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Archive for May, 2012

ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

 

[Part VI-B]

 

 

Background

This is the last of my six part series on Election Year Politics and the Economy. And, as most people know, the number one issue during this presidential run for the White House in November, 2012 is the economy.

Before I reveal who I am voting for (if you haven’t already figured it out) I’ll make a few comments on the economy itself, especially since I provided a lot of information related to it.

First, I have tried to drive home the point that the economy has a life of its own and has predictable cycles. They are: expansion, prosperity, contraction, and recession. They always occur in that order; what isn’t known is just how long each cycle will last. And, the only tools the government has to deal with the economy, regardless of which party is in office, is Fiscal Policy having to do with spending and taxes, and Monetary Policy (which is set by the Federal Reserve) having to do with controlling the amount of money (including interest rates and credit) in the economy at any one time.

I think it’s fair to say that the last four years of the previous Bush administration was rather complicated and chaotic, particularly with respect to fiscal policy. Following Keynesian economic theory, Bush lowered taxes to stimulate growth but that also added to our national debt by lessening revenues to cover other spending needs. But with two wars initiated by his administration, he also increased huge amounts of spending (like floating a big check my late father would have said) at the same time, thus once again adding to our national debt. Being the “compassionate conservative” that he is (and I take him at his word) he did pass legislation to increase more Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits. A wonderful thing to do—but it nevertheless added another $300 billion dollars to our national debt.

During the last two years of the George W. Bush administration (2007-2008) all of us watched the development of the most severe financial crisis and meltdown in United States history since the great depression.

The financial crisis was triggered by a complex interplay of valuation and liquidity problems in the United States banking system in 2008. The bursting of the U.S. housing bubble, which peaked in 2007, caused the values of securities tied to U.S. real estate pricing to plummet, damaging financial institutions globally. Questions regarding bank solvency, declines in credit availability and damaged investor confidence had an impact on global stock markets, where securities suffered large losses during 2008 and early 2009. Economies worldwide slowed during this period, as credit tightened and international trade declined. Governments and central banks responded with unprecedented fiscal stimulus, monetary policy expansion and institutional bailouts. Although there have been aftershocks, the financial crisis itself ended sometime between late-2008 and mid-2009.

In the U.S. the government responded by a stimulus package and avoided a double-dip recession. In the E.U. the U.K. responded with austerity measures and it has since slid into a double-dip recession. Although the Bush Administration left us with tremendous national debt, the administration did not cause the financial meltdown per se (unless you want to speculate about errors of omission). The major players in the financial meltdown in the United States were Wall Street and the Banks.

President Barack Obama did not create any of the above situations—he inherited them on January 20, 2009. Through his leadership the financial crisis was averted and turned the corner into the next economic cycle—expansion. Yet, there was an enduring residual problem created by the financial crisis. That problem turned out to be a rather stubborn unemployment rate. The unemployment rate represents the civilian work force, 16 years of age and older.

Lingering Unemployment Problem

Just before the financial meltdown, the unemployment rate was 4.6 % in 2007, but climbed to 9.3% in 2009, then reached a high of 9.6% in 2010. Then the President’s stimulus package and fiscal policies began to kick in. However, even the president increased our national debt during his time in office trying to meet a multiplicity of needs and concerns. But once his stimulus package kicked in the unemployment rate began to drop significantly to where it is now at 8.2%. As our expansion cycle begins to come into full view in the months ahead, the unemployment rate will decline even further.

But please remember—as we achieve the desirable goal of near full employment—there is an inescapable trade-off. And that trade-off is inflation and higher prices. One way you can be certain that the current administration is succeeding in lowering unemployment, is that you know the demand for good and services are increasing. Why? Because increases in employed people mean that consumer spending will likely increase causing businesses of all types to expand.

What happens when there is increased demand? You guessed it—inflation and prices increase. It’s no secret we are now paying higher prices for commodities like food and gasoline. I happen to shop at Raleys. I like the store but I’ve definitely noticed my vegan food choices from the health section have slowly crept up in price the last year and a half. And, I don’t need to remind you that gas prices are very high. In my neighborhood it is currently $4.29 a gallon.

 

Three Factors Needing Evaluation

It is important to know how the economy works. I considered the need for casting an informed vote in Part I; at a minimum, the following information should be recognized and reflected upon:

Knowledge of the Presidential Election Cycle Theory

Business cycles

Fiscal and Monetary policy

Basic Keynesian Economic Theory

Knowledge of our National Debt

Collectively, such knowledge will allow one to make a sensible judgment in any election. For me, this knowledge, combined with my own values, will help determine my vote. Consequently, I’ve used the combination of knowledge and values to evaluate three areas of concern.

These areas of concern are:      

 

IMPACT OF POLITICAL PARTY   ON WALL STREET

ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF DEMOCRATS VERSUS REPUBLICANS

THE ROAD AHEAD WITH OUR NATIONAL DEBT PROBLEM

Impact of Political Party on Wall Street

 For me this area of concern is very personal. I’ve been trading stocks on Wall Street since I was a young man of 25 in 1968. Today, a greater proportion of the electorate, and others in the population, are investing money in the stock market where they hope, over time, to get a decent return.

