The Common Good

The War on the Poor

Sojomail - May 7, 2003

Quote of the Week Chomsky: Root causes to terror
Hearts & Minds Jim Wallis: The war on the poor
By the Numbers The top largest employers in the USA
Soul Works Joan Chittister: Shaping holy lives
Funny Business Our odds-on favorite man of virtues
Politically Connect Susan Sontag: The power of principle
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Culture Watch At the movies: post-modern messiahs
Web Scene Tools for the post-modern church | An eerie journey through high art | Dream comics

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If you're interested in terror, you should look at its causes.... [But] you're not allowed to look at the causes because that's considered rationalization or justification.... And there's a good reason for that. As soon as you look at the causes, you start looking in the mirror."

- Noam Chomsky

The war on the poor
by Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

It is now clear that the ongoing costs of the war with Iraq and the Bush administration's tax cuts for the wealthy are leading to a crisis for America's poorest children. Indeed, America's poor were the first casualties of this war, as U.S. domestic needs were literally pushed off the political agenda.

Last month, Congress approved nearly $80 billion requested by the administration as the first payment for the war with Iraq. Then they agreed to a budget resolution containing billions of dollars in new tax cuts and increased spending for the military, while resources for important domestic programs fell below the amount needed even to maintain current services in a deteriorating situation for the poor.

The consequences of these actions are becoming a silent war, felt most severely in the poorest parts of the United States, where low-income families are desperately clutching onto the bottom rungs of the failing economy. Virtually every state in America is suffering terrible budget deficits. But the budget offers no relief for states, and no solutions to the deficits except further cuts to critically needed domestic poverty programs, child health care, and education. Consider some recent news stories telling of the administration's plans:

* Cuts in Medicaid benefits mean that millions of low-income Americans will see reductions or lose health insurance entirely.

* Vouchers that assist nearly 2 million families to pay rent will be replaced by block grants run by the states, with no accountability for funding decisions.

* In the last two years, nearly half the states have cut child care funding.

* In one of the most incredible announcements, the Internal Revenue Service is planning to ask more than four million people who use the Earned Income Tax Credit for stringent proof of eligibility (added to forms that are already 54 pages long), a chilling measure that will directly affect working poor families and undercut perhaps the most effective bipartisan program for poverty reduction.

The truth is that hungry people will go without food stamps, poor children will go without health care, elderly will go without medicine, and school children will go without textbooks, so that the taxes of the wealthiest Americans can be further reduced.

Even the president's faith-based initiative is now being sacrificed at the altar of tax cuts. The Senate finally passed the CARE Act by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, including restoring more than $1 billion dollars to the Social Services Block Grant, funds that would assist state and local social service providers. Astonishingly, the same day the White House announced it would oppose that funding. Once again, the budget priorities of the administration do not match its rhetorical promise of a faith-based initiative to reduce poverty.

The faith-based initiative, which many of us have supported, is in danger of becoming a hollow program that merely provides equal access for religious groups to the crumbs falling from the federal table. Yet, the drastic state budget cuts will be acutely felt by faith-based service providers who will bear the brunt of increased poverty in their communities. I've been talking to many people who run these programs and who have been supportive of the faith-based initiative. Frankly, they are angry and feel betrayed.

The administration's priorities are a disaster for the poor, a windfall for the wealthiest, and thus directly conflict with biblical priorities. Budgets are moral documents. They reveal the priorities of a family, church, city, or nation.

So let me say as clearly as I possibly can - the federal budget now being proposed is unbiblical. We must clearly and prophetically respond. Now, more than any time during the past 20 years, we need a faith-based initiative against political priorities that neglect poor people.

Next week, we will send an action alert to reverse the decisions to police the poor more than the rich, and to cripple one of the most effective low-income programs we have ever had, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

And I strongly invite you to join Call to Renewal in Washington, D.C., on June 9-11, 2003, for our annual national mobilization, this year named "Pentecost 2003: Pray and Act to Put America's Poor on the National Agenda." Pentecost has become a time for Call to Renewal to bring churches and faith-based organizations together in the nation's capital to address the needs of low-income people in this country. Now is a critical time for Christians to change the national conscience by reminding society of God's priorities.

Please prayerfully consider joining us in Washington, D.C., June 9-11, 2003. Your presence is very important, for the nation and for you, and I pray that you will join us. For more information on Pentecost 2003 and to register, please go to:

Happy Mother's DayHonor your mother and those you love on Mother's Day by making a gift to support Sojourners' ministry of peace and justice.

Did you know that Mother's Day was suggested as a day of peace in the United States by Julia Ward Howe, who protested the carnage of war in her bold proclamation of 1870? Decades later in 1907, the first Mother's Day observance was held at a church service honoring the memory of Anna Reese Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia. Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized women during the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions and to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors.

