Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Constitution’

Donald Trump’s Presidency in Jeopardy
Impeachment Now on the Horizon

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. The Constitution, Article I, Section 3: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.
Donald Trump’s approval rating is at a 70-year low; it is now at 36 percent. In the months ahead there is a high probability that the presidency of Donald Trump will come to an end in impeachment or resignation. It will be the culmination of an intensive investigation by the Special Prosecutor and intelligence committees in both the House and Senate.
When it comes to criminal charges (and this is my best guess) many people in the Trump Administration, including Donald Trump himself, will be charged with criminal offenses or violations of constitutional law or other federal laws. Without boring my audience and re-hashing all of the things that have led to a failed Trump presidency, I think this Blog would better serve an audience by going over the impeachment process that will be carried out, factors related to the motivation of the Russians to hack our election, and something rather unique in all this, i.e., the concept of “life imitating art” or “art imitating life.” This latter concept will be explained against the backdrop of the strange, often bizarre relationship between the reality of a Trump presidency and the fantasy of the entertainment industry of which he was a part. Explanation will follow shortly.
In addition, it will be important to describe what this author believes was the real underlying motivation of Vladimir Putin to direct a cyber-attack against the United States during and preceding the American presidential election of 2016.
I doubt that President Trump will be removed from office because of treason because the United States is not currently in a “declared war.” However, sharing classified information (top secret, secret, or confidential) with officials of a foreign (albeit enemy) country is a federal crime tantamount to espionage. In addition, the following crimes may come into play during the impeachment process of Donald Trump. These crimes include:
• Obstruction of Justice
• Abuse of Power
• Violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emolument Clause
• Espionage
• Violation of federal laws related to financial or political corruption including illegal campaign finance laws and regulations

The following is an article by Charlie Savage for the New York Times, dated May 17, 2017 and describes how the impeachment process works.

How the Impeachment Process Works
Background
“WASHINGTON — The account from the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey of President Trump pressing him to drop an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has escalated talk among the president’s critics that his actions may amount to obstruction of justice and grounds for impeachment.
Asking F.B.I. to drop an investigation is obstruction of justice, Representative Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. ‘Obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense.’
But several legal specialists across party lines cautioned that talk of impeachment was premature while the facts remained unclear; the White House has denied that Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Comey to drop the case.
Still, the early chatter has heightened interest in how the impeachment process works. Here’s what you need to know:
What is impeachment?
The Constitution permits Congress to remove presidents before their term is up if enough lawmakers vote to say that they committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Only three presidents have been subjected to impeachment proceedings. Two were impeached but acquitted and stayed in office: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 and 1999. A third, Richard M. Nixon in 1974, resigned to avoid being impeached.
What is the process?
First, the House of Representatives votes on one or more articles of impeachment. If at least one gets a majority vote, the president is impeached — which essentially means being indicted. (In both the Nixon and the Clinton cases, the House Judiciary Committee considered the matter first.)
Next, the proceedings move to the Senate, which holds a trial overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
A team of lawmakers from the House, known as managers, play the role of prosecutors. The president has defense lawyers, and the Senate serves as the jury.
If at least two-thirds of the senators find the president guilty, he is removed, and the vice president takes over as president.”
What are the rules?
There are no standard rules. Rather, the Senate passes a resolution first laying out trial procedures.
‘When the Senate decided what the rules were going to be for our trial, they really made them up as they went along,’ said Greg Craig, who helped defend Mr. Clinton in his impeachment proceeding and later served as White House counsel to President Barack Obama.
For example, Mr. Craig said, the initial rules in that case gave four days to the Republican managers to make a case for conviction, followed by four days for the president’s legal team to defend him — essentially opening statements. The Senate then decided whether to hear witnesses, and if so, whether it would be live or on videotape. Eventually, the Senate permitted each side to depose several witnesses by videotape.
The rules adopted by the Senate in the Clinton trial — including limiting the number of witnesses and the length of depositions — made it harder to prove a case compared with trials in federal court, said former Representative Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who served as a House manager during the trial and is also a former United States attorney.
‘Impeachment is a creature unto itself,’ Mr. Barr said. ‘The jury in a criminal case doesn’t set the rules for a case and can’t decide what evidence they want to see and what they won’t.’
What are the standards?
The Constitution allows for the impeachment and removal of a president for ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.’ But no controlling authority serves as a check on how lawmakers choose to interpret that standard, which makes it as much a question of political will as of legal analysis.
In the case of Mr. Clinton’s trial, for example, Robert Byrd, a Democratic senator from West Virginia at the time, told his colleagues that he thought Mr. Clinton was clearly guilty of perjury but that removing him from office was a bad idea.
‘To drop the sword of Damocles now, given the bitter political partisanship surrounding this entire matter, would only serve to further undermine a public trust that is too much damaged already,’ he said. ‘Therefore, I will reluctantly vote to acquit.’
Mr. Clinton was impeached by a Congress in which the opposition party controlled both the House and the Senate. In Mr. Trump’s case, his party controls both chambers, making it more politically unappealing for them to vote to impeach him.
What about the 25th Amendment?
Adopted in 1967, the 25th Amendment provides another mechanism for removing a president. It is geared toward dealing with a president who becomes too disabled to carry out the duties of the office, as opposed to presidential lawbreaking.
Under its procedures, if the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet tell Congress that the president is ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,’ the vice president immediately becomes the acting president. If the president contests that finding, but two-thirds of both chambers of Congress side with the vice president, the vice president remains the acting president for the rest of the term.”
What really is the underlying motivation of Russia’s Interference in U.S. Elections?
Donald Trump’s financial dealings that relate to the Emolument Clause of the United States Constitution may transcend the country of Russia. Payments may be coming into the coffers of Donald Trump financial holdings from many countries.
However, it is clear that Russia is the pivotal country when it comes to hacking into a democratic country’s election, and whose motivation to engage in collusion with the Trump campaign not only occurred but was spearheaded by the Kremlin’s top man: Vladimir Putin.
If you’re not familiar with the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law, here is the most important thing to understand: Russian President Vladimir Putin and everyone in his orbit hate it.
“A purely political, unfriendly act,” Putin called it at the time, and he has been railing against it ever since.
Congress wanted to punish Russian human rights abusers by barring them from entering the U.S. This followed the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died at age 37 in a Moscow prison where he was held — and allegedly beaten — after accusing Russian officials of massive tax fraud.
The law symbolized the deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia. Days after Congress passed it, the Russian parliament responded by banning American citizens from adopting Russian orphans.
In a bizarre 2013 trial, a Russian court went even further, convicting Magnitsky of tax fraud — four years after he died.

Politics
Donald Trump Jr. Meeting Included Russian Lobbyist:
The Magnitsky Act re-emerged as a front-burner topic this week in connection with the investigations surrounding President Trump’s campaign and possible links to Russian meddling in last year’s presidential race.
Russia has lobbied hard for repeal of the act. That’s what Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya said she was doing when she met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York.

Politics
Trump Says He Would Invite Putin to White House ‘At the Right Time:’
News broke Friday that she was accompanied at that meeting by Russian-American Rinat Akhmetshin. He is known as a skilled political operator who has worked in both the former Soviet Union and the United States on behalf of his clients, according to a U.S. journalist who has known him for two decades.
Akhmetshin has also spoke freely about his past in Soviet military intelligence, according to the journalist, Steve Levine, who works for Axios in Washington.

Politics
5 Questions Raised By Donald Trump Jr.’s Emails:
However, in remarks to The Associated Press, Akhmetshin said he served in a military unit that was part of counterintelligence but was not trained as a spy.
Levine first encountered Akhmetshin in Kazakhstan. There, in 1998, he provided Levine with confidential banking and legal documents pointing to financial corruption by the country’s president.

Politics
Donald Trump Jr.’s Emails about Meeting with Russian Lawyer: Annotated
“His signature is to be able to drill very, very deeply in the former Soviet Union, in a very knowing way,” Levine said. “Here in Washington, he’s this very unusual character, who may be the most skilled lobbyist I’ve met.”
Akhmetshin is, he added, “someone who can ingratiate himself with members of Congress and their staffs, power figures here, and make things happen.”
Levine said they’ve been in touch periodically over the years, including in brief email exchanges in recent days as Akhmetshin’s name began to surface in media reports.
Akhmetshin, who has become a U.S. citizen, has aggressively lobbied against the Magnitsky Act. Just a few days after his meeting with Trump Jr. in New York last year, Akhmetshin was in Washington to promote a movie called The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes.
The film was shown at the Newseum in Washington on June 13, 2016. It offers the Russian government’s version of events and claims that Magnitsky was not mistreated by Russian authorities.
Trump Jr. has also said that — to his disappointment — last year’s meeting with the Russians focused on the Magnitsky Act. Trump Jr. was told in advance the meeting would produce critical material on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. When the topic turned out to be the U.S. law, he considered it a waste of time.
Analysts have offered many theories on why Russia wanted to meddle in the U.S. presidential election: to undermine the credibility of the U.S. vote or to harm Hillary Clinton, whom Putin blamed for the protests leading up the Russian presidential election in 2012.
Rarely mentioned is the Magnitsky Act, a relatively obscure matter inside the U.S. but a major frustration for Russia’s leadership.

Life Imitates Art and Vice-Versa
Here we are in the summer of 2017, six months into the presidency of Donald Trump. As I think back over the last two years of this nightmare with Donald Trump, I am convinced he lives in a childish fantasy of his own creation, ego-driven, and propped up by those around him in his close circle of “want to-be” important people.
Nationally, his supporters have dwindled to only 36% as of July 17, 2017. With the failure of his administration to repeal and replace Obamacare even his remaining supporters will never benefit from a low-cost comprehensive health care plan. This is unfortunate since a disproportionate number of his supporters are in dire need of good health care, particularly psychiatric mental health services.
It is both beguiling and perplexing to know that a degenerate womanizer and misogynist, white nationalist racist, crude, anti-intellectual buffoon could ever be elected president of the United States. And yet, here we are! Doesn’t say much for the intelligence and moral fiber of a sizeable portion of the American electorate— now does it?
He has tarnished the status of the highest office in the land and that, my friends, is unforgivable. He has taken a great American institution and turned it into garbage. I cannot help but see the quixotic (foolishly impractical, unrealistic, or capricious) parallel between the real life Donald Trump and the fantasy world he lives in.
There is an old expression that “art imitates life.” Ironically, sometimes the reverse is true, i.e., life imitates art. But in the make-believe world of art we often watch on television or in the movies, fantasy often parallels what’s going on in the real world. And television or movies often draw on material from the real world. It’s almost symbiotic in nature. Oscar Wilde seemed to believe however that this observable parallel was not equal.
Oscar Wilde Statement in 1889
Life imitating art. Anti-mimesis is a philosophical position that holds the direct opposite of Aristotelian mimesis. Its most notable proponent is Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.”
Sometimes the symbiotic relationship between life and art is fortuitous, at other times it seems like it is planned. For example script writing drew from current day events some of its planned material in the award winning TV drama series House of Cards (Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright).
The U.S. version of this series gives us an inside look at the greed and corruption in American Politics. Recently Vanity Fair looked at the similarity between Donald Trump and House of Cards president Frank Underwood (initials F.U.).
On May 30th Yohana Desta wrote the article. Titled “Trump vs. Underwood: 7 Times House of Cards Hit a Little Too Close to Reality.
Trump vs. Underwood: 7 Times House of Cards Hit a Little Too Close to Reality
Season 5 of the hit political series mirrored the Trump administration in a number of eerie ways.
Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about Season 5 of House of Cards.
House of Cards has always pulled from the headlines. The political Netflix series, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, thrives on mirroring the more conniving side of U.S. statecraft, combing through American history to find story lines that feed and shape its White House narrative. The new season debuted Tuesday morning at a time when the country’s current president, Donald Trump, is besieged by allegations of obstructing justice and colluding with Russia, among other claims. Numerous moments in this latest installment of House of Cards reflected this moment in history perhaps a little too well. From Senate investigations to startling political tactics, here’s all the times this season might have hit too close to home.