I have been a day trader as well as an ordinary investor over the last 44 years. Perhaps it is a selfish motive, but I want whoever is in the White House not to screw things up. No one can predict who might do that. Therefore, I needed to consider how well the stock market did with either a Republican or a Democratic administration. So, I reported in Part II whether it was better to have a Republican administration in the White House, or a Democratic one. The following were the findings:

 Although Republicans are generally considered to be more pro business than democrats, studies suggest that when a Democratic president is in the White House, it may be generally better for the stock market.

A research study called “The Presidential Puzzle: Political Cycles and the Stock Market” (2003) done by Pedro Santa Clara and Rossen Valkanof of the University of California, Los Angeles, demonstrated that the stock market performs better under Democratic presidents.

 Using data from 1927 to 2003, they found that the excess returns have been about 2% for Republican presidents, but 11% for Democratic presidents. Among small cap stocks, the difference is even greater. The bottom 10% of stocks as measured by market cap showed a difference of excess returns of about 22% for Democrats compared to when a Republican held the presidential office.

Furthermore, on average, the stock market volatility during a Republican administration was more pronounced than that during a Democratic administration.

Accomplishments of Democrats versus Republicans

In Part I of the series I said accomplishments should be the primary basis for evaluation. This means comparing the President’s accomplishments while in office to those of the Republican Party during the same time frame. But it also means making one-on-one comparisons between the President and his opponent, Mitt Romney. I make that latter comparison in the final conclusions section. This and the previous section are influenced heavily by my “value judgments.” In the last section I am influenced much more by knowledge of the economy and analysis of our national debt.

Where the President is concerned, there are 234 accomplishments so far during his first term in office according to Florida professor of American Studies Robert P. Watson. But ten of his accomplishments really stood out for me as having great value and importance to the United States. You may feel differently, or value things in a different way, but here is my take and what I found that trumps anything the Republicans (The party of NO) have accomplished either in terms of proposed Legislation, or their ideas during the last four years.

These ten accomplishments of the President include:

  • The new effort to bring the country closer to universal health care through passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, and extending coverage of health care for children under parent’s plans, steps toward “Medicare for All;”
  • Saved the auto industry from bankruptcy which included General Motors and Chrysler;
  • Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion, a guarantee of compensation for the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill.
  • In 2011 President Barack Obama gave the order for Navy Seals to take out Osama Bin Laden, the principal architect of 911. They were successful and Osama Bin Laden is dead.
  • Pulled troops out of Iraq and began drawing down troops in Afghanistan;
  • Approved the Lily Ledbetter “Equal Pay” for women rule;
  • Ended “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” discrimination in the military;
  • Expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) health care for children. This helped to cover 4 million children of lower-income families;
  • Signed an omnibus public lands bill that allowed for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness. It added 1,000 miles designated for scenic rivers, and added lands for national trails;
  • Pushed through a $789 billion economic stimulus bill that saved or created 3 million jobs and began task of repairing the nation’s infrastructure

.

 

The Road Ahead With Our National Debt Problem

Related to the issue of the general economy, is the problem of our staggering national debt. Most voters react to this issue on an emotional level without fully comprehending what a national debt problem is really all about. In 2012 our national debt looms over everyone in society and has done so through many governmental administrations. I have some suggestions and am confident that the future solution to our national debt is sound; I’m equally confident that many people will balk at “the austere cod liver oil” solution to our national debt.

Analysis

In the United States, national debt is money borrowed by the Federal government. Debt burden is usually measured as a ratio of public debt to gross dpmestic product. Debt as a share of the US economy reached a maximum during Harry Truman’s first presidential term (121.7% of GDP).

Public debt as a percentage of GDP fell rapidly in the post-WWII period, and reached a low in 1973 under President Richard Nixon (23.9%). The debt burden has consistently increased since then, except during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In recent years sharp increases in deficit spending and Bush’s tax cuts has resulted in larger debt. This has led to heightened concern about the long-term sustainability of the Federal government’s fiscal policies.

So what can be done to get us out of this mess? We did it after World War II. So is it possible to reduce the national debt? The question we need to be asking ourselves is —How did we go from 121.7% of GDP in 1946, then 27 years later achieve a ratio of debt to GDP of 23.9%. The debt burden fell rapidly after the end of World War II because the United States and the rest of the world experienced a post-war economic expansion.

The main reason the country dug its way out a crippling public debt at the end of World War II is that there occurred a huge economic expansion in the country. Millions of men returned home from the war. Many Americans feared that the end of World War II, and the subsequent drop in military spending, might bring back the hard times of the Great Depression.

But instead, pent-up consumer demand fueled exceptionally strong economic growth in the post war period. The automobile industry successfully converted back to producing cars, and new industries such as aviation and electronics grew by leaps and bounds. A housing boom, stimulated in part by easily affordable mortgages for returning members of the military, added to the expansion. The demand for goods and services was absolutely profound. Huge social and business changes began to occur. These changes included the baby boom generation, conversion of manufacturing of war material back to high demand useful products of every kind. Also, there was a revolution in new business concepts like large shopping malls (early 1950s).

