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

Breaking: U.S. Senate Supports Usury

Usury, noun.  In Scripture it referred to charging any interest on loans and was expressly forbidden as immoral by Jesus.

In Puritan New England there were strict limits on the amount of interest that could be charged. Ever since we have had usury laws that limit the amount of interest charged–so that loans are not a form of economic predation and exploitation. 

But, since 1981, credit cards have been unregulated in the U.S. in the amount of interest they could charge customers.  The industry did some minimal self-policing with “best practice” standards keeping interest under 10% unless customers were repeatedly delinquent. But in the ’90s this was eroded with credit cards marketed to the poor and to the young with “teaser rates” (e.g.4.5%) that, in the fine print, one found only lasted 6 months before raising to 15% or more.  Now, since the recession, with people out of work forced to rely more on their credit cards as they look for work, the banks and credit card companies have no shame whatsoever.  They are raising rates without warning, on customers who have never been delinquent, to 20-30%.

Congress has vowed to stop the abuse.  The House passed a (too weak) version of a credit card holder’s bill of rights. (But it won’t go into affect until next year.)  The Senate was working on a tougher version, but still with a 9 month delay.  But today the most important provision, a ceiling on credit card interest rates, was defeated.

The U.S. Senate voted to keep allowing credit card companies to practice usury–thereby slowing the recovery by keeping people from being able to consume much at all–maybe not even the basic necessities of life.  This is legal robbery.  The list of DEMOCRATS who voted to continue selling the American people into debt slavery are here.

Last week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that the banks own the Senate. Tonight, the Senate proved him right.  And the banks lobbied for this horror with money from the bailouts. That is, they used OUR MONEY, which is keeping them from bankruptcy and insolvency, to lobby for the “right” to keep abusing us.

This isn’t about me. I have 2 credit cards. Both have under $1,000 charged on them. Both are under 30% of my credit limit.  Both will be completely paid off within a year.  But it has taken my wife and myself years to get here. We were victims of fake consolidation offers with teaser rates. And then victims of “debt consolidation and debt reduction” programs that actually made the problem worse.  And we are highly educated.  If they could sucker us, what about others.

No, this is about right and wrong. This is wrong. Nations are judged by how the powerful treat those with little or no power.  Our nation will be judged very harshly.

May 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Colorado Senate Defeats Death Penalty Abolition

I had high hopes that CO would become the 2nd state this year and the 3rd state in 2 years to abolish the death penalty.  I was especially impressed at the wording of the CO bill which would repeal the death penalty AND USE THE MONEY SAVED (est. at $3 million per year) to investigate cold case murders.  The bill passed the CO House of Representatives 33-32 on 20 April.  It passed 2 key committees in the state Senate.  But when it came to the full senate vote, an amendment passed that appropriated more money for cold cases but kept the death penalty. (Where will CO get this money in a recession without the savings from repeal of the death penalty?)  That amended bill passed on 04 May.  In the reconciliation conference, the repeal of the death penalty was restored, but the Senate defeated that bill 18-17 on 06 May–at the end of the legislative session. 

The narrowness of the bill’s passage in the House and the narrowness of the defeat in the Senate shows that this is not the end of this debate in CO.  It also shows that if Gov.  Bill Ritter (D-CO) had used his influence with the Democratically controlled legislature, he could have passed this bill.  So, Colorado abolitionists, between now and next session, you have to create a groundswell  for abolition and work on changing a few key legislators–and work on getting the governor publicly on your side.

A bill to abolish the death penalty has passed the House of Reps. in NH, but looks to simply die in the Senate.  A bill to abolish the death penalty in IL passed a key House committee but no further action has been  taken and the legislative session is drawing to a close.  A bill to abolish the death penalty in CT passed a key house committee, but no further action has been taken.

North Carolina seems poised to pass the Racial Justice Act which would allow judges to vacate death sentences if it could be  proven that racial prejudice was involved in the sentencing. (Unfortunately,  it is much easier to prove racism in death sentences statistically than to show that  it was involved in a particular sentence–unless the jurors sit around making racist jokes or something.)