1. Everything is a “distraction”
In Episode 1, Washington Herald editor Tom Hammerschmidt dismisses one of Frank Underwood’s political tactics as merely a “distraction” to the underlying issues at play. In most circumstances, that would be a fairly benign thing to say, but it’s a pointed choice of words that’s hard to ignore in an age when Trump’s critics have urged people not to get “distracted” by the president’s tweets or outlandish comments, and his Trump’s supporters have argued that all the chaotic “distraction” is actually part of his master plan.
Of course, the season ends with Underwood revealing that a large amount of the chaos that takes place actually is part of his master plan—but that’s a rather Machiavellian feat that Trump himself will likely not achieve.

2. All the executive orders!
Presidents throwing their weight around with executive orders are nothing new, but the incessant signing of new orders (some of them incendiary and arguably unconstitutional) is now a hallmark of Trump’s first 100 days. There are shades of his bullishness in Episode 2, when Frank Underwood declares an executive order for protecting “voting centers” and enforcing strict border restrictions, invoking “Section Blah Blah of the Blah Blah Act and Section Blah Blah of Title Blah Blah, Paragraph Bullshit Bullshit.”
The episode is bookended with Underwood secretly manufacturing a fake hack by terrorist group I.C.O., using it to prod the government to make a declaration of war. Hacks, terrorist attacks, and war talks! Where have we heard this all before . . . ?

3. A suspicious election
No TV drama about a presidential election would be complete without absurd twists and turns. This season of HoC crafts a presidential race filled to the brim with scandal, illicit behavior, and shocking results, premiering just a few months after the U.S.’s own wild election in which Trump came out the victor over expected winner Hillary Clinton. In the show, Underwood prevails over projected winner Will Conway, who wins the popular vote, but, of course, Underwood wins the race by rigging the election in vital Electoral College states and engaging in voter suppression. In the real world, the Department of Justice and both houses of Congress are investigating potential Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and improper contact with members of Trump’s campaign, with new reports surfacing about their alleged collusion. (And voter suppression tactics figured in U.S. history long before Trump.)
The next episode shows how American citizens are reacting to the election, featuring a group of protesters banding together outside the White House and chanting “Not my president!” and holding signs that read “Never Underwood.” Both actions mimic the actual chants and signs seen during anti-Trump protests.
Later in the season, as Conway sinks deeper into a petulant downward spiral after losing the election, his adviser tries to cheer him up by saying, “You lost—but more than half the country still considers you their president.” Though Conway’s post-election temperament is miles away from Clinton’s reflective grace, it’s tough to imagine that people haven’t bolstered her spirits with the same kind of encouragement.
4. Acts of Russian aggression
House of Cards has already done a Russia-obsessed season, which would have been too on the nose had it premiered now. But it’s not done with Viktor Petrov, its version of Vladimir Putin, just yet. He turns up in the second half of the show as Russia approaches an American research facility stationed in Antarctica, poking around for oil. “It’s a brazen act of aggression,” Secretary of State Catherine Durant says in the episode. Her quote brings to mind actual acts of Russian aggression, such as recent reports of Russian fighter jets doing barrel rolls over U.S. planes, and flying close to a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft.
This event also leads to a long line of backdoor negotiations with Russia, which might make some folks in the current administration (cough, Jared Kushner, cough) a bit uncomfortable.
5. A president under investigation
In Episode 9, scorned Congressman Romero decides to relaunch the committee investigating Underwood’s potentially impeachable offenses. With the Trump administration under its own investigation—and talk of impeachment fluttering around, just as they do for Underwood—it’s hard not to compare the two.
The investigation in the show also leads to the questioning of F.B.I. deputy director Nathan Green, who’s deeply entangled in the Underwood administration and has done a number of illegal things. Hey, does anyone remember if there’s anything crazy going on with the real world F.B.I. right now?
6. A gas attack in Syria
Episode 10 features a devastating gas attack in Syria, which the Underwood’s try to use to their political advantage. The attack eerily mirrors the recent chemical attack in Syria, which was one of the worst in the country’s history. Season 5 was already wrapped by the time the attack happened, so the show didn’t directly pluck from the headlines for that. However, it’s still a surprising (and incredibly sad) example of how the show veers dangerously close to real life.
7. “Welcome to the death of the age of reason.”
Those are the intimidating words Underwood snarls to the camera in this season’s penultimate episode during his committee testimony. “There is no right or wrong, not anymore. There’s only being in and then being out,” he says. His words, sadly, invoke the current age of “alternative facts.” Underwood’s message rings particularly true when held up against Trump’s own behavior. The current president is prone to making outlandish, verifiably false or simply unfounded remarks in interviews and on Twitter, while also waging a war against the media (#FakeNews), leaving his team to scramble and smooth out his claims. Meanwhile, the rest of the country anxiously watches and waits for whatever fresh hell is coming next.
Final Comments
The colossal failure of the country to elect a real president in 2016 will continue to dishonor and haunt us long after the last stench of Donald Trump is removed from the White House. With the mid-term elections around the corner, it is time for democrats around the country to gear up for a good fight against republicans who, besides Donald Trump, have also let the country down.
Needless to say the role of the new DNC head will be critically important in trying not just to elect more democrats, but to convince people of the United States that their interests come first in this sometimes chaotic world we all live in.
A final moment of reverie for this author, please. The character of Donald Trump we’ve all seen many times in our lives. It is like “art imitating life.” A daydream I had has kept re-occurring over the last two years. But my original stimulus for this daydream occurred more than 60 years ago.
In 1957 I was a freshman in high school. One important movie made in 1957 was an academy award-winning movie (Best picture, Best Director, Best Actor) known as Witness for the Prosecution.
It starred the great English actor Charles Laughton, along with Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power. I won’t sidetrack my readers by going into a detailed recounting of the plot. It was based on a very clever book by the much esteemed Agatha Christie originally written in 1925.
I connect this movie’s most dramatic court room scenes to Donald Trump. Imagine if you will Donald Trump (the Prevaricator-in- Chief as President) was being grilled by a Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton). What a field-day that would be if, like the movie, when Sir Wilfred says to Trump in Laughton’s surly special voice, “ Were you lying then, are you lying now, or are you not in fact a chronic and habitual Liar? In the movie Charles Laughton screaming the word liar—was absolutely deafening.

Read Full Post »

Principled Constitutionalism and Gay Marriage

 

Background   

On June 26, 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of gay marriage. It was an historic event that thrilled the gay and lesbian communities as well as for those who were in the forefront of protecting America’s civil rights and liberties. Proponents loved the decision while opponents cried foul. Those who cried foul were very vitriolic in their condemnation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s majority decision on gay marriage. There were even public statements from the dissenting Justices on the Supreme Court (Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Scalia).

What is kind of amusing is that the dissenters on the court could have kept their dignity as Justices by simply remaining silent.

Instead, they came out of the woodwork like a bruised termite to give voice to their own personal underlying value judgments in a smoke screen couched in constitutional jargon to support their own political viewpoint and biases. The same just as easily could have happened with the Justice Kennedy majority had the decision been reversed in favor of no constitutional right to gay marriage.

One could say from a sociological point of view that a justice’s personal or political values dictate court decisions, not the written words of the U.S. Constitution. However, all Supreme Court justices (liberal or conservative) follow their own way when doing a legal analysis of a case. While analytical steps (gathering facts, reviewing case law and statutory law, etc.) may be the same, the legal analysis always follows a specific theory of Constitutional interpretation. It is Constitutional Interpretation theories that really matter when trying to understand the thought processes of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Because of this approach a Justice can see the same words in the Constitution, yet derive a different meaning and conclusion based on which category of constitutional interpretation they personally subscribe to. So what are these theories?

The Main Categories of Constitutional Interpretation

The Constitution emerged after several months of debate in 1787, during which the Founders sought to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Several centuries have passed since the Constitution was formed, and in the intervening time, multiple questions and debates have arisen over its meaning and interpretation.

There are two main categories of constitutional interpretation: Originalism and Non-Originalism. These two categories are admittedly broad. But in general terms, the first seeks to interpret the Constitution by looking closely at the text, the influencing documents and the historical context in which it was written. The second looks at the Constitution as a living document the interpretation of which needs to take into account changes in social norms, economic and political circumstances.

According to one proponent, Originalism “means that the constant touchstone of constitutional law should be the purposes and values of those who had the authority to make the Constitution—not of those who are charged with governing under it and abiding by it.” An oft-cited variation of Originalism is Strict Constructionism, which focuses interpretation on the technical, exact meaning of the words in the Constitution. Past and present examples of justices who hold the Originalism viewpoint include Justice Hugo Black, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Judge Robert Bork. The later Judge Bork was a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit judge and a Reagan conservative nomination to the highest court. However, he failed to achieve confirmation.

Non-Originalism, on the other hand, is sometimes referred to as Loose Constructionism or Pragmatism, and its proponents often support the idea of a “‘living constitution’ … [which] evolves, changes over time, and adapts to new circumstances.” Past and present examples of justices who hold this view include Justice Harry Blackmun, Justice William Brennan, Justice William O. Douglas, and Judge Richard Posner.

The first debates over proper constitutional interpretation arose among the Founders themselves. In 1788, while the Constitution was awaiting ratification, Alexander Hamilton stated that the interpretation of the Constitution was to be left in the hands of the courts.

Nearly 30 years later, James Madison noted the bias that was possible in interpreting the Constitution, both for those present during its formation, like himself, and for those removed from the process, but eager “to find in its text an authority for a particular measure of great apparent Utility.” Finally, Thomas Jefferson weighed in on constitutional interpretation methods with the following statement:

“On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

In the years following the Founding generation, the courts and other constitutional scholars continued to approach constitutional interpretation with caution. For example, Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution suggested that Americans interpret the Constitution in a straightforward, rational manner while cautiously appealing to the Founders’ contemporary context in matters lacking clarity. Additionally, court cases such as Pollack v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co. (1895), South Carolina v. United States (1905), and Ex Parte Grossman (1925) all cited the need to look into the historical circumstances surrounding the Founding Fathers in order to make accurate judgments.

However, as the 20th century advanced, the idea that the Constitution needed to be interpreted in light of the nation’s changing times and circumstances began to take precedence in the Court system. Chief Justice Earl Warren put this concept into words in 1958 when he stated, “The [Eighth] Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Justice William Brennan championed this idea as well by declaring that it was “arrogance” to say that modern justices could know what the Founders intended, therefore the Constitution should be interpreted according to the changing ideas of different generations. In the eyes of current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, this type of constitutional interpretation demanded that “the courts show a special solicitude for the despised and disadvantaged.”

Due to these developments in the judicial review process, the types of judges nominated to the court system are increasingly scrutinized concerning their constitutional viewpoints. Unfortunately, Originalism vs. Non-Originalism constitutional interpretation has come to be viewed largely along ideological lines, with Conservatives generally advocating for an Originalism position and Progressives advocating for a Non-Originalism position.

The material in this topic traces the historical methods of constitutional interpretation from the era of the Founding to the present. It examines the various forms of constitutional interpretation today while also presenting the arguments for and against each. How the public views these two ways of interpreting the Constitution will be presented in the next section.

Americans Divided on How the Supreme Court Should Interpret the Constitution

By Jocelyn Kiley

Jocelyn Kiley is associate director of research at the Pew Research Center, where she primarily works on U.S. public opinion about politics.