There were also great cultural changes in entertainment and music, changes in clothes, and that wonderful new babysitter—the television set. Conservatism wasn’t dead, but the nails to its casket were being pounded in every day by a changing much more liberal society. Change wasn’t just economic; WWII changed us as a people as to how we viewed the world in the post-war era. Consequently, all these changes led to a boom in suburban development, urban sprawl, and the need to own an automobile.

The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000 million in 1960. At the same time, the jump in postwar births, known as the “baby boom,” increased the number of consumers. More and more Americans joined the middle class. What lessons can we all learn from this? I’ll explain shortly.

Current Debt History

The national debt reached or exceeded 100 percent of GDP only twice since 1900. The first time was during World War II and the second time was in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008.

From 2000 to 2008 debt held by the public rose again from 35% to 40%, and to 62% by the end of fiscal year 2010. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the gross public debt increased from $5.7 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008, due in part to the Bush tax cuts and increased military spending caused by the two wars in the Middle East. He also bailed out the banks in the crisis of 2008.

Under President Barack Obama, the national debt also increased from $10.7 trillion in 2008 to $15.5 trillion by February 2012, caused mainly by decreased tax revenue due to the late-2000s recession and stimulus spending.

However, this President recognized the problem and put into effect a plan of action to deal with the national debt. The President set a goal of reducing Federal deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. He called on Congress to establish a mechanism that would trigger across-the-board spending cuts in 2014 if the nation’s debt as a share of gross domestic product hasn’t stabilized. He even proposed to cut spending on Medicare and Medicaid, two safety-net programs held near and dear by Democrats. While I applaud this effort, it’s obvious $4 trillion dollars deficit reduction is not the same thing as bringing 15.5 trillion dollars back down to zero debt.

 

Proposed Solution

 

If we did it once the country can do it again.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that the United States ought to bring down its deficit from 100% of GDP (that it currently is) to a more comfortable level of 40% of GDP, or be even more ambitious and drop it to 23.9% as it was at the end of Richard Nixon’s  term in office. Nixon left in 1974 but I’m referring to the actual end of his elected term in office.

Our goal should be somewhere between 3.7 trillion and 6.2 trillion dollars of national debt. Let’s further say that the President and the U.S. Congress woke up one morning to its collective senses and said “Let’s Do It.” In fact, how should they do it? How did the Federal government tackle the national debt problem in 1946, at the end of WWII?

All of this comes back to what was covered in Parts II and IV on Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy. Now our President has made a good faith effort to deal with the national debt. His plan is thoughtful in terms of considering the nation’s future and current needs; but at the same time, he developed a strategic approach to trimming the national debt.

Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy are still the answer but what is the real question? Can we repeat the events following World War II? No! Those events aren’t going to repeat themselves because the social conditions affecting the country at that time would not be the same now.

So the point is how does the country stimulate massive growth and produce the revenues necessary to pay off, stabilize, and put a cap on, our national debt? This question brings us back to creating new economic events that stimulate expansive growth and rely once again on—Keynesian Economic Theory. The following material was covered in Part II of this series but I repeat it here.

The government began to use fiscal policy in the 1930s during the Depression, not just to support itself or pursue social policies, but to promote overall economic growth and stability as well. Most importantly policy-makers were influenced by John Maynard Keynes, an English economist who argued in The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936) that the rampant joblessness of his time resulted from inadequate demand for goods and services.

According to Keynes, people did not have enough income to buy everything the economy could produce, so prices fell and companies lost money or went bankrupt. Without government intervention, Keynes said, this could become a vicious cycle. As more companies went bankrupt, he argued, more people would lose their jobs, making income fall further and leading yet more companies to fail in a frightening downward spiral.

Keynes argued that government could halt the decline by increasing spending (The preferred Democrat Approach) on its own, or by cutting taxes (The Preferred Republican Approach). Either way, incomes would rise, people would spend more, and the economy could start growing again. If the government had to run up a deficit to achieve this purpose, so be it, Keynes said. In his view, the alternative—deepening economic decline—would be worse.

For many years the Federal government has pretty much adopted the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes and, indeed, we have run up a very sizable deficit. Personally, I think the country needs a new twist on Keynesian economics. Demand side (Keynesian) economics is probably better in the long run for the country than Supply side economics (trickle-down economics just doesn’t work like we’d like it to). But Keynesian economic theory still needs to be twisted a little to include things that were not part of his theory in 1936. By this I mean, rather than lowering taxes, they should be raised instead (not because of continuing class warfare but in terms of simple citizenship—everybody needs to pay his/her fair share).

So, how do we stimulate growth, lower unemployment and, at the same time, obtain significant revenues to pay down and stabilize our national debt? How do we achieve all this and meet all of the needs of the American people at the same time? Well folks, we can’t.

Economic Explosion in Growth

I always liked the expression, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” How do we stimulate growth? We do this by spending large amounts of money to target selected areas where new jobs can be created [our near full employment goal]. My ideas for targeting would be total gentrification of our cities, new infrastructure projects in suburban and rural areas of the country such as better highways, dams, and bridges; modernize and overhaul energy alternatives such as natural gas, solar, wind, and start a massive program of building “Green Friendly” homes nationally and overseas by contract.

