The Weiner Component #127- North Carolina’s New Religious Law & the Supreme Court’s Same Sex Marriage Decision

On Friday, June 25, 2 015 by a 5 to 4 decision the Supreme Court decided that same sex marriages were constitutional. Prior they were legal in 33 states. Earlier on Thursday, June 11th 2015 the state of North Carolina passed a law that made the First Amendment to the Constitution primary over the Fourteenth Amendment, giving licensing registrars and Justices of the Peace the power to refuse to license or carry out civil marriages if they went against their religious beliefs. It seems that the state of North Carolina now has a serious problem dealing with homosexual or lesbian marriages which are now constitutionally legal throughout all of the United States.

To specifically pass a law making same sex marriages illegal within that state would be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Consequently, North Carolina passed a law that allows both the registrar, who issues marriage licenses, and/or the Justice of the Peace, who can legally marry couples, to be able to discriminate on the basis of their religious beliefs and therefore to deny either the issue of marriage licenses or performance of the marriage ceremony.  Presumably this is a constitutional way of ignoring a constitutional judicial decision.

Both Houses of the State Legislature have voted to do this and both have overridden the Republican Governor, Pat McCrory’s veto. This is the second state to pass such a law.  Utah passed a similar law earlier in 2015.

This means that some of the workers in the register of deeds offices and magistrates who perform civil ceremonies to solemnize civil marriages can refuse to perform these functions if they hold a “sincerely held religious objection.”  The law “protects sincerely held religious beliefs while also insuring that magistrates are available in all jurisdictions to perform lawful marriages” that go along with their individual religious beliefs.

Somehow we seem to have a contradiction in legal concepts. If we look at the first amendment to the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights it states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof…” This was passed in 1789. In section one of the 14th Amendment of this same document it states that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;” . . . “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  This was added to the Constitution in 1868.

We have a clear contradiction between the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.  Which should predominate?  The issue of limited rights was debated during the mid to late 19th Century by numerous philosophers and the overall conclusion which the courts have also upheld was that an individual’s religious freedom extends to the point where it limits someone else’s rights.  From there on it is abuse rather than religious freedom.  Basically to allow municipal employees this unlimited religious right is to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The civil clerks and magistrates do have a right to their beliefs and the practice thereof. They can resign their positions and allow others who will carry out the laws to replace them.  But to maintain their positions and refuse to carry out the law is simple hypocrisy.

The Utah and North Carolina law allow for this practice of hypocrisy.  Also with the late June decision of the Supreme Court specifically making same sex marriages legal throughout the United States all the various antics against these marriages also become nonsense.  In essence sections of the United States are now asking some of their civil employees to not perform their legal duties.

I suppose the problem for these righteous misguided people is: How do you disobey the law without disobeying the law?  And their answer was to base it upon the true religious belief of a number of their citizens.  But if all their registrars and magistrates are good simple Protestant Christians then aren’t they showing illegal favoritism in their state hiring practices?  Which is illegal.

If some of these state employees happen to be sincere practicing Catholics or Jews, or, for that matter, Muslims, then aren’t they opening up a can of worms that they, the legislators, will find hard to digest.  For these people can voice objections based upon people of different religions marrying, or even different so-called races intermarrying.  Or for that matter, heathens, generally known as Christians, marrying.

For the State Legislature to clearly or otherwise state that they find homosexual or lesbian marriages unacceptable according to their individual interpretations of the Old and New Testaments is discriminatory and therefore illegal. They can’t even imply that this is their true purpose in this law.  Thus they open up a Pandora’s Box based simply upon the religious beliefs of their state employed registers and magistrates.

It should be interesting if some of their magistrates don’t have “sincere religious beliefs” about anything.  Will they perform these ceremonies and keep their jobs?  And, of course, if only “fire-eating” Christians hold all these positions then isn’t that discriminatory hiring practices?