 

“Democrats and Republicans remain deeply divided about how the U.S. Supreme Court should interpret the Constitution, according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center. And there are many differences across demographic groups – especially when it comes to religious affiliation.[1]

About half of the public (49%) say the decisions of the Supreme Court should be based on its understanding of what the Constitution “means in current times,” while roughly as many (46%) say decisions should be based on what the Constitution “meant as it was originally written.”[2]

But Republicans—by more than two-to-one (69% to 29%)—say the justices should base their rulings on the Constitution’s original meaning rather than on what it means in current times. Democratic opinion goes the other way: 70% say the court should base its rulings on an understanding of the Constitution’s meaning in current times (26% say rulings should be based on the document’s original meaning).[3]

These differing views of how the court should interpret the Constitution may account for some of the partisan differences in opinions of the court itself seen in the Pew Research Center’s latest survey.[4]

And these opposing views on constitutional interpretation are even starker along ideological lines. Fully 92% of those who are consistently conservative on a 10-question scale of political values, along with 72% of those who are mostly conservative on this scale, say interpretation should be based on original intent. By contrast, 83% of those with consistently liberal political values, and 70% of those who are mostly liberal, say the justices’ rulings should be based on the Constitution’s meaning in current times (the items used in the 10-item scale can be found in Pew Research’s report on Political Polarization in the American Public).[5]

To some extent, the ideological split in the public’s views mirror the ideological divide of the court itself. The originalism position is most closely associated with Justice Scalia, one of the court’s conservative justices. Justice Scalia has often publicly stated his view that interpretation should be based on the document as originally written. Though there are differences among the conservative justices on this question, the view that the current meaning should be taken into account in constitutional interpretation is more closely associated with the positions of the court’s liberal justices.[6]

Among the public, there are also sizeable differences in views of constitutional interpretation, not just by ideology but also by education, race, age and religion.[7]

For example, while 62% of those with post-graduate degrees say constitutional interpretation should be based on the document’s meaning in current times, those who have not graduated from college are more divided on the question (46% current meaning, 49% as originally written). And while about six-in-ten African Americans and Hispanics (61% each) say the  Court should base its interpretation of the Constitution on the document’s meaning in current times, only 44% of whites say so.[8]

But some of the starkest divides are along religious lines. Nearly three-quarters of white evangelical Protestants (73%) say the justices should base their rulings on the original meaning of the Constitution. By contrast, just 44% of white mainline Protestants, 42% of Catholics and 37% of Black Protestants share this view. By nearly two-to-one (63% to 34%), more of those who are unaffiliated with a religious tradition say justices should rule based on the Constitution’s meaning in current times. And — in contrast to other demographic differences — religious differences on this question remain significant even when partisanship and ideology are taken into account.[9]

The Problem with saying or believing the U.S. Constitution’s interpretation on “current times” is a choice on a questionnaire is that term was not defined in any way.

A closer inspection of this issue is provided following the next article on the intent of the framers of the United States Constitution. It is instrumental to regard what the original framers of the U.S. Constitution had intended.

This is an important consideration since it’s obvious that the simple original words and language of the U.S. Constitution were denied or ignored by conservative judges when considering the Patriot Act. With regard to gay marriage rights, current conservative judges may be disingenuous when they totally disregarded the original language and words used by the framers of the United States Constitution in addition to ignoring the concepts underlying modern day interpretation of the United States Constitution.

In addition, besides the words of the Constitution, it is vitally important to understand what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had really intended the Constitution to be about. We are left with their words, but it must be combined with what we know to be their intent.

This may become clearer as you read the next article on the Framer’s Constitution. Remember, one of the original Founder’s principles was “Equal Justice under the Law.” Their intent seems pretty clear. Such a principle was to apply to every citizen since its first words are “We the People.” The more I think about the U.S. Constitution the more I realize what an extraordinary document it is and how extraordinarily brilliant our Founders were.

What Was the Intent of the Framers of the United States Constitution?

The Framers’ Constitution

George Stone & William Marshall

“The Framers of the American Constitution were visionaries. They designed our Constitution to endure. They sought not only to address the specific challenges facing the nation during their lifetimes, but to establish the foundational principles that would sustain and guide the new nation into an uncertain future.[10]

The text of the Constitution reflects this vision. It defines our most fundamental freedoms in general terms: “freedom of speech,” “due process of law,” “free exercise” of religion, “equal protection of the laws,” “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Constitution sets forth governmental powers in similarly general terms: Congress may regulate “commerce… among the several states;” the president will “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and the courts are authorized to decide “cases” and “controversies.”[11]

These phrases are not self-defining. The Framers understood that they were entrusting to future generations the responsibility to draw upon their intelligence, judgment, and experience to give concrete meaning to these broad principles over time. As Chief Justice John Marshall observed almost two centuries ago, “we must never forget it is a Constitution we are expounding…intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.”[12]

Marshall’s interpretative understanding reflects an approach that is true to what we might call “The Framers’ Constitution.” It recognizes that the Constitution sets forth broad principles and that the central challenge of constitutional interpretation is to define and then give life and substance to those principles in an ever-changing society. The principles enshrined in the Constitution do not change over time. But the application of those principles must evolve as society changes and as experience informs our understanding.[13]

American constitutional law has long followed the path set by Chief Justice Marshall. As technological means of surveillance became more sophisticated, for example, the meaning of “search” in the Fourth Amendment came to include invasions of privacy that do not involve a physical trespass.

The provision granting Congress the power to maintain the nation’s “land and naval Forces” was eventually seen as authorizing an air force. The guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” in the Fourteenth Amendment was understood in later decades as prohibiting discrimination against not only African Americans but women, and gays and lesbians as well. “Commerce…among the several states” came to be seen differently as the nation’s economy became more complex and integrated across state lines.

The concept of “liberty” was recognized as encompassing not only freedom from physical restraint, but also freedom from undue government intrusion into such fundamental personal decisions as whether to bear or beget a child or how to raise and educate one’s children.[14]

But how should we give concrete meaning to the open-textured provisions of the Constitution? The best answer, grounded in the vision of the Framers and in the wisdom of John Marshall, has a long and honorable tradition in American constitutional law. This answer has two elements. First, at the very core of the Framers’ Constitution is the recognition that, in a self-governing society, courts must generally defer to the preferences of the majority[ We now have a majority—60%— of citizens approving of gay marriage]. Although courts may always review governmental action to guard against the arbitrary or unreasonable, the starting point must be a presumption of judicial modesty. This is an essential tenet of any theory of principled constitutionalism.[15]

Second, respect for the Framers’ Constitution requires us to recognize that although the Framers thought majority rule to be the best system of government, they knew it to be imperfect. They understood that political majorities may be tempted to enact laws that entrench their own authority; that in times of crisis people may panic and too readily sacrifice both fundamental freedoms and structural limitations; and that prejudice, hostility, and intolerance may at times lead governing majorities to give short shrift to the legitimate needs and interests of political, religious, racial, and other minorities.[16]

The Framers intended courts to play a central role in addressing these concerns. When proponents of the original Constitution argued in 1789 that a bill of rights would be pointless because political majorities would run roughshod over its guarantees, Thomas Jefferson responded that this argument ignored “the legal check” that could be exercised by the judiciary.

When James Madison faced similar concerns when he introduced the Bill of Rights in the first Congress, he maintained that “independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves…the guardians of those rights [and]…will be naturally led to resist every encroachment” upon them. And in Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton stated that constitutional protections and limitations could “be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice,” which must “guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill humors which…sometimes disseminate among the people themselves.”[17]

This understanding of the Framers’ Constitution found expression in the modern era in a series of Supreme Court opinions in the 1930s and ’40s. In the Court’s famous footnote four in Carolene Products (1938), for example, the Court suggested that there are some circumstances in which there may be “narrower scope” for the usual “presumption of constitutionality.” Specifically, the Court noted that “more exacting judicial scrutiny” may be appropriate when legislation “restricts those political processes which can ordinarily be expected to bring about repeal of undesirable legislation” and when laws disadvantage groups like “religious” or “racial minorities,” because “prejudice” against such groups “tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect” them.

Put simply, the majority recognized in Carolene Products that courts should not be so quick to defer to the outcome of the political process when there is good reason to believe that that process itself may have been tainted. The Court added another element to this understanding in Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942), in which the Court invalidated a law authorizing compelled sterilization. Noting that the right to procreate is one of “the basic civil rights of man,” the Court held that government action that substantially restricts the exercise of such a right must be subjected to heightened scrutiny to ensure that the limitation on the right is truly necessary.[18]

Following this approach, the Supreme Court has properly departed from the presumption of judicial restraint when governing majorities disadvantage historically vulnerable groups (such as African Americans, ethnic minorities, political dissidents, religious dissenters, women, and persons accused of crime), as when they use their authority to stifle critics, entrench their own political power, or undermine the constitutional structure of checks and balances; and when they substantially restrict the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.

In such circumstances it is necessary and proper for courts—Madison’s “independent tribunals of justice”—to exercise a “more exacting judicial scrutiny” in order to protect our most fundamental freedoms and guard against those malfunctions of majority governance that most concerned the Framers. This, too, is an essential tenet of principled constitutionalism.[19]

Invoking this understanding of judicial responsibility, the Supreme Court has issued a series of landmark decisions that faithfully interpret and apply the Framers’ Constitution. These decisions ended de jure racial segregation, recognized the principle of “one person, one vote,” forbade government suppression of political dissenters, established an effective right to counsel for persons accused of crime, struck down government discrimination against women, limited the authority of government to interfere with women’s reproductive choices, and upheld the right of “enemy combatants” to due process of law, to cite just a few examples. These decisions animate the most fundamental aspirations of our Constitution in circumstances in which judicial intervention is both necessary and proper.[20]

     For the past half-century, however, conservatives have argued that the Supreme Court has gone too far in its efforts to preserve the vitality of self-governance and protect the rights of those most in need of judicial attention. In the 1960s, they condemned what they derided as “judicial activism” and demanded the appointment of judges committed to a more capacious form of judicial restraint.

     But although judicial restraint in appropriate circumstances is essential to principled constitutionalism, its sweeping, reflexive invocation by conservatives would abdicate a fundamental responsibility that the Framers entrusted to the judiciary and would therefore undermine a critical element of the American constitutional system. It is no more appropriate for judges to refuse to enforce the Constitution against intolerant or overreaching majorities than it is for the president to refuse to defend the nation against enemy invasion.[21]

Perhaps recognizing that a theory of unbounded judicial restraint is constitutionally irresponsible, political conservatives next came up with the theory of “originalism.” First popularized by Robert Bork, Edwin Meese, and Antonin Scalia in the 1980s, originalism presumes that courts should exercise judicial restraint unless the “original meaning” of the text clearly mandates a more activist approach. Under this theory, for example, it is appropriate for courts to invoke the Equal Protection Clause to invalidate laws that deny African Americans the right to serve on juries, but not to invalidate laws that deny women that same right, because that was not the “original meaning” of the clause.[22]

Originalism, however, is fundamentally flawed. First, because those who enacted the broad foundational provisions of our Constitution often did not have any precise and agreed-upon understanding of the specific meaning of “freedom of speech” or “due process of law” or “regulate Commerce…among the several States” or “privileges or immunities” or “equal protection of the laws,” it is exceedingly difficult to know with any certainty what they did or did not think about concrete constitutional issues.