Lower Unemployment

Many types of jobs would need to be filled if we did all this. We would need every occupation from laborers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, supervisors, building inspectors, architects, engineers, secretaries, small business owners, managers, waitresses, cooks, doctors, nurses, sales staff, clerks, dentists, police, and firemen. We need to construct more modern large buildings in urban areas where buildings are falling apart due to age.

Massive energy projects are needed, than shortly thereafter smaller peripheral and supporting projects would be needed: new gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, motels, and medical facilities. This may not be 1946—but look around you—there is much to be done (and redone) in this country of ours right now.

If these things were done in earnest, huge economic growth would certainly occur. With changes in monetary policy occurring at the same time, more credit, lower interest rates, and greater loan activity would provide the cash needed for economic expansion in almost every part of the country.

Precipitously Bring Down the National Debt

This is the hard, unpopular part of my plan. First, reduce government spending of all government agencies across the board by 10%. What will government agencies do? I was in government for 32 years and experienced several 10% cuts. We adjust, we improvise, yet we still managed to get the job done. It was no big deal. I went without an annual increase in pay as well. Trust me! Cutting government services can be done.

Now very tough decisions will need to be made if we, as a nation, want to simultaneously (besides economic expansion and lowering unemployment) reduce our national debt by 10+ trillion dollars. To achieve this will require pain and sacrifice on everyone’s part. What do we do? We make major changes to our system of taxation.

Instead of replacing the current income tax system with a national sales (consumption or fair tax), I propose the country simultaneously do both an income and a consumption tax. You pay your income taxes as you currently do, but also pay a federal sales tax on all goods and services that is tied to the GDP. If GDP currently is 16.5 trillion dollars, we need to generate an additional 9% in revenues each year through a consumption tax. That would add approximately 1.48 trillion dollars (.09 X 16.5 trillion) each year in theUnited States.

And from this time on, the Federal budgetary process would need to have what I call a “soft cap.” That is, the annual Federal budget needs to be tied to the growth rate of GDP. If the GDP increased 2.0% in one year, then the President’s budget could not increase beyond the 2.0% in the GDP.

My modified Keynesian approach doesn’t favor a Democrat or Republican approach to fiscal or monetary policy. It’s just what needs to be done to stabilize this country’s financial situation now and into the future. When I run for the United States Senate next year I plan to propose this solution for our economic woes (JUST KIDDING!).

You probably have thought all this out yourself, and have ideas of your own as to how to revitalize the economic growth of the country and bring down the national debt. However, you’re probably scratching your head right now asking yourself—how can he propose tremendous spending for economic expansion and, at the same time, put a “soft cap” on government spending?  The soft cap is more about controlling any future short-fall between government spending and revenues generated (How else are we going to prevent government borrowing and generating more debt each year?). The answer to the question is easing monetary policy (i.e., easier borrowing, credit, and lower interest rates) combined with dramatic increases in taxation (income plus a national sales tax) should provide the funds for a tremendous spike in economic growth and expansion without putting us further in national debt. I’d be more than delighted to hear your ideas on these topics or my general plan.

In the meantime, President Barack Obama has implemented a moderate plan to trim 4 trillion dollars from our national debt over the next 12 years. If my aggressive approach isn’t wanted by giving the country its austere cod liver oil to courageously attack our economic woes, then I suggest the country embrace his plan for dealing with the problem of our national debt.

What I’ve been saying is that it is time to increase spending to create growth and achieve near full employment and raise taxes by aggressive measures such as a national sales tax on top of our income tax. Substantial increases in spending should occur only if large tax increases are implemented at the same time.  Inflation would occur under my plan but would be countered by raising taxes. It could be done with monetary policy but wouldn’t work because of the need to ease monetary policy to help stimulate growth.

Fighting inflation requires government to take unpopular actions like reducing spending or raising taxes, while traditional fiscal policy solutions to fighting unemployment tend to be more popular since they require increasing spending or cutting taxes. My plan does not involve cutting spending to fight inflation. And yet inflation is like an unintended tax measure resulting in greater tax revenues for the country. To that extent, inflation would directly raise revenues and indirectly help to pay down the national debt.

The downside of my proposal is that the individual will have to pay more in taxes at the same time inflation eats away at any money he has left after taxes; it’s a bitter pill to swallow. The upside to my proposal is that tremendous economic growth in the country would occur, near full employment would be achieved, and our national debt would stabilize and be reduced significantly, and finally controlled by a “soft cap.” Some employed people, and government workers, and retirees would probably hate my proposal, while the unemployed and the business community would probably love it.

The bottom line is—“the country gets what it pays for.” Unfortunately these are times when the country has to pay a lot more to get what it wants. I think the readers of this six part series can now clearly see that tinkering with the economy is no simple matter. I suppose that in the end I have a great deal of respect for those we elect to office. They have to be “all things to all people” and, at the same time, have to struggle with prioritizing economic objectives along side with doing what’s best and right for the country. During these tough economic times—that is no easy task.

