The Common Good

Flipping the Corrupt Tables

Sojomail - May 11, 2006

Quote of the Week : The math of war
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: Flipping the corrupt tables
Colombia Journal : Pray for war victims and peacemakers in Colombia
Faith in Action : Learning the power of collective action
Eco News : Biofuel bonanza or GM greenwash?
Sojourners in the News : This week's media round-up
Boomerang : Readers write
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The Secret Message of Jesus
by Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren, one of Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," is back. His latest work, The Secret Message of Jesus, leads readers on a journey as ground-shaking as it is life-changing. The quest: find the essential message of Jesus' life - even if it overturns conventional ideas, priorities, and practices.

"Through the years, I have frequently had an uncomfortable feeling," wrote McLaren, "that the portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn't fit with the images of Jesus in the church." Out of that nagging discomfort arose McLaren's most revolutionary book to date.


"We have to understand that the way we treat Iraqis has a direct effect on the number of insurgents that we are fighting.... For every one that I kill, I create almost 10 more."

- Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who has been training U.S. troops to be more culturally sensitive and to use less force.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South
By Danny Duncan Collum
ISBN 0809143712

This new book by Sojourners contributing editor Danny Duncan Collum is based on oral interviews conducted by the Glenmary Research Center with members of Holy Family Parish in Natchez, the first black Catholic Church in Mississippi. Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South is filled with firsthand accounts of the role this parish - and the Catholic Church - played in the lives of black Catholics and of how the parish and the larger church in Mississippi helped advance the civil rights movement. Click here to order.


Flipping the corrupt tables
by David Batstone

I deeply appreciate the feedback I get from SojoMail readers. The responses tend to fall into one of two camps: 1) praise for thoughtful and gracious rhetoric; 2) criticism for being a complete idiot.

The latter approach really tickles me. I kid you not; it is rare to receive a letter of dissent from a reader that takes this tack: "Dear Mr. Batstone: I found your arguments very compelling and insightful, but I simply disagree with your assumptions."

To the contrary, nearly every letter of criticism I receive tells me that I "completely misunderstand the subject," or, more commonly, that I have a character defect (choose your label: "wacko," "heretic," "liberal," and some I dare not re-publish).

My favorite letter of critique came earlier this year. In a refreshing twist, the reader opened her note by apologizing. She recalled that I had written several essays opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the time, she and her family had considered me a traitor, not to mention intellectually and emotionally bankrupt. She then went on: "I wish I had apologized to you earlier, because I now write to you to rebuke your column from last week. You are completely wrong on...." My redemption was short-lived in her household, apparently.

Alas, I hate to disappoint those few readers who find me thoughtful and gracious. Because at the moment I am prepared to explode into a rant. I just can't stand it anymore! Why? Because corruption passes for ordinary, acceptable behavior in the highest reaches of government and business.

What sends me into righteous rage (caveat to self: we all think our rage is righteous) is how obvious, bald-faced, and public the corruption is. Yet the perpetrators meet no shame or punishment fitting the crime. They laugh all the way to the bank.

I will offer two prime examples. From the start there was no doubt that Halliburton and its subsidiary, KBR, would bilk American taxpayers for work in Iraq. The bidding procedure for supplying troops and constructing infrastructure, both military and civilian, was patently unfair. Due to the lack of real competition, proposed budgets were bloated.

In an April 2003 column titled "The Buck $tops Here," I warned SojoMail readers that crony economics was guiding the funds targeted for reconstruction in Iraq. Here is what I wrote then:

"Looking ahead, the Bush team has requested $2.4 billion from Congress for humanitarian aid and reconstruction projects in Iraq; requests for billions more will follow once the war ends. Big business is lining up to sign lucrative contracts. The bidders represent some of the country's largest construction companies, all of them major donors to political campaigns. Halliburton shows up on the list of corporations that will benefit from the seizure of Iraq's oil wells. Vice President Dick Cheney, of course, was the chief executive of Halliburton before moving to public office."