Somehow all of this is extremely stupid. There is a distinct possibility that these two laws in Utah and North Carolina will be overturned by the Courts.  However it strikes me that our legislators have to be called to account for particularly idiotic laws that hamper the functioning of a presumably free society. This would include anyone else who is in a position to effect same sex marriages in any state.

The basic weapon that the public has that can be felt anywhere in the nation is economic restraint or boycott in any section of the United States. The public, by the way it spends its money, can determine the behavior of the legislatures.  Since government functions on tax dollars then if that amount is significantly reduced the state government doesn’t continue to function that well.

If you find the behavior by the North Carolina and Utah legislatures absurd, or, for that matter in any municipality equally ridiculous and are a member of one of those two states or of communities that are strongly opposed to what is now the law of the land, and you live near the borders of the state, then I would suggest that you begin doing your grocery shopping across the state or county line.  If you have to make a major purchase like an automobile, a refrigerator, furniture, or any other major item then buy it in a state other than North Carolina, Utah, or the municipality that is protesting what you disapprove of.  In essence, boycott spending money in either of those two states or communities. This would also include any type of business practice.

The pressure upon the local merchants will have an adverse effect upon the legislature. Ultimately if they hold out and refuse to change their position, regardless of how much business the state loses, then be sure not to vote for any of them in the 2016 elections.

In addition, to use a slightly historical example: during the Vietnam Police Action (War) many high earning celebrities who opposed the war refused to pay their income taxes to the nation that perpetrated that war. What they did was to put the money that they would ordinarily pay in taxes into a separate bank account and thereby force the federal government by way of the IRS to get a court order to seize those funds.  It was a symbolic way for these people to object to a war they thought was unjust.

The people living in North Carolina and Utah or in some city or county whose actions they disapprove of can do the same thing. When they figure out their state income taxes they can put that money into a separate account and then inform the state that on the basis of their religious belief they object to paying the salaries of registrars who refuse to issue certain licenses and magistrates who refuse to perform certain marriage ceremonies but that they have put the tax money aside in a separate bank account so they won’t accidentally spend it. (In fact if they put those funds in a Wells Fargo bank they will be helping the bank clerks keep their jobs since they are under a quota system for registering new bank accounts.)

The state franchise board can get court orders to release these funds, even though they would be going against the religious beliefs of the people who deposited these monies. Of course the individuals can each bring suit against the state for the sacrilege the state would then be performing.

It all should make interesting headlines in local and national newspapers. And that doesn’t consider the effect it will have on Fox News and the other TV news programs or the late night comedians.  It would be something interesting for the nation to talk about for a while.

English: 14th Amendment of the United States C...

English: 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, page 2. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten ame...

English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution Česky: Originál Listiny práv, prvních deseti dodatků k Ústavě Spojených států amerických Deutsch: Die Bill of Rights genannten ersten zehn Zusatzartikel zur US-amerikanischen Verfassung, die den Bürgern bestimmte Grundrechte garantieren Español: La Carta de Derechos de los Estados Unidos, el término por el que se conocen las diez primeras enmiendas de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Weiner Component #126 – The Current American Political System

On Thursday, June 4, 2015, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for the 2016 Presidential nomination, at a speech at a Texas Southern University, a historic Black college in Huston, accused the GOP (Good Old Party) of dividing Americans over voting rights by attempting to limit the vote among minorities, racial and otherwise, the elderly, and the young, generally college students. Clinton stated that a group of current and former Republican governors have and are “systematically and deliberately” have tried to prevent millions of Americans from voting.

She cited Governor Chris Christie for vetoing a bill in New Jersey to extend early voting. Clinton said that then Governor Jeb Bush had conducted, just prior to the 2,000 Presidential Election, a “deeply flawed purge of eligible voters in Florida by having the names of people who were mistakenly thought to be felons removed from the voting rolls. She accused Scott Walker of Wisconsin of cutting early voting and making it harder for college students to vote. He also passed ID laws which tend to discriminate against minorities who don’t have the required identification.   Rick Perry of Texas, she stated, approved laws that mainly discriminated against minorities.

