The Common Good

Woe to You, Legislators!

Sojomail - April 14, 2011

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Woe to You, Legislators!

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It is reported that Congressman Paul Ryan makes every member of his staff read philosopher Ayn Rand, the shameless promoter of the gospel of aggressive self-interest. This makes sense to me as I read Congressman Ryan's new budget proposal. I wish he had his staff reading the Bible instead.

While widely lauded by conservatives, Congressman Ryan's budget isn't really about deficit reduction. It's about choices -- choices that will determine what kind of a country we become. And Paul Ryan has made the choice to hurt people who don't have the political clout to defend themselves. Two-thirds of the long-term budget cuts that Ryan proposed are directed at modest and low-income people, as well as the poorest of the poor at home and abroad. At the same time, he proposed tax cuts up to 30 percent for some of our country's wealthiest corporations. Let me say that again: Two-thirds of the cuts come at the expense of already struggling people and families, while corporations posting record profits get tax breaks. In short, the most vulnerable members of society are being attacked by Ryan and his supporters. This makes them bullies.

In dramatic contrast, Ryan has chosen to help the people who need help the least. Wealthy individuals and companies reap a windfall of benefits in Ryan's plan -- with tax cuts and breaks, continued subsidies and loopholes for every powerful special interest, and increased corporate welfare payments from the government. Congressman Ryan and his supporters have carefully and faithfully rewarded the rich people who make their campaign contributions, and, in most cases, have also rewarded themselves as rich people. This makes them corrupt.

And, as self-professed budget hawks, they have completely ignored the most consistently egregious, wasteful, and morally compromised area of the whole federal budget -- our endless and unaccountable military spending. Paul Ryan and the Republicans would cut nothing from the Pentagon profligacy. This makes them hypocrites.

You may think that my language sounds too strong: "bullies", "corrupt", "hypocrites." But listen to the prophet Isaiah:

Doom to you who legislate evil, who make laws that make victims -- laws that make misery for the poor, that rob my destitute people of dignity, exploiting defenseless widows, taking advantage of homeless children. What will you have to say on Judgment Day, when Doomsday arrives out of the blue? Who will you get to help you? What good will your money do you?  (Isaiah 10:1-3, The Message)

Ryan's budget seems to follow, almost line by line, the "oppressive statues" Isaiah rails against. Ryan's budget slashes health care for the poor and elderly by gutting Medicaid and undermining Medicare, and cuts funding for food stamps, early childhood development programs, low-income housing assistance, and educational programs for students.

Cuts of this magnitude for people of modest and low-incomes will result in a direct increase of poverty and misery in America. Furthermore, poverty-focused international assistance proven to save lives is under continued attack. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said, not all cuts are equal because some will lead to "a fever and a small coffin."

Simply put, the Ryan budget is a bonanza for the rich and devastation for the poor, and it will never be accepted by the religious community. And I don't believe Ryan's budget expresses the values of the American people. I just don't believe it. (You can click here if it doesn't represent your values.)

Of course, many Americans, including in the faith community, believe that rising deficits are immoral and a threat to our future.  But how you reduce a deficit is also a moral issue, and to do so by further impoverishing the poor in order to add more wealth to the wealthy is not an acceptable political or moral strategy.

Ayn Rand said, "Money is the barometer of a society's virtue," and she made no apology for not liking the teachings of Jesus. But for those of us who do aim to live out the teachings of Jesus, the Paul Ryan budget is a moral non-starter.

Yesterday, as President Obama offered his budget, he both failed and succeeded. What Obama failed to say was that we are currently wasting lives and billions of dollars in Afghanistan on a strategy that fails to make us any safer. Today, I am joining with some fiscal conservatives and Republican members of Congress at a "ReThink Afghanistan" press conference. We don't agree on a lot of other budget issues, but we are united in our belief that we are wasting lives and money with misguided strategy in Afghanistan. For those who truly care about the deficit, I believe this is the first place we should start cutting.

The president succeeded yesterday by making this important statement: "In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That's who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that's paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That's not right. And it's not going to happen as long as I'm president."

This last line was the clearest message we've heard for some time from the White House. It's a message President Obama will have to repeat over and over again in the months ahead against all the pressures to compromise. Presidents sometimes have to draw some clear lines in the sand, and the time for this president to do that is now.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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  Building a Movement

Come to the Wild Goose Festival, June 2011

Sojourners is excited to be a partner for the inaugural Wild Goose Festival, an event about justice, spirituality, and creativity that takes place June 23-26 in Shakori Hills, North Carolina. A wild goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit -- wild and unpredictable, but holy at the same time. 