As a consequence, judges purporting to engage in originalist analysis often project onto the Framers their own personal and political preferences. The result is an unprincipled and often patently disingenuous jurisprudence. There is no evidence for the claims advanced by originalists, for example, that the original meaning of the Equal Protection Clause prohibited affirmative action or that the original meaning of the First Amendment included the notion that corporations (which were both strongly regulated and highly distrusted at the time) had a constitutional right to spend unlimited capital to influence political elections. Both of these claims, however, are central to today’s conservative legal agenda.[23]

The second problem with originalism is even more disqualifying, for it reveals the theory to be internally incoherent. Originalism asserts that those who crafted and ratified our Constitution intended the meaning and effect of their handiwork to be limited to the specific understandings of their time. But this view erroneously attributes to the Framers a narrow-mindedness and shortsightedness that belies their true spirit.

As Justice Louis Brandeis observed more than 80 years ago, the Framers believed “courage to be the secret of liberty.” They were not timid men. [24]Moreover, originalism ignores that those who framed our Constitution were steeped in a common-law tradition that presumed that just as reason, observation, and experience permit us to gain greater insight over time into questions of biology, physics, economics, and human nature, so too would they enable us to learn more over time about the content and meaning of the principles they enshrined in our Constitution.

Indeed, the notion that any particular moment’s understanding of the Constitution’s provisions should be locked into place and taken as constitutionally definitive would have seemed completely wrong-headed to the Framers, who held a much bolder and more confident conception of their own achievements and aspirations.[25]

For these reasons, the conservative doctrine of “originalism” has been largely discredited as a serious method of constitutional interpretation. This is not to say, however, that the views of the Framers are irrelevant. To the contrary, their values, concerns, and purposes, as reflected in the text of the Constitution, must inform and guide the process of constitutional interpretation, but in a principled and realistic manner. They must be considered as the Framers themselves understood them—as a set of general principles and aspirations, rather than as a collection of specific and shortsighted “rules.” To be true to the Framers’ Constitution, we must strive to implement faithfully the Framers’ often farsighted goals in an ever-changing society. That is central to any theory of principled constitutionalism.[26]

We have now entered a new and even more troubling phase of conservative constitutional jurisprudence. It is best characterized as “conservative activism.”

Justices who readily dismiss constitutional claims by women, political dissenters, and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, but at the same time aggressively strike down affirmative action programs, restrictions on corporate political expenditures, regulations of commercial advertising, federal civil rights laws prohibiting age discrimination and domestic violence, and the laws of the state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election, are unmistakably using the power of judicial review in a highly selective and politicized manner that cannot credibly be justified by any principled theory of constitutional interpretation.

Despite all of the conservative rhetoric about originalism, “strict construction,” “judicial restraint,” “applying rather than making the law,” and “calling balls and strikes,” this pattern of decisions raises grave questions about the considerations that actually drive the jurisprudence of our conservative justices.[27]

Constitutional interpretation is not a mechanical enterprise. It requires judges to exercise judgment. It calls upon them to consider text, history, precedent, values, changing social, economic, technological, and cultural conditions, and the practical realities of the times. It requires restraint, wisdom, empathy, intelligence, and courage. Above all, it requires recognition of the judiciary’s unique strengths and weaknesses, a proper appreciation of the reasons for judicial review, and a respectful understanding of our nation’s most fundamental constitutional aspirations and how we hope to achieve them.[28]

It is time for a new era of principled constitutionalism. It is time to return to the Framers’ Constitution.

Final Comments

In this straight author’s opinion, one cannot achieve meaningfulness in viewing the Constitution through either the prism or lens of “current times” or just the words left by the founders in the original document. Meaningfulness must be based on both. However, in addition, the general principles outlined by the original framer’s Constitution, should give clarity as to the Framer’s intent i.e., what they viewed as important.

While not specifically mentioning same-sex marriage in the text of the Constitution, its general principles provide for such a decision on gay marriage in the modern era by modern day Justices.

What I’m saying is that three things mattered in the decision on gay marriage two weeks ago; (1) a modern day viewpoint, (2) the actual original words of the Constitution itself, and (3) the intent of the Framers of the Constitution as reflected by their guiding principles.

A good constitutional legal analysis will be based on all three ways of interpretation. Another way of looking at this is to analytically embrace the concept and importance of Principled Constitutionalism. Why? It’s because the guiding principles outlined by the Framers gives real clarity in decision-making. Clarity is not achieved by politically based value judgments.

As an aside, people who oppose gay marriage based on religious beliefs are assuming that beliefs trump conduct. This is simply not the case. People have an absolute right to believe anything they want. They also have an absolute right to be an unmitigated bigoted buffoon filled with prejudice. Any and all beliefs, after all, are simply “a dime a dozen.” When one crosses the thin line between beliefs and actual behavior, our legal system has something to say about that.

While religious beliefs are protected under the U.S. Constitution, discriminatory behavior based on those beliefs is not. That’s called discrimination under the law, and is prohibited by the equal protection clauses under the 14th Amendment.

This Blog has been a brief overview of Principled Constitutionalism, Constitutional Theories and Interpretation, and Gay Marriage. Those interested in a more thorough look at Justice Kennedy’s legal reasoning should visit the following link:

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/seema-iyer-breaks-down-obergefell-v-hodges

As George Stone & William Marshall wrote in their article above—the theory of Originalism as espoused by conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court is highly flawed. But we must remember this: It’s okay to be an anachronistic conservative in this day and age. After all—nobody is perfect!


 

 

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/31/americans-divided-on-how-the-supreme-court-should-interpret-the-constitution/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/conservatives-constitution-_b_959277.html

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

Read Full Post »

Should California be the Next State to Ban Sharia Law?

Background

There is great controversy brewing in the United States these days concerning the use of Sharia law in American courts. Most Americans are not even aware that foreign law can be used in an American Court. Sharia law is based on the religious teachings found in the Quran and the pronouncements of Islam’s originator—The Prophet Muhammad.

Our law of the land is, of course, the U.S. Constitution and the various laws at the federal, state and local jurisdictions.

The most basic question Americans are asking themselves is this: With jihadists in a foreign land using Sharia law to violate human rights everywhere, why in the hell is the United States condoning the use of such an abusive, archaic, demeaning set of legal canons?

The answer to this question should be a “no-brainer” until one realizes the fact that some foreign laws (such as Sharia) are being used in some American courts.

Laws based on religion or religious thought is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state. The added features to this issue is that foreign laws are not American laws, and Sharia law arose in the Muslim world, not in the United States.

These 16 States Have All Introduced Legislation to Ban ‘Sharia Law’

     The following is an article by Jason DeWitt of Top Right News from February 9, 2015.

     “Muslims are determined to push their religious doctrines on the American people.”

 

 

“Muslim cab drivers in Minneapolis and several airports have kicked out blind passengers with guide dogs (dogs are “unclean” in Islam). Somali Muslims on welfare have demanded that their free food comply with “Islamic requirements.”

Muslim groups have demanded that their women be permitted to wear full face and body coverings even on driver’s licenses.

And Muslim pressure groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have pushed to force Sharia Law on our courts and law enforcement — with some U.S. judges insanely agreeing to comply.

A New Jersey judge recently cited Sharia Law in refusing to grant a Muslim woman a restraining order in a horrible case of sexual assault and abuse, because her husband said his abuse was acceptable “according to his Muslim beliefs.”

In Texas, a group of unlicensed Muslim “judges” have set up an “Islamic Tribunal” which they say will “resolve disputes” in law, family and businesses using, of course, Sharia Law — not the U.S. Constitution.

Well, some states are fighting back. As far back as 2010 Sixteen U.S. states have introduced legislation to ban or restrict Sharia law.

The list was compiled by the radical, terror-linked CAIR — which meant it to condemn the states, but to most Americans, it will bolster those states as somewhere they would want to live.

Ironically, CAIR claims they oppose Sharia Law in America. So why is it that any time a state wants to ban Sharia from inside its boundaries, CAIR fights it and cries “Islamophobia”? Because they want Muslims to only be subject to Sharia, not our laws. Herman Mustafa Carroll, executive director of the Dallas CAIR branch was most revealing when he brazenly said: “If we are practicing Muslims, we are above the law of the land.” 

Well the following states are saying: no damn way.

Alabama became the latest state to ban Sharia law when voters overwhelmingly passed a measure adding an amendment to the state constitution. CAIR said that the motion was “virulently racist” and shows “outright hostility towards Muslims.” Alabamans apparently didn’t care what they said.

The list of all 16 states is:

  • Alabama (two bills)
  • Arkansas
  • Florida (two bills)
  • Indiana (two bills)
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi (four bills)
  • Missouri (two bills)
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma (seven bills)
  • South Carolina (two bills)
  • Texas (six bills)
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming (two bills)

And hopefully in 2015, the list will get longer.

It depends on you. Tell your state reps you want Sharia banned in your state next.”

 

Human Rights in Islamic Countries

     Human rights in Islamic countries have been a hot-button issue for many decades. According to the Global Network for Rights and Development, the United Arab Emirates is the only one of 48 Muslim-majority countries with human rights comparable to Western democracies.

International Non-governmental Organizations (“INGOs”) such as Amnesty International (“AI”) and Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) consistently find human rights violations in Islamic countries. Amongst the human rights issues that are frequently under the spotlight are gay rights, the right of consensual sex outside of marriage, individual freedom of speech and political opinion. The issue of women’s rights is also the subject of fierce debate.

The fundamental reason why Islamic countries are ranked so lowly in human rights indicators such as The International Human Rights Rank Indicator (“IHRRI”) has to do with how Western democracies and the Islamic world approach the topic of human rights. While the concept of human rights in Western democracies was developed over centuries through Western experience and grounded in the idea of faith, human rights in the Islamic world is based on the Qur’anic ideal of human dignity. As a result of this differing basis, it is impossible for Islamic countries to measure up to the standards of human rights set by Western democracies since their views and understanding of human rights differ from their Western counterparts, thus resulting in different practices in their societies.

When the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) in 1948, Saudi Arabia refused to sign it as they were of the view that sharia law had already set out the rights of men and women. To sign the UDHR was deemed unnecessary. What the UDHR did do was to start a debate on human rights in the Islamic world. Following years of deliberation, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (“OIC”) adopted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights.

International Human Rights Rank Indicator

The International Human Rights Rank Indicator (IHRRI), which combines scores for a wide range of human rights, is produced by the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD); ratings in the table below are as of 11 October 2014.

All Muslim countries have a human rights rating less than 53%, with the notable exception of United Arab Emirates, whose rating (61.49%) is similar to many Western democracies; for comparison, Sweden is the highest-rated country worldwide with 89.13%, and the US is rated 69.23%.

Population percentage figures below are from the Pew Research Center report The Future of the Global Muslim Population, as of 27 January 2011; all majority Muslim countries (with population over 50% Muslim) are listed.