Conclusions

This fall I’m voting to re-elect President Barack Obama to a second term as our president. While Mitt Romney appears to be a good and decent man, he does not have the experience, attitudes, or mental acuity to convince me he is more qualified to be the President than Barack Obama.

Regardless of how you arrive at your decision as to who to vote for, I want to thank you for reading this six part series on Election Year Politics and the Economy. I’ve given it my best shot in deciding who to vote for, now it’s time for you to do the same.

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

[Part VI-A]

The final segment of my six part series will be composed of a Part VI-A and a Part VI-B. In Part VI-A I present the accomplishments of the Republican Party and provide a biography of their candidate in 2012—Mitt Romney.

In Part VI-B I will suggest who I think should be elected  president of the United States on November 6, 2012. I will post Part VI-B a few days after people have had a chance to digest the data in Part VI-A. I am not going to tell you who to vote for; that is now up to you. What I will do is explain, in detail, the reasons why I’m voting as I am.

I will explain as best I can both the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in a final conclusions section. Everyone may or may not come to the same conclusion as I have. Hopefully, since the economy is the main issue, I hope everyone makes intelligent use of the material I’ve provided about how the economy really works, and integrates such knowledge into each person’s value framework and political preferences. No one can predict the future but as voters, let’s give it a good shot as to who we think will best serve as president of the United States during the next four years.

                                Accomplishments of the Republican Party

In this author’s opinion the accomplishments of the Republican Party fall into two areas: (1) signed legislation that became law, and (2) bills introduced giving you some idea as to what they wanted to do for the American people.

The Republican Party, of course, did not have control of the White House between 2008-2012. However, they did regain control of the House of Representatives in November, 2010. And, they did propose major legislation in a number of areas. Many of their Bills they proposed failed to pass muster in the Senate, and on several occasions President Obama promised to veto many of the major types of legislation proposed by the Republicans.

If one defines accomplishments as bills that become laws, then by that standard they failed miserably in terms of doing something useful for the American people. It may be one of the reasons why the Republican Party is often called “the Party of No.”

 I believe, in all fairness, the voter needs to evaluate The Republican Party in a different way. Since you are comparing a party with lots to show for it, the only other remaining way to evaluate Republican contributions to the country is to usefully look at their ideas as reflected in the Bills they put forward. If you agree with those ideas you’ll still have a basis for comparison to President Obama’s accomplishments. If you don’t like what was proposed by the Republicans, then perhaps you have a clear choice in November, 2012.

So what major legislation did the Republican Party propose before the Congress during the last four years.

MAJOR LEGISLATION PROPOSED BY THE REPUBLICANS

 I found five major pieces of legislation proposed by the Republican Party during the last four years. A sixth bill actually became law in 1998. That law was the Defense of Marriage Act. It is discussed here because it was followed during the last four years as the Respect for Marriage Act, which failed to become law.

Most Republican bills seem ideological in nature. Only two seem to relate to economics. Along with the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 the bills are the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion, the Protect Life Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act which was a new version of the original Defense of Marriage Act.

One bill was actually bi-partisan in nature and was the Stop Online Piracy Act. The one bill that tackled spending issues, the debt ceiling, and balancing a budget was the only truly economic bill proposed by the Republican Party. That bill was the Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011.

Collectively, these legislative efforts are the ideas of the Republican Party.

Defense of Marriage Act

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Public Law 104-109, 110 Statute 2419, enacted September 21, 1996, 1 U.S.C. & 7 and 28 U.S.C. & 1738C is a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. The law passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.

Under the law, no state or other political subdivision of the U.S. may be required to recognize as a marriage a same-sex relationship considered a marriage in another state. Section 3 of DOMA codified the non-recognition of same-sex marriage for all federal purposes, including insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors’ benefits, and the filing of joint tax returns. This section has been found unconstitutional in two Massachusetts court cases and a California bankruptcy court case, all of which are under appeal.

The Obama administration announced in 2011 that it had determined that Section 3 was unconstitutional and, though it would continue to enforce the law, it would no longer defend it in court. In response, the House of Representatives undertook the defense of the law on behalf of the federal government in place of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Respect for Marriage Act

The Respect for Marriage Act, or RFMA (H.R. 1116, S. 598), was a proposed bill in the United States Congress that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and allow the U.S. federal government to provide benefits to couples in a same-sex marriage; the bill would not compel individual states to recognize same-sex marriages. It was supported by former U.S. Representative Bob Barr, original sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, and former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

Until 1996, the federal government customarily recognized marriages conducted legally in any state for the purpose of federal legislation. Following an unsuccessful law suit aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii, the United States Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act one section of which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

H.R. 3567

a) repeals section 1738C of title 28 of the United States Code

b) amends Section 7 of title 1 in the United States Code to read:

(a) For the purposes of any Federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into or, in the case of a marriage entered into outside any State, if the marriage is valid in the place where entered into and the marriage could have been entered into in a State. (b) In this section, the term ‘State’ means a State, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any other territory or possession of the United States.

