The Weiner Component #92 – The American Prison System: The Shame of the Nation

Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. pr...

+ Midyear 2009 Incarceration Rates by Race and...

+ Midyear 2009 Incarceration Rates by Race and Gender per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender. Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009 – Statistical Tables – US Bureau of Justice Statistics, published June 2010. See tables 16-19 for totals and rates for blacks, Hispanics, and whites. Broken down by year, gender, and age. See page 2 for “Selected characteristics of inmates held in custody in state or federal prisons or in local jails”. It has the overall incarceration rate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The United States has more people incarcerated in its state and federal prisons than any other industrial nation. It would seem that we have more criminality than any other country but the majority of these people are serving time for victimless crimes, crimes committed against themselves. These mainly have to do with the illegal use of drugs, control substance. We have been and still are fighting a war against drugs. A large percentage of these prisoners were arrested and convicted in this apparently losing war against drugs. For some reason the majority of these prisoners are Black or Hispanic even though the Caucasian population uses far more narcotics than either or both of these groups. This is true because the majority of the population is White and they use individually the same percentage of the control substances as the other racial groups. It seems that the majority population is far less apt to go to prison than the minority groups. The Whites, it seems, are largely exempt from prosecution for these victimless crimes.

According to the 2010 Census statistics, which were the last time a census was taken, for every 100,000 people in the country 380 are White, 966 are Latino, and 2,207 are Black. The racial and ethnic make-up of incarcerated populations are dramatically different from that of the United States as a whole. A study of all 50 states illustrates that Whites or Caucasians are grossly underrepresented while Hispanics are overrepresented and Blacks are very overrepresented. American Indians and other minority groups, where statistics are kept are also overrepresented.

According to these statistics it would seem that the Caucasian population is essentially law abiding while all the minority groups are the opposite. This is blatant nonsense. It would seem that law enforcement, which is essentially run by White law enforcement officers, spends most of its time going after minority law breakers, particularly Black law breakers. This would indicate that much that happens is ignored and that it is easier to convict Blacks and other minorities. It would also indicate that there is quite a bit wrong with present day laws.

Over the last forty years the United States criminal law system has put more than two million people behind bars at any given time and brought the U.S. prison rate far beyond that of any other nation in the world. It would seem that a good part of this is based upon stereotyping the different ethnic groups within the country. An examination of all fifty states indicates that this is true in each state within the United States.

The United States, in 2010 has more people imprisoned than the top 35 European nations combined. That year the U.S., with a population of 311 plus million people, had 2.3 million people behind bars; China, with a population of about 1 1/3 billion people had 1.6 million inmates. It would seem the U.S. laws are more severe than those of China.

Two thirds of today’s prisoners committed non-violent offenses. This would designate most of these crimes as having to do with control-substances. These are people who refused to go along with the War on Drugs. If this country is truly a democracy then this fact would indicate that a goodly percentage of the American public has voted against the use of narcotics being illegal.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1919. It ushered in the Age of Prohibition, which consisted of the Gangster Era and a considerable increase in drinking alcoholic beverages among the American people. It was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. Its extent today is largely controlled by the law and its practice is not as extensive as it was during prohibition.

It cost 30 plus thousand dollars a year to house an individual in prison for one year. Just by changing the law on most narcotics the federal government and the individual states will save billions of dollars that can be used for more positive services for the public. The government has and is fighting a losing battle in the War on Drugs. Surely the use of these chemicals can be controlled by laws just as those of alcohol are. The results for the general society would be far better.

Another interesting point is that those who have spent time in prison tend to earn 40% less annually than those who do not. Their children have to do with one parent negatively missing from a good part of their upbringing. In fact, in 2010, one in every 28 children had an incarcerated parent. How is this punishment helping anyone, including the society?

According to a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, “tough on crime” laws adopted since the 1980s have filled the U.S jails with mostly nonviolent offenders. Many legislatures have continually reduced the discretion of judges in both the sentencing process and the determination of when the conditions of a sentence have been satisfied. Determinate sentencing, use of mandatory minimums, and guidelines based sentencing continue to remove the human element from sentencing. The “three strike laws” have considerably increased the time spent in jail during the last decade. Prison sentences have increased 83% in the last 20 years while violet crimes have decreased during this period.

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In the late 1960s, the United States began to expand the powers of its law enforcement agencies, generating by the 1970s an extended reliance on prisons to treat its social, political, economic, and mental health problems. By defining many new acts as crimes and by increasing the severity of sentencing the U.S. witnessed a phenomenal growth in the prison population. Prison overcrowding surpassed the capacity of the jails to hold its population.

Historically criminals, people who couldn’t function within the society and were disruptive by their actions were removed from the society, driven out or incarcerated.   Is this the situation today? I think not. Incarceration is based largely upon race and ethnicity, and luck of the draw. If the police sincerely went after everyone going against the laws we would need thirty times the number of prisons we have and the number of prisoners would be far greater than it is today.

Justice as metered out in the United States is an individual thing, one person at a time, separate from everyone in the society. As a footnote, several years ago, a newly elected member of the House of Representatives, a Republican, was caught using narcotics. He apologized to everyone: his newly born child, his wife, Congress, and the people of his state. He was then given time off from his duties as a Congressman with pay to go to a sanitarium for therapy that would cure him, and later returned to Congress to serve out his term. He was never even indicted. The entire justice system is a bad joke, particularly for minorities.

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In 1984 a group of Tennessee investors recognized a business opportunity and formed the Correction Corporation of America (CCA). Their goal was to use venture capital to build a new prison and lease their beds to the state in a profit making venture. Today about 10% of all U.S. prisons and jails, containing about 200,000 prisoners have been privatized. The Federal Government also has them house undocumented immigrants and resident aliens. Some of these companies also have facilities outside of the United States.

The bottom line with all these companies is profit. They can warehouse these people at a lower price than the states or the federal government. This is done using lower quality food, medical services, and non-union labor. The governor of Florida proudly stated that he prefers private jails because they cost less than state run ones.

The object of these private institutions is to keep their private jails as full as possible. They have amassed a great deal of political influence through government ties, lobbying and campaign contributions. They have converted justice into the capitalist marketplace. These companies claim that they can run the prisons more efficiently and cheaper than the government and do a better job serving the taxpayers money. The entire concept with their goals of full capacity is ludicrous.

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Statistics: Bureau of Justice Statistics

December 2010     1.6 million state and federal prisoners

128,195 housed in private facilities

May 2012            217,690 Federal inmate population

27,970 Federal inmates in private

managed facilities

2011     37,330: Estimated number of detained immigrant population

– U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 

CCA: Correction Corporation of America

66 facilities owned and operated by them – the country’s     largest private prison company

91,000: number of beds available across 20 states

$1.7 billion: Total revenue recorded in 2011

$17.4 million: lobbying expenditure in last ten years

$1.9 million: total political contributions from 2003 to 2012

$3.7 million: executive compensation in 2011

132 recorded number of assaults – inmate on inmate at CCA – Idaho Correction Center between Sept. 2007 & Sept. 2008

42: recorded number of inmate assaults at state run Idaho institution at same period

Both prisons held about 1,500 inmates

 

The Geo Group – Second largest U.S. Detention Company

$1.6 billion – 2011 revenue

65 domestic correctional facilities owned and operated by them

65,716: number of beds available

$2.5 million: lobbying expenditures in last eight years

$2.9 million: total political contributions from 2003 to 2012

$5.7 million: executive compensation for CEO

$6.5 million: damages awarded in wrongful death lawsuit against the company for beating death of an inmate by his cellmate in GEO Group run Oklahoma prison. Appeal pending.

$1.1 million: fine levied against company in Nov. 2011 by New Mexico Department of Corrections for inadequate staffing at one of its prisons

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History – from Private Prisons – edited from Wikipedia article

A private prison or for profit jail or detention center is a place in which individuals, both adults and children, are physically confined by a third party that is contracted by a government agency. These companies generally enter into contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and then pay a per diem or monthly rate for each prisoner confined in the facility.

During Reconstruction, after the Civil War, in the South plantations and businessmen needed replacements for the labor force once their slaves had been freed. From 1868 on, convict leases were issued to private parties to supplement their workforce. This system remained in place until early in the 20th Century.

This was not only in the South. In Sequoia National Park, in California, the road to Kings Canyon was built by prison labor in the early 1920s. This was an extremely difficult and dangerous project.

Federal and state governments had a long history of contracting out specific services to private firms. These included medical services, food production, vocational training, and inmate transportation. The 1980s ushered in a new era of prison privatization. There was a burgeoning prison population from the War on Drugs causing increased incarcerations, prison overcrowding. In response to their expanding criminal justice system, private business interests saw an opportunity for expansion and private involvement in prisons moved to the complete complex management and operation of entire prisons.

The modern private prison business first emerged publically in 1984 when CCA was awarded a contract to take over a facility in Tennessee. Since then for profit prison companies have expanded. As of December 2000 there were 153 private correctional facilities, jails and detention centers operating in the United States with a capacity of over 119,000.