Country Muslim % of total population International Human Rights Rank Indicator rating
Afghanistan 99.8 27.96%
Albania 82.1 52.15%
Algeria 98.2 33.49%
Azerbaijan 98.4 44.40%
Bahrain 81.2 47.03%
Bangladesh 90.4 47.20%
Brunei 51.9 29.99%
Burkina Faso 58.9 41.14%
Chad 55.7 21.68%
Comoros 98.3 37.89%
Djibouti 97 37.31%
Egypt 94.7 42.67%
Gambia 95.3 35.80%
Guinea 84.2 38.90%
Indonesia 88.1 29.29%
Iran 99.7 36.22%
Iraq 98.9 30.42%
Jordan 98.8 45.83%
Kazakhstan 56.4 47.09%
Kuwait 86.4 48.25%
Kyrgyzstan 88.8 38.55%
Lebanon 59.7 42.53%
Libya 96.6 36.95%
Malaysia 61.4 52.10%
Maldives 98.4 48.17%
Mali 92.4 30.58%
Mauritania 99.2 40.01%
Mayotte 98.8 37.47%
Morocco 99.9 50.92%
Niger 98.3 35.60%
Oman 87.7 45.73%
Pakistan 96.4 38.61%
Palestine 97.5 44.93%
Qatar 77.5 47.80%
Saudi Arabia 97.1 27.08%
Senegal 95.9 29.17%
Sierra Leone 71.5 21.51%
Somalia 98.6 22.71%
Sudan 71.4 30.21%
Syria 92.8 23.82%
Tajikistan 99 40.11%
Tunisia 97.8 50.47%
Turkey 98.6 47.64%
Turkmenistan 93.3 43.04%
United Arab Emirates 76 61.49%
Uzbekistan 96.5 36.77%
Western Sahara 99.6 27.55%
Yemen 99 41.91%

Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam

[CDHR]

The CDHR was signed by member states of the OIC in 1990 at the 19th Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Cairo, Egypt. It was seen as the answer to the UDHR. In fact, the CDHR was “patterned after the UN-sponsored UDHR of 1948.” The object of the CDHR was to “serve as a guide for member states on human rights issues.” CDHR translated the Qur’anic teachings as follows: “All men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the basis of race, color, language, belief, sex, religion, political affiliation, social status or other considerations. True religion is the guarantee for enhancing such dignity along the path to human integrity.” On top of references to the Qur’an, the CDHR also referenced prophetic teachings and Islamic legal tradition.

While the CDHR can be seen as a significant human rights milestone for Islamic countries, Western commentators have been critical of it. For one, it is a heavily qualified document. The CDHR is pre-empted by sharia law – “all rights and freedoms stipulated [in the Cairo Declaration] are subject to Islamic Sharia’s.”

In turn, though member countries appear to follow sharia law, these laws seem to be ignored altogether when it comes to “[repressing] their citizens using torture, and imprisonment without trial and disappearance.” Abdullah al-Ahsan describes this as the Machiavellian attempt which is “turning out to be catastrophic in the Muslim world.”

Individual countries

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been under the human rights spotlight for a number of decades, receiving increased attention from the early 1990s onwards. Much of the period between the 1940s to 1980s was characterized by Saudi’s perceived passivity on the issue as well as its refusal to sign the UDHR. The period thereafter has seen a significant uptake on the matter. It all began with Saudi’s handling of the Second Gulf War in 1991, which created much unhappiness and opposition amongst its citizens. Thereafter, a group of Saudi citizens attempted to establish a non-governmental human rights organization called the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights (“CDLR”).

Within weeks of its formation, Saudi authorities arrested many of its members and supporters. Following the release of its main founder and president Alma sari, the committee was reformed in London where it received attention from human rights organizations worldwide. CDLR’s work shed much needed light on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia that was previously clouded in secrecy.

The events which have followed since the early 1990s such as the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States of America, has further impacted the issue of human rights in Saudi, more so than any other country. Since these events, Saudi has steadily opened itself up to scrutiny by international agencies; they have also participated and engaged the human rights front more actively.

Amongst them, the country has allowed visits from Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups. Saudi has also joined the international human rights legal arrangements which means that the country is legally subject to Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (“CERD”), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women (“CEDAW”), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”).

While some have lauded the progress made, others have remained highly critical of the country. In a 2013 human rights review of Saudi by Country Watch, it is said that Saudi has a “poor record of human rights” with the country’s law “not [providing] for the protection of many basic rights”. The report goes on to detail the many shortcomings in the country such as corruption, lack of transparency, the presence of corporal punishments and the lack of separation between the three branches of the State i.e. Judiciary, Executive and Legislature.

Pakistan

The human rights situation in Pakistan is generally regarded as poor by domestic and international observers. Pakistan is a center of Islamic fundamentalism. The human rights record of Pakistan was particularly grave under the dictatorship of the US-supported General Zia.

General Zia introduced Sharia Law which led to Islamization of the country. The current regime in Pakistan has been responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations. Honor killings are also common in Pakistan.

Turkey

Turkey is considered by many as being the exemplary country of the Muslim world where a satisfactory compromise is made between the values of Islamic and Western civilizations.

One of the main reasons cited for Turkey’s significant improvement in its human rights efforts over the past few decades is the country’s push towards satisfying European Union pre-conditions for membership. In 2000, AI, on the back of visits made to the country to observe human rights practices, found that Turkey was demonstrating signs of greater transparency compared to other Muslim countries. In 2002, an AI report stated that the Turkish parliament passed three laws “…aimed at bringing Turkish law into line with European human rights standards.”      The same report further noted that “AI was given permission to open a branch in Turkey under the Law on Associations.”

Some of the latest human rights steps taken by Turkey include: “the fourth judicial reform package adopted in April, which strengthens the protection of fundamental rights, including freedom of expression and the fight against impunity for cases of torture and ill-treatment; the peace process which aims to end terrorism and violence in the Southeast of the country and pave the way for a solution to the Kurdish issue; the September 2013 democratization package which sets out further reform, covering important issues such as the use of languages other than Turkish, and minority rights.”

Further progress was also recorded on the women’s rights front where Turkey was the first country to ratify the Council of Europe Convention against Domestic Violence. Also, in 2009, the Turkish government established a Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities for Men and Women to look at reducing the inequality between the sexes.

Despite all these advancement, there are still many significant human rights issues troubling the country. In a 2013 human rights report by the United States Department of State, amongst the problems to receive significant criticism were government interference with freedom of expression and assembly, lack of transparency and independence of the judiciary and inadequate protection of vulnerable populations.

Human Rights Watch have even gone as far as to declare that there has been a “human rights rollback” in the country.

According to the report, this has taken place amidst the mass anti-government protests which took place in 2013. Under the current leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ruling party has become increasing intolerant of “political opposition, public protest, and critical media.”

 

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran has one of the worst human rights records of any country in the world. Amongst the most serious human rights issues plaguing the republic are “the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.”

In 2014, Human Rights Watch reported that despite changes to the penal code, the death penalty was still liberally meted resulting in one of the highest rates of executions in the world. On top of that, security authorities have been repressing free speech and dissent. Many opposition parties, labor unions and student groups were banned and scores of political prisoners were still locked up.

The country has generally closed itself off to outside interference. The government has refused the request of the United Nations to have Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed report on the human rights situation in the country though they did however announce that two UN experts would be allowed to visit in 2015.

     The above information was obtained from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. For those interested one can learn the Origins of Islamic law from the Constitutional Rights Foundation website.

 

Comments

 

     My politics have always been very complex. I am an ultra-liberal when it comes to human rights and civil rights. And, I’m a card-carrying member of Amnesty International. Being a former U.S. Navy combat veteran of the Vietnam War, I can say that when it comes to national defense, homeland security, veteran’s issues, military families and wounded warriors my politics are conservative.

 

     The idea of the need to ban Sharia Law in deference to American law and the U.S. Constitution, is neither a liberal nor a conservative issue—It is an American issue.

 

     From a legal point of view, the operation of Sharia Law in the United States is unconstitutional as it violates the separation of church and state. From a moral point of view Sharia Law is an archaic notion of justice, best left back in the sixth century A.D.

 

     Sharia law is currently fostered by misogynist totalitarian regimes that indiscriminately murder and torture their own people based on intolerance of all human rights spelled out in 1948 by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

 

     There have been efforts over the years since 1948, on the part of Islamic countries (OIC) in the United Nations, to scrap or seriously modify the 1948 (post World War II) Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

 

     In the aftermath of 9-1-1 we, as a country, still have to fight with fundamentalist extremists worldwide. But, even more important there are now dangers everywhere on the home front from Boston to Texas. Some of these dangers are homegrown, but some terrorist activities against the United States may still be precipitated from Islamic terrorist groups outside our borders.

 

     What is needed in California now is an amendment to the state’s constitution to ban Sharia Law in any form. 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

 

Read Full Post »

ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

AND THE ECONOMY

[Part III]

 

How the President Views Fiscal Policy

Back in April, 2011 President Barack Obama gave a speech at George Washington University on Fiscal Policy. It was mostly about spending and taxes and the direction he was trying to take the country. I think his speech at that time clearly presents his case and is worth repeating here. It outlines his vision, and he explains (very well I might add) what his fiscal policy is. The following is that speech.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

April 13, 2011

Remarks by the President on Fiscal Policy

George Washington University

Washington, D.C.
1:48 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Please have a seat. Please have a seat, everyone.

It is wonderful to be back at GW. I want you to know that one of the reasons that I worked so hard with Democrats and Republicans to keep the government open was so that I could show up here today. I wanted to make sure that all of you had one more excuse to skip class. (Laughter.) You’re welcome. (Laughter.)

I want to give a special thanks to Steven Knapp, the president of GW. I just saw him — where is he? There he is right there. (Applause.)

We’ve got a lot of distinguished guests here — a couple of people I want to acknowledge. First of all, my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, is here. (Applause.) Our Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, is in the house. (Applause.) Jack Lew, the Director of the Office of Mangement and Budget. (Applause.) Gene Sperling, Chair of the National Economic Council, is here. (Applause.) Members of our bipartisan Fiscal Commission are here, including the two outstanding chairs — Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson — are here. (Applause.)

And we have a number of members of Congress here today. I’m grateful for all of you taking the time to attend.

What we’ve been debating here in Washington over the last few weeks will affect the lives of the students here and families all across America in potentially profound ways. This debate over budgets and deficits is about more than just numbers on a page; it’s about more than just cutting and spending. It’s about the kind of future that we want. It’s about the kind of country that we believe in. And that’s what I want to spend some time talking about today.

From our first days as a nation, we have put our faith in free markets and free enterprise as the engine of America’s wealth and prosperity. More than citizens of any other country, we are rugged individualists, a self-reliant people with a healthy skepticism of too much government.

But there’s always been another thread running through our history -– a belief that we’re all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation. We believe, in the words of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, that through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.

And so we’ve built a strong military to keep us secure, and public schools and universities to educate our citizens. We’ve laid down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. We’ve supported the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire new industries. Each of us has benefitted from these investments, and we’re a more prosperous country as a result.

Part of this American belief that we’re all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and dignity. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, hard times or bad luck, a crippling illness or a layoff may strike any one of us. “There but for the grace of God go I,” we say to ourselves. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, those with disabilities. We’re a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further. We would not be a great country without those commitments.

Now, for much of the last century, our nation found a way to afford these investments and priorities with the taxes paid by its citizens. As a country that values fairness, wealthier individuals have traditionally borne a greater share of this burden than the middle class or those less fortunate. Everybody pays, but the wealthier have borne a little more. This is not because we begrudge those who’ve done well -– we rightly celebrate their success. Instead, it’s a basic reflection of our belief that those who’ve benefited most from our way of life can afford to give back a little bit more. Moreover, this belief hasn’t hindered the success of those at the top of the income scale. They continue to do better and better with each passing year.

Now, at certain times -– particularly during war or recession -– our nation has had to borrow money to pay for some of our priorities. And as most families understand, a little credit card debt isn’t going to hurt if it’s temporary.

But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon. They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid. Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation.

To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit — three times. They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush, then made by President Clinton, by Democratic Congresses and by a Republican Congress. All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice. But they largely protected the middle class; they largely protected our commitment to seniors; they protected our key investments in our future.

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program -– but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts -– tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our nation’s checkbook, consider this: In the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.

But that’s not what happened. And so, by the time I took office, we once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a Baby Boom retirement that is now starting to take place. When I took office, our projected deficit, annually, was more than $1 trillion. On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession that, like most recessions, led us to temporarily borrow even more.

In this case, we took a series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs, kept credit flowing, and provided working families extra money in their pocket. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but these steps were expensive, and added to our deficits in the short term.

So that’s how our fiscal challenge was created. That’s how we got here. And now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s. We have to live within our means. We have to reduce our deficit, and we have to get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and helps us win the future.