No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) is a bill that was introduced to the 112th Congress of the United States in the House of Representatives by Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) and Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois). Although the bill is a bipartisan effort, most of the 173 co-sponsors were Republicans. The bill’s stated purpose was “[t]o prohibit taxpayer funded abortions and to provide for conscience protections, and for other purposes.”

In large measure, it would render permanent the restrictions on federal funding of abortion in the United States laid out in the Hyde Amendment. The bill passed the House on May 4, 2011 by a vote of 251-175; however, because it was not expected to pass the Senate, the bill was largely a symbolic one.

Controversy over language about rape

The text of the most recent version of the Hyde Amendment provides an exception for cases of rape, stating that its prohibitions shall not apply “if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” The rape exception in H.R. 3 uses somewhat different language, stating that its limitations shall not apply “if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest.” Some women’s rights groups have questioned the addition of the qualifier “forcible” to the word “rape” in H.R. 3, noting that it excludes many forms of rape and “takes us back to a time where just saying no was not enough.”

One critic, Mother Jones, alleged that the bill is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Republican Party to change the legal definition of rape.

Another critic, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) criticized the legislation, too. An article in The Raw Story had this to say about her reaction to HR 3. “The Florida Democrat, a rising star in her party and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a leading voice on women’s issues.

And she didn’t mince her words in an interview with The Raw Story, fiercely denouncing GOP colleagues over H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” ‘It is absolutely outrageous,’ Wasserman Schultz said in an exclusive interview late Monday afternoon. “I consider the proposal of this bill a violent act against women…” She continued, “It really is — to suggest that there is some kind of rape that would be okay to force a woman to carry the resulting pregnancy to term, and abandon the principle that has been long held, an exception that has been settled for 30 years, is to me a violent act against women in and of itself,” Wasserman Schultz said.” “Rape is when a woman is forced to have sex against her will, and that is whether she is conscious, unconscious, mentally stable, not mentally stable,” the four-term congresswoman added.”

Critics insist that HR 3 would directly diminish the rights of women who have fallen victim to rapes that are not considered “forcible” by the bill, as well as increase the danger of these types of sexual abuse occurring.

TalkingPoints Memo reported, “In an interview with the anti-abortion site LifeNews, Douglas Johnson, the legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, admits the language in the House’s No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act “would not allow general federal funding of abortion on all under-age pregnant girls.”

However, the bill’s text does not offer a definition of “rape” nor of “forcible rape.” Responding to the criticism about the language used in the rape exception clause, bill co-sponsor Dan Lipinski (D) stated, “The language of H.R. 3 was not intended to change existing law rearding taxpayer funding for abortion in cases of rape, nor is it expected that it would do so. Nonetheless, the legislative process will provide an opportunity to clarify this should such a need exist.”

Protect Life Act

The Protect Life Act (H.R. 358) is a bill introduced to the 112th United States Congress in the House of Representatives by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA). The bill had 121 co-sponsors, including 6 Democrats. It would make several amendments to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The bill was initially referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health, of which Pitts is the ranking majority member. The committee approved it 33 to 19.

On October 13, 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill; however, it was judged unlikely to pass the Democratic Senate, and President Obama stated that he would veto it if it reached his desk.

The following are the provisions of the bill.

Provisions

  • Ban the use of federal funds to cover any costs of any health care plan that covers abortions. (This would extend previous restrictions on abortion coverage, which currently ban the use of federal funds for abortion and require federal funds and abortion-related funds to be kept separate.) Require the Office of Personnel Management director to make sure no health plans that fall under the Exchange cover abortions.
  • Require any entity offering, through a federal exchange, a health care plan that covers abortions to also offer an otherwise identical one that does not cover abortions.
  • Prohibit government agencies from “discriminating” against health care providers who refuse to undergo, require, provide, or refer for training to perform abortions.
  • Allow remedies to be sought in court for violations of PPACA abortion provisions.

Stop Online Piracy Act

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison. A similar bill in the U.S. Senate is titled the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

Proponents of the legislation state it will protect the intellectual-property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws, especially against foreign websites. Claiming flaws in present laws that do not cover foreign-owned and operated sites, and citing examples of “active promotion of rogue websites” by U.S. search engines, proponents assert stronger enforcement tools are needed.

Opponents state the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation, and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing content posted on a single blog or webpage. They have raised concerns that SOPA would bypass the “safe harbor” protections from liability presently afforded to Internet sites by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Library associations have expressed concerns that the legislation’s emphasis on stronger copyright enforcement would expose libraries to prosecution. Other opponents state that requiring search engines to delete a domain name could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web and violates the First Amendment.

On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia Reddit, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, to raise awareness. In excess of 160 million people viewed Wikipedia’s banner. Other protests against SOPA and PIPA included petition drives, with Google stating it collected over 7 million signatures, boycotts of companies that support the legislation, and a rally held in New York City.

In response to the protest actions, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) stated, “It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users and arm them with misinformation,” and “it’s very difficult to counter the misinformation when the disseminators also own the platform.”

The sites of several pro-SOPA organizations such as RIAA, CBS.com, and others were slowed or shut down with denial of service attacks started on January 19. Self-proclaimed members of the “hacktivist” group Anonymous claimed responsibility and stated the attacks were a protest of both SOPA and the United States Department of Justice’s shutdown of Megaupload on that same day.