Give a gift today to honor those who stand for peace and justice! We will then send you a Mother's Day message you can send to your friends. Click here:

The top largest employers in the USA

A list of the 10 largest employers in the USA, according to the 2003 Fortune 500:

Wal-Mart: 1.3 million employees
McDonalds: 413,000 employees
United Parcel Service: 360,000 employees
Ford Motor Company: 350,321 employees
General Motors: 350,000 employees
IBM: 315,889 employees
General Electric: 315,000 employees
Target: 306,000 employees
Home Depot: 300,000 employees
Kroger: 289,000 employees

Added together, these top 10 employers oversee a population of employees roughly equal to the population of South Carolina or Scotland. Wal-Mart alone has a payroll as large as the combined populations of Delaware and Wyoming.

Source: Fortune magazine

Shaping holy lives
by Joan Chittister

The rabbis taught that the purpose of Sabbath was threefold. The first purpose was to free the poor as well as the rich for at least one day a week, and that included the animals, too. Nobody had to take an order from anybody on the Sabbath. The second purpose was to give people time to evaluate their work as God evaluated creation to see if their work, too, is really life-giving. And the third reason for the Sabbath was to give people a space to contemplate the real meaning of life. If anything has brought the modern world to the brink of destruction, it must surely be the loss of Sabbath.

For an adapted version of Joan Chittister's address to the Trinity Institute of New York, link to:

Sojourners presents:

Suffering Servants: A multimedia presentation on Colombia's churches

Click here to view the presentation:

Our odds-on favorite man of virtues
by Ed Spivey Jr.

Call To Renewal Pentecost 2003In his best-selling book, "The Book of Virtues," conservative moralist Bill Bennett gives us the 10 principles of a life well lived. Unfortunately, because of a printer's error, the principle about not gambling got left out and Bennett - who is nothing without his principles - spent the last few years dropping more than $8 million in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Perhaps he's already tweaking his list to embrace his real moral passion:

Self-Discipline: Walking along the highway of life, one need look no further than his own heart to maintain a moral compass. To know what is right, keep on course, and always cover the spread, even when Tampa Bay is playing at home on a Monday night against the Cardinals.

Work: My vocation is to educate. There is no higher calling than to be a teacher, and I never miss an opportunity to share what I know with another human being. Just last night, for example, I told the guy next to me he should always stick with 16, even if the dealer is showing a face card. He smiled and said, simply, "thanks." Another lesson taught. Another life touched.

Compassion: (Note to self: give limo driver a big tip. Last night I made him wait outside Caesar's Palace for about three hours before he drove me to the MGM Grand. Plus, he loaned me a $20).

Responsibility: In a committed marriage, you realize that life is not just about your needs. When two become one, there are no longer any borders between partners. What's yours is hers, and what's hers is yours, as long as you pay her back before she finds out you took money from her purse.

Friendship: I never met a blackjack dealer I didn't like. And they really like me. Probably because they find my books inspiring.

Courage: I remember once I was down by a quarter million in the back room of Circus Circus. I was starting to think it wasn't my night. I reached into my pocket to give my lucky rabbit's foot one more rub to put me back in the game, and it was gone! I had never felt so alone, so afraid. I looked around the table at the cold faces staring back at me, until the dealer finally asked, "Are you in?" I looked back at him with a steely eye and replied, "Darn right I am." And then I lost another hundred grand. Oh well.

Perseverance: Nobody can ever accuse me of giving up. You don't lose $8 million bucks by stopping when you're behind. You don't flush THAT kind of money down the toilet by abandoning your goals, by quitting when the going gets tough. No, you press on, you laugh in the face of failure and push forward and say, with conviction, "Deal me in." Of course, it helps when you get complimentary beverages.

Honesty: When I get home from a trip my wife always asks me how the speech went. I never hesitate to tell her the truth. "Honey," I reply after a warm hug and a gentle kiss on the forehead, "they loved the speech. And by the way, I lost six hundred thou at the dice table. I figured sevens had to come up eventually, but I underestimated how long that might be. I could have stayed longer and won it all back, sweetheart, but I knew you'd worry."

Loyalty: They've tried to steer me away from my beliefs. They've tempted me, they've cajoled, they've threatened. But I have remained steadfast and have not wavered in my belief that, without question, The Golden Nugget makes the best steak and eggs on the strip. And they serve breakfast at midnight if you want, which is what I like.

Faith: The Bible claims that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." How true. I have faith, I BELIEVE, with all my heart, that one day I'll float a pair of threes past the table without showing my cards. In my mind's eye I can already see the look of doubt in the eyes of my opponents. And yet, they won't have the courage to test me, to call my bluff. The fools! Hah hahahahahahahahaha!

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director at Sojourners.

The power of principle
by Susan Sontag

It is hard to defy the wisdom of the tribe, but resistance to injustice has never been more necessary. Susan Sontag pays tribute to the heroes of past struggles and to the moral courage of Rachel Corrie and the Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.,6000,943597,00.html


Mark Fulop writes from Portland, Oregon:

In response to David Batstone's article on rebuilding Iraq - It seems Batstone focuses on the trees rather than the forest. While one could arguably find reasons to highlight individual socially responsible actions within companies like Bechtel, Shell, and Xerox, when one aggregates the whole of these corporations and places them in the larger geo-political context, it is almost inconceivable to recommend that these companies are global or ethical stewards. However, by his own history, Batstone has painted himself into an uncomfortable box. Looking back at the geo-political realities of the Internet years that spawned the Enrons and Tycos, Batstone was part of the larger context that promoted the untenable, irrational, and unethical companies. As a founding editor of Business 2.0 and, along with its cronies Red Herring, Upside Today, and the Industry Standard, Batstone helped build (and profit from) the very companies he now warns against that enriched a handful of individuals and displaced billions of investment dollars. Does Batstone really have an ethical voice?