Now, before I get into how we can achieve this goal, some of you, particularly the younger people here — you don’t qualify, Joe. (Laughter.) Some of you might be wondering, “Why is this so important? Why does this matter to me?”

Well, here’s why. Even after our economy recovers, our government will still be on track to spend more money than it takes in throughout this decade and beyond. That means we’ll have to keep borrowing more from countries like China. That means more of your tax dollars each year will go towards paying off the interest on all the loans that we keep taking out. By the end of this decade, the interest that we owe on our debt could rise to nearly $1 trillion. Think about that. That’s the interest — just the interest payments.

Then, as the Baby Boomers start to retire in greater numbers and health care costs continue to rise, the situation will get even worse. By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs — Medicare and Medicaid — Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt. That’s it. Every other national priority -– education, transportation, even our national security -– will have to be paid for with borrowed money.

Now, ultimately, all this rising debt will cost us jobs and damage our economy. It will prevent us from making the investments we need to win the future. We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads -– all the things that create new jobs and businesses here in America. Businesses will be less likely to invest and open shop in a country that seems unwilling or unable to balance its books. And if our creditors start worrying that we may be unable to pay back our debts, that could drive up interest rates for everybody who borrows money -– making it harder for businesses to expand and hire, or families to take out a mortgage.

Here’s the good news: That doesn’t have to be our future. That doesn’t have to be the country that we leave our children. We can solve this problem. We came together as Democrats and Republicans to meet this challenge before; we can do it again.

But that starts by being honest about what’s causing our deficit. You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but like the stuff that it buys. Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense. Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research. Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare. And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political instincts tell me that almost nobody believes they should be paying higher taxes. (Laughter.)

So because all this spending is popular with both Republicans and Democrats alike, and because nobody wants to pay higher taxes, politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse. You’ll hear that phrase a lot. “We just need to eliminate waste and abuse.” The implication is that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices. Or politicians suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1 percent of our entire federal budget.

So here’s the truth. Around two-thirds of our budget — two-thirds — is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security. Two-thirds. Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20 percent. What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our national priorities — education, clean energy, medical research, transportation, our national parks, food safety, keeping our air and water clean — you name it — all of that accounts for 12 percent of our budget.

Now, up till now, the debate here in Washington, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington, have focused exclusively on that 12 percent. But cuts to that 12 percent alone won’t solve the problem. So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget.

A serious plan doesn’t require us to balance our budget overnight –- in fact, economists think that with the economy just starting to grow again, we need a phased-in approach –- but it does require tough decisions and support from our leaders in both parties now. Above all, it will require us to choose a vision of the America we want to see five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road.

Now, to their credit, one vision has been presented and championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.

These are both worthy goals. They’re worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known certainly in my lifetime. In fact, I think it would be fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history.

A 70 percent cut in clean energy. A 25 percent cut in education. A 30 percent cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s the proposal. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kinds of cuts that the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kinds of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America that I believe in and I think you believe in.

I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them.

Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. They’re scrambling to figure out how they put more money into education. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but on biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the American people, the United States of America -– the greatest nation on Earth -– can’t afford any of this.

It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that 10 years from now, if you’re a 65-year-old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the insurance that’s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck -– you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

It’s a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. Who are these 50 million Americans? Many are somebody’s grandparents — may be one of yours — who wouldn’t be able to afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some of these kids with disabilities are — the disabilities are so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.

And worst of all, this is a vision that says even though Americans can’t afford to invest in education at current levels, or clean energy, even though we can’t afford to maintain our commitment on Medicare and Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about that.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President. (Applause.)

This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That’s not a vision of the America I know.

The America I know is generous and compassionate. It’s a land of opportunity and optimism. Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share. We’re a nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI Bill and we saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare. We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives. That’s who we are. This is the America that I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit our investment in our people and our country.

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

So today, I’m proposing a more balanced approach to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years. It’s an approach that borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission that I appointed last year, and it builds on the roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction I already proposed in my 2012 budget. It’s an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table — but one that protects the middle class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future.

The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week. That step alone will save us about $750 billion over 12 years. We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs that I care deeply about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments that we need to grow and create jobs. We will invest in medical research. We will invest in clean energy technology. We will invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We will invest in education. We will invest in job training. We will do what we need to do to compete, and we will win the future.

The second step in our approach is to find additional savings in our defense budget. Now, as Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world. But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt. So just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense. And we can do that while still keeping ourselves safe.

Over the last two years, Secretary Bob Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again. We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but we’re going to have to conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.

The third step in our approach is to further reduce health care spending in our budget. Now, here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer. Their plan essentially lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.

Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion. My approach would build on these reforms. We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments. We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency and speed generic brands of medicine onto the market. We will work with governors of both parties to demand more efficiency and accountability from Medicaid.

We will change the way we pay for health care -– not by the procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results. And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services that seniors need.

Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1 trillion in the decade after that. But if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, then this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare.

But let me be absolutely clear: I will preserve these health care programs as a promise we make to each other in this society. I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.

That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security. While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that’s growing older. As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we have to do it without putting at risk current retirees, or the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market. And it can be done.

The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code, so-called tax expenditures. In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. We can’t afford it. And I refuse to renew them again.

Beyond that, the tax code is also loaded up with spending on things like itemized deductions. And while I agree with the goals of many of these deductions, from homeownership to charitable giving, we can’t ignore the fact that they provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 but do nothing for the typical middle-class family that doesn’t itemize. So my budget calls for limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans — a reform that would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over 10 years.

But to reduce the deficit, I believe we should go further. And that’s why I’m calling on Congress to reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple — so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford.

I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the fiscal commission’s model of reducing tax expenditures so that there’s enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit. And as I called for in the State of the Union, we should reform our corporate tax code as well, to make our businesses and our economy more competitive.

So this is my approach to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years. It’s an approach that achieves about $2 trillion in spending cuts across the budget. It will lower our interest payments on the debt by $1 trillion. It calls for tax reform to cut about $1 trillion in tax expenditures — spending in the tax code. And it achieves these goals while protecting the middle class, protecting our commitment to seniors, and protecting our investments in the future.

Now, in the coming years, if the recovery speeds up and our economy grows faster than our current projections, we can make even greater progress than I’ve pledged here. But just to hold Washington — and to hold me — accountable and make sure that the debt burden continues to decline, my plan includes a debt failsafe. If, by 2014, our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy -– if we haven’t hit our targets, if Congress has failed to act -– then my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code. That should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road.

So this is our vision for America -– this is my vision for America — a vision where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and we provide rising opportunity for our children.

There will be those who vigorously disagree with my approach. I can guarantee that as well. (Laughter.) Some will argue we should not even consider ever — ever — raising taxes, even if only on the wealthiest Americans. It’s just an article of faith to them. I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don’t need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. Or by cutting kids from Head Start. Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without and that some of you would not be here without.

And here’s the thing: I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that’s done so much for them. It’s just Washington hasn’t asked them to.

Others will say that we shouldn’t even talk about cutting spending until the economy is fully recovered. These are mostly folks in my party. I’m sympathetic to this view — which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December. It’s also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit, so that we can keep making the investments that create jobs. But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option. Our debt has grown so large that we could do real damage to the economy if we don’t begin a process now to get our fiscal house in order.

Finally, there are those who believe we shouldn’t make any reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, out of fear that any talk of change to these programs will immediately usher in the sort of steps that the House Republicans have proposed. And I understand those fears. But I guarantee that if we don’t make any changes at all, we won’t be able to keep our commitment to a retiring generation that will live longer and will face higher health care costs than those who came before.

Indeed, to those in my own party, I say that if we truly believe in a progressive vision of our society, we have an obligation to prove that we can afford our commitments. If we believe the government can make a difference in people’s lives, we have the obligation to prove that it works -– by making government smarter, and leaner and more effective.

Of course, there are those who simply say there’s no way we can come together at all and agree on a solution to this challenge. They’ll say the politics of this city are just too broken; the choices are just too hard; the parties are just too far apart. And after a few years on this job, I have some sympathy for this view. (Laughter.)

But I also know that we’ve come together before and met big challenges. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations. The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit. President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously, disagreed on just about everything, but they still found a way to balance the budget. And in the last few months, both parties have come together to pass historic tax relief and spending cuts.

And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction. And even those Republicans I disagree with most strongly I believe are sincere about wanting to do right by their country. We may disagree on our visions, but I truly believe they want to do the right thing.

So I believe we can, and must, come together again. This morning, I met with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to discuss the approach that I laid out today. And in early May, the Vice President will begin regular meetings with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit and get it done by the end of June.

I don’t expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This a democracy; that’s not how things work. I’m eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum. And though I’m sure the criticism of what I’ve said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences and find common ground.

This larger debate that we’re having — this larger debate about the size and the role of government — it has been with us since our founding days. And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one that we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and it gets more vigorous. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates that we can have.

But no matter what we argue, no matter where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans. We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves. We have to think about the country that made these liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community. And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.

This sense of responsibility — to each other and to our country — this isn’t a partisan feeling. It isn’t a Democratic or a Republican idea. It’s patriotism.

The other day I received a letter from a man in Florida. He started off by telling me he didn’t vote for me and he hasn’t always agreed with me. But even though he’s worried about our economy and the state of our politics — here’s what he said — he said, “I still believe. I believe in that great country that my grandfather told me about. I believe that somewhere lost in this quagmire of petty bickering on every news station, the ‘American Dream’ is still alive…We need to use our dollars here rebuilding, refurbishing and restoring all that our ancestors struggled to create and maintain… We as a people must do this together, no matter the color of the state one comes from or the side of the aisle one might sit on.”

“I still believe.” I still believe as well. And I know that if we can come together and uphold our responsibilities to one another and to this larger enterprise that is America, we will keep the dream of our founding alive — in our time; and we will pass it on to our children. We will pass on to our children a country that we believe in.

Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

END
2:31 P.M. EDT

 

 

In Part IV ahead I will describe the American economy and monetary policy. 

 

Read Full Post »

ELECTION YEAR POLITICS

 AND THE ECONOMY

 [Part II]

 

Part II has three major divisions: How Economic Cycles Work, American Economy and Fiscal Policy, and The Staggering American National Debt. Originally I was only going to discuss the first two topics but the more I got into Fiscal Policy the more crucial it was for me to also discuss deficits and our national debt.

 

Economic Cycles and How They Work?

Traditional business cycles undergo four stages: expansion, prosperity, contraction, and recession. After a recessionary phase, the expansionary phase starts again. Each of the phases of the business cycle is characterized by changing employment, industrial productivity, and interest rates. Some economists believe that stock price trends precede business cycle stages. Also, the length of each cycle can vary quite a lot showing that economic or business cycles take on a life of their own. Although timing is problematic the cycles are nevertheless predictable. And that means they will occur again and again in the same order.

One might like to have an endless prosperity cycle but that will never happen. The overriding concept of business cycles is that they influence the long-term pattern of changes in National Income (highest during prosperity and lowest during the recessionary phase).

The term business cycle (or economic cycle) more specifically refers to economy-wide fluctuations in production or economic activity (creating goods and services) over several months or years. These fluctuations occur around a long-term growth trend, and typically involve shifts over time between periods of relatively rapid economic growth (an expansion or boom), and periods of relative stagnation or decline (a contraction or a recession).

Business cycles are usually measured by considering the growth rate of real gross domestic product. I will emphasize again for your understanding: Despite being termed cycles, these fluctuations in economic activity do not follow a mechanical or predictable periodic pattern. However, while varying in duration one thing is always certain:  they always repeat in the same order and have a life of their own.

This is why, in an absolute sense, placing blame on a single individual makes no sense at all. It’s like holding someone responsible because the earth rotates around the sun, or because the four seasons occur in a certain order. No one can alter the seasons or rotational pattern of the earth in space.

However, one can argue that although a sitting President cannot absolutely control the economy, he or she can Influence some of the variables within a cycle such as changing employment, industrial productivity, and interest rates. Theoretically, such tinkering with these types of variables should speed up or slow down economic activity.

Without going too far astray with explanations, most economists would say whatever influence or leverage any president has to affect change, or to influence the future direction of  economic or business cycles—lies in two major areas. These two areas are Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy. How these areas of influence are used depends largely on political preferences and both the level of knowledge and assumptions made by those who occupy the Oval Office, among those who sit in Congress, or among those in leadership positions in the Federal Reserve.

The first area to be explored is Fiscal Policy. I am providing a very detailed, informative explanation on how the government influences the economy through fiscal policy. Some of what I’m going to say is general information (albeit mostly recent history). Let’s proceed now down an “economic memory lane.”

The American Economy and Fiscal Policy

The role of government in the American economy extends far beyond its activities as a regulator of specific industries. The government also manages the overall pace of economic activity, seeking to maintain high levels of employment and stable prices. As said above there are two main tools for achieving these objectives: fiscal policy, through which it determines the appropriate level of taxes and spending; and monetary policy, through which it manages the supply of money. Your real education on the economy begins here.

Fiscal Policy

Much of the history of economic policy in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s has involved a continuing effort by the government to find a mix of fiscal and monetary policies that will allow sustained growth and stable prices. That is no easy task, and there have been notable failures along the way.

But the government has gotten better at promoting sustainable growth. From 1854 through 1919, the American economy spent almost as much time contracting as it did growing: the average economic expansion (defined as an increase in output of goods and services) lasted 27 months, while the average recession (a period of declining output) lasted 22 months. From 1919 to 1945, the record improved, with the average expansion lasting 35 months and the average recession lasting 18 months. And from 1945 to 1991, things got even better, with the average expansion lasting 50 months and the average recession lasting just 11 months. Inflation, however, has proven more intractable. Prices were remarkably stable prior to World War II; the consumer price level in 1940, for instance, was no higher than the price level in 1778. But 40 years later, in 1980, the price level was 400 percent above the 1940 level.

My wife and I have owned three homes in 44 years of marriage. We bought our first home in 1969 for $16,500—a nice, large 3 bedroom, 2 bath home (with a family room) in a decent neighborhood. Despite the decline in home values the last 5 years, that same home today would nevertheless cost between $225,000 and $247,000. Inflation is wonderful when it works for you, but its terrible when it stabs you in the back through no fault of your own (for example, when young people and new home owners owe more on their home than its worth in a free market economy).

In part, the government’s relatively poor record on inflation reflects the fact that it put more stress on fighting recessions (and resulting increases in unemployment) during much of the early post World War II period. Beginning in 1979, however, the government began paying more attention to inflation, and its record on that score has improved markedly. By the late 1990s, the nation was experiencing a gratifying combination of strong growth, low unemployment, and slow inflation. But while policy-makers were generally optimistic about the future, they admitted to some uncertainties about what the new century would bring.

Fiscal Policy — Budget and Taxes

The growth of government since the 1930s has been accompanied by steady increases in government spending. In 1930, the federal government accounted for just 3.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, or total output of goods and services excluding imports and exports. That figure rose to almost 44 percent of GDP in 1944 (you remember folks—the war industries were going strong), at the height of World War II. However, it dropped back to 11.6 percent in 1948. But government spending generally rose as a share of GDP in subsequent years, reaching almost 24 percent in 1983 before falling back somewhat. In 1999 it stood at about 21 percent.

The development of fiscal policy is an elaborate process. Each year, the president proposes a budget, or spending plan, to Congress. Lawmakers consider the president’s proposals in several steps. First, they decide on the overall level of spending and taxes. Next, they divide that overall figure into separate categories — for national defense, health and human services, and transportation, for instance.

Finally, Congress considers individual appropriations bills spelling out exactly how the money in each category will be spent. Each appropriations bill ultimately must be signed by the president in order to take effect. This budget process often takes an entire session of Congress; the president presents his proposals in early February, and Congress often does not finish its work on appropriations bills until September (and sometimes even later).

The federal government’s chief source of funds to cover its expenses is the income tax on individuals, which in 1999 brought in about 48 percent of total federal revenues.  Payroll taxes, which finance the Social Security and Medicare programs, have become increasingly important as those programs have grown. In 1998, payroll taxes accounted for one-third of all federal revenues; employers and workers each had to pay an amount equal to 7.65 percent of their wages up to $68,400 a year.

The federal government raises another 10 percent of its revenue from a tax on corporate profits, while miscellaneous other taxes account for the remainder of its income. (Local governments, in contrast, generally collect most of their tax revenues from property taxes. State governments traditionally have depended on sales and excise taxes, but state income taxes have grown more important since World War II.)

The federal income tax is levied on the worldwide income of U.S.citizens and resident aliens and on certain U.S.income of non-residents. The first U.S. income tax law was enacted in 1862 to support the Civil War. The 1862 tax law also established the Office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue to collect taxes and enforce tax laws either by seizing the property and income of non-payers or through prosecution. The commissioner’s powers and authority remain much the same today.

The income tax was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1895 because it was not apportioned among the states in conformity with the Constitution. It was not until the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1913 that Congress was authorized to levy an income tax without apportionment. Still, except during World War I, the income tax system remained a relatively minor source of federal revenue until the 1930s.

During World War II, the modern system for managing federal income taxes was introduced, income tax rates were raised to very high levels, and the levy became the principal sources of federal revenue. Beginning in 1943, the government required employers to collect income taxes from workers by withholding certain sums from their paychecks, a policy that streamlined collection and significantly increased the number of taxpayers.

 Most debates about the income tax today revolve around three issues:

  • The appropriate overall level of taxation
  • How graduated, or “progressive” the tax should be, and
  • The extent to which the tax should be used to promote social objectives.

The overall level of taxation is decided through budget negotiations. Although Americans allowed the government to run up deficits, spending more than it collected in taxes during the 1970s, 1980s, and the part of the 1990s, they generally believed budgets should be balanced. Most Democrats, however, are willing to tolerate a higher level of taxes to support a more active government, while Republicans generally favor lower taxes and smaller government.

From the outset, the income tax has been a progressive levy, meaning that rates are higher for people with more income. Most Democrats favor Robin Hood politics (steal from the rich and give to the poor i.e., the famous class warfare scenario) because they believe or argue that it is only fair to make people with more income pay more in taxes. This argument merely points out that assumptions about what is viewed as “fairness” has nothing whatsoever to do with fairness, and everything to do with discrimination and value judgments that rationalize the justification for such discrimination. It’s all about values, not logic, reason, or fairness.

This belief or value judgment occurs despite the fact everyone is entitled to just one vote, and everyone is theoretically equal in the eyes of the U.S. Constitution. However, despite paying lip service to notions like one man, one vote, or belief in the theoretical equality among citizens, Democratic administrations seem (as ideology and as a practical matter)  to favor a plan of income redistribution in order to contribute to social objectives like helping the poor. How pervasive is discrimination against higher income individuals?

In 2003 the following data was released in the Congressional Budget Office Report. It made very clear who really pays our Federal Income Taxes.

For 2003, the estimated share of total individual income taxes paid by:

Wealthiest 1%—-33.6%
Wealthiest 5%—-55.1%
Wealthiest 10%—67.9%
Wealthiest 20%—83.0%
Wealthiest 40%—97.8%
Wealthiest 60%—103.0%

The way to read this is that the wealthiest 10% of taxpayers pay 67.9% of the country’s individual income taxes (or that the top 5% in income pay more than half of all income taxes). And yes, that 103% is not a typo – the bottom 40% in income, as a group, pay negative personal income taxes (because of the EITC).

Many Republicans, however, believe a steeply progressive rate structure discourages people from working and investing, and therefore hurts the overall economy. Accordingly, many Republicans argue for a more uniform rate structure. Some even suggest a uniform, or “flat,” tax rate for everybody. Parenthetically, some economists— both Democrats and Republicans—have suggested that the economy would fare better if the government would eliminate the income tax altogether and replace it with a consumption tax (meaning a national sales tax on goods and services).

This would tax people on what they spend rather than what they earn. What’s nice about a consumption tax is that you, the individual taxpayer, are in the driver’s seat. What it means is that everyone is free to choose whether to buy or not to buy, thus exercising some degree of control over how much they ultimately spend on taxes. The irony of this plan is that ultimately the rich and the super rich will likely pay more in consumption taxes anyway since they are in a position to afford buying that expensive Cadillac or Mercedes Benz (thus paying a greater consumption tax). And, the poor would continue to pay less taxes because their incomes are small.

Proponents argue that a consumption tax would encourage saving and investment. But as of the end of the 1990s, the idea had not gained enough support to be given much chance of being enacted (think of all those industries and occupations that feed off your responsibility to pay taxes—everything from Turbotax software products, H&R Block, to the highest paid career tax accountants and lawyers doing business in the tax field. A National Sales Tax, while an intelligent and efficient system for generating tax revenues, would nevertheless negatively impact a lot of careers and some tax-related products.

Over the years, lawmakers have created various exemptions and deductions from the income tax to encourage specific kinds of economic activity. Most notably, taxpayers are allowed to subtract from their taxable income any interest they must pay on loans used to buy homes. Similarly, the government allows lower- and middle-income taxpayers to shelter from taxation certain amounts of money that they save in special Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to meet their retirement expenses and to pay for their children’s college education.

The Tax Reform Act of 1986, perhaps the most substantial reform of the U.S. tax system since the beginning of the income tax, reduced income tax rates while cutting back many popular income tax deductions (the home mortgage deduction and IRA deductions were preserved, however). The Tax Reform Act replaced the previous law’s 15 tax brackets, which had a top tax rate of 50 percent, with a system that had only two tax brackets — 15 percent and 28 percent. Other provisions reduced, or eliminated, income taxes for millions of low-income Americans.

Fiscal Policy and Economic Stabilization

In the 1930s during the Depression the government began to use fiscal policy, not just to support itself or pursue social policies, but to promote overall economic growth and stability as well. 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.

These statements in 1936 by Keynes are very telling when one thinks about the current debate in Congress between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican’s mantra is to lower taxes; in contrast in the last four years the Obama administration enacted an economic stimulus package, tried to improve the country’s infrastructure, signed into law a long needed better health care system, and bailed out successfully General Motors and Chrysler and many financial institutions such as banks and corporations on the brink of disaster. Consequently, the economy not only came back from the brink of disaster, but also began heating up the economy fostering greater job growth and slowly lowering unemployment while holding inflation relatively constant. These economic theories of Keynes continued to have influence long after 1936.

By the 1960s, policy-makers seemed wedded to Keynesian theories. But in retrospect, most Americans agree, the government then made a series of mistakes in the economic policy arena that eventually led to a reexamination of fiscal policy. After enacting a tax cut in 1964 to stimulate economic growth and reduce unemployment, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) and Congress launched a series of expensive domestic spending programs designed to alleviate poverty (You remember. They called it the “War on Poverty”). Johnson also increased military spending to pay for American involvement in the Vietnam War. These large government programs, combined with strong consumer spending, pushed the demand for goods and services beyond what the economy could produce. Wages and prices started rising. Soon, rising wages and prices fed each other in an ever-rising cycle. Such an overall increase in prices ( repeated here, but also pointed out as everyone’s enemy in Part I ) is known as inflation.