Opponents of the bill have proposed the Online Protection and Digital Trade Act (OPEN) as an alternative. On January 20, 2012, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith postponed plans to draft the bill: “The committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation … The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011

The proposed Cut, Cap and Balance Act of 2011 (or HR 2560) was a bill put forward in the 112th United States Congress by Republicans during the 2011 U.S. debt ceiling crisis. The provisions of the bill included a cut in the total amount of federal government spending, a cap on the level of future spending as a percentage ofGDP, and, on the condition that Congress pass certain changes to the U.S. Constitution, and an increase in the national debt ceiling to allow the federal government to continue to service its debts.

The bill had the support of Republicans and much of the Tea Party movement. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19, 2011, but was rejected by the President and the Senate. The Senate voted to table the bill on July 22. President Obama had promised to veto the bill had it proceeded further.

The Republican Candidate in 2012

The Republican cadidate running for the Office of the President of the United States in 2012  is former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney.

 

Biography

Born Willard Mitt Romney onMarch 12, 1947, in Detroit,Michigan and raised in Bloomfield Hills,Michigan, Romney attended the prestigious Cranbrook Schoolbefore receiving his undergraduate degree fromBrighamYoungUniversityin 1971. He attended Harvard LawSchool andHarvard Business School and received both a law degree and an M.B.A. in 1975.

Mitt Romney married Ann Davies in 1969; they have five sons, Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig. He is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

Entry into Politics

The son of George Romney, Michigan governor and Republican presidential nominee (he was defeated by Richard Nixon in 1968), Mitt Romney began his career in business. He worked for the management consulting firm Bain & Company before founding the investment firm Bain Capital in 1984. In 1994, he ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts but was defeated by longtime incumbent Edward Kennedy.

In 1999, Romney stepped into the national spotlight when he took over as president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. He helped rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics from financial and ethical woes, and helmed a successful Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002.

In 2004 Romney authored the book Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games.

Masachusetts Governor

Romney parlayed his success with the Olympics into politics when he was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2003. During Romney’s term as governor, he oversaw the reduction of a $3 billion deficit. Romney also signed into law a health care reform program to provide nearly universal health care forMassachusetts residents.

2008 Presidential Run

After serving one term, he declined to run for reelection and announced his bid for U.S.president. Romney made it through Super Tuesday, winning primaries inMassachusetts, Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado and Utah, before losing the Republican nomination to John McCain. In total Romney spent $110 million on his campaign, including $45 million of his own money.

Romney continued to keep his options open for a possible future presidential run. He maintained much of his political staff and PACs, and raised funds for fellow Republican candidates. In March 2010, Romney published a book titled No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. The book debuted on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

2012 Campaign

At a farm in New Hampshire on June 2, 2011, Mitt Romney announced the official start of his 2012 campaign. A vocal critic of President Barack Obama, Romney has taken many standard Republican positions on taxes, the economy and the war on terror. Romney’s critics charge him with changing his position on several key issues including abortion, which he opposes, and health care reform—he opposed President Obama’s health care reform program, which was similar to theMassachusetts plan Romney supported as governor.

From the start of his campaign, Romney emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. He showed more mainstream Republican appeal than Tea Party-backed competitors such asTexas governor Rick Perry. In January 2012, Romney scored a decisive victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary. He captured more than 39 percent of the votes, way ahead of his closest competitors, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.  As the race has continued, Rick Santorum became his greatest competition, winning several states. But Romney had been able to secure a substantial lead in the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

In April 2012, Romney benefitted from a narrowing of the field when Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign. He publicly paid tribute to his former rival, saying that Santorum “has proved himself to be an important voice in our party and in the nation.” After Santorum’s departure, Romney only had two opponents left—Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. But neither seems to have enough support to gain the necessary delegates to take the nomination from Romney. In May, 2012 Newt Gingrich departed from the campaign.

Post Script

At this point every reader of this six part series should now be armed with enough knowledge to make an informed intelligent decision as to who should be elected to the White House this coming November. Good luck in how you arrive at that decision. In a few days following the posting of this Part VI-A, I will present how I plan to vote this coming November. Based on all the knowledge presented in this series I will explain all the reasons why I have selected one candidate over the other. And, I will present such reasons in terms of both strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.

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ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

[Part V]

In this Part V of my six part series I describe the accomplishments of President Barack Obama during most his first term as president.

In a final section (Part VI-B) I will bring all of the knowledge gained in the entire series together and render a decision as to who I’m voting for (and consistent with writing a blog called the Reasoned Society) with the reasons why I have reached a decision in casting my vote in favor of one candidate over the other. Ultimately, you will also have to decide who you will vote for in the upcoming presidential election in November, 2012.

The Accomplishments of President Barack Obama

 

By some accounts (Florida Professor of American Studies Robert P. Watson of Lynn University) President Obama’s accomplishments now total 244 since he took office. Here is just a few of the significant accomplishments of the president during his first term in the White House.