Mike McVey writes from Kansas City, Missouri:

After an excruciatingly painful e-mail exchange with a very well-known conservative religious intellectual regarding his chilling commentaries on the Iraq war, I am growing deeply appreciative of the alternative Sojourners provides through your uncommonly civil commentary and activism. It brings me grace and hope as I learn to stop reacting with hostility to the increasingly reactionary discourse among some in the religious right since 9-11. Indeed, yours is an organization that, at the very least, is distinguished by its effort to affirm a positive vision for Christian activism, rather than the toxic negativity of politics that find their identify only in being against some enemy. Thanks for working hard to be for something!


Ned Breslin writes from Niassa Province, Mozambique:

One of my biggest problems with the debate over "liberation" and "pre-emption" is the complete lack of historical perspective surrounding this debate. We only have a "crisis" because we have ignored the buildup to the crisis for so long. And in the case of Iraq, we sadly contributed to the making of this crisis, and let it unfold for 30 years. I can already hear the howls of derision but these howls simply mask the real point. The U.S. supported Saddam Hussein, and Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq to show U.S. support for his regime when the Iraqis were gassing the Iranians in the late 1980s. We said nothing. Saddam Hussein was always a tyrant but we said nothing until he overplayed his hand and invaded Kuwait. And we watched as innocent Iraqis died by the tens of thousands through sanctions that were mistargeted and ineffective.

Sept. 11 comes and so now we must free the world from the threat of terrorism, and we do so with a gun instead of a real strategy that starves terrorism of a base. We feed that base with our actions. And we are setting the table for trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan once again. In Afghanistan we secured the support of warlords during the war who have no real interest in freedom and democracy and are now a major source of tension and instability. This support was secured with cash, not with vision. And in Iraq we are already trying to guide and massage Iraqi freedom and democracy so that what Iraqis "choose" will be acceptable to the U.S. This is short-term stability, not democracy, and will likely come back to haunt us again.


Jim Forest writes from the Netherlands:

An addendum to last week's Funny Business on how many Christians it takes to change a light bulb.

Orthodox Church: Change? What change?


Dennis Strickland writes from Dallas, Texas:

That was funny, but you missed one:

Methodist: We will form a committee to study the need for a light bulb and the personnel needed to do the job.


Sabrina Chan writes from Austin, Texas:

In response to Rev. Suzanne M. Post from last week's Boomerang, "Re: Lament of a Child: It is awful that the author would accuse God of racism, of asking God if He would love him more if he was white?"

It seems to me that the poet was questioning, much as the psalmist does, the surroundings he sees, and honestly asking God these questions. Certainly, psalmists ask God hard questions that have more to do with people's sins than the character of God. As a person of color, that portion of the poem struck home, not in an economic way for me, but definitely in a social, emotional, and even a treatment-within-the-Church kind of way. Thanks for the poem, Matt.


Ian Wrisley writes from Lake Norden, South Dakota:

Last week Mary Gillot Virgin wrote: "Each of us is a microcosm of the Divine Creator. Of course, cruelty and suffering are God's doing, because we are all part of God."

If we are all a part of God, and if cruelty and suffering are God's doing, then raping the environment, murdering children, robbing the needy, and starving are not my fault. It's God's fault. To do such things is not to attack God, but it is God attacking God's self. So, God, in Ms. Virgin's cosmology, is suicidal. This kind of twists logic past the breaking point.


Nirala Iswary writes from India:

My heart goes out for the women of Iraq. Let them be really liberated from head covers, too. Let them live like other free women around the world.


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:

At the movies: post-modern messiahs

Each of these films features a messianic figure. Can you think of more?

The Matrix
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
The Green Mile
The Omega Man
High Noon
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Cool Hand Luke
On the Waterfront
Dead Poets Society
The Brother From Another Planet
The Man Who Fell to Earth

*Tools for the post-modern church

Faithmaps bills itself as the toolshed for navigating theology, leadership, discipleship, and church life in post-modernity.

*An eerie journey through high art

Enjoy this animated short about a bizarre journey that starts in a bar, then moves behind the canvas and inside famous paintings. Freaky and a little unnerving, you'll watch the hero wander through the imaginations of Bosch, Chagall, Dali, Picasso, Pollock, and more.

*Dream comics

Jesse Reklaw is the cartoonist of your dreams - literally. Submit the torrid tale of how you were unprepared for a math test, clad only in flip-flops, and let Reklaw bring your dream to life online. A new strip is uploaded each week. Parental note: some comics are rated PG-13 - but hey, that's the subconscious for you.

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