Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

New Proof that Richard Land is a Moron

Richard Land, head of the misnamed “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” of the Southern Baptist Convention is a moron.  Oh, he has a Ph.D. from Oxford in Church History–and is fairly competent in the area of his narrow specialization.  But they should never have given him a job where he has to speak regularly on things like ethics, faith and public policy, church-state matters, etc.  That’s his job and he sucks eggs at it.

Latest proof of this is found in this article in which Land claims that the recently expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) is a Trojan Horse for “socialized medicine.”  Only the UK really has “socialized medicine,” Mr. Land. Yes, in the British system doctors and health care workers work directly for the government–and the people LIKE it that way. (Don’t believe me: Ask yourself why even PM Maggie Thatcher didn’t DARE to privatize healthcare in the UK.  She would’ve lost an immediate vote of no confidence in Parliament and lost early elections–while protesters would have been at #10 Downing Street day and night until she was run out of town on a rail, “Iron Lady” or no!)  But Canada, France, New Zealand, Australia and most other Western democracies have “socialized health insurance” rather than socialized medicine.  Most doctors are still in private practice.  It’s just that everyone is covered by a single insurance program paid for by their federal taxes.

Land thinks S-CHIP will crowd out private health insurance.  I doubt it.  Not by itself.  We NEED universal, not-for-profit healthcare in a single-payer system like Canada’s.  The easiest way to get there would be to expand Medicare to cover everyone.  But this is a GOOD THING–not an evil.  No one would fall through the cracks.  EVERYONE could get help when sick. The poor could stop using emergency rooms for primary care.  The U.S. could stop having infant mortality rates that are as low as some Third World countries. 

Further, it would help in our current economic mess.  What is the largest labor cost for big businesses? Employee health benefits.  This makes U.S. firms less competitive with foreign companies.  If General Motors was a Canadian company, even with the same poor management and same bad business model, it would not have needed a government loan last December–because it would have saved approx. $22 billion (rough estimate from GM back in December–I no longer have the source) in labor costs per annum!  Think how much cheaper we could make U.S. products without such labor costs.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy.  Well, if entrepeneur Smith has a brand new idea  for a business in nation with socialized health insurance, Smith can quit his job without losing health benefits and open up his business without worrying about how he can either provide health insurance for employees (much harder for small businesses to do this ) or attract good employees without such a benefit. 

And small family farmers can also have an easier time–not having to worry about either doing without or buying expensive insurance individually.

Medical expenses would drop in a few years time for several reasons:  1. Much less paperwork. The scores of people needed to deal with the huge number of forms for various insurance companies would stop clogging the system.  2. People would go to  the doctor sooner and catch things early–which extends life and cuts costs.  3. Since hospitals and other institutions would not be motivated by profit (just not losing money),  we would see less inflated costs. 4. The latter would be helped by placing caps on the size profits that Big Pharma can make with its drugs.

If S-CHIP is a tiny step on this road, as Land thinks, then that’s a good thing.  I want to see much bigger steps, such as supporting Medicare for ALL Americans. (Did you know that currently the only Americans with a Constitutional right to healthcare are convicted criminals in prison? Otherwise it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment and banned by the 8th Amendment.  That’s good for the prisoners–and bad for the rest of us.)  But even then  it wouldn’t be “socialized medicine,” just “socialized health insurance.”

Now why would a Christian minister (follower of One who passed out free healthcare miraculously all the time!) be against healthcare for children?

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, economic justice, ethics, healthcare | 11 Comments

Advice to Geithner on the Bank Bailout

No,  I have no advice on how to solve the crisis in the financial sector.  I am not an economist.  I barely understand how the banks got into this mess, much less what it will take to stabilize them and free up credit.  However, I do understand populist anger at Wall Street.  That anger was also aimed at Bush’s Treasury Secretary,  Hank Paulsen, and Fed. Reserve Chair, Bernanke–and the Bank Bailout.  The new Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, has not only inherited the mess, but the anger.  People feel they have been ripped off.

So, here is my advice on gaining the trust of the American people, Mr. Geithner (something your own tax problems, however understandable, did nothing to help).