The trend toward privately operated prisons continued to grow. By 2011 they contained 85,604 adults housed in 107 facilities. They have seen their profits increase by 500%. The prison industry took in $3 billion in 2011.

Most privately run prisons are located in the southern and western portions of the U.S. and include both state and federal offenders. Pecos, Texas is the site of the largest private prison in the world. The Reeves County Detention Complex, operated by the GEO Group has a capacity of 3,763 prisoners in its three sub-complexes.

Studies, some partially industry funded conclude that states can save money by using for profit prisons. Academic or state funded studies have found that private prisons tend to keep more low cost inmates and send more violent ones back to state run facilities.

A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that the cost savings promised by private prisons did not materialize. Some research has concluded that for profit prisons cost more than public prisons. Cost estimates from privation advocates may be misleading because private facilities often refuse to accept inmates that cost the most to house. A 2011 study concluded that the pattern of sending less expensive inmates to privately run facilities artificially inflated cost savings. A 2005 study found that Arizona’s public facilities were seven times more likely to house violent offender and three times more likely to house those convicted of more serious offenses. A 2011 report by the American Civil Liberties Union concluded that private prisons are more costly, more violent, and less accountable than public prisons, and are a major contributor of increased mass incarceration. Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, houses the majority of its inmates in the for profit facilities.

A 2014 study shows that minorities make up a greater percentage of prisoners than in their public counterparts, mainly because minorities are cheaper to incarcerate. According to this study, for profit prisons operators, particularly CCA and GEO Group accumulate these low cost inmates through explicit and implicit exceptions written into contracts between these private prison management companies and state departments of corrections.

Evidence suggests that low staff levels and training at private facilities probably lead to increases in violence and escapes. Assaults on guards were 49% more frequent than in government run prisons. Assaults on fellow inmates were 65% more frequent in private prisons. Low staff training led to jail violence in Mississippi at Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. The rates of staff is one guard for every 120 prisoners. In a bloody riot in this prison six prisoners were rushed to a hospital, one with permanent brain damage. During the riot, staff just sat there and waited for the riot to quiet down, because prisoners are ten times the number of staff. The lack of well trained staff does not only cause violence but also eruption. According to a former prisoner the correction officers are also in charge of the smuggling in the prison. To make more money they provide prisoners everything, including weapons and drugs. It would seem that the guards are about one short step removed from the prisoners.

The prison industrial complex provides a strong lobbying mechanism to help attain their goals.  CCA and The GEO Group have been members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C. public policy organization that develops model legislation which advances free market principles such as privatization.  Under their Criminal Justice Task Force, ALEC has developed model bills which state legislators can then consult while proposing touch on crime initiatives.  This includes “Truth in Sentencing” and “Three Strike” laws.  By this process private prison companies influence legislation for tougher, longer sentences.  About 40 states have passed versions of ALEC’s “Truth in Sentencing” model bill, which requires prisoners convicted of violent crimes to serve most of their sentences without chance of parole.

 

In the “Kids for Cash” scandal, Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corporation, a private company that runs juvenile detention centers was found guilty of paying two judges $2,8 million to send 2,000 children to their prisons for such crimes as trespassing in vacant buildings and stealing DVD’s from Wal-Mart.

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We seem now to be gradually moving away from incarceration by private companies for profit and from the extent to which we jail people for victimless crimes.  What will happen, I imagine, depends upon the public attitude toward these problems.

The Weiner Component #91 – The 2016 Presidential Election

Breakdown of political party representation in...

After the 2014 Midterm Election in November the country will gear up for the 2016 Presidential Election. It will probably go for the full two years after the 2014 one.

The outcome will be important in many respects. One Supreme Court Justice is already over 80 year old, three others will become 80 during this period, two others are currently 76 and one is 78. Two of these judges were appointed by Republican Presidents and two were appointed by Democratic Presidents. Currently most decisions are passed by a 5 to 4 vote. Two of the above justices are conservative and two are liberal. The next president could change that balance for years to come.

Depending upon the results of the 2014 Election the House of Representatives, even with the gerrymandering, could have a Democratic majority. It would only take twenty some additional seats to change the dominant party. The Senate, which currently has a Democratic majority, needs a super-majority to avoid bills being filibustered, a majority of 60 votes. It will probably take the next two elections to bring this about since only 1/3 of the Senate is elected at any one time. There is also a risk of the Republicans being able to seize control of that body.

If the majority of the people vote their interests and not their prejudices the Democrats should gain control of the House and work toward a supper-majority in the Senate.

The two major political parties are currently not only radically different they are also polarized into extreme positions totally separating them, in fact the two cannot even really communicate.

The Republicans hold a reactionary position to the far right. They have all signed a position paper swearing not to raise taxes or change any subsidies that go to many corporations, including the oil industry that received subsidies during World War II to encourage them to explore for oil. Today they are making billions in profits and still have the tax subsidies.

Surreptitiously they did raise taxes once by voting with the Democrats to place a so-called-fee, actually a tax upon the purchase of all airline tickets. This is an added cost to all these tickets that will collect billions of dollars yearly from all the people who use airplanes for transportation. Grover Norquist, the man who had all elected Republicans sign the no tax raising pledge, agreed on this.

The basic position of the Republicans is the less government the better, decrease the size of the Federal Government, reduce taxes for the upper few percent of the population and allow profits to tinkle down to the middle and lower classes.

They are kept in line by the fact that political funding is essentially controlled by the extreme reactionary section of their party. If a Republican congressman does not hue to the party discipline and vote along the desired lines he will not get funding during his next election. The Republicans in Congress like their jobs.

The Democrats are liberal, on the left of the political spectrum. They would have the well-to-do pay their fair share of taxes and close all tax loopholes. They see the Federal Government as being responsible for the welfare of all the citizens in the United States and would use fiscal policy to lower unemployment and upgrade the infrastructure of the country, bringing it from the mid-20th Century into the 21st Century. In addition they would work to solve the problem of immigration which the Republicans have ignored, work to end the Republican War on Women. To them the government is the agency that is supposed to solve the problems that individuals can’t in this complex society solve for themselves.

We will see in November of 2014 what the voters perceive and what choices they make by how the majority votes and whether they do or do not vote.

After the 2014 Election there is the 2016 Presidential Election coming up. Who will the candidates be? At present the Democratic favorite is Hillary Clinton. She has just published a book, “Hard Choices,” which details her four year tenure as Secretary of State. She is appearing on a large number of both television and radio programs as a guest, generally dealing with whether or not she will run for the presidency in 2016, and keeping all her options open. The probability is that she will be the Democratic candidate.

For the Republicans the choice is not so clear. There are some far right candidates that might appeal to the Tea Party like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Rand Paul but their appeal to the overall American citizenry is highly questionable. Presumably waiting in the wings is Mitt Romney who was defined as a lousy candidate in 2012. He seems to be the best the Republicans have now. I’m sure others will emerge after the 2014 Elections.

The 2016 Presidential Election is going to be a very important election as it will mark the pattern the country will follow for the next decade or more. What the American people decide then they will have to live with for a long time. Hopefully we will have a positive result and the Democrats will emerge with the presidency and control of both Houses of Congress.

The Weiner Component #90 -Immigration

U.S. and UNHCR Sign Their 2010-2011 Framework ...

U.S. and UNHCR Sign Their 2010-2011 Framework for Cooperation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logo of United Nations Refugee Agency.Version ...

Logo of United Nations Refugee Agency.Version made by user Kashmiri. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a youngster growing up in the 1940s and 50s the symbol of the United States to the world was the Statue of Liberty and the slogan which was something to the effect of: “Send us your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”  Today, to a goodly number of people in this country, that means only those from Western Europe.

From the mid-1960s on we’ve had an influx of Asians, initially from losing wars the U.S. supported from that area of the world. People from Korea and Viet Nam and other countries in the Far East. In recent years there’s even been an immigration from China. These people buy property and settle here. I haven’t heard any large objections or protest over this.

In fact demographically the United States is now a nation of minorities. The Caucasian or white population is now less than 50%. While we don’t hear complaints about this I get the feeling that a very large number of people in the country would rather not hear about this. Congress is currently made up of Caucasian males.

We are a nation of immigrants from all over the world, made up largely of the rejected or unsuccessful and of those who came to this country to be able to live a decent life.   Many of us came to America in order to do better than we or our ancestors could do in their home countries. Others came to escape some form of oppression; and still others came to escape mayhem and possible death.   We are all, if not some of these immigrants, then their children, grandchildren, or great, great grandchildren. Some of us tracing ourselves back to colonial times. We are all decedents of people who came from some form of misery to a better place.

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The U.S. Department of State: Appendix E: Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the world’s refugee population to be 12 million persons. Millions more are displaced within their own countries by war, famine, and civil unrest. The United States works with other governments and international organizations to protect refugees, internally displaced persons, and conflict victims, and strives to ensure that survival needs for food, health care, and shelter are met. The United States has been instrumental in mobilizing a community of nations to work to alleviate the misery and suffering or refugees worldwide.