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  Inside Sojourners Magazine

Redisctricting and Public Participation

From now through 2013, electoral district boundaries, which affect who represents you in Congress and other state and local governments, will be readjusted to address changing demographics. The stakes are as high as ever for this arcane process, which affects control of legislatures and communities' representation. But for this round of redistricting, new, open-source mapmaking software holds the promise of unprecedented public participation.

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  ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

What Would Jesus Tax?
by Chuck Collins

In the face of state and federal budget cuts, many of us have been fasting and contemplating the question: "What would Jesus cut?" In light of tax day, however, we might equally contemplate: "What would Jesus tax?"  
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Afghanistan Weekly Digest: Obama's Policy Team. Pakistan. Trauma.
by Hannah Lythe

"A suicide attack has hit a gathering of tribal elders in the Asmar district of eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, killing 10 people, including a top tribal leader, the country's interior ministry has said."
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A Day of Silence for a Lifetime of Justice
by Theresa Cho

Silence, when used effectively, can be a beautiful thing. As a mother of young children, five minutes of silence would mean five minutes of sanity.
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UPDATED: The Hunger Fast Resource Post
by Hannah Lythe

We persist in our prayers for the budget negotiations and for the leaders involved. This morning Jim Wallis met with the House members of the Out of Poverty Caucus, founded by Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-9).
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Video: Moby and MoveOn Protest Budget Cuts Against the Poor
by Jeannie Choi

As artist and musician Moby states at the beginning of the video below, the Republicans have put forth a budget that gives tax breaks to big corporations and to millionaires, but hurts veterans, the elderly, children, and women.
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Why Are Palestinian Christians Leaving Israel?
by Aaron Taylor

A friend of mine pointed out on his Facebook page that 45.9 percent of Americans blame Muslims for the Christian immigration out of the Holy Land, while only 7.4 percent of Americans cite Israeli restrictions as contributing to Arab Christian immigration.
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Undocumented and Unafraid: The Immigrant Rights Movement
by Jake Olzen

The immigrant rights movement is getting extreme. In the past two years, in addition to some of the largest mass gatherings in the country, undocumented students and their allies have shifted their protest from street marches to civil disobedience.
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Rediscovering Values for Lent: The Mind of Christ
by Jim Wallis

In 2005, Yahoo handed over to the Chinese government the names of Chinese dissidents who used Yahoo email accounts to try and hide their identities.
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The Ryan Plan: A Declaration of War on the Poor
by Lisa Sharon Harper

I've been fasting for 15 days in solidarity with the hunger fast for a moral budget because something incredible is happening in our country, and we haven't seen anything like it in 30 years.
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Reverend Billy Against Mountain Top Removal
by Anjali Cadambi

On April 2, residents of the quiet town were greeted by a theatrical convergence in a local PNC Bank branch location where Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir teamed up with Swarthmore College students and community members to call attention to PNC's dirty financial practices.
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Libya, Just War, and Augustine
by Phil Haslanger

It was on the shores of North Africa that one of the greatest Christian thinkers tried to work out the relationship between Jesus' teachings about loving even enemies and the impending invasion by a distinctly unfriendly army.
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The Cincinnati Riots and the Racism That Remains
by Troy Jackson

Ten years ago, Timothy Thomas died from a gunshot fired by a police officer in Over-the-Rhine -- a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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My Letter to the IRS: 'I Reserve the Right Not to Kill'
by Shane Claiborne

As a Christian, Easter marks the most stunning act of grace and enemy-love in human history -- Jesus' death and resurrection.
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Friday Links Round Up: The One Percent. Dear Fork. Budget Cuts.
by Jeannie Choi

The One Percent. Dear Fork. Budget Cuts. Here's a little round up of links from around the Web you may have missed this week.  
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The Elephant in the Sanctuary: Women and Abuse
by Mimi Haddad

I concluded my celebration of Women's History Month (March) with a sober realization that the abuse of females is inseparable from the study of women's history.
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I Am Fasting So People Don't Go Hungry
by Wesley Granberg-Michaelson

In the tradition of the church, the season of Lent was observed through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
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  SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

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Top Stories:

Budget Foes To Continue Fast Through Easter
Religion News Service
"The congressional budget compromise reached last week did not go far enough for some progressive Christian leaders," writes Richard Yeakley of Religion News Service in an article about the continuation of the Hunger Fast for a Moral Budget.


Fasting over proposed budget cuts
CNN
Jim Wallis, Tony Hall, David Beckmann, and other activists are featured in a CNN piece that examines the Hunger Fast for a Moral Budget.

"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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