  1. Adding transparency to the process is a big step in the right direction.  Keep it up. Enforce it strictly. Keep the website up where people can track the dollars used and which banks are doing what with them.
  2. Force all institutions which take the government money (Citigroup, Bank of America, etc.) to FIRE their top tier of executives for being the morons that got their institutions into this mess.  Americans who have watched their retirement funds in 401k accounts lose 50% of value in the last 6 months are FURIOUS that the people who generated this mess are still in charge.
  3. The Executive Compensation cap at $500k per annum is a good first step, but it should  be stricter.  NO ONE working at any institution receiving bailout money should get more that $100K per annum–nor more than 10 time the lowest paid employee at the institution. 
  4. No bonuses should be allowed until the institution is stable and ALL of the taxpayer money has been paid back with interest.  A Bonus is something given for success, not failure.  Stop these institutions from giving cash rewards under other names than bonus, too. Anyone taking government money who breaks such rules should be prosecuted for fraud.  Same as with those who use taxpayer money on Super Bowl parties, corporate jets, etc.  
  5. If the banks and other financial institutions cannot abide by these rules, threaten to nationalize them. 
  6. The public should be reassured that this bailout money is a LOAN, not a gift.  The loans must be paid back  with interest–or the government takes over the institution.  OUR money comes with strings attached.
  7. Be sure the public understands the re-regulating of the financial industry and how the new regs will make it harder for such problems to occur again.  I would urge Congress to pass a new version of the old Glass-Steagal Act (abolished in the ’90s–this part of the financial mess IS Clinton’s fault for signing this into law) which created a barrier between ordinary banks and investment banks–so that high risk investments could not take down the entire financial sector and endanger grandma’s savings at her local bank.
  8. If you really believe nationalization to be a mistake, explain WHY in clear, easy language that ordinary Americans can understand.  I think most of us were raised to believe that bankers could better run their  businesses than a government committee–but the recent behavior has shaken that belief.  I mean, I think my dog could run things better than the geniuses who are currently in charge! 
  9. If nationalization is not the way to go, should banks, or, at least LARGE financial institutions, be regulated like public utilities–complete with public commissions?  Why or why not? In terms grandma can understand, please.
  10. If you are afraid to follow UK  Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s example and order the banks to begin lending again, because you don’t want them repeating the error of making irresponsible loans (often with predatory lending habits), then explain HOW your plan will lead to increased liquidity when Paulsen’s did not. 
  11. All institutions taking government (taxpayer) money should have to commit to community service:  Force them to offer FREE credit counseling to the public, for instance.  They should have to help people caught  up in their mess to rebuild their credit with better money habits.
  12. Any people  found to have acted illegally in causing this mess (such as through predatory lending–like many adjustable rate mortgages were pushed onto people with no understanding of the process) must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  13. Urge congress to pass new “usury laws” regulating credit card rates.  Prior to the Reagan 1980s, there were laws regulating how much interest could be charged–with 10% usually being the absolute max. That meant that credit cards were not as easy to obtain (which was a good thing in that it forced people to have to earn credit and learn to manage it wisely), but it also kept away teaser rates.  Urge Congress to reinstate usury laws.

Others with real economic credentials may have advice on how to get the financial sector back on sound footing. And others may have better advice than I do on how to win the public’s confidence–which is a key factor in stabilizing the credit markets–ending the crisis of confidence.  But I do think steps like these will help. 

When the public sees bankers still arguing that “Greed is good” (as one Wall Street Journal editorial did in defending bonuses and unlimited CEO compensation and golden parachutes–earlier this very week)  and taking OUR money straight to luxury resorts and expensive perks, the public feels like it was punked–hosed, ripped off!  Some of that anger got directed at Mr. Geithner at his press conference on Tuesday.  More of it is aimed at Wall Street itself. 

Don’t believe me: Watch the reactions to today’s Congressional Testimony by the  Banking CEOs.  These guys are lucky that John and Jane public aren’t marching on Wall Street with torches and pitchforks!

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’m a Proud Papa!

Just a personal note bragging on my daughters.  On Monday, my youngest, Miriam, who is in 4th Grade, led her elementary school academic quick recall team to TWO victories over a rival school.  Way to go, Miriam!

Now, my eldest, Molly, is finishing Middle School. She was just accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at a local magnet high school.  This is beyond normal “Advanced Placement” programs. It uses an international curriculum and there are only about 100 high schools across the USA which participate in this international curriculum opportunity. Completing it is worth a year of college/university credit when she graduates and increases greatly her chances of getting into nearly any university she wants. (She already has a 4.0 gpa in the Advanced Placement program at her Middle School and, this Spring, is going with her Spanish and French clubs on a trip to France and Spain for two weeks–with money she mostly earned on her own all of last year.) Molly wants to major in international studies and maybe study law–with an eye on working for the United Nations in the future.

Are these daughters to make a papa proud or what?

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments