News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  15 November 2017 •  No. 144

Processional. Wasamba and the Eco Faeries flash mob drum & dance line at a Perth, Australia commercial district plaza.

Above: Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland. Photo by torino071.

Special issue

(and, no, that’s not a typo)


“Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”
—Deuteronomy 8:17

        The US Congress, with cheerleading from President Trump and a boatload of corporate lobbyists, is poised to foist on the nation what might be the biggest con job in DC political history, under the cloak of tax reform.

        If approved, the effect on the commonweal will be far more deforming than reforming. It represents the greedification of tax policy. Not to mention an indication of our spiritual poverty.

        The rush to get it passed—without full legislative deliberation and public debate—comes from three sources: (1) The congressional majority has virtually nothing to show for their dominance of the executive and legislative branches of government in 2017; (2) they know the slightly different House and Senate plans are highly unpopular with the general public and need to be wrapped up before a popular revolt emerges; and (3) wealthy donors are already calling to say get-it-done-or-stop-calling.

        I’ve learned seven key things researching this special edition of “Signs of the Times.” Here are the highlights. —continue reading “The greedification of tax policy is a sign of spiritual impoverishment

Invocation. “Tell me where is the road I can call my own, / That I left, that I lost, so long ago. / All these years I have wondered, oh when will I know, / There's a way, there's a road that will lead me home.”  —“The Road Home,” Stephen Paulus, performed by Conspirare (click the “show more” button to see the lyrics)

Call to worship. “Oh, visit the earth, ask her to join the dance! Coax rain from the sky. Drench thirsty fields awaiting your touch, ready the land for blossom and fruit. Burden every stalk with grain sufficient to satisfy the hunger of all. Let all the barren rejoice. Let the wilderness blossom. Let every failed hope recover, every broken heart be mended, every silenced voice be heard.” —continue reading “Set our hearts on fire,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 65

Finding wonder it out of the way places. Chris Funk of the music group The Decemberists has a passion for finding “the most surprising and most extraordinary people in music.” He recently met and jammed with Gaelynn Lea, who was born with brittle bone disease, confining her to a wheel chair, but writes and performs ballads by playing a violin upright, like a cello. (3:53 video. Thanks Amanda.)

¶ “An ABC News/Washington Post poll released found that most Americans strongly disapprove of the White House's desire to drastically slash the corporate tax rate: 65% of Americans believe that corporations pay too little in taxes, not too much, the survey found. [Only 11% said the corporate tax rate is too high.] Furthermore, 73% of respondents said—consistent with previous surveys—that the US economic system disproportionately favors the wealthy, and that Trump's tax plan will only worsen the gap between the richest and everyone else.” Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday became the latest Republican to admit the GOP is trying to ram through massive tax cuts for the rich to satisfy its wealthy donors, telling a journalist that if the party's tax push fails, ‘the financial contributions will stop.’” Earlier in the week “Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) made a similar comment, complaining that his donors are pressuring him to pass tax cuts ‘or don’t ever call me again.’” Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

¶ “Why tax breaks for big corps do not create jobs,” video (2:49) produced by Alex Cequea for

¶ "‘Those with the very highest incomes would receive the biggest tax cuts,’ Tax Policy Center's report, the first in-depth analysis of Trump's proposals, notes. ‘Taxpayers in the top 1% (incomes above $730,000), would receive about 50% of the total tax benefit [in 2018]; their after-tax income would increase an average of 8.5%.’” Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

¶ “Most important is the linkage [in Ephesians 5:5] of greed (pleonektes) with idolatry, so that exploitative affront against a vulnerable neighbor is equated with false worship. That equivalence, in the horizon of the Sinai commandments, brings together the first commandments on idolatry (Exod. 20:1-6) and the tenth commandment on coveting (Exod. 20:17).” —Walter Brueggemann, Money and Possessions

¶ “The first independent analysis of the Republican tax plan is in, and its bottom line is about what you’d expect: The vast majority of benefits go to the very richest Americans. The analysis comes from the Tax Policy Center, a joint effort by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute and the producer of some of the most authoritative economic analyses produced in Washington. The center calculates that by 2027 the top 20% of U.S. taxpayers (those earning $149,400 or more in 2017) would receive 86.6% of all the tax cuts in the GOP ‘framework’ released on Wednesday and the top 1% (income of $732,800 and up) would pocket 79.7% of the benefits. The top 0.1% ($3.43 million and up) would get almost 40% of all the benefits, collecting an average break of more than $1 million a year.” Michael Hiltzik, LATimes

