"Already, the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations."
- President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address.
"I don't think they existed."
- David Kay, former U.S. special adviser leading the hunt for WMDs in Iraq, on the lack of evidence of Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal.
Why does Dick Cheney think he deserves his tax cut?
by David Batstone
George Bush is lying to us about the federal budget deficit. Our national debt is growing at a staggering pace, and his administration has no intention of changing course.
The current national deficit weighs in at $7 trillion, and it is expected to rise an additional $2.4 trillion over the coming decade, the Congressional Budget Office announced early this week. That's almost $1 trillion more than the agency estimated only six months ago. And if Congress accepts President Bush's proposal to make the tax cuts of the past three years permanent, the total deficit could jump more than $5 trillion. Don't let that fact slip by without your jaw hitting the turf - consider all the trailing zero digits needed to make up a trillion.
Deficits are not simply a party-vs.-party issue. Even conservative Republicans are beginning to voice concerns about the vulnerability of the U.S. economy under the weight of these deficits. Borrowing the color code of Homeland Security, the economy is ON RED ALERT.
The Bush administration would have us believe that the deficits are rising due to the surge in defense and homeland security. Expenditures in both have risen, without a doubt. But the main reason for ballooning deficits is the plunge in federal tax receipts. Federal revenues as a fraction of the country's Gross Domestic Product have fallen to their lowest level since 1950. And that decline comes almost entirely from the drop in corporate taxes and personal income taxes no longer paid by the richest 5 percent of families.
Former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill's new book (written by Ron Suskind) erases any doubt that the Bush administration is deliberately pushing debt onto us middle-class schmucks - and blaming the poor for "excessive social spending." I have long had a respect for O'Neill, who was the former CEO of Alcoa. He speaks with candor and consistently makes pragmatic, principled judgments. In "The Price of Loyalty," O'Neill reveals how George Bush, Dick Cheney, and other ideologues in the current administration cynically made policy for the wealthy few at the expense of the common good.
When the Bush leadership team gathered to consider cutting taxes on the higher income brackets, O'Neill warned that the resulting rise in deficit "is moving toward a fiscal crisis." O'Neill claims that in the meeting not one strong economic reason was brought forward to support the tax cuts for the wealthy. Cheney made clear why the tax cuts would be pushed all the same: "We won the midterms [elections]. This is our due."
Forgive my innocence, but I never realized that winning an election was a free pass to pillage and horde the goods of the body politic. If that's the case, we should be clear what message we are sending with our votes this November.
It takes more than votes to change the world! You can make an impact with Sojourners in Washington, D.C. The Sojourners intern program is accepting applications now through March 1 for its yearlong program that begins in September 2004 - just in time to make a difference. Sojourners' intern program is open to anyone age 21 and over, single or married without dependents. For more information, go to: http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=get_connected.internships
81% of Americans believe in some kind of afterlife
76% believe that heaven exists
71% believe hell exists
39% say hell is a "state of eternal separation from God's presence"
32% say hell is "an actual place of torment and suffering"
1% expect to go to hell when they die
64% expect to go to heaven
24% have "no idea" where they will go when they die
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Burma is entering a critical period. The ruling military junta, which seized power in a coup in 1962 and disregarded the will of the people in the 1990 elections, is now talking about reform. Ironically known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the junta has engaged in ceasefire talks with the largest armed ethnic resistance group, the Karen National Union (KNU), and speaks of a "roadmap" to democracy, with a national convention to decide a new constitution. The SPDC has given assurances that this will be conducted in an "all-inclusive manner," involving all the ethnic nationalities and the pro-democracy groups. But so far rhetoric has not been matched by reality. Democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. More than 1,500 political prisoners are still behind bars. A million ethnic minorities are displaced in the jungles with little access to shelter, food, and medicine, on the run from SPDC troops who terrorize their villages. The military systematically rapes ethnic minority women, uses forced labor, captures people to use as human minesweepers, persecutes Christians, grabs children off the street and forces them to be soldiers, burns crops, destroys villages, and slaughters people.
In the midst of this darkness are a number of Christian groups shining a light. Human rights organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Jubilee Campaign, and volunteer missionaries such as the Karen Action Group, provide a voice and physical assistance to the displaced and disenfranchised. So too does a more unconventional missionary group, the Free Burma Rangers. Led by a former U.S. special forces officer who studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, they go deeper into the conflict zones than any other group - at extreme risk.
Update: Details of threats against Colombian peace worker
Last week we informed you of evidence that the Colombian government was planning the false arrest of Ricardo Esquivia, church peace worker and friend of Sojourners. Justapaz, the Mennonite justice and peace organization for which Ricardo has worked, has released more details and background on the case, explaining why it's so important to prevent him from being arrested.
In an environment of suspicion and with a population in dire economic straits, the government's counterinsurgency policy of using paid informants has contributed to many unfounded charges. In this climate, declarations from President Alvaro Uribe himself have implied that almost all persons working for human rights and peace are supporters of the guerrilla and, therefore, are terrorists. If their plan aims to smear Ricardo's reputation to prevent him from carrying out his ecumenical peacebuilding work, he need not be "proven" guilty. Even if the charges were dropped after he was arrested and prosecuted, he may not be trusted in the areas where he plans to work.
We do know that Colombian authorities and the U.S. Embassy are already responding to the attention the case has aroused, and we believe that your outpouring of active support and intelligent responses to this situation are having an impact. A U.S. Embassy official opened a recent meeting by saying, "Mr. Esquivia, you have a lot of friends!" This community solidarity may be what allows Ricardo to continue. We urge you to continue the advocacy and broaden the circles of awareness of this case and the larger issues at stake. Ricardo reflects, "this experience has reaffirmed my belief: our security is found in community."
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PRECARIOUS PEACE: GOD AND GUATEMALA A DOCUMENTARY FOR OUR DAY
How do violence and religion intersect in a country dominated by both?
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The Christian Science Monitor reports a startling inverse correlation between military casualties and the amount of aid money distributed by U.S. forces. In November, when little money was available, the casualty count increased to 81 dead from 42 in October and 31 in September. In December, once funding was restored by Congress, about 40 U.S. soldiers were killed. While military and administration officials question any direct relationship, forces on the ground acknowledge that one of the best ways to battle resistance fighters is to improve the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis. Such direct aid goes immediately into the Iraqi economy, circumventing both slow-moving contractors such as Bechtel and Halliburton, and sweeping economic reforms that many Iraqis view with hostility and suspicion.
If you agree that money in Iraq should be spent on aid instead of ammunition, join Sojourners in its support of All Our Children, a coalition of relief, development, and advocacy organizations committed to providing critical health care to vulnerable children in Iraq. Visit: http://www.allourchildren.org
THE DIALECTICAL DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE: A Methodological Proposal
by Charles Dickinson
If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126. http://www.dovebook.com
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Good for David Batstone to "call a spade a spade" regarding managment's view of slashing employee costs to achieve short-term earnings increases - at the expense of the customer relationship ["How I lost my cell phone in a shell game" SojoMail 1/21/2004]. Boeing, GM, and others have used employee layoffs as a necessary financial "evil" for decades; but the reason that these companies can rebound each time they do so is that they have never lost sight of the real needs and the satisfaction levels of their customers.
The bigger problem in the country's degenerating customer focus, in my mind, is the vastly accelerated channeling of wealth into the top 1% of the population that's been occurring over the last 10, perhaps 20 years. In early 2004, the nation's wealth-holders frankly do not care about what is happening in the bottom 99% of the population, paying only lip service to such mundane economic barameters as customer satisfaction in the companies and corporations that they invest in or own.... I believe that drastic, positive relationship changes must begin to occur between the "common folk" and the very highest levels of the nation's economic foodchain in order for a sustainable turnaround in the U.S. economy to occur. Only when this happens will we see a true upturn in the present economic situation, along with postive effects regarding socio-economic change.
Rebecca Kurian writes from Bangalore, India:
I am a practising Christian in India and was interested in what Antony Morano had to say in Boomerang [1/21/04]. Many Christians outside the U.S. also feel that the concept of "Westernised" Christianity is hurtful to Christians in countries like mine. Many non-Christians here feel that the faith we follow makes us traitors to our country because the kind of Christian principles that are given publicity in the Westernised faith - and the principles that are followed by leaders who are presumably Christian - run counter to what Christians ought to believe in. Nonviolence and peace seem to have very little place in the politics that we see these days.
Daniel Gibbons writes from Madison, Wisconsin:
I was troubled to read Elizabeth Olmsted's recent posting [Boomerang 1/21/2004], which claimed that religion is by nature divisive and that Christian churches define themselves as "a group that is loved by God" versus "those others not loved by God." Such an understanding is quite distant from the doctrine of my church, which affirms God's love for all people. It is despite Church teaching, not because of it, that people are manipulated by charismatic evildoers....
Organization of people is a fundamental social tool. One could rightly caution that all communities (national, ethnic, racial, religious, etc.) offer real danger of exclusion. But then, any good thing can be used for evil, can't it? The trick, it seems to me, is for us to make sure that we hold fast to the ancient Christian teaching that God loves all people and offers himself to all, while not giving up the sustaining communities that we have built up in our churches (assuming that they are genuinely Christian communities that have not lost hold of apostolic teaching about peace and justice). When organized, we have much greater potential for doing God's will in the global context than we would as isolated individuals.
Sonia de Villers writes from Cape Town, South Africa:
In response to Paul Everett's letter [Boomerang 1/14/2004].... I don't think there is anyone who does not agree that it is better for Iraq that Saddam has been (unlawfully) removed from power, but anyone who does not see the hypocrisy and danger of the U.S. role in this is simply naive, blind, or has been so brainwashed by the U.S. media propaganda that they don't wish to educate or inform themselves of the truth behind the Iraq war.
I have heard many times the generalization of Americans being arrogant and ignorant - a very dangerous combination. I spoke to one of my American friends regarding this and one of the interesting answers was that people in America are only concerned about what interests or has a direct affect on them. Therefore, they are not concerned about world politics or their government's foreign policies. I replied that it eventually will affect them as their government's foreign policies affect many countries - most Third World - and this will eventually make Americans as hated as we white South Africans once were. Since most of us were also brainwashed by the South African government and media propaganda, we could also not understand why the world seemed to hate us - economic sanctions, an embargo on South African goods, and we were not welcome travelers in many countries - all of which I can now say we deserved. It takes courage to learn the truth about your country's history and actions in the world, and when you have done so you may understand the consequences of why Americans are becoming hated: by keeping yourselves ignorant and allowing your government to continue with its hypocritical and arrogant foreign policies that are causing the deaths of many innocent people around the world.
Nigel Dutson writes from London, England:
While I am constantly amazed and somewhat envious of the vibrancy of the Christian faith in the U.S., I am also made sad by the increasingly polarized positions that seem to be being taken by the evangelical and liberal wings of God's church in your country. I am in a leadership position in a church in the United Kingdom that I suppose you would call strongly evangelical with members from a variety of denominational backgrounds - from Pentecostal through to more traditional Anglican. I have also had the pleasure of being involved with the London Mennonite Centre and on a personal level have been deeply challenged and shaped by Anabaptist teaching and worldview.
My point is this: God's church is wonderful in its totality. If it is not possible for a Pentecostal and an Anabaptist Christian to call each other "brother" then we have to consider that we are failing in our mission to model the Kingdom of God in our societies. While the Church in the U.S. may be healthy when viewed in terms of total numbers, it also appears from the outside to be completely riven.... I encourage you to work for peace within the church of Jesus Christ as well as outside it. You know more about peace and conflict resolution than most. You know the sacrifice involved in peacemaking and I encourage you to tread that narrow path. Look for good in your brothers and sisters. Continue to be Amos-like in your call to see the church renewed. We would be immeasurably the poorer without your emphasis on justice, peace, and your broad interpretation of salvation. Do not dilute your message. Rather, let God himself set your agendas and above all, do everything in love.
Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views that do not necessarily represent those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Include your name, hometown, and state/province/country in a concise e-mail to: email@example.com . We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.