In seeking durable long-term solutions to these problems the United States has given priority to the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homeland. This policy is recognized in the Refugee Act of 1980 and is also the preference of UNHCR and the international community of nations that supports refugees. If safe, voluntary repatriation is not feasible, other durable solutions are sought, including resettlement in countries of asylum within the region and in other regions. Resettlement in other countries, including the United States, is appropriate for refugees in urgent need of protection and for refugees for whom other solutions are not inappropriate or unavailable.

The United States considers for admission as refugees persons of special humanitarian concern who can establish persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution

In their home country on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The legal basis of the refugee admissions program is the Refugee Act of 1980, which embodies the American tradition of granting asylum to diverse groups suffering or fearing persecution. The act adopted the definition of “refugee” contained in the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

Over the past decade the U.S. Refugee Admission Program has been adjusting its focus away from the large refugee admissions programs that had developed during the Cold War for nationals of Communist countries toward more diverse refugee groups that require protection for a variety of reasons. These include people coming from Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Near East and South Asia.

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The United Nations has declared the people fleeing from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to the United States, including unaccompanied children, as refugees seeking asylum.

The basic question that seems to have escaped a lot of people is: What is the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee? As I understand the issue, an illegal immigrant comes to the U.S. to earn a living, to improve his standard of living. A refugee is escaping from some form of severe danger or other forms of misery. The people coming from the three nations mentioned above all fit into the latter category.

Many of the unaccompanied children coming to the United States have relatives here who are citizens and would be happy to take them. If they were coming from any other part of the world and had acquired visas prior to coming here there would be no question about them staying in the U.S. The people who object seem to feel that these children, some with their mothers, are entering the country as illegal aliens so they must be illegal aliens. In fact if the number were even larger than it is there would still be no question about them coming to this country if it were done with visas, particularly through air flights.

All these youngsters have a day in court coming up. How soon that day occurs depends upon the Republicans in Congress.

President Obama has requested a bill from Congress authorizing him to spend 3.6 billion dollars on beefing up border patrol, the immigration court system, and facilities in which to hold these refugees, and money to help the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador strengthen their control over the area from where most of these refugees are fleeing.

So far the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives have not even brought up a bill. They are very loud in insisting that the President do something. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, wants the National Guard called up to handle the problem. What are they going to do, turn back the invaders?

It would seem that the Republicans are not going to do anything before the 2014 Midterm Election which would bring any form of success to a Democratic President. They want to blame him for misery that they are helping to cause. It’s a poor way to deal with human tragedy.

Parenthetically, it is well to remember that one of the greatest users of illegal narcotics are many of the people in the United States. In essence they are the one empowering with trillions of dollars the gangs that exist in Central and South America. Because of illicit desires and addictions the people within the United States are creating the problem causing the children and their parent(s) to flee to the U.S. as a safe haven. I would suspect that many of the people vigorously protesting the arrival of these children are users of control substances or, as they call them, recreational drugs.

 

 

The Weiner Component #89 – Money, Economic Growth, & The National Debt

English: President Barack Obama confers with F...

English: President Barack Obama confers with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke following their meeting at the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the last time I checked the Census Bureau the population of the United States was increasing at the rate of one person every 11 seconds. This included births, deaths, and immigration. This increases the overall population by about 117,818 people per year. In order for the per capita level to remain at 0% it must rise several points every year. In order for the economy to grow it has to rise beyond this point.

In order for the economy to function positively there must be a reasonable level of growth. For this to occur there must be a reasonable yearly growth of the money supply. If the amount of currency in circulation is stultified or decreases the country is in recession moving toward depression.

By the mid1970s the money supply in circulation was not increasing at a rate needed by the country for economic growth. At this point the banks by their lending policies, gradually began to fill the currency void. They gradually discovered that they could bundle their mortgages, dividing them up into infinitesimal pieces, set up hedge funds, sell the mortgage shares like stock, recover their investment, lend the money out again, and continue to do this endlessly, charging assorted fees on every level of this process. In doing this they created first billions of dollars and then trillions, always keeping a good percentage of this in the form of fees. While this process was needed for growth within the nation eventually, thirty odd years later, it had become a mad race for endless profits by the banks.

In 2008 this housing bubble the banks created burst and the country fell almost instantaneously into economic depression. What had been a dollar in value a few days earlier now became worth a nickel or at most a dime in value. The country was headed for a depression deeper than that of 1929.

Newly elected President Barak Obama and his administration stepped into the void and the Federal Government made massive loans to the banks and later to the dying American auto industry. Where did they get the money? They printed it and temporarily took on additional massive debt. All the loans were repaid within a few years with interest.

A word about the National Debt. What is it and where does it come from? The Debt is money the government spends in excess of the taxes it collects. It is currently more than 17 trillion dollars. The money is borrowed and has interest paid on it. This money is owed to individuals in and out of the United States, it is owed to countries like China and Japan, to both of whom is owed in excess of one trillion dollars, and mostly the money is owed to itself and its agencies such as Social Security, who is owed well over 2 1/2 trillion dollars, and Medicare. In fact just about all government agencies that have a surplus have had their excess taken and used in the General Fund. The interest on all of this is paid by the Federal Reserve to the General Fund. I remember reading several months ago about 88 or 89 billion dollars being transferred from the FED to the Treasury.

The National Debt is divided into two parts, public and private. Public would be what is owned by individuals or countries like China and Japan, generally acquired to balance international trade. Private ownership of the Debt is what the Federal Government owes itself. It admits to owning about 50% of its own debt. By my estimate the Federal Government directly or indirectly through its agencies actually owns roughly about 75% of its own debt.

Where does it get all this money? Simple! It prints it and issues the currency as needed. After all there is nothing behind the United States dollar but the word of the U.S. Government. There is nothing behind any currency but the word of the government using it.

By the year 2000 the banks had created trillions of dollars and were going strong with mortgages, both new ones and refinanced ones. Money that had been needed for economic growth and development was being readily supplied with the banks taking a good share of this currency. Large numbers of people were using their homes as bank accounts, refinancing again and again. The major banks were making billions in fees and wanted profits of many more billions. The mortgages were considered safe investments and they sold like shares of stock with a promised safe return. These were the Hedge Funds bought nationally and internationally that were touted as hedges against any type of financial loss and they paid nice dividends.

The situation grew more-tense as time went by with many bankers encouraging homeowners to lie on their applications. After all prices had been and were continually rising on real estate. Anything that could be mortgaged was mortgaged more than once. The situation grew more and more chaotic, until toward the end of 2008 when the entire economy collapsed. Shortly thereafter Barak Obama took office as the 45th President of the United States.

His theme had been “It’s time for a change.” By 2010 the economy had been saved but there wasn’t enough “change” to satisfy the majority of the voting population and the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives. The Tea Party was in control of the Republican Party, moving its position far to the reactionary right. All possibility of fiscal policy ended. There would be no more government projects. In fact the Republicans had two specific goals: one was to shrink the economy by curtailing spending and the other was to make Barak Obama a one term president by not allowing him any legislative victories or successes.

They successfully achieved their first goal of contracting government expenditures, particularly on entitlement programs to the poor and to the states, forcing state governments to shrink their services, and they added to the unemployment caused by the Real Estate Bubble bursting. The House of Representatives would not even take up fiscal policy, keeping unemployment high and forcing the country to continue with an infrastructure well over fifty years old. They left any possible improvement to the economy to the Federal Reserve which, under Chairman Ben Bernanke’s guidance, used imaginative Monetary Policy to bring about some recovery.

Two major problems developed from the 2008 economic crisis: first the amount of money in circulation had to be increased significantly and second, many people were underwater on their mortgages; that is, they owed more on their property than it was worth. Something had to be done to alleviate the housing crisis. An additional crisis was who controlled the mortgages that had been broken into hundreds of pieces and attached to innumerable hedge funds. What the FED came up with was to add 85 billion dollars to the economy; 45 billion was spent buying up mortgage paper and 40 billion was used to buy up government debt. This was done monthly for several years, adding trillion of dollars in currency to the economy.

Toward the end of his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke announced that the FED would decrease its purchases by 10 billion monthly. The new chairperson of the FED, Janet Yellen, stated that she would continue the policy, ending it in October of 2014.

Many prices had been gradually rising and the fear was that the country might fall into an inflationary spiral, too much money being in circulation and forcing prices up.

Toward the end of 2013 the housing crisis seems to have leveled off. There has been new construction throughout the United States and property values have gradually risen, taking a lot of people out from being underwater.

On Tuesday, July 16, 2014 Federal Reserve Chairperson Janet Yellen announced in her report to Congress that the FED might not completely stop buying debt and mortgage paper at the end of October.

What will happen should be very interesting. Following October is the 2014 Midterm Election. How will the country react if there is a stoppage of all Monetary Policy? Will there be a significant drop in the Stock Market, which today is far higher than it was just before the 2008 Crash?