Keynes had argued that during such periods of excess demand, the government should reduce spending or raise taxes to avert inflation. But anti-inflation fiscal policies are difficult to sell politically, and the government resisted shifting to them. Then, in the early 1970s, the nation was hit by a sharp rise in international oil and food prices. This posed an acute dilemma for policy-makers. The conventional anti-inflation strategy would be to restrain demand by cutting federal spending or raising taxes.

But this would have drained income from an economy already suffering from higher oil prices. The result would have been a sharp rise in unemployment. If policy-makers chose to counter the loss of income caused by rising oil prices, however, they would have had to increase spending or cut taxes. Since neither policy could increase the supply of oil or food, however, boosting demand without changing supply would merely mean higher prices.

President Jimmy Carter (1973-1977) sought to resolve the dilemma with a two-pronged strategy. He geared fiscal policy toward fighting unemployment, allowing the federal deficit to swell and establishing countercyclical jobs programs for the unemployed. To fight inflation, he established a program of voluntary wage and price controls. Neither element of this strategy worked well. By the end of the 1970s, the nation suffered both high unemployment and high inflation.

While many Americans saw this “stagflation” as evidence that Keynesian economics did not work, another factor further reduced the government’s ability to use fiscal policy to manage the economy. Deficits now seemed to be a permanent part of the fiscal scene. Deficits had emerged as a concern during the stagnant 1970s. Then, in the 1980s, they grew further as President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) pursued a program of tax cuts and increased military spending. By 1986, the deficit had swelled to $221,000 millions, or more than 22 percent of total federal spending. Now, even if the government wanted to pursue spending or tax policies to bolster demand, the deficit made such a strategy unthinkable.

Beginning in the late 1980s, reducing the deficit became the predominant goal of fiscal policy. With foreign trade opportunities expanding rapidly and technology spinning off new products, there seemed to be little need for government policies to stimulate growth. Instead, officials argued, a lower deficit would reduce government borrowing and help bring down interest rates, making it easier for businesses to acquire capital to finance expansion. The government budget finally returned to surplus in 1998. This led to calls for new tax cuts, but some of the enthusiasm for lower taxes was tempered by the realization that the government would face major budget challenges early in the new century as the enormous post-war baby-boom generation reached retirement and started collecting retirement checks from the Social Security system and medical benefits from the Medicare program.

By the late 1990s, policy-makers were far less likely than their predecessors to use fiscal policy to achieve broad economic goals. Instead, they focused on narrower policy changes designed to strengthen the economy at the margins. President Reagan and his successor, George Bush (1989-1993), sought to reduce taxes on capital gains — that is, increases in wealth resulting from the appreciation in the value of assets such as property or stocks.

They said such a change would increase incentives to save and invest. Democrats resisted, arguing that such a change would overwhelmingly benefit the rich. But as the budget deficit shrank, President Clinton (1993-2001) acquiesced, and the maximum capital gains rate was trimmed to 20 percent from 28 percent in 1996. Clinton, meanwhile, also sought to affect the economy by promoting various education and job-training programs designed to develop a highly skilled — and hence, more productive and competitive — labor force.

The way I like to look at fiscal policy is that, in general, there is a very consequential “balancing act” going on all the time. However, there is now a new element lurking in the shadows known as a staggering national deficit. That is, inflation, high unemployment, and huge deficits (all terrible outcomes) balance one side of the scale, while the other side is balanced by choosing, appropriately at the right time, either increases or decreases in taxation, or either increases or decreases in spending (And I bet you thought Albert Einstein’s theories were difficult to grasp).

Now, despite the predictability of the order of economic or business cycles, it does appear currently that negatives like inflation, high unemployment or large deficits are collectively impacting society at the same time. No policymaker in Congress or the White House has a complete grasp of all the relevant elements in this balancing act, much less having notions of when things will occur.

The best that any administration hopes to accomplish is to choose some set of actions (increase spending, cut taxes etc.) and hope to hell the timing will be right. However, the fly in the ointment right now is a 15.6 trillion dollar deficit. John Maynard Keynes said to ignore the deficit. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. Current fiscal policy cannot effectively manage our staggering national deficit and fully run the government without some sort of Draconian approach to doing both.

The Staggering American National Debt

[What Are Its Implications?]

In the United States, national debt is money borrowed by the federal government of the United States. Debt burden is usually measured as a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product. Debt as a share of the US economy reached a maximum during Harry Truman’s ‘s first presidential term. Public debt as a percentage of GDP fell rapidly in the post-WWII period, and reached a low in 1973 under President Richard Nixon. The debt burden has consistently increased since then, except during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The president who increased the national debt the most was Ronald Reagon due primarily to reducing taxes and increasing military spending. In recent years sharp increases in deficits and the resulting increases in debt have led to heightened concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government’s fiscal policies.

 

The Blame Game

If you like playing the blame game, where the national debt is concerned, you might start by looking at yourself in the mirror.

All of us are responsible for where we are now and how we got here. This is particularly true where our national debt is concerned. As the great Thomas Jefferson once said in 1790, “A Nation of Sheep produces a Government of Wolves.” And, it’s not just us and politicians who helped to put all of us in terrible debt. Businesses in America played a major role and have since the 1960s. Those business enterprises that promoted the idea of credit cards (buy now, pay later) gave permission to the American people not to save for something they wanted, but to buy now and pay later. This credit card mentality has permeated the American psyche since the late 1960s, and has influenced how American society has changed fundamentally in its attitudes toward debt in general. I received my first credit card in the mail 3 months before my graduation from college in 1968. I was only a student and I wasn’t even employed yet. Nevertheless, here comes this credit card in the mail encouraging me to buy now and pay later.

What I’m describing here in American culture is the credit card mentality as preparation for things to come when our spending (outlay some people like to call it) needs started to outstrip our receipts or revenues for running the government. Think about it—It was easy for the American people to take a blind eye to what has happened in Washington the last 40+ years. Why? Because we’ve been spending beyond our own personal ability to pay for decades.

 

What is the United States Public Debt?

In the United States, national debt is money borrowed by the federal government of the United States in order to fund all government programs and operations. More specifically, the United States Public Debt is the money borrowed by the federal government of the United States at any one time through the issue of securities by the Treasury and other federal government agencies.

This public debt consists of two components:

  • Debt held by the public comprises securities held by investors outside the federal government, including that held by investors, the Federal Reserve System and foreign, state and local governments.
  • Intragovernment debt comprises Treasury securities held in accounts administered by the federal government, such as the Social Security Trust Fund.

Public debt either increases or decreases as a result of the annual unified budget deficit or surplus. The federal government budget deficit or surplus is the cash difference between government receipts and spending, ignoring intra-governmental transfers. However, there is certain spending (supplemental appropriations) that add to the debt but are excluded from the deficit.

Debt burden is usually measured as a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product.

Debt as a share of the US economy reached a maximum during Harry Truman’s first presidential term. Public debt as a percentage of GDP fell rapidly in the post-WWII period, and reached a low in 1973 under President Richard Nixon. The debt burden has consistently increased since then, except during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In recent years sharp increases in deficits and the resulting increases in debt have led to heightened concern about the long-term sustainability of the federal government’s fiscal policies.

The public debt has increased by over $500 billion each year since fiscal year (FY) 2003, with increases of $1 trillion in FY2008, $1.9 trillion in FY2009, and $1.7 trillion in FY2010. As of March 29, 2012 the gross debt was $15.589 trillion, of which $10.831 trillion was held by the public and $4.757 trillion was intragovernmental holdings. The annual gross domestic product (GDP) to the end of 2011 was $15.087 trillion (Jan 27, 2012 estimate), with total public debt outstanding at a ratio of 103.3% of GDP. If counted using the total public debt outstanding over the annual GDP in chained 2005 dollars, the ratio reached 115% since Feb. 2012.

In the United States, there continues to be disagreement between Democrats and Republicans regarding the United States debt. On August 2, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act of 2011, averting a possible financial default. Two months earlier in June 2011, the Congressional Budget Office called for “…large and rapid policy changes to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”

What Caused Such a Deficit Problem?

In 2001, the national debt stood at just $5.8 trillion. Why did the government have to borrow so much more in such a short time? There are six major factors that caused a tripling of the national debt in just a little over 10 years:

1. The Bush tax cuts

The biggest culprit? The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts under then-president George W. Bush, reported the Associated Press. These tax cuts added an estimated $1.6 trillion to the national debt. It’s pretty clear, says Brian Beutler at Talking Points, that Bush-era policies, “particularly debt-financed tax cuts,” make up “the lion’s share of the problem.” And they’re ongoing, so the tab for them builds every year.

2. Health care entitlements

Democrats “constantly harp” about the Bush tax cuts, says Peter Morici at Seeking Alpha, but those rates were in place in 2007, and the deficit that year was one-tenth this year’s budget shortfall of $1.6 trillion. So what has changed since then? Added “federal regulation, bureaucracy, and new Medicaid and other entitlements have pushed up federal spending by $1.1 trillion — $900 billion more than required by inflation.” And down the road, says Yuval Levin at National Review, our “health-entitlement explosion” will account for “basically 100 percent” of our debt problem.

3. Medicare prescription drug benefit

Another piece of the pie: George W. Bush’s addition of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. That has added $300 billion to the debt, according to the AP. Expanding entitlements like Medicare, or last year’s health-care reform package, is a particularly tempting way for Congress to run up debt, says Jagadeesh Gokhale at the Daily Coller. Since lawmakers don’t typically map out a revenue strategy to fund those benefits, they are “shielded from the political costs of actually paying for the new programs.”

4. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

The tab for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan comes to $1.3 trillion, another major chunk of new, unexpected spending over the last decade. “These wars cost us plenty,” says Nake M. Kamrany at The Huffington Post, and they “have to be financed with borrowing, which adds up to national debt.”

5. Obama’s economic stimulus

The 2009 stimulus package enacted by President Obama cost $800 billion. And the 2010 tax-cut compromise between Obama and Republicans, which extended jobless benefits and reduced payroll taxes, added another $400 billion to the debt. Add another $200 billion for the 2008 bailout of the financial industry, and the government’s efforts to soften the blow of the Great Recession amount to one of the largest chunks of the debt build-up. The “federal budget was one good year away from balancing” after 2007, says Tom Blumer at News Busters. But in the years since, Obama and Democrats in Congress put that goal out of reach.

6. The Great Recession

Some of the spending gap came from factors outside the control of Congress and the White House. As the government spent heavily to boost the economy, says the AP, it took in hundreds of billions less in tax revenue than expected, because the Great Recession eroded Americans’ income and spending.

 

Where Are We Now?

Here it is, based on the National Debt Clock, as of April 11, 2012.

 

U.S. NATIONAL DEBT CLOCK

The Outstanding Public Debt as of 11 Apr 2012at01:26:21 AM GMTis:

 $ 15,626,018,571,743.67 (15 Trillion, 626 Billion, plus change)

The estimated population of the United Statesis 312,562,722
so each citizen’s share of this debt is $49,993.21.

The National Debt has continued to increase an average of
$4.00 billion per day since September 28, 2007.

 

As far as our nation’s staggering national debt is concerned, it will take a separate blog to ferret out what to really do about it. At a tentative preliminary level (no-brainer idea) I think it advisable if the next administration raised taxes on everyone, cut spending drastically, and stay the hell out of wars. This, of course, would run counter to achieving greater prosperity and reducing unemployment. This comes back to the tradeoffs I mentioned in Part I. America is headed toward economic disaster nationally and globally if we fail to bring our national debt down. We either face America in bankruptcy and total collapse down the road, or we control and contain our fiscal policies geared toward greater prosperity and low unemployment. You decide!!! What happens when normal people cannot pay their bills, mortgage payments, and do not have any savings? They lose everything.

In Part III ahead I will explain how President Obama views Fiscal Policy.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »