and liberals, pacifists and just war proponents alike -­ are questioning the administration's pre-emptive stance on the situation in Iraq. More than ever, people need a place where they can discuss their convictions and do something about them. If you're trying to make sense of the mounting war and feel the need to be a part of a movement of people speaking out against it, check out SojoCircles. For more information about starting a group on your college campus, or in your church or community, please contact us at or visit our Web site for a list of those groups already formed:

Our newest members are:

Milwaukee, WI. Carole Poth:­

Canberra, Australia. Doug Hynd:­


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B o o m e r a n g

Dick Brummel from Kansas City, Missouri:

I am glad that Jim chose to respond in the 11.13.02 edition to those two notes in Boomerang. He is right on target about the "real" divide that exists in the country. It is perhaps a bit easier to see in the state of Missouri where 1/3 of the votes cast for state auditor this month (more than 600,000) went to the Republican candidate who is a convicted felon (two counts of financial fraud)! The war and lower taxes obviously seduced a lot of folks into ignoring really important local issues. The sad point is that those same folks do not seem to see who benefits from the war and the tax breaks.


Gene Fifer writes from Charlottesville, Virginia:

Thank you for publishing the critical reader e-mails and Jim Wallis' response. I would like to add that the American people were offered a clear moral vision of economic justice and international conflict resolution during the Carter administration and rejected that vision. They very much resonated with the opposite vision and elected Reagan twice and Bush Sr. once. We must accept that peace and justice are minority beliefs in America and go forward from there. To win an election, a coalition must be built with peace and justice advocates and parts of the electorate who are more concerned with the poor, those sliding into poverty from the middle class, and labor and young voters.


David Timms writes from Fullerton, California: Jim, thanks very much for reiterating my point. You are absolutely right in affirming that there are decent faith-filled, honest followers of Christ on both the left and right sides of politics. My point exactly. I had reacted to the tone of disappointment that I sensed in your original article - namely, a certain commiseration for the Democrats who deserved to win (I'm not sure why) but lost to a merely better organized (but clearly violent and greedy) Republican party. The rest of your response about the influence of the church in society was spot on. Oh, by the way, I'm not a Republican Party member. I'm a resident alien and don't even get to vote!


Sheri Kling writes from Marietta, Georgia:

The "vision" of the Republican party does ring true - if you're well-off, working, drive gas-guzzling SUVs, seek endless development, and unbridled corporate profits at the expense of regular folks AND the environment - and want to be sure it stays that way. Personally, there are aspects of both parties that I truly despise. To me, neither party offers a vision that matches what this country set out to accomplish with the Declaration of Independence.


Linda Lilley writes from Hartford City, Indiana:

[Note: Excerpt of this letter published in last week's SojoMail]

I am appalled that you could support the Muslim publication, "A True Word!" With its sexism so prevalent,how could you present it as a favorable publication? I now even question if I can support any Muslims in their "faith," for the only "true Muslim faith" of any Muslim is inevitably, incredibly, sexist! Not that many "Christian" sects and other faith groups are not also guilty of this (but they aren't all so unanimous in it - some do, quite openly even, refute it)! Let's be honest - put any other group, i.e., blacks, Indians, under constant attack like this and you'd all be up in arms against the prejudice and the lies! But women, no matter what their color, are the true "niggers" of the world, one with no human saviors! We are saved to fill the slots left by the liberation of all the other oppressed peoples, all of whom are convinced, deep down, that the position of "nigger" is both necessary and their fair share!


Ismail Royer, a member of the editorial board of "A True Word," writes:

I am a member of the editorial board of "A True Word" and, not surprisingly, I take issue with Ms. Lilley's characterization of both our publication and faith. I am not sure what specifically prompted her to label our publication "sexist," aside from perhaps one article's critique of feminism. It seems quite narrow-minded and unsophisticated to equate being opposed to feminism with being opposed to women. Feminism is not womanhood. If Muslims and Christians are to grow beyond the stifling hostility of the status quo, we must begin to look deeper than our superficial understanding of each other. We invite readers to visit our site and challenge any position that they feel we may have gotten wrong, or ask if they think they may have misunderstood. Maybe we'll both learn something.


Amrita Burdick writes from Kansas City, Missouri:

I admit that I have not yet explored "A True Word." Unfortunately, cultural errors (and narrow people) enter every religious tradition. Please do not discount Islam on this account. The right of women to inheritance and to choose or be released from marriage in Islam preceded her freedom in Christian cultures, at a time when a woman was still considered the property of her spouse in the Western world. This is based on Quran - not on local culture. The status of women varies from country to country in our modern world. It is not exclusively the domain of religion. Many times in the USA people focus on clothing as a sign of oppression, though for some the veil is a form of protection - as it was for many years for Catholic sisters. Personally I do not veil except for prayer but that is my own choice. There *are* problems. I have listened to some totally obnoxious juma lectures that were more chauvinist than Muslim. I have heard comparably chauvinist remarks from right-wing Christian folk. No tradition has a corner on error as far as I can see.


David Westaway writes from Ballarat, Australia:

Re: Bob Barber's "Thoughts from a veteran (Vietnam) on Veterans' Day" [Boomerang - 11/13/02]. Here in Australia, I am fortunately at a distance from some of the U.S. political debate regarding the best way of dealing with terrorism that is currently the number one discussion topic on SojoMail. So while I see the validity of many of Mr. Barber's points, I fail to see how Franklin Graham is a "Judas" Christian. My (possibly over- simplified) understanding is that Franklin Graham had the unmitigated gall to request that Muslim clerics denounce the terrorist attacks and that as a response, one basically declared a fatwa on him and two other Christian leaders.

From my side of the world, my limited knowledge of Franklin Graham is through Samaritan's Purse, which runs Operation Christmas Child. This initiative promotes the filling of shoeboxes with gifts that are transported to poverty-stricken children around the world. As a school teacher trying to raise the plight of developing nations with my grade 6 students, I find this a terrific way to give the refugees, boat- people, and famine-affected a human face. Does this initiative sound like the type a "Judas" Christian would instigate?


Bill Samuel writes from Silver Spring, Maryland:

It is one thing to refuse to participate in an immoral act required by one's government or to stand in the way of an evil act even though such a moral act is regarded as illegal. It is quite another to demonstrate with the aim of getting arrested. I'm sorry to see Sojourners join in this cheapening of the concept of civil disobedience and undermining legitimate law. The Christian is required to conform with the state's laws where conscience permits. Tactical civil disobedience is clearly contrary to the Christian faith.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:


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W e b s c e n e
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*The virtual O'Brien

Visit the official online gallery presenting the works of painter, novelist, and essayist Michael D. O'Brien. Especially recommended is the gallery of "profiled works" featured on left column.


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