How will the country react? Will they even notice the change? Will the election be affected in any way? The times are certainly changing!

There is enough money now in circulation, far more than there was in 2008. The problem is its distribution. More and more of it seems to go to the upper 20% of the population, forcing many in the middle class economically downward. Unemployment has dropped to a fraction above 6%. What the country needs is a redistribution of the National Income downwards and a rebuilding of its infrastructure. Affordable Health Care should have a single entity running it and not for profit. This would be the Federal Government and it should be paid for out of taxes like Social Security and Medicare. Instead we allow private companies to become richer running it. We need a greater level of fairness in this country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weiner Component #88 – The Democrats & the Republicans

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - 3D Icons

Toward the end of May 2014 there was an article in the L. A. Times entitled “Number of American Liberals surges, poll says.” The article dealt with pole changes in the way people consider themselves. It concluded that there was a significant change in the way people think of themselves, with a large number moving to the political left in their consideration of themselves. Is this valid? What does it mean for the country?

Barak Obama was reelected to the presidency on November 6, 2012 by a vote of 322 electoral votes to 206 for Mitt Romney or 65,455,010 popular votes to 60,771,703 for the Republican candidate. He clearly won not only the electoral vote but also the popular one.

In the Senate 33 seats were decided, 1/3 of the Senate was up for election. Democrats had 23 seats up for election, including 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans had 10 seats up for election. The Democrats retained majority control of the Senate and picked up two additional seats. Obviously, while the Senate did not have a Democratic super-majority it still had an overwhelming majority.

For the House of Representatives this was the first congressional election using the congressional districts that were apportioned in the 2010 Census by Republican majorities in many state legislatures. Elections were held for the 435 seats in the U.S. Congressional Districts. Elections were also held for the delegates from the District of Columbia and the 5 U.S. territories. Although House Democrats won a plurality of the popular vote (48.3% to 46.9%) House Republicans were still able to retain the majority of elected delegates in the House. They achieved 234 seats against 201 for the Democrats.

The Republicans were able to win because of gerrymandering even though the Democrats across the United States cast over 25,000 more votes for members of their political party. To stop Republican filibustering the Senate Democrats need a 60 vote supermajority which they do not have. The Senate rules on filibustering presidential appointments were changed because the Republicans virtually refused to approve appointments of Democratic judges for Appellate and lower federal courts. There have been no bills dealing with fiscal policy which would create jobs and possibly improve the infrastructure of the country.

Even though they were not the majority the Republicans were able to hamper virtually all legislation that President Obama attempted to get passed and forced him to act by executive order. Then they threatened to sue him for acting as every president before him since George Washington has acted. Interestingly the current Congress holds the record over the entire history of the United States for passing the smallest number of bills. They seem to have an innate ability to both ignore and exacerbate all problems in the nation; and the ability to verbally blame everything, much of which they cause, upon the president.

The 2012 Election was the first one to be impacted by the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision: Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission. The United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. The case is extremely controversial for increasing the influence of money in elections in contrast to other developed nations that have limits imposed on all election spending. Can money freely spent buy elections? The answer is probably No; but can excessive spending strongly influence elections? The answer is not necessarily negative.

Some of the other issues in the 2014 Midterm Election are being carried over from 2012 and earlier. Immigration reform stands out brightly polarizing sections and cities within the United States. The issue thousands of children, with and without their mothers, coming into the United States and surrendering to the Border Patrol. Are these illegal immigrants or refugees fleeing from disorder and possible destruction? They are overwhelming border facilities and the courts. The Republicans in Congress seem to be refusing to pass legislation that would help expedite and solve this problem. The President has called for legislation; but so far all that has happened is that the Republicans are postulating. They want a solution but they don’t want to spend any money. This issue may be strongly present in November when the midterm election occurs.

Another carry-over issue(s) is rape, pregnancy, and abortion, as well as the overall war on women. The far-right tea-party leaders of the Republican Party and their evangelical cohorts do not seem to be able to trust women to make sexual decisions affecting their own future lives. These people want to legislate how women must behave.

The Republicans in the House are again, for the fifth or sixth time, investigating what happened in Benghazi. They want to beat up President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the members of the State Department. Somehow one item that has been overlooked in all these Republican investigations is the fact that the Benghazi and other attacks against Americans were largely engendered by the release of a You Tube trailer advertising the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims,” which was considered blasphemous throughout the Muslim world. The Republicans felt that the Consulate should have been better guarded; even though they cut the Consulate protection budgets earlier in the year. The current investigation is also being used as a means of soliciting contributions for the November Election.

Attempts were made to restrict voting in states controlled by the Republicans, particularly in district with high minority and youth voting. How successful they were is not known. In Florida some people had to wait in line for eight hours in order to vote in 2012. People had their names arbitrarily removed from the voter roles as having moved or died and could not vote. All sorts of devices were used to limit non-Republican voters. New games will be played in the 2014 election to limit the vote. We will see how successful they are.

Some Primary Elections have been held or are about to be held for the 2014 election. The Republican Minority Leader, Eric Cantor, ran against a Tea Party unknown, David Brat. Before the results came out the question was: By how much would Cantor win? The results, however, shocked Republicans throughout the Party. Brat won on a campaign of Cantor presumably favoring immigration reform because he had presumably discussed this at some point with President Obama. Ultimately to the Tea Party Cantor was too liberal.

What will the results of this be? I suspect it’s moved the Party much farther to the right. Republicans at this point are afraid to even mention the term immigration, except that they are against it. And all of this with the refugee problem or crisis along the southern border of the country. President Obama has asked Congress to allocate 3.6 billion dollars so he can reasonably solve the problem. If the Republican legislators support this they are presumably going against their base? If they refuse to act on this issue they are exacerbating the problem. This is a perfect instance of being caught on the horns of a dilemma; you lose if you do and you lose if you don’t.

Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader defeated his farther-right Tea Party challenger but he is currently running 4 points behind his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. In fact his approval rating in the state of Kentucky is below that of President Obama. He is still avidly opposing Affordable Health Care, woman’s rights, and immigration reform.

Virtually anything can happen in this election. If the Republicans were to gain control of the Senate and keep control of the House of Representatives virtually nothing would happen over the next two years. If the Democrats could get 60 votes in the Senate and control of the House then the country would go through a period of intense reform and economic growth. The choice, of course, is up to the voters, many of whom don’t know they have a choice.

 

Breakdown of political party representation in...
Breakdown of political party representation in the United States Senate during the 112th Congress. Blue: Democrat Red: Republican Light Blue: Independent (caucused with Democrats) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

The Weiner Component #87 – The Supreme Court of the United States in the Year of 2014

Article 3 of The Constitution of the United States says that the “Judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress shall from time to time ordain”. That is all it says.

Article 1 deals with the Congress and Article 2 has to do with the President. Their powers and functions are generally enumerated. Apparently it was assumed that the Supreme Court will do whatever courts do.

In 1800 Thomas Jefferson, a Democrat, was elected to the presidency. On his last day in office the former president, John Adams, a Federalist, appointed his Secretary of State, John Marshall, as the third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He also made 58 appointments to the federal judiciary; the new judges were called “midnight appointments. These appointments were made under the Organic Act, which presumably would allow the Federalists to take control of the federal judiciary. Adams was attempting to pack the court with Federalists for years to come.

The new president, Thomas Jefferson, was the head of the Democratic Party. He wanted to appoint his own men to the Judiciary.

John Marshall, the new Chief justice, was a Federalist who adhered to the Federalist principals. It was believed that Marshall could be impeached for rendering a decision favoring the Federalists. Instead Marshall rendered a decision finding a section of the Judiciary Act, a Federalist law, unconstitutional. The decision was based upon the fact that these powers were not given by the Constitution. A section of a Federalist law was declared unconstitutional and the principle of judicial review was established. John Marshall had checkmated Jefferson and had given the Court the power to oversee the laws of the United States.

President Thomas Jefferson ordered his Secretary of State, James Madison, not to deliver these commissions of office. William Marbury brought his case before the Supreme Court under a writ of mandamus which demanded that the Secretary of State deliver his commission. Chief Justice John Marshall found a section of the Organic Act unconstitutional because it contradicted the constitution. Marbury did not get his commission and Jefferson could not impeach his chief justice. The Court’s power of Judicial Review was established.

While the Supreme Court has dealt with many issues from the overall Constitution a large percentage of its decisions have and are being based upon the Bill of Rights which was added to the original document.

Of the current nine Justices of the Supreme Court currently serving on the Court two were appointed by Reagan, a Republican, one was appointed by the elder Bush, a Republican, two were appointed by Clinton, a Democrat, two were appointed by the younger Bush, a Republican, and two were appointed by Obama, a Democrat. The Republican appointed Justices tend to be conservative in their decisions and the Democratic ones are liberal. The current balance is 5 to 4 in terms of conservative decisions.