¶ “Bloomberg’s analysis of the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation’s breakdown of the Senate tax reform plan found that in 2019, the average filer with an income between $50,000 and $75,000 would save a whopping $688, while those with earnings of more than $1 million would gain an additional $58,000.” —Helaine Olen, “Why are Republicans rushing tax reform through? So voters don’t find out who loses,” Washington Post

¶ “Under both the Senate and House bills, nearly half of households making less than $100,000 will see either a negligible tax change or even a tax hike in 2019, according to calculations from Martin Sullivan, chief economist at Tax Analysts. By 2027, that share rises to 61% under the House bill, which phases down some of the provisions that help middle-class families.” —Catherine Rampell, “If the tax bill is so great, why does the GOP keep lying about it?” Washington Post

¶ “. . . the richest one percent—with average incomes of $2 million—will collectively get $72 billion in tax cuts in 2018 under the Trump plan. That money is enough to cover individual health insurance premiums for more than 12.6 million adults. Or, that $72 billion could cover Pell grants for 12.3 million low-income, and often first generation, college students. Or, that same $72 billion could create 689,900 jobs through infrastructure investment.” Lindsay Koshgarian, CommonDreams

¶ “A new analysis by the New York Times shows that President Donald Trump would save himself well over a $1 billion if the proposals he laid out were to become law.” Jon Queally, CommonDreams

¶ "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you mad." —Aldous Huxley

Hymn of praise.I Saw the Light / I’ll Fly Away” medley, David Crowder.

Wealth inequality in the US—a stunning visual dramatization. (6:23 video)

Watch this brief video (2:33) of Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) asking some very revealing questions of Thomas Barthold, chief of staff for Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation.

¶ “With a tax burden of 25% — a measurement that includes income, property, and various other taxes — the US is near the very bottom [on individual tax rates], well below the average of 34%. It ranks below all the measured countries [in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] except Korea, Chile, and Mexico. . . . [D]eductions and other tax strategies mean relatively few US corporations actually get stuck paying the maximum nominal 35% rate, instead paying about 20% on average.” ­Ian Salisbury, Business Insider

¶ “U.S. corporate taxation isn't all that big compared with other countries'. As of 2014, U.S. corporate tax revenues were at around 2.2 percent of the GDP. The OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] average was 2.8 percent.” —Danielle Kurtzleben, “Does the US Have the Highest Corporate Tax Rate in the World?” NPR

Do corporations need a tax cut to stay competitive? Six reasons why they don’t, from Robert Reich (2:45 illustrated video).

¶ “Our [Global Economy Project] report analyzes the 92 publicly held American corporations that reported a profit in the US every year from 2008 through 2015 and paid less than 20 percent of their earnings in federal income tax.” Sarah Anderson, New York Times

Confession. “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.” Warren E. Buffett, one of the wealthiest people in world, who admits that the tax percentage he pays on his income is less than half (on average) that of the other 22 people in his office, New York Times

¶ “. . . the tax plan gives American corporations a $2 trillion tax break, at a time when they’re enjoying record profits and stashing unprecedented amounts of cash in offshore tax shelters.” Robert Reich, CommonDreams

Hymn of intercession.Weeping Eyes,” Amir Bar-David & Revital Khalfon.

¶ “More than 400 American millionaires and billionaires are sending a letter to Congress this week urging Republican lawmakers not to cut their taxes.” Heather Long, Washington Post

Words of assurance.Softly and Tenderly,” Reba McEntire, Kelly Clarkson & Trisha Yearwood.