The movement to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. has gained considerable ground since the 1990s, but it is still an uphill struggle.  My hopes that this year could see a rash of state abolitions was premature, it seems.  But even if we get only one  state per year, we will be moving in the right direction.

May 13, 2009 Posted by | death penalty | Comments Off on Colorado Senate Defeats Death Penalty Abolition

Take Action for Universal Healthcare

If you believe that universal healthcare, high quality healthcare for everyone, regardless of ability to pay is a RIGHT, take notice,–you are going to have to organize and (nonviolently) FIGHT for it.  If you believe, as I do, that medicine is for PEOPLE, not PROFITS, and are tired of the U.S.  being the only remaining industrial democracy (and one of the few industrial nations, period) WITHOUT such basic care for all citizens, then it is TIME TO ACT. 

Because without action, without pressure, the “healthcare reform” proposed by the Obama administration and moving slowly through Congress will end up being  paper reform that does not address the root of the problem.  At best, it will be a half-measure.  At worst, it could end up being giant taxpayer subsidies to the for-profit healthcare insurance industry!!!

It’s time for ACTION.  Here is a link to a ton of actions you can take.  Get organized, folks, and get in the streets, in Congressional offices, in the press, in people’s faces.  Power never gives up any unjust privileges without struggle. On their side: the huge money of Big Pharma and the healthcare industry.  On our side: morality, the will of the people, doctors, nurses, unions, struggling auto companies, and the power of organized nonviolence.  No more waiting until a better year.  No more half measures.  No more “Harry and Louise” commercials.  No more stalling. We want universal healthcare for EVERYONE and we want it NOW, this year!


May 13, 2009 Posted by | economic justice, healthcare, human rights. | 1 Comment

A Christian Case Against the Death Penalty: Prologue

In March, I reported on the new life and momentum that the anti-death penalty movement has found in the U.S.  This led one reader to want to debate the morality of capital punishment directly.  I simply did not have the time for such a debate then, but promised to have such a thread as soon as possible.  That time is now.  In this post, I will outline the shape of the case I will make in a series of posts.

I have written numerous articles on the death penalty since 1985.  Many of these articles have been published in book-length collections and symposia.  I will draw on those earlier works and may site my own writings as well as others.

First, since I assume that pacifist Christians already oppose the death penalty, and already read Scripture from that perspective, I will, instead, argue a case from a non-pacifist perspective.  I opposed the death penalty since my early teens, long before I became convinced that Christians must be pacifists and quit the U.S. army as a conscientious objector.  So the case I will argue will assume that lethal self-defense is a moral option.

I will begin by examining the biblical texts that are most often used (by both sides) in the intra-Christian debates over the death penalty.  Unless one is already is a pacifist and reads Scripture from such a hermeneutical perspective, I do not think that the biblical case the death penalty is open and shut.  My claim is (slightly) more modest:  that the biblical narratives should bias Christians against the death penalty.  That is, Christians, being shaped in the biblical narratives, should be suspicious of the moral claims of the death penalty.  The burden-of-proof, for biblical Christians, should be on those who would make a moral argument for the death penalty.  (Thus, I call this series “A Christian Case Against the Death Penalty,” and not The Christian Case Against the Death Penalty.  I do not assume there is only one way of arguing for or against the death penalty.)  I will also examine several Christian practices that should re-shape the debate over the death penalty among U.S. Christians.

I will then examine the common public moral arguments for and and against the death penalty.  I will argue that the moral case for the death penalty falls short and that the moral case for abolishing the death penalty is stronger and more compelling. 

I will then argue for alternatives to the death penalty that take the concerns of pro-death penalty advocates seriously.

Throughout the series, I will call attention to the dimensions of moral discernment noted in that series

I am not a lawyer, but legal reasoning bears many similarities to moral reasoning.  As an epilogue, I will briefly examine the case that the death penalty is unconstitutional based on the 8th Amendment to the U.S.  Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

I hope readers will find this conversation informative and stimulating.

May 13, 2009 Posted by | death penalty, ethics, human rights., moral discernment | Comments Off on A Christian Case Against the Death Penalty: Prologue