The oldest judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in 1933 and is 81 years old. She recently gave a 35 page passionate dissent in the Hobby Lobby decision. The two Reagan appointed judges, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy were born in 1936 and are 78. One of Clinton’s appointees, Stephen Breyer is 76. The rest of the Judges date from 1948, Clarence Thomas, to 1960. Three of the Justices are women.

Four of the Justices are well over the retirement age and one has just reached it. Whoever is elected in 2016 could well determine the direction the court will take over the next decade or longer.

Traditionally the Court in its decisions has been behind the times. Until relatively recently the Judges have all been men, usually elder men whose views were firmly fixed before they were appointed to this office. Their views reflected their lives which were centered upon their earlier years. For example during the Roosevelt Administration the Justices found much of the New Deal unconstitutional. Roosevelt while running for his second term proposed a plan to pack the Supreme Court, wanting to place a second judge for each presiding Justice who had reached a certain age. He failed to be able to carry this measure through Congress. However there were retirements and he placed New Deal Lawyers on the Court.

Another case where the Court was out of sync with the majority of the society was the Dred Scott Case in 1857. Here the Chief Justice writing for the majority declared that Dred Scott, who had been taken by his owner outside of slave territory was still a slave because he could not sue for his freedom. Further that slaves could be taken anywhere in the Union and still remain slaves; that the Missouri Compromise of 1850, which avoided the Civil War a decade earlier, was unconstitutional. The reaction of the Northern and Western states, that had the bulk of the population, was to get proper men elected who would appoint antislavery people to the Supreme Court and change that erroneous decision. Are we in a similar situation today? The country is facing massive problems with the current state of immigration laws and unlimited funding for political campaigns.

Interestingly, the number 9 for the number of Judges is not sacrosanct. The only thing stated in the Constitution is that there shall be a Supreme Court, Congress determined how many members would be on the Court after some experimenting and the number 9 is what they ended up with.

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A former Justice on the Supreme Court once said that “the Constitution means what we say it does,” but he did not say that the Court can change its mind as it did in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, where it found “separate but equal” Constitutional in 1896 but inherently unconstitutional in 1954 in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.

Nothing, it seems, is permanent as far as the meanings of the United States Constitution are concerned. Voting rights limits, limits on financing political parties, affirmative action rights, the sanctity of a woman’s body or the right of contraception. All these can be legislated upon and the limits of this legislation can be set by the Supreme Court.

Perhaps the most irresponsible decision made by the five conservative judges on the Supreme Court is the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Case which was decided on June 31, 2014 with the argument written by Judge Samuel Alito. This decision gave employers of “closely held” companies; that is, those controlled by five or less individuals the power to decide whether or not to include certain forms of birth control in their Affordable Health Care Plans for their female employees. Hobby Lobby lawyers argued that doing so infringed upon the owners religious beliefs. Of course the beliefs of all the female employees who would be deprived of contraceptive devices by their employers was superfluous.

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an impassioned 25 page decent for herself and her three fellow liberal judges, implying that this decision was opening up a Pandora’s Box for all sorts of religious claims by trumping of                                  employers rights. She also pointed out that the general public, the taxpayers would end up paying for these legitimate health care needs.

What should be interesting in the near future is to see who makes claims in order to hold up their religious beliefs, who wants to avoid paying for coverage of blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses), antidepressants (Scientologists), vaccinations (Christian Scientists), immunizations, employing homosexuals, etc. These are only a few of the possibilities that can open up in the near future and beyond.

On Monday the five members of the Supreme Court exempted Hobby Lobby from having to provide contraceptive coverage to women in their health care insurance policies; on Thursday of the same week they provided a similar exemption to a small evangelistic school, Wheaton College. What happens next week and beyond?

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The original concept of the founding fathers was that all people with a basic education were capable of intelligent voting; that they would vote their self-interest and in this process vote for what is best for the new United States. Is this concept true? Unfortunately the answer is negative. A goodly percentage of the people are totally wrapped up in their own lives so that politics is outside their range of consciousness except during major elections. Many others vote their prejudices rather than their interests. All this means is that a large number of people are inclined to be influenced during major elections and ignore the process during non-presidential elections. It also means that clever advertising can determine the outcome of elections in the United States.

On April 2, 2014, In the Case of McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court by a vote of five conservative judges to four liberal justices struck down the provisions of federal law aimed at limiting the influence of donors as curbs to free speech.

Even though most industrial nations limit the amounts that can be spent in individual election the U.S. has now taken the opposite position. In the 2012 Presidential Election some eighty plus millionaires and billionaires contributed the bulk of the money for the Republican candidates. While these people are exercising their free speech by contributing billions of dollars, those who can only afford to spend well under $100.00 have a much smaller ability to exercise their right of free speech. While money cannot directly buy elections it can strongly influence them. This type of ruling allows the United States to become a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

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The state of Massachusetts by law drew a 35 foot buffer around abortion clinics. Its purpose was to protect clients going to these institutions from harassment and obstruction. The Supreme Court struck down this law as a violation of free speech. Originally the law was passed because antiabortion protesters literally blocked patients from entering the clinics. Offering a middle ground in these sidewalk battles often waged outside women’s health facilities all nine judges agreed that the no-talking and no standing zones were unconstitutional and unnecessary. A narrow majority affirmed that cities and states have the power to prevent or arrest protestors who are obstructing clinics or harassing patients. With the support of the liberal Judges, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sought a compromise that protects both free speech and a woman’s right to a legal abortion.

It is interesting to note that a similar right to free speech in terms of the Supreme Court itself still does not exist; the buffer zone still exists around the Supreme Court which has its own buffer zone within and around its building in Washington, D.C. “No person shall engage in a demonstration within the Supreme Court building and grounds.” The word “demonstration includes picketing, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or religious services, and all other forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is likely to draw a crowd of onlookers. However in the case of protecting women, entering a female health center presumably for an abortion, from verbal and physical abuse the buffer zone is illegal.

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In the case of the National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning the Supreme Court interpreted the breath of President Obama’s authority to make appointments during Senate recesses. This deals with the “advice and consent” clause of the Constitution, whereby the Senate consents to presidential appointments.

What has happened of late is that a hostile number of Republican Senators have either refused to confirm presidential appointments or have filibustered them, not allowing any action to be taken on the appointment. The Supreme Court rule of June 26, 2014 greatly limiting the ability of President Obama and future presidents to use recess appointments to circumvent congressional appointments to their judicial and executive nominees. They ruled unanimously that Obama exceeded his power under the Constitution when he filled three federal positions while the Senate was on a brief break.

The Justices upheld the basic right of the president to make recess appointments during a Congressional recess, a power which is granted by the Constitution and has been used by every president since George Washington. The issue seems to revolve around a ten day recess. Obama made his appointments after a three day recess.

Since November of 2007 the Senate has used a tactic called pro forma sessions to keep from going into a formal recess for longer than three days. No business is conducted during these sessions and only one senator is required to gavel the session open.

Initially the founding fathers, when they wrote the Constitution, wanted a check upon the president. The recent Congress was elected in 2010 and 2012. They are led by the Tea Party Republicans and have continually tried to hamper everything the President has tried to do. The legislature has engendered a policy of extremes, without any possibility of any cooperation. Will other presidents undergo the same plight? Probably if they are black and belong to a different political party.

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There are numerous other cases that the Supreme Court dealt with in 2014.  In the case of Schyette v. Coalition to Defend Affordable Action the Court decided that states could restrict their use of Affirmative Action programs in university admissions and other public institutions.  A divided Court upheld the Environment Protection Agency’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule.  A short prayer at public governmental meetings was upheld.  Cellphone privacy was upheld, now a search warrant is required.  These are many of the decisions reached by the Supreme Court mostly at the end of their 2014 session.

Next year some of these may be overturned or strengthened depending upon the makeup of the Court.

The Weiner Component #86 – Retirement & Budgeting Through Life

Many people put themselves in an uncomfortable position when they retire, if they retire. They can no longer afford their former cost of living. Their retirement, be it social security or a private fund or a combination of the two that they have contributed to throughout their working lives makes up their retirement; they have no other source of money. By maintaining what they consider their proper standard of living these individuals have not been able to save; they have essentially spent all they have ever earned. They have never applied any basic lessons of economics to themselves; seeing money throughout their lives only as a basic means of satisfying their needs and wants.

Money, income, can be divided into two categories: something to be used for living, pleasure and fulfillment of needs and desires or it can be used as a commodity, a means of earning more money.

To the upper 20% of the population, who have a surplus income, more money than they can reasonably spend, it is used in both ways. To most of the remaining 80% it tends to be utilized for the process of living. In fact, most of them will spend 110% of their incomes to maintain what they consider their proper standard of living. As a result they will always be carrying a certain amount of debt throughout their lives and never be able to find themselves getting financially ahead. Of course to the bottom rungs of society, the unskilled and homeless, they earn so little that what there is, is needed to just survive.

The United States is basically divided into classes; many of which can be divided into subclasses. There is the very rich, the upper 1%, who earn far more that they can possibly spend with incomes in the multimillions of dollars. Then there is the remaining 19% of the upper class with incomes in the low millions to the high hundreds of thousands. These people have no problem using money as both a commodity and for daily living.

Economically below is the middle class which consists of three categories. The upper middle class, the comfortable middle class; these are usually the college graduates; generally they consist of company management with salaries in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are also the professionals: doctors, engineers, college professors and the like with specific occupations. The middle, middle class would be made up of college and non-college graduates, “the white collar” employees who have lower management positions and earn from over one hundred thousand dollars down. This group also includes successful “blue-collar” workers. Then comes the lower middle class which would be made up of a group similar to the above class but with lower salaries.

Next comes the lower class. This group is split into two parts: those earning an adequate income to more or less comfortably survive and the group living in the area of the minimum wage. The latter group generally needs government aid in the form of food stamps and rent controlled housing in order to properly survive. Finally there is the underclass, the people living in the streets, the homeless. A small percentage of these live in their cars; they do not earn enough, if they are employed, to pay for housing.

From the bottom up, through most of the middle class, these people spend everything they earn. In fact, most of them spend more than they earn; the society allows life to be lived on credit which can be paid off monthly or extended infinitely with interest. Consequently a lot of these people are in a position that will never allow them to retire. They will work until they are no longer able to do so. Also a goodly percentage of the bottom groups are either unmarried or divorced women with young children.

The major problem that most of these people face is budgeting. They have no idea how to do this and, as has been indicated, the overall society is oriented toward getting people to spend, to consume the goods and services produced and readily available.

Money is the means through which everything functions. It has no real value other than what is assigned to it by the society and this value is flexible, ever gradually changing. Its distribution to the population is determined by the various occupations its people have or through inheritance and ownership of the means of living and of production. People use it both to live and earn more money.

The society is geared to have people spend their money, even to a point of spending more than they have or are earning. Many big ticket items like automobiles or houses require installment purchasing. This includes not only necessary items but also adult toys like boats, and traveling mobile homes. Buy now and pay later is even carried to food and clothing purchases with credit cards. By and large a whole segment of the society’s lives are based upon credit purchasing. This has been carried in many cases to the point where the level of credit has been maxed out and the people are paying 18 to 21% interest virtually forever on five or ten or twenty thousand dollars’ worth of credit that they never seem able to reduce.

However a goodly part of the middle class by a conscious effort can put away a small percentage of their income which, over their working lifetime, can give them a fair to excellent increase in their retirement. It is just as easy to spend $900 a week as it is to spend $1,000, $600 as $550. A hundred dollars saved a week equals $5,200 a year. Fifty dollars saved a week is $2,600 a year. While these amounts may not seem like significant amounts that changes when thirty working years is added to each of them. Add either interest or growth from a safe investment and the individual has put away in excess of $156,000 or $78,000. At 3% interest add another $54,200 to the first sum and $26,100 to the second amount. This is probably the most conservative investment anyone can make on a long term savings account.

If the individual feels that he or she cannot afford this much in savings then skipping two fast food luncheons a week would provide ten dollars; that’s $40 a month or $2,080 for a 52 week year. This equals $62,400 for 30 working years with no interest. At 3% interest it would approximate $63,092. All of this is straight savings bank or credit union savings.

Probably most people, who want a decent retirement, have no self-control and use insurance. This is a popular means used by those who have no self-control; they do not have the ability to save or invest. Money to these people is only used to supply needs and pleasures. Whatever they have they spend.

The insurance industry is based upon gambling and for the people who own and control it, it is safer and more profitable than Los Vegas casinos are for their owners.

There are several types of insurance policies. One kind is term insurance. The individual is betting a small amount each month that he or she will die and the insurance company is betting that he or she will not die. The insurance company will pay out to the individual’s family $100,000 if he or she passes on. It keeps the small payment if they continue to live. The amount is usually set by a person’s age and the insurance company has actuaries that figure out how many people in that age group will die. For every $100,000 the insurance company pays out it keeps millions of dollars. This is term insurance.

Then there is life insurance. Here the individual pays in so much a month for the rest of their lives or until they are 65; and upon their death their family gets 15, 30, 50, 100, or whatever, thousand dollars. The premium of these policies also include term insurance which would cover the policy if the individual dies early.

There is also the life insurance annuity policy where there is life insurance and upon reaching the age of 65 the individual receives a monthly payment of several hundred dollars a month for the rest of his life. It doesn’t really matter how long he lives because the insurance company has made far more than they’ve paid out or will pay out from his payments. There are innumerable insurance plans or variations of plans but these are the major ones,

However a goodly number of the middle class, those with self-control, by a conscious effort can put away a small percentage of their incomes which, over their working lifetimes, can give them a fair to excellent increase in their retirement. It is just as easy to spend $900 a week as it is to spend $1,000 or $550 as it is to spend $600.

All of the methods of building a resource base shown so far are relatively safe. One can see their basic wealth slowly increase over one’s lifetime and have it eventually supplement their retirement income, whether it be social security, a government retirement plan, or a private retirement plan. This allows for comfortable unemployed years with a possible estate upon the demise of the individual.

There is another way to go. The more risk one takes the higher the possible rewards; but also the higher the risk of losing all or part of the money.

One method is the gradual purchase of properties. Usually property accrues in value over the years. If it is the purchase of a house for rental and there are continued tenants then they actually pay for increases in the owners’ equity. The problem is that in order for the property to be profitable the owner has to be a landlord with all the responsibilities of a landlord. Also if the house is not continually rented out the owner is still responsible for the monthly payment. Another advantage would be yearly tax benefits. And, of course, the house can always be sold.

How does this come about? One has to save his money until he have enough for a down payment on a property plus an emergency amount for unexpected occurrences.

One can build ownership in a large number of houses over a period of time in this fashion.

Another method to save for retirement would be the stock market. Here the risk increases considerably but with conservative long term purchases can be fairly safe.

A stock is one share of ownership in a company that has probably issued millions of shares of its stock in order to raise money. If the company makes a profit they may pay a dividend, usually quarterly. Many companies allow the recipients of their dividends to automatically reinvest their dividends into additional shares and will also allow them to invest small amounts in additional shares.

Perhaps one of the safest areas in which to invest is in utilities, gas and electric. These items are necessary for comfortable living; the companies have been around for a long time and will continue to be needed infinitely into the future. If anything they will be gradually expanding as populations expand. Also these stocks pay a reasonable dividend. The stock for these companies generally runs from $25 a share up to around $60. Just about all of them allow the owner to reinvest their dividends and buy additional shares with no fees. There is very little chance of one of them going out of business. One can buy 25 to 100 shares and build their portfolio from there.

The Bank of America pays a dividend per quarter of one cent per share; yearly, that is four cents. The stock cost about $14 to $15 a share. Apple, which currently is over $90 a share, paid no dividend through most of its history, then in the last few years ago it has paid a fairly large dividend. Microsoft also paid no dividend originally, then at some point it was embarrassed by having a war chest of 55 billion dollars, and began paying a dividend. They were still embarrassed and issued a one-time special dividend of $3.00 per share. Microsoft currently goes for about $40 a share. The stock for Marvel Enterprises at one point sold for $1.50 a share. They at first licensed some of their characters for films like the Spiderman series then began producing their own films. The value of the stock rose significantly, then split into two for one share and finally the company was taken over by Disney, who paid $30 a share plus ¾ of a share of Disney stock, making the value of one share of that stock today about $90.

An example of a growing stock would be Tesla Motors which produces all electric luxury cars that sell from $70,000 to $100,000. According to Consumer’s Union they are the safest automobile on the road. When the company went public in 2010 the stock could be bought for around $30 a share. Today in mid-2014 it costs over $200 a share.

With a single battery charge the Tesla today can go a little over 300 miles. They are currently in the process of building the largest battery factory in the world. In 2015 they will begin producing and selling an all-electric SUV. About two years further in the future they will be making a smaller less expensive electric sedan that will sell at a much lower price. They are also planning to eventually open factories in China and Europe. The probability is that the stock will go up to $300 to $500 a share in the next three to five years. Unfortunately 100 shares of the stock today is over $20,000.

Another growth stock, which is much more affordable, is the Empire State Realty Trust that came onto the market in October of 2014 at $13 per share. There are four separate designations for this stock. They are all equal and pay the same dividend. The stock is presently between $15 and $16 per share and has paid 8 1/2 cents a share in the last quarter and will gradually rise. Within two or three years the stock value should double or triple as the real estate upon which it is based increases in value. Currently the cost is about $1,500 to buy 100 shares of this stock, $750 for 50 shares.

These are random examples. One can make or lose money quite easily in the stock market. The latter is easier if one does not know what they are doing.

Stock has to be purchased through a broker. Most banks and credit unions have a division that deals with this. They charge a fee for the service that is determined by the extent to which they advise you. There are also stock brokers many of whom go by formulas by which they advise their customers. These may or may not work. The broker will generally charge you more than the bank or credit union. These people make a living by buying and selling stock. Their primary interest is earning money, you come second.

Hopefully this blog has some value and will give some people ideas on how to have estates of at least five or six figures when they retire.

 

The Weiner Component #85 – Health Care & the American Public

English: President Barack Obama speaks to a jo...

English: President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress regarding health care reform (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tea Party rally to stop the 2010 health care r...

Tea Party rally to stop the 2010 health care reform bill in St. Paul, Minnesota The Tea Party people held a rally calling for the health care reform bill currently being considered in congress to be stopped. Republican U.S. representative Michele Bachmann was the guest speaker. The crowd was filled with signs and stickers for Bachmann and other Republican candidates. Signs read: Abort healthcare Abort Obama Save Our Country Republicans Weed Out Your Progressives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most industrial nations in the world today have some form of universal health care sponsored by their government and paid for by taxes. One of the few exceptions is the United States where it is and has been strongly opposed by the Republicans in Congress and in some state legislatures.

Today, in most nations, virtually everyone needs some form of health care. Those who are employed by reasonably sized companies and up generally have some form of medical insurance. The members of Congress and the state governments have some of the best plans available. The employed middle and upper classes are generally nicely covered. The poor and those working for low wages do not generally have medical coverage. Therefore those throughout the United States with no health insurance would be most of the bottom 20% of the population, around 18 to 20 million people.

Today everyone needs at least yearly checkups by the medical profession. There are too many people walking around with coughs and with what they consider minor problems. These people cannot afford medical treatment until their malady reaches a critical stage and they are forced to go to emergency care at a local hospital. Many of these emergencies could have been avoided with proper medical treatment. A number of these emergencies will end up with unnecessary deaths; treatment was too late.

How do we know this? Twenty percent of the people living in the poverty group will die ten years sooner than those living in middle or upper class groups.

I have a malady which is not uncommon and come to many in the older population. Without constant monitoring and treatment I would have died several years ago. With treatment I will live for another ten to twenty years.

William Jefferson Clinton was elected to the presidency of the United States in 1992. He served as 42 President from January 20, 1993 to January 20, 2001. His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton led a group of Congressmen in the development of a National Health Care Reform Bill. Even though the Democrats were the majority party in both Houses of Congress for the first two years of the Clinton Administration the Republican Party was able to defeat the bill. Their slogan, which was eminently successful, was: “There has to be a better way.” The “Better Way” was no health reform. We seem to be in a similar position today except that the bill was passed into law four years ago and is more or less in operation today with the Republicans still demanding its extraction.

The Republicans are claiming that they will have a better and more comprehensible bill. But they have presented nothing so far. The irony of the situation is that the basic medical plan was developed by a far-right Republican think tank and first put into operation in Massachusetts by its then Republican governor, Mitt Romney.

The system is run by private business with the government setting the rules and supplying much of the money. Unlike what exists in other countries this system is largely run by private enterprise. Why, then, are the Republicans so against it? Could it be because it was inaugurated by a black president

The major problem which is being faced in a number of Republican run states is that, because of a Supreme Court decision, the governor of each state can accept or reject total medical coverage for all his citizens within his borders. The Federal Government will pay the total cost of this plan for the first three years. This is money that these states have already paid in taxes that they will be getting back. A number of Republican governors have refused to accept this expansion of Medicare for their poor citizens who have no medical coverage.

Why are they doing this? Are they standing on principle? These governors and their Republican legislators have very comprehensive coverage for themselves. Yet they are refusing it to the poor within their respective states. Rick Perry, the governor of Texas is doing this as well as a number of others. An argument can be made as to how this refusal will be hurting not only the people who will still have no medical coverage but also the economics of the respective states.

I understand that many if not most of these men are religious, good white, fundamentalist Christians. They believe in Judgment Day and the world to come. If they’re right, then they’ll have to explain why they breached the Holy Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill,” and take the punishment for that action.

 

 

Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - 3D Icons

 

The Weiner Component #84 – The Republicans & the American Infastructure

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

The purpose of Congress in the United States is to serve the people, not to play politics. The Republicans in Congress are not carrying out their proper function. The American people deserve better. Either the Republican Congressmen have no knowledge of Macroeconomics or they are plain vicious, caring only for themselves and the welfare of heir party.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has come out with statements to the effect that Harry Reed and the Senate Democrats have not picked up any of the job creation bills that the House of Representatives have passed. The question here is what job creation bills? The only ones that come to mind are the fifty bills they passed to do away with Affordable Health Care. They claim that this law is a job busting one. How, they never say.

The fact is that eight million plus people, many who have never before been able to afford medical insurance, now have health coverage. If anything, Obamacare has created more jobs in the medical field. Just the paper work involved would require many more clerks

I am reminded of one of President Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign speeches where he stated sarcastically the Republican position at that time. The Republicans wanted to be elected so they could administer the New Deal. They said, in effect, that they would do it better and there would be more of it. Boehner wants to get rid of Obamacare so they can pass a bill creating Boehner Care that would be better and include more medical coverage for everyone. Of course there are no details of what this bill would contain. Probably they would be as efficient in passing it as they are in solving the illegal immigrant problem or a minimum wage bill.

In 1929 it was Republican Administrations that brought the Great Depression into being. In 2008 it was also Republicans who had brought the Real Estate Bubble into existence. Now they are going to solve this problem by bringing back conditions that brought this situation about.

How do we know this? In the 2012 Presidential Election Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, promulgated this plan. It was the Republican Platform. They acted as though there had never been an economic crash in 2008 during the Bush Republican Administration.

Everything the House of Representatives has done since it gained a Republican majority in 2011 has been aimed at exacerbating the conditions brought about by the Real Estate Disaster. They have not passed one jobs bill since that time. There has been no fiscal policy. Instead the House has shrunken government services, particularly to the poor, starting a chain reaction which forced state governments to do away with multitudes of state jobs. The Republicans have been hypocrites, saying one thing and doing the opposite. Paul Ryan has stated, in effect, that he would not feed a hungry person because the dependence would take his dignity away from him. Really!

What we need are programs to get rid of hungry, homeless people by providing jobs for them. Up to this point when we thought of the infrastructure of this country we believed how upgrading it would decrease unemployment in the United States and help bring prosperity to all its people. Isn’t it time to consider the actual needs of the nation? Going into the 21st Century with a 20th Century Infrastructure is just plain dumb. Most of our infrastructure was built well over fifty years ago and is outdated or inadequate.

Also, whether because of man’s abuses or for reason of natural changing conditions the weather patterns have and are changing and bringing phenomenal strain upon these structures. In the winter of 2013—2014 there were some radical changes in weather conditions within some areas of the United States. These changes or others like them, whether caused by natural climate changes or by pollution, could become normal in the future.

Temperatures dropped to 16 below zero in Chicago, during early January and set record lows across the eastern U.S. A fifth of all power generating capacity in a grid serving 50 million people went suddenly offline, as coal piles froze. Sensitive electrical equipment went haywire and utility operators had serious problems finding enough natural gas to keep power plants operating. The wholesale price of electricity jumped to more than forty-times its normal rate. The retail price became insane. One customer received a bill for $1,250 for January that was eventually reduced to $750. Another one with a $654 bill got no relief.

The problem with the cost of the electricity was the result of an antiquated grid and the pacific vortex, the cold air mass that settled over the nation. It exposed a growing fragility in the U.S. electricity grid. We need a modernization of the system or we are open to facing all sorts of emergencies in the near future.

The infrastructure is the basic facilities, services, and instillations needed for the proper functioning of the nation, such as communications and transportation systems, water and power lines, and public institutions including schools, post offices, and other needed public entities.

In April tornados hit sections of the central United States. Billions of dollars in property was damaged and destroyed. People were killed. The basic problem here is that the warning system is only fifteen minutes before the storm strikes. We have the knowledge and technology to do far better than that. Cities susceptible to these storms all need tornado warning systems and storm shelters. Since damage seems to be higher in mobile home parks these all need storm shelters. The cost of installing all this would not be that great and the savings in human lives would most likely be considerable.

Both urban and rural highways need constant maintenance. While constant construction does go on in some areas this does not occur. Also many highways are old, built decades ago, containing numerous pot holes and insufficient lanes. The population using them has increased considerably and improvements, if any, have been minimal. It’s time for a revamping of our nation’s roads and highways. We need a modern transportation system to supply the needs of today’s citizenry and to allow for rapid and easy movement of goods and people.

Public schools, both primary and secondary, in many cases were built during the first half of the 20th Century. They need to be refurbished or in some cases rebuilt so they can function as modern educational institutions. State colleges and universities also, in many cases, are dated structures. They need to be enlarged and modernized in order to serve the needs of today’s students.

Municipal, state, and federal buildings, proper and adequately built aqueducts to carry clean water to all the urban and rural areas of the country are needed. Most bridges in the country are over fifty years old. Some are in danger of collapsing; a section of one did a few years ago dropping several automobiles into the river. Luckily no one died.

At the rate we’re going most industrial nations will bypass the United States in their infrastructures.  Do we go forward with modernization or patch after each disaster?

 

 

 

 

The Weiner Component #83 – The Middle East & Ieaq

Nouri al-Maliki meets with George W. Bush.

 

Just before mid-June 2014 the Iraqi Shite Government had almost reached the point of total collapse.  Many of the soldiers holding the major city of Mosul threw down their weapons and their uniforms and deserted or fled.  The Sunni rebel forces were 70 miles north of Bagdad.  The Malaki Government seemed to be falling apart.

President Obama is examining the situation and has stated that all options are on the table but that he will not send troops back into the country. Senator John McCain is demanding that we send troops, which were withdrawn 2 1/2 year ago, and he does not want them to leave this time until we have won the war. Among other things he seems to have forgotten that it was President George W. Bush who signed a treaty with Iraq arranging for the withdrawal and he has not mentioned who we have to defeat in order to win the war.

(As a footnote: it seems the Republicans are willing to spend billions of dollars refighting Bush’s Iraq War but not one nickel on creating jobs in the United States or in rebuilding the U.S. infrastructure.)

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has essentially set up a Shite government, basically refusing to share power with the Sunnis. His “so called” democratic government, which was inadvertently set up under U.S. supervision, is a variation of the old Sunni dictatorship that Saddam Hussein ruled under. Maliki has and continues to rejected all U.S. attempts to reform his government and make it a real democracy.

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Prior to World War I the entire Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire, which eventually became Turkey. They were a decaying medieval monarchy on the losing side. Shortly after the end of World War I (1918) the kingdom was divided up by the European allies as mandates, an anachronism for the colonies these states would rule. The boundaries were set arbitrarily for their convenience by the European victors with no real consideration being given to the people within these colonial nations. Neither ethnicity nor religious differences were considerations.

Shortly after World War II, most of these colonial countries, gained their independence either peaceably or through revolts and became sovereign nations. Generally they were now ruled either by absolute kings or military dictators. The boundaries were still those that the Europeans had imposed some thirty years earlier and they continue to exist today.

Iraq became a British mandate (possession). It includes most of Mesopotamia, bounded on the north by Turkey, on the east by Iran, on the south by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and on the west by Jordan and Syria. It has extensive oil deposits.

The kingdom of Iraq was established in 1923, becoming independent in October 1932 under King Faisal I. Actually it became a semi-independent state in alliance with Great Britain and, interestingly, was admitted into the League of Nations. Between 1950 and 1952 Iraq signed oil agreements with foreign oil companies and received 50% of the oil profits.   In 1953 Faisal II became the playboy king of the country.  In 1958 Iraq became a republic and the monarch was killed. In 1979 Saddam Hussein became Iraq’s president, succeeding and earlier dictator. On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, an oil rich principality.

Prior to the Kuwait invasion President George H.W. Bush sent a plenipotentiary, a roving ambassador, to Iraq to meet with its president. Bush and his advisors had very little knowledge of Iraq and its culture or were overly arrogant. Bush sent a woman (presumably striking a blow for equal rights) and gave her general instructions but no real authority.

To Saddam Hussein the fact that a woman had been sent was both an insult and an indication that the mission was of little consequence to the United States. Apparently, obliquely he asked her what the U.S. response would be to an invasion of Kuwait. She equivocated giving Saddam the impression that there would be no real U.S. reaction. After she left the country Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.N., under the leadership of the United States, engaged in operation Desert Storm. Bush was wise enough not to invade Iraq after the Iraqis had been pushed out of Kuwait.

Unfortunately his son did not inherit that same wisdom. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld must have wanted a positive victory for the American People after 9/11. They felt the United States should have a great moral and political triumph. With virtually no knowledge of the Middle East, its people, culture and values they decided that an invasion of Iraq would be a win, win situation; that if we served as an international sheriff and invaded Iraq and got rid of its evil dictator, Saddam Hussein, both the Iraqis and the Americans would cheer the greatness of the U.S. Government, their administration.   Unfortunately they were wrong, it ended up being a lose, lose situation.

On March 20, 2003 the U.S. and Great Britain invaded Iraq. The Iraqis were never too pleased with having the United States occupy their country and wanted us to leave, eventually passing numerous resolutions in their Parliament to that effect and finally refusing to allow American forces to be exempt from their law and only under American law. On 2008 a “Status of Forces Agreement” was signed by Bush and Maliki. U.S. combat forces would withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 and all U.S. forces would be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. Also any soldiers committing felonies or other heinous crimes would be subject to Iraqi law.

Bush left it to President Obama to enforce this agreement, which he obviously did to all sort of derogatory comments from Senator John McCain and other Republicans blaming him for the withdrawal.

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The Kurdish people, who make up about 32 to 37% of the population are located in the northeast along the Turkish border. The other half of their population is in Turkey north of Iraq. The W.W.I Europeans had split them into two roughly equal parts. On March 18, 1988 Iraq is believed to have used chemical weapons, poison gas, on the Kurds in a dispute with them. The Kurds have consistently wanted to form their own nation

Of the remaining population in Iraq there are two major Muslim groups. The Shi’a that makes up 60 to 65% of that population and the Sunni which consists of 32 to 37%. Both these groups came into existence in 632 A.D. when the religious founder, Mohamed, died. They spit over the question of political and religious succession. By and large the Shia live in the south of the country and the Sunni are in the north. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni Muslim while Nouri al-Maliki is a Shite.

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ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has emerged as one of the major groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria. They want to set up a Sunni caliphate in both Syria and Iraq.

The group is one of the most violent if not the most violent of all the jihadists. It is considered one of the world’s most deadly and active terrorist organizations which frequently and indiscriminately attacks large public gatherings for maximum casualties. They are credited with kidnappings, disappearances, and torture of opponents. Their soldiers keep their faces covered at all times. Al Qaeda has expelled ISIS for being too violent.

To Western nations there is the fear that Syria could become the next Afghanistan, serving as a training ground for jihadists to operate all over the world.

The group has also cultivated support among ordinary Syrians by providing aid to needy people in the form of free medical services, bags of food for the needy and below market fuel. Their gifts are always branded with the group’s black flag.

On April 27, 2014 Iraq military helicopters attacked and destroyed an ISIS convoy of eight vehicles inside Syria. June 5, 2014 ISIS militants stormed the city of Samarra in Iraq before being ousted by Iraqi airstrikes. On June 6 ISIS carried out multiple attacks upon the mostly Sunni city of Mosul in Northern Iraq. June 9 Mosul fell to ISIS control giving them, among other things, the central bank that contained about $429 million. Shortly afterward the ISIS leadership declared that they would pay each man in their army $200 a month.

On June 11, 2014 ISIS seized the essentially Sunni city of Tikit. The victors began seeking out and killing police, soldiers, and civilians who they perceived as being associated with the Shite government. June 15 they captured the city of Tal Afar. ISIS claimed that 1,700 Iraqi soldiers who had surrendered had been executed. They released many images of mass executions on the internet.

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What should the United States position toward Iraq be? It looks like a lose, lose situation. The Republican Hawks are demanding that President Obama act, do something. John McCain wants to send troops in to help the legitimate Iraqi government. Lindsey Graham wants to get rid of Nouri al-Maliki. Others are demanding immediate action.  Shite Iran has offered to cooperate with the United States in a joint operation.

Shortly before and after the U.S. occupation of Iraq its Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki arrested important Sunni political leaders. A return of the U.S. troops, whose exit President George W. Bush negotiated, would place the U.S. in a subordinate position in deciding policy and place us in the middle of a civil war. What should be the policy of the United States? It’s an interesting and scary question.

Meanwhile ISIS has been successful in taking mostly Sunni dominated areas in Iraq. Will it be as successful in conquering mostly Shite held areas?

President Obama has sent in an additional military group to guard the American Embassy in Iraq. He has also sent in 300 elite forces to act as advisors to the Maliki Government. What does the future hold?

As of Wednesday, June 25, 2014 Maliki, denounced anyone who wants him to step down as going against their constitution. He has categorically refused to step down and allow an interim government to be set up regardless of the level of ISIS’ military successes. This even though an election is coming up and a new government will be formed in July of 2014.

President Obama has stated that Maliki’s retirement is necessary if the Shite Government is to become truly democratic and be able to stop and possibly defeat ISIS. Maliki, on the other hand, has stated that the losses to Iraq are the fault of the United States because they did not deliver all the airplanes that Iraq purchased from the U.S.

Former Sunni soldiers, from generals down who fought against Al Qaeda, when the United States was in Iraq have been decommissioned or expelled from Iraq’s military. I suspect, if they were called, that they would not fight in a Shite dominated state where they are second class citizens. Also if ISIS becomes a benevolent ruler they may split Iraq into two countries, particularly in regions where they are Sunni majorities. We are, after all looking at a civil war. It is important to remember that the Shite Government under Saddam Hussein was not friendly to the United States and that an ISIS run state will hold the same attitude.

What should President Obama do? What would you do if you were in his position?

 

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