In light of this public scrutiny, one would imagine that Halliburton would take extra care to execute efficiently in Iraq. To the contrary, within a year reports began leaking out of Iraq that malfeasance at Halliburton had become standard operating procedure. The Pentagon itself issued audits that confirmed Halliburton's dismal performance, and suggested that funds had been misdirected. Pentagon investigators concluded that Halliburton and KBR in Iraq had created "profound systemic problems," "exorbitant indirect costs," "misleading" and "distorted" cost reports, and an "obstructive" corporate attitude toward oversight.

But wait, the news gets worse. This past April, Pentagon investigators revealed that contractors over which Halliburton/KBR have oversight in Iraq are engaged in human trafficking. Low-skilled workers, mostly from underdeveloped nations, are deceived into traveling to Iraq with the promise of a lucrative job. Once they arrive, their passports are taken away and they are forced to work long hours at the most minimal wages.

So we saw it coming, we watched it unfold, and we witnessed the robbers run from the bank with impunity. I JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

I feel ire for ExxonMobil, too, though it feels inadequate for the grievous weight of its transgression. No, I am not referring to the nearly $8.4 billion ExxonMobil pulled in over the last quarter - yep, over three months alone - while the average Jane and Joe are getting raked at the gas pump. As it pumps in the record revenues, ExxonMobile's corporate policy practices contempt for the earth.

Paul Krugman wrote a devastating essay in The New York Times in late April denouncing ExxonMobil as an "enemy of the planet." Guess he can't take it anymore either.

Krugman explains how ExxonMobil has deliberately aimed to sow confusion and doubt about the existence of global warming. When the greenhouse effect rose to public consciousness in the 1980s, we faced a paucity of scientific research validating the extent of its impact. Exxon (which at the time had not merged with Mobil) decided to take an aggressive stance, and joined with other oil industry players to form the Global Climate Coalition. The primary purpose of the coalition was to lobby against all significant emissions regulation. Krugman reports that Shell and BP, among other companies, eventually left the coalition once it became undeniable that global warming was in play. Exxon, however, adopted an ongoing strategy to undermine the science of climate change.

Krugman cites a 2004 article in the journal Science that reviews the state of scientific research around global warming. Of the 928 serious, peer-reviewed articles on climate change published in academic journals, he writes, "none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position." Nevertheless, for the past two decades ExxonMobil has seen fit to throw money at individuals and groups offering "alternative perspectives" of global warming skeptics. The company's attitude toward research recalls the tobacco industry studies that suggested that perhaps cigarette smoke wasn't really that bad for you after all.

Is your blood boiling yet? I sincerely hope so, because we need an army of citizens to rise up and declare that THEY JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. The moneychangers have taken over the temple and they act openly and shamelessly. Their greed knows no limits. It's time to flip the tables.

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As you read Ode you'll realize it's an international magazine unlike any other. Ode reports on spirituality, social justice, sustainability, natural health, inspiring people and ideas, and so much more. Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, calls Ode "essential reading," and Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, calls Ode a "way of life."

Get an introductory subscription to Ode of six issues for only $10! Smile, laugh, and cry with Ode. Find out more for yourself and your loved ones.


Pray for war victims and peacemakers in Colombia
by Jess Hunter-Bowman

A Colombian pastor stands in front of his church where paramilitary attacks killed a Sunday school teacher. (Photo by Ryan Beiler)
On a warm March afternoon in the Colombian coastal city of Buenaventura, Oscar Munoz, the Afro-Colombian pastor of the local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church - and father of five young children - was shot and killed, the most recent victim of Colombia's conflict. Suspected paramilitary death squad members stopped Munoz on the street during his walk home and shot him five times in the head, killing him instantly.

Colombia's brutal war claims thousands of victims each year and has driven more than 3 million people out of their homes to seek safety in distant lands. Unfortunately, in the midst of thousands of horrible tales, the death of Munoz, a pastor deeply committed to his community and congregation, gets lost, buried by the sheer numbers.

Church leaders, activists, human rights defenders, and politicians are just some of the victims of this devastating conflict. Yet Colombians have not resigned themselves to another generation of war. Brave members of Colombia's faith community and progressives across the country are developing innovative mechanisms for building peace at the local, regional, and national levels.

+ Read the rest of the article

+ Take action to cut military aid to Colombia

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Speak Up for a Better World - Working Assets Wireless

Speak up for a better world - get a FREE cell phone, a great plan, and FREE shipping from Working Assets. We donate 1% of your wireless charges to progressive causes at no extra cost to you. Since 1985, we have raised more than $50 million for groups like Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and many more. Find out more now.

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Learning the power of collective action
by Patrick Ness

Young activists like me often feel we're part of a misplaced generation. Our parents marched and boycotted, danced and revolted. We played a lot of Nintendo. Bob Dylan told my parents that "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Dylan tells our generation ... well, actually, I'm not sure what he's saying anymore.

We are encouraged to care, but not question. We are told that individual acts of charity are to be commended, but that systems will never change. The "common good" only applies to those whose accents, skin, neighborhood, and paycheck look like our own. Don't get me wrong - we're not complacent. We simply haven't learned the power of collective action toward lasting social transformation.

This is changing, however. We've all felt it over the past couple of years, but never as strongly as last month when 1 million immigrants and allies took to the streets nationwide to call for comprehensive immigration reform.

+ Read the rest of the article

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Put a smile on two mothers' faces

The gift of a goat, cow, or other livestock will do more than put a smile on this mother's face - it will put milk in the jar to feed her children or sell at market. Giving to Heifer International makes it possible for mothers to raise healthy, happy families in China and dozens of other countries all around the world. There's no better way to show your mother she raised you right. Click here to help.


Biofuel bonanza or GM greenwash?

Want the straight dope on those "Live Green, Go Yellow" ads for GM's corn-fueled ethanol cars? Well, as you might expect, it's a mixed bag. According to a recent report in Grist Magazine, Dan Becker, director of Sierra Club's Global Warming Program, calls the campaign "unmitigated, total fraud," because it sidesteps the far greater impact that higher mileage standards would have. But the Natural Resources Defense Council's Nathanael Greene maintains, "There is no longer any question that biofuels can deliver major net savings in energy and emissions. The corn-based ethanol in wide use in many parts of the country is delivering clearly positive results already."

Even President Bush is praising alternative fuels as a way to reduce dependency on foreign oil. Who to believe? All sides have studies and analysis to back their claims, but the bottom line is this: no biofuel solution is the panacea for all of our energy problems, but anything to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse emissions is a step in the right direction. So, get on your bikes and ride!

+ Read the full article in Grist

+ Read about soy-based biodiesel, another fossil fuel alternative, in Sojourners magazine

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A Witness to End the War in Iraq
May 11-14

It is time for the war in Iraq to end. The human and economic costs of the war grow with each passing day. We are the majority and we must make our voices heard. Please join the American Friends Service Committee, veterans, military families, Iraqis, and others in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 13, for a Silent March and Speak Out to demand an immediate end to the war. Also visit the Eyes Wide Open exhibit on the National Mall.

More information: Silence of the Dead: Voices of the Living.


Top story:

Pulpits rev up in campaign Chicago Tribune
"The religious right flourishes when they are in control of a monologue," Wallis said. "As long as they are the only voice speaking, they are influential. When a dialogue breaks out they lose control quickly."

Other Sojourners in the news

Religious Climate Change? The Weekly Standard

God's Politics: Why the American Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It Asharq Alawast News

Presidents, religion, and American moral values The Lompoc Record

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Sojourners invites you to our monthly evening service: "Raised in Captivity - LIVE!: Memoir of a Life-Long Churchaholic," written and performed by C. McNair Wilson. Thursday, May 18, 2006, at 6:30 p.m. Call (202)328-8842 for information or click here.

Amnesty International's National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty, October 20-22, 2006, is an occasion for faith communities nationwide to examine the death penalty. Free materials provided! For more information, visit:

Make a pilgrimage to the Two-Thirds World with Ministry of Money: Israel/Palestine in November '06; India in '06; and Kenya in March '07. Listen, learn, and be a presence to the poor. Your life, and theirs, may never be the same. Visit

'Bible and the Contemporary World' - online, distance-learning graduate degree with the School of Divinity, the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Entry available each January and September exploring how Christianity and our culture relate.


Readers write

Sr. Judy Hoffhine writes from Columbus, Ohio:

Finally Darfur is getting the attention required to stop the genocide, but it has been 30+ years of this crisis ["The Darfur imperative," SojoMail 6/3/2006]. I read of nations around the world experiencing the beginnings of such civil hatred. What can we do now to prevent or stop other genocide movements - such as in Uganda. It must not take the world 30 years of killing before applying pressure. How can we, as people of any and all faiths, work together to cherish the lives God has given? I long for the day when we will be pro-active in human rights, not just reactive.


C. A. Pearson writes from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada:

Call me cynical, but as I was reading Jim Wallis' call for the U.S. to "push the U.N. Security Council to authorize a multinational peacekeeping force" to intervene in the genocide in Darfur, I couldn't help but think that the U.S. has been pretty selective in its approach to the U.N. The U.N. is a convenient scapegoat for issues where the U.S. doesn't want to become involved, often because it is a situation that doesn't serve its own national interests - or it's a good place to offload responsibility (let the U.N. do it!)

On the other hand, the U.N. is ignored and even derided by the American government when it takes action or makes proposals that are counter to the agenda of the U.S. Yes, something must be done to help the people in Darfur, but I think the U.S. has lost credibility as far as pushing the U.N. to do anything when Washington so obviously sees the U.N. as an ineffectual irritant so much of the time.


Nick Hershberger writes from Sugarcreek, Ohio:

I'm curious why exactly the U.S. government should push the U.N. to put a multinational peacekeeping force on the ground in Darfur. I haven't heard a word in support of military action in Iraq but now you want peacekeepers in Dafur. Despite the title "peacekeepers," they do carry guns. How exactly are peacekeepers to protect those in danger and ensure that food, medicine, etc., is getting appropriately distributed unless they are empowered to use violence if necessary? How do you reconcile that with your continuing calls for nonviolence in other situations?


Subramanian Venkatraman writes from Kansas City, Missouri:

I am an international student in the U.S. on an F-1 visa, and am in graduate school. Any relaxation of the rules to benefit illegal immigrants is a big insult to the legal ones and also to law-abiding visa-holders like myself. I agree that illegal aliens do work hard, but have you looked at the issue through the eyes of legal immigrants and visa-holders like myself? We go through lots of paperwork and documentation to obtain U.S. visas - it took me almost three months to compile the documentation I had to present at the American Consulate in my hometown in India - with no assurance of a visa being granted even after doing so.

After we arrive in the U.S., there are many rules and regulations that we have to comply with, and we do so to keep our status legal. For instance, the law requires non-citizens to inform the USCIS of their mailing addresses every single time they move within the U.S., and such information has to reach the USCIS within 10 days of the move. I know several people who entered the U.S. legally, have complied with complex rules to retain their legal status for years togther, have then applied five years after applying for it.

The point is, all those who support this proposed amnesty to the illegal aliens are saying, "Well, let us just reward the law-breakers and humiliate the ones who play by the rules." Since you point to Lord Jesus' welcoming the stranger, doesn't the Bible also instruct one to respect the law of the land?


Bobbi Dykema Katsanis writes from Berkeley, California:

I wonder if Caleb Kamere [Boomerang, SojoMail 5/3/2006] will be so quick to obey our country's laws and prescribe that other Christians do the same if H.R. 4437 becomes the law of the land. Among other odious restrictions, the House immigration bill would make it a criminal act to offer any kind of assistance, including humanitarian and medical, to anyone attempting to cross the border illegally. Is Kamere really saying that we have a higher Christian duty toward "principalities and powers" than toward the neighbor dying of thirst? My reading of the Bible, especially Matthew 25, suggests otherwise, and this is one law I have every intention of faithfully breaking.


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

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