Professing our faith. “The godness of YHWH has to do with taking sides against the wicked, that is, the ones who imagine they are autonomous and so are free to prey on the vulnerable.” —Walter Brueggemann, Money and Possessions

By the numbers. “From 2006-2012 at least two-thirds of all corporations had NO federal income tax liability. Moreover, 42% of the largest corporations—those with at least $10 million in assets—paid no income tax in 2012. In fact, 18 major companies actually got tax rebates.” —sources: Roger Yu, USA Today & Patricia Cohen, New York Times

Preach it. “That such language [denouncing private wealth] could still be heard at the heart of imperial Christendom [in the 4th-5th centuries] . . . suggests that it had by then lost much of its force. It could be tolerated to a degree, but only as a bracing hyperbole, appropriate to an accepted religious grammar—an idiom, that is, rather than an imperative. . . .  but in general, Christian adherence had become chiefly just a religion, a support for life in this world rather than a radically different model of how to live.” David Bentley Hart, author of a new New Testament translation, “Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?” New York Times

The call to the table includes “the decisive break with conventional economics that assumes that ‘treasure in heaven’ does not require divestment of treasure on earth.” —Walter Brueggemann, Money and Possessions

The state of our disunion. At the very time President Trump was issuing a proclamation naming November as “National Adoption Month,” Congress was hawking a tax plan that eliminates tax credits for adoptive families. —for more see Nathaniel Weixel, “Conservatives hit GOP tax bill for nixing adoption credit,” The Hill

Hymn of resolution. “I'm gonna make my world a better place / I'm gonna keep that smile on my face / I'm gonna teach myself how to understand / I'm gonna make myself a better man.” —Keb’ Mo’, “Better Man

¶ “Republican tax policy focuses on one central idea: If you cut taxes, the economy will grow. Now the man who helped write that doctrine says it's a myth. Bruce Bartlett, author of ‘The Truth Matters,’ was an economic policy adviser for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. And during the 1980s, he championed the idea that tax cuts would equal growth in the economy. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Bartlett debunks the myth that, as he puts it, he helped create. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talks with Bartlett about the GOP tax myth and why it's lasted so long.” Kai Ryssdal & Shadeen Ainpour, MarketPlace

¶ “In the US, the 400 richest individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 64% of the population and the three richest own more wealth than the bottom 50%, while pervasive poverty means one in five households have zero or negative net worth.
        “Those are just several of the striking findings of Billionaire Bonanza 2017, a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies that explores in detail the speed with which the US is becoming ‘a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power.’" Jake Johnson, CommonDreams

For the beauty of the earth. Photographer Chad Cowan has driven almost 100,000 miles across the US chasing powerful supercell thunderstorms and recording them in high definition. Cowan has recorded hundreds of storms and condensed the highlights into this short film titled “Fractal.” (3:22 video. Thanks Dick.)

¶ “The economist Gabriel Zucman and his colleagues have spent years estimating how much wealth is stashed in low-tax havens and what that means for government coffers. He’s found that 63% of foreign profits made by American multinational corporations are stuffed in these subsidiaries and accounts, depriving the country of about $70 billion in tax revenue each year.” —Bryce Covert, “Paradise Papers Show How Misguided the GOP Is On Taxes,” New York Times

More than a few giant multinational companies based in the US are allowed to use creative bookkeeping methods—declaring the bulk of their business “losses” in the US and their “profits” overseas. Some even got tax rebates from the Treasury Department. —see Paul Buchheit, “This is how the biggest companies cheated on taxes in 2016,” Alternet

Altar call. “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” —Exodus 16:18

Benediction. “We can go on—we must go on—by taking little steps forward and cherishing the occasional light that shines through the blackness. Those that honor only greed and deception as their deity cannot win and we have to survive to be around to pick up the pieces after they are gone. We will go on.” —“How Can We Possibly Go On,” by Jackie Alan Giuliano

Recessional. Tine Thing Helseth and the Norwegian Broadcasting Orchestra performing J. S. Bach, "Trumpet Concerto in D after Vivaldi, 2nd movement" 

Lectionary for this Sunday. “Make vows to the Lord your God . . . who cuts off the spirit of princes, who inspires fear in the kings of the earth.” —Psalm 76:11-12

Left: photo by Johnny White

Lectionary for Sunday next.Set our hearts on fire,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 65.

Just for fun. Taiwan’s Isaac Hou, amazing cyr wheel performer. (1:59 video)

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Set our hearts on fire,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 65

• "The greedification of tax policy is a sign of spiritual impoverishment,” commentary on congressional tax "reform"

Resources for Thanksgiving
• “Gratitude,” a litany for worship
• “Why is it hard to say thanks? 10 reasons
• “Come Ye Thankful (and Ye Cranky) People Come,” a call to worship on Thanksgiving by Abigail Hastings
• “Now Thank We All Our God,” revised lyrics to a traditional Thanksgiving hymn
• “On saying thanks,” a poem

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