 

  • Overhauled the food safety system;
  • Approved the Lily Ledbetter “Equal Pay” for women rule;
  • Ended “Don’t Ask/Don’t  Tell” discrimination in the military;
  • Passed the Hate Crimes bill in Congress;
  • Saved the auto industry from bankruptcy which included General Motors and Chrysler;
  • Appointed two progressive women to the U.S. Supreme Court including the first Latina;
  • Pushed through the Affordable Health Care Act, outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, extending until age 26 health care coverage of children under parent’s  plans, steps toward “Medicare for All;”
  • Expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) health care for children. This helped to cover 4 million more lower-income children;
  • Pushed through a $789 Billion economic stimulus bill that saved or created 3 million jobs and began task of repairing the nation’s infrastructure;
  • Overhauled the credit card industry, making it more consumer friendly;
  • Established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and used a recess appointment to keep it on track in the face of GOP attempts to derail it;
  • Also outmaneuvered GOP in naming two members of the National Labor Relations Board blocked by the Republicans in their attempt to shut down the NLRB;
  • Won two extensions of the debt ceiling and extensions of unemployment compensation in the face of Republican threats to shut down the U.S. government;
  • Pulled troops out of Iraq and began drawing down of troops in Afghanistan;
  • Signed an omnibus public lands bill that allowed for 2 million more acres to be declared wilderness. It added 1,000 miles designated for scenic rivers, and added lands for national trails;
  • Signed into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act;
  • Signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expanded the scope of AmeriCorps;
  • Signed an executive order easing restrictions on the use of federal money for embryonic stem cell research;
  • Created greater transparency in government by creation of White House visitor logs, a ban on lobbyist gifts, or allowing lobbyists from serving on advisory boards, and restrictions on the hiring of lobbyists.
  • Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated.
  • In 2011 President Barack Obama gave the order for Navy Seals commandoes to take out Osama Bin Laden, the architect of 911. They were successful and Osama Bin Laden is dead.

 

Washington Post Editorial

Back in 2010 an editorial was written by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. This was written less than half way through President Obama’s first term in office. I think it’s worth repeating here:

In less than two years in office, the Obama Administration has made some incredible progress, from passing historic health reform to reining in Wall Street and fighting to create new jobs. Even so, sometimes it can feel like all of the day-to-day news is focused on the negative, without much emphasis on the real changes the President has made with the help of supporters around the country. For a look at some of the great accomplishments in just the past few weeks—including troops leaving Iraq, bringing the auto industry back from the brink of collapse, and containing the oil spill in the Gulf.

This is a radical break from journalistic convention, I realize, but today I’d like to give credit where it’s due — specifically, to President Obama. Quiet as it’s kept, he’s on a genuine winning streak. It’s hard to remember that the inauguration was just 19 months ago. Expectations of the new president were absurdly high. If Obama had done back flips across the Potomac River, when he reached the other side he’d have faced probing questions about why it was taking him so long to cure cancer, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in an age of universal peace and prosperity. But look at what he’s accomplished in just the past few weeks. Let me highlight four recent headlines.

“Last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq”: Obama campaigned as an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war, calling it a distraction from the more important conflict in Afghanistan. When he took office, there were about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the heels of George W. Bush’s combat surge. Obama said he would bring our combat forces home and he did — ahead of schedule…. “General Motors to launch stock offering”: One of the many crises Obama faced when he took office was the imminent collapse of an iconic industrial giant….Obama ended up pouring $50 billion into the company, acquiring a 61 percent ownership stake.

Critics complained about the advent of “Government Motors” and raised the specter of bureaucrats in Washington holding public hearings to redesign the Corvette. But now, after making more than $2 billion in profits so far this year, the restructured company is confident enough to sell stock on Wall Street — and begin repaying the government’s investment. The company was saved, workers kept their jobs, and taxpayers are going to get their money back. That’s nice work.”Gulf oil spill contained”: When BP’s Deepwater Horizon well went rogue, the Obama administration was criticized for being slow off the mark. Some of the criticism was justified — the initial response did seem unfocused. But the administration managed to turn things around and quiet any talk of “Obama’s Katrina.”

Obama persuaded BP to put up $20 billion as a guarantee that the Gulf Coast residents whose livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the spill would be compensated….

And finally, “President wades into mosque controversy”: Yes, I’m serious. Supporting the mosque in Lower Manhattan didn’t score any political points. But Obama saw his duty to uphold the values of our Constitution and make clear that our fight is against the terrorists, not against Islam itself. Instead of doing what was popular, he did what was right.

He still hasn’t walked on water, though. What’s wrong with the man?

 

Post Script

You will have to decide as a voter in a few months whether President Obama’s accomplishments during his first term in office justifies his being re-elected to a second term. In giving your vote you will also have to compare the president’s accomplishments to those of the Republican Party during the last four years.

In addition, you will have to decide whether the campaign promises of Mitt Romney appeal to you so much that you would support a change of course for the country. After Part VI-A and Part VI-B you will be in a good position, in terms of being an informed voter, to make such an important decision. And, you can be proud of yourself that you took the time to become better informed; it is the only really intelligent approach a citizen can take during so important an election as to who should become President of the United States.

 

 

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