”It was the first time a presidential candidate had named her potential Republican rivals by name and criticized Governors Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, and Chris Christie.

She called for automatic registration for all people reaching the voting age of 18. This is similar to what presently exists in the state of Oregon, where anyone with a driver’s license from age 18 on is now automatically registered to vote and is mailed a ballot at election time. The choice to vote rests totally with the individuals.

The following day, Friday, June 5, a number of Republican governors verbally attacked Clinton for running a divisive campaign and favoring tax control on voting. Whatever that means?

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, vociferously stated that Clinton didn’t know “the first thing about voting rights in New Jersey” and wanted to have an opportunity “to commit greater acts of voter fraud” around the country. Ohio governor John Kasich stated on Fox News that Clinton was “dividing America.”  Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker denounced her for denouncing him.

Basically the Republican argument is that they are fighting voter fraud.  Even though voter fraud is a small fraction of one percent of the millions of votes cast many Republicans know instinctively, with no other evidence, that that figure is wrong. They argue that what they are doing limits and virtually stops voter fraud.  Sometimes, I get the feeling that voter fraud, in their minds, is any vote cast that is not Republican.  It should also be noted that many Republicans have on occasion admitted publically that they are trying to suppress the vote.

*********************************

There are two major political parties in the United States that can successfully field a presidential election, since this means running fifty separate elections in each of the 50 states and separate federal elections for all the territories and the District of Columbia, with the exception of the island of American Samoa where the population consists of residents rather than citizens of the United States. These two major political parties are the Republican and Democratic Parties.  Of these the majority party is the Democratic one.

One of the major ways the Republicans have been successful in winning political elections has been by suppressing the vote of minorities, women, the aged, and college students. This has been done in numerous ways. Their object is to get certain groups, one way or another, not to vote.

Among the various dirty tricks used in suppressing the vote misinformation about voting procedures is not uncommon. In the recall election for the Wisconsin State Senate, Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization that supported Republicans, sent many Democratic voters a mailing that gave incorrect deadlines for absentee ballots. Voters who relied on the deadline in the mailing sent their ballots in too late to be counted. The organization said that the mistake was a typographical error.

In the 2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal Republican officials attempted to reduce the number of Democratic voters by paying professional telemarketers in Idaho to make repeated hang-up calls to the telephone numbers used by the Democratic Party’s ride-to-the-polls phone line on election day.

In several states a private Republican group, Voters Outreach of America, which had been authorized in a number of states to register voters, collected and submitted Republican voter registration forms but discarded Democratic ones.  The Democratic voters discovered on Election Day that they were not registered and could not vote.

In the 2006 Virginia Senate Election Democratic voters received phone calls informing them that if they voted it would lead to arrest; there were numerous calls fraudulently claiming to be volunteers of the Democratic candidate falsely telling voters that their location had changed; fliers were issued in the Black communities, paid for by the Republican Party, stating, “Skip This Election.”

In the 2008 Presidential Election a review of states records by the New York Times found that there had been numerous illegal actions leading to voter purges.

In the United States there is partisan election administrations in 33 of the 50 states. The majority of the world’s democracies use independent agencies to monitor elections but not the U.S.  These party affiliations can and do create a conflict of interest.  For example, Katherine Harris, Florida’s Secretary of State served as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign during the Presidential Election of 2000.

In Georgia wait times of two to ten hours were reported during early voting at many locations.  In Florida this happened at multiple locations on Election Day during the 2012 Presidential Election.  Various factors, including the reduction of early voting days, reduction in the number of polling places, and an extremely long ballot that included numerous constitutional amendments all combine to add to long waiting times.  It is estimated that 201,000 potential Florida voters were unable to spend the hours needed to be able to vote and thus had their votes suppressed.

In the 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election the Republicans placed thousands of Election Day robocalls to Democratic voters telling them that the Democratic candidate had won, although the polls were still open for two more hours. The Republican phone call was worded as though it came from Democratic headquarters.  It told the Voters to relax, that everything was fine.  All they had to do was watch the victory on TV that night.  The phone calls reached 112,000 voters in the African-American areas of the state.

In 2011, the Republican campaign manager was convicted of fraud and other charges because of the calls. In 2012 he was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, a one year suspended jail sentence, and 50 hours of community service over a four year period of probation with no fine or jail time.

A Florida law, that has been repeated in a number of Republican dominated states, both reduced the number of days for early voting and barred voter-registration activities by such group as the League of Women Voters, teachers in high school and others, making it more difficult to register to vote in those states.

These constitutionally granted voting rights have been and are under nationwide attack, particularly in those states where the Republicans hold the governorship and control of the legislature. The laws lead to significant burdens for eligible voters. These measures include cuts to early voting, voter ID laws, and purges of voter rolls. It also includes dirty tricks. Democratic lawyers have filed legal challenges to voting changes, particularly in Ohio and Wisconsin.

***************************

Among the various forms of voter suppression are photo ID laws. Supporters contend that the photo ID, such as state driver’s licenses or student IDs from state universities are nearly universal and that presenting them is a minor inconvenience, when weighed against voter fraud.  Opponents argue that these requirements disproportionally affect minority, handicapped, and elderly voters who do not normally maintain driver licenses. There is also almost no evidence of voter fraud.  Legislation to impose the restrictive IDs has been prepared by the conservative organization ALEC and sent to conservative state legislatures.

In the U.S. felons are disenfranchised.   In fact the United States is the only democracy in the world that regularly bans large numbers of felon from voting after they have served their sentence.  In 2004 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because of previous felony convictions. Thirteen states permanently disenfranchise convicted felons, eighteen states restore voting rights when after completion of prison, parole, and probation time, four states re-enfranchise convicted felons after they have been released from prison and served their parole, thirteen states allow felons who have been released from prison to vote, and two states do not disenfranchise them at all. This form of voter suppression disproportionally affects minorities, particularly Blacks and Hispanics who it seems make up a good percentage of the prison population.

**********************************

In former Governor Rick Perry’s state, Texas, the voter suppression laws have wide sweeping effects. The U.S. Justice Department estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 Texans were disenfranchised of their vote by the Texas voter ID law implemented in 2014. While the law accepts seven forms of personal identification it was crafted to make sure that poor African Americans and Hispanics would have a very difficult time producing any of those forms of accepted ID.

The accepted forms of ID are: a concealed handgun license, a U.S. military identification card containing the person’s photograph, a U.S. citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph, a U.S. passport, a Texas driver’s license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), a Texas Election identification certificate issued by the DPS, and a Texas personal identification card issued by the DPS. In addition college student IDs are not acceptable forms of identification.

Poor people, as a rule, do not have concealed handgun licenses.  My birth certificate was issued at my birth; it does not contain my picture. The majority of young men do not join the military.  Many poor Texans do not have cars or driver licenses.  A passport cost money to acquire.  Of the other possibilities most poor workers, mainly African Americans and Hispanics do not possess those either.

The official state offices that issue these IDs are not located in every town, and those that exist do not operate every day of the week. None of them are open on weekends when people are off work.

Poor Texans living in a rural area need to take a day off work to go to a town or city where the Department of Public Safety offices exist and they have to pick a day when the office will be open.  If they can find or afford transportation it will take them at least three hours to get to a government office that will issue an ID if it is open and then after they finish it will take them at least three more hours to get home.  They will have lost at least a day’s pay.

The Federal Court in Corpus Christi declared the ID law unconstitutional, in 2014 a Federal judge struck down this law finding that the law was “an unconstitutional poll tax” that had “an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans;” but on appeal the more conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this decision.

**********************************

Voter disenfranchisement in the 2014 election was apparent; it will certainly be an issue in the 2016 Presidential Election.  Wherever possible various Democratic organizations will be and are bringing law suites to limit or stop this practice; but many of the federal judges were appointed by Republican presidents and are partial to Republican demands.  Such, obviously was the case in Texas.

In a number of 2014 races, like North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida, the margin of victory was very close to the margin of disenfranchisement.  With an honest election the results might have been the opposite.

A joint report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the Southern Elections Foundation found that four out of five states that had introduced at least one new restrictive voting measure in 2014 “experienced sharp decreases in voter turnout from the 2010 midterm election, likely due, at least in part, to these laws that made it harder to vote in 2014.  33 states have recently introduced bills that would restrict access to voter registration.

Republican officials have admitted that their efforts are aimed at disenfranchising Democratic voters. In the spring of 2012 the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, told a gathering of Republicans that their voter identification law would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  There have been numerous statements by Republicans before and since the above statement was made indicating that the voter identification laws are mainly a way to suppress the vote of Democratic voters.

Republican generally argue that restrictions on registering and voting are about the integrity of elections; but they have never been able to prove that any American election has been stolen by voter fraud, (at least by the Democrats).

There is an interesting note of irony here. The Caucasian or White population in the United States no longer makes up the majority of the population.  It is a large minority among other large minorities.  And every year its number shrinks in comparison to the other large minorities. How long can the Republican successfully play their games? Even with several million voters across the United States deprived of their vote Barak Obama won in 2012.  The same is true for a lot of local, state, and federal elections. The Republicans may feel they’re riding high at present but every year there are less and less of them in the overall population.  It would seem that compared to the rest of the population they are largely sterile.

 

November 4: Barack Obama elected President
November 4: Barack Obama elected President (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Weiner Component #125 – The Bush Presidencies

George H. W. Bush

Cover of George H. W. Bush

Barbara Bush stated, when her son Jeb said publically that he was going to run for the Presidency of the United States, that the country didn’t need another Bush president.

**********************

George H.W. Bush (Daddy Bush) joined the Air Force as an 18 year old during World War II and served for the duration of the war. Shortly after he formed his own oil company and then became a Republican Congressman in the House of Representatives.  President Gerald Ford later appointed him as CIA Director on January 30, 1976.  He served in that office until January 20, 1977.  He became President Ronald Reagan’s Vice President on January 20, 1981 and remained in that position for eight years.  Toward the end of his term he ran for President of the United States and was elected.  He would serve one term as President and then be defeated by the Democratic candidate, William (Bill) Jefferson Clinton.

As Vice President, Bush would be involved in the Iran-Contra Affair that flaunted the Constitution of the United States.  Ronald Reagan was convinced that the Contras, a group of terrorists operating in Nicaragua, were really Freedom Fighters trying to free Nicaragua from its elected Socialist government.  Congress refused to fund this enterprise.  Reagan and his assorted Secretaries then decided to get the money needed to fund this operation by illegally selling arms to Iran.  Vice President George H.W. Bush was clearly involved in this enterprise.  He served as a courier for Reagan; the evidence clearly exists.  When Dan Rather, the CBS lead reporter in a televised interview tried to trap him into admitting this fact, President Bush refused to answer the question and Dan Rather was later fired.

As President, Bush sent a roving female ambassador-at-large or a plenipotentiary with very general instructions to Saddam Hussein, in Iraq.  Bush was obviously striking a blow for Women’s Rights.  In the Middle East, particularly at that time, women were considered second-class citizens that would never be entrusted with anything really important.  By sending a female Hussein understood that his forthcoming invasion of Kuwait was of low priority to the United States and he consequently invaded that country.  This resulted in Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait by the United States and some of its allies.  Bush was smart enough to end the war at the border of Iraq.

To Hussein, George Bush had given a clear message and he reneged on it.  Impotently he threatened to have President George H.W. Bush assassinated.  Bush’s son, George W. Bush, would react to this threat later on when he went to war with Iraq.

The Kuwait rescue war called Operation Desert Storm would never have happened if President George H.W. Bush, who should have known better, had sent a male diplomat with clear authority to negotiate with Saddam Hussein.  He, Saddam, would have known that any Iraqi invasion would result in the U.S. and other Western Powers getting involved if Iraq invaded Kuwait or any other country.  Bush’s inability to properly handle this situation brought about a totally unnecessary war.

So much for the Presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, a president we could have done without.

*********************************

In the entire history of the United States there were two men who became president with the majority of the population voting for the other candidate

The first was the Election of 1876 where the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes received 4,034,311 popular votes but ended up with 185 electoral votes to Samuel J. Tilden who received 4,288,546 popular votes and 184 electoral votes.  What happened was that 20 electoral votes were contested.  Several states had two sets of electors, one set of Democratic Electors and one set of Republican Electors.  Both groups claimed to have been directly elected by the public. The debate continued on until the night before the new President was to be sworn-in.   A compromise was reached literally hours before the new President was to take office. The Republicans wanted the presidency; the Democrats wanted to formally end Civil War Reconstruction.  Each political party got what they most desired: a Republican became President and the army was withdrawn from the Southern States.

The second instance was the election of George W. Bush in November of 2000.  He had 50,456,002 popular votes to Al Gore’s 50,999,897 popular votes.  The problem there was the State of Florida whose governor was George W. Bush’s baby brother, Jeb Bush.  The person in charge of that election was a staunch Republican.  Either Jeb Bush instigated or knew about a highly flawed voter purge of the voter registry, just prior to the 2000 Election that removed mainly registered Democrats from the voter lists in the state.  These were mostly minorities who would probably vote the Democratic ticket. The faulty purge was touted as removing felons from the list of registered voters.

In addition a number of election ballots came up faulty because of the way they were set up.  One had to punch out the candidate of his or her choice and the instructions were vague.  A goodly number of ballots were incorrectly or partially punched.  These had to be individually examined and the choices determined individually; a long, tedious process, which was terminated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William D. Rehnquist.  The majority of those ballots were never counted giving the electoral votes for the State of Florida to Bush, and giving him 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266.  Thus George Walker Bush became the President of the United States.  Did his baby brother, Jeb help him get elected?  Certainly.

Since this was the second time this had happened, that the will of the majority had been thwarted there should have been a Constitutional Amendment doing away with the Electoral College and having the President named by the direct vote of the people.  After all the concept of the Electoral College was created in post-colonial times when communication was very difficult.  It is no longer needed.  And there also have been times when Electors voted for people for whom they had not been chosen to elect.  We seem to hang on to some tenants of government that are totally obsolete.

Will Rogers, the comic philosopher of the 1920s, among other things, said that the members of Congress are like children with hammers who have been let into a China Shop.   They make messes but don’t do much damage.  About Calvin Coolidge, who was President at the time, he said that it wasn’t that he did nothing, it was that he did it better than anyone else.  In George W. Bush’s case he did something and it was worse than anything else he could have done.  Without realizing what his actions would bring about he destabilized the Middle East and we are still attempting, not too successfully, to deal with this problem today.  Bush, in a manner of speaking, opened up a Pandora’s Box; and its reverberations have created ISIS and other functioning terrorist groups throughout the Middle East.

Through ignorance or naivety Bush destabilized the Balance of Power that existed throughout the Middle East.  He indirectly caused numerous deaths, both of American soldiers and Iraqis, and the mayhem which still exists.  Apparently he thought that the people of Iraq would be thankful to the United States if he got rid of Saddam Hussein. With no glimmer of understanding of the Middle East he invaded Iraq supposedly looking for weapons of mass destruction.

The choosing of Bush as President had done irrevocable damage to the world stage by creating what seems to be an unsolvable problem.  If Al Gore had been President, as he should have been, the U.S. would never have gone into Iraq.  At the time of the U.S. preemptive invasion the United Nations was sending inspectors to that country checking for weapons of mass destruction.  In fact, they asked the U.S. for more time in order to continue their inspections looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.  With Al Gore as president sanity would have prevailed.  There would have been no Iraqi war. The stability of the Middle East would have prevailed.  It seems Will Rogers was wrong about elected government officials; they can, at times, do irrevocable harm to their country and the rest of the world.

How will the current Middle East problem be solved?  That’s an interesting question to which nobody seems to have a real answer.  In essence the Republicans who are interested in running for the presidency in 2016 are talking about getting tough in the Middle East, whatever that means.  In essence George Bush junior and his cohorts screwed up a situation by going to war with Iraq with no real comprehension of what they were doing.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, his Vice President, and Donald Rumsfeld, his Secretary of Defense apparently conceived of war with Iraq as a win, win situation.  They thought the people of Iraq would welcome the U.S. with open arms for freeing them from the Dictator, Saddam Hussein.  They visualized that they could set up a democracy similar to that of the U.S.  In essence they visualized how they would behave if they were Iraqis and the U.S. invaded their country; but they aren’t Iraqis and the Iraqis had an entirely different psyche.  What they ended up bringing about was a situation that existed between the two major Islamic sects: the Sunni and the Shia.  What resulted in Iraq was a government we created but couldn’t control, where the Sunni majority actually persecuted the Shia minority.  It was a situation where the tail wagged the dog.  We created a government but couldn’t control it.  In fact it was similar to the situation that had existed in Vietnam.  Somehow this country never learns from its past mistakes.

***************************

George Walker Bush had been born on July 6, 1946. He was 54 years old when he was elected to the presidency.  As a businessman he had not done too well in the oil business.  In fact he might have been known as “Dry Hole Bush,” as he was responsible for drilling many of them.  The Bush family was well to do having made lots of money in oil.  George W. became Texas governor in 1994 and was elected president in 2000. Eight months into his first term, September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City and Bush responded by launching the War on Terror.

It was during this period of the War on Terror that the Afghanistan War against Al-Qaeda, who had destroyed the Twin Towers, began and was followed by the preemptive attack against Iraq, whose leader, Saddam Hussein, had threatened to have Bush’s “Daddy” assassinated that he inaugurated a major tax cut, mostly for the well-to-do.  Bush also inaugurated “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners (torture, usually water boarding), which apparently never really worked.  This type of treatment, with the exception of the last phase of the Spanish American War at the tail end of the 19th Century, had never existed before or since his administration in the history of the United States.

Water boarding is a process of taking the prisoner to the point of drowning.  Some prisoners were water boarded well over a hundred times.

To be fair Bush also inaugurated Medicare prescription benefits for seniors.  He also added funding for the Aids program.  Basically with his wars and everything he spent a lot more money, some wastefully, than the government took in in taxes, massively increasing the National Debt.

***************************

When I look at a certain print hanging in a corner of my living room I think of George W. Bush’s 2004 political campaign when he ran against the Democratic senator, John Kerry.  The print was done by a 19th Century Spanish satiric artist, Francisco Goya.  It depicts a monkey painting a jackass white and is entitled “Neither more nor less.”  That is what happened in the 2004 Presidential Election.  John Kerry, a Vietnam War hero, who is currently Secretary of State, ran against George W. Bush.  Karl Rove, Bush’s senior advisor and deputy chief of staff ran the campaign for Bush.  He painted Kerry as a villain, ignoring his true military record and presented Bush as a military hero, even though Bush had never left Texas as a member of the state’s National Guard and had been AWOL a number of times.  In addition he had tested poorly for the flying school and had only been accepted because his father was in Congress.  It was an interesting version of painting a jackass white and a hero black.

In essence it would seem that George Walker Bush visualized himself as the sheriff who symbolically came to Iraq with his army, got rid of the bad guys, and allowed the so-called good guys to run the country.  He never left the U.S. during his presidency, and passed the problem of his wars on to his successor.  Also he never accepted responsibility for his actions.  He left a mess which can still take decades or longer to clean up.

***************************

Since the beginning of the year of 2015 Jeb Bush has been vigorously campaigning for the presidency of the U.S. and avidly raising money for his super pact.  Since it is illegal for a candidate to be connected in any way with his super pact Bush had not announced that he is formally a candidate.  He didl not formally make up his mind until June 15, 2015, that is a little over six months into his presidential campaign.  From what I understand his goal was to raise 100 million dollars in his super pact before he made his announcement.

Bush is made a mockery of the current election system in this country.  He had been actively campaigning for over six months, with one careless exception, as a potential candidate who had not formally made up his mind.  In essence he has pushed the envelope to the extreme limit on the election laws.  What does this tell us about his integrity if he were to be elected president?

********************************

Jeb (John Ellis) Bush is the second son of George H.W. and Barbara Bush.  He was elected Governor of Florida in 1999 and served two terms, eight years.  He was the first governor to serve two terms in that state.

On December 16, 2014 he announced that he would explore the possibility of running for President in 2016.  Since that time he had been energetically raising money for his presidential campaign of which he did not officially become a candidate until June 15, 2015.  That is six and ½ months after beginning his campaign.

Politically Jeb Bush is a Conservative Republican who envisions some movement to the Left by his party.  In April 2013 he authored an article for Newsweek Magazine in which he urged Conservatives to be a party of “growth and opportunity.”  He warned that America’s entitlement system risked collapse unless there was a correction in public policy.  Bush recommended a six point plan for the Conservative Movement.  This included tax reform, education reform, a welcoming immigration system, regulatory reform, and pro-family policies.  In October of 2013 he called for immigration reform. Obviously a lot of this did not go down with the Tea Party.

As Governor of Florida Bush was a proponent of school vouchers and charter schools, particularly in the areas of failing schools.  He firmly refused to raise taxes for schools. He obviously didn’t want to solve problems by throwing money at them.

In fact JED reduced taxes over his tenure by $19 billion, eliminated civil service protection to over 16,000 state jobs, issued an executive order that removed racial preference in state contracts, supporting over a dozen new protections for gun owners, led the first state in 2005 to pass stand your ground laws, and was opposed to abortion.

He was directly involved in the Terri Schiavo case.  This woman had massive brain damage and was on a feeding tube for over fifteen years.  Her husband and legal guardian wished to remove the tube.  Her parents were opposed to this move.  The governor signed a law, “Terri’s law,” that authorized him to keep Schiavo on life support. The case was appealed in the Federal Courts.  After the law was declared unconstitutional in the Florida Supreme Court the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.  By then Terri Schiavo had died.

Jeb Bush seems to be a progressive conservative Republican.  He has played games with the election laws which has allowed him to raise about 100 million dollars for his super pack.   He gave up control of that entity when he directly announced that he is running for the presidency.

Jeb has been touted as being the smartest of the Bush children.  During his pre-election campaign, which ended in the middle of June 2015, he emerged as a highly opinionated, righteous individual whose spoken word should always be taken as sacrosanct.  He seems to believe that it’s his turn to be President.  Fortunately a good percentage of registered Republicans do not agree with him.  He is not the frontrunner of the party.  In fact the number of possible Republican presidential candidates is overwhelming.  It seems to be open season for Republicans who want to be the next President of the United States.

Currently Jeb Bush’s advisors are the same individuals who advised his brother.  From his speeches and other remarks on foreign affairs he appeared to be not too cognizant of the rest of the world.  His experts are the same people who helped his brother George decide on invading Iraq.  This group could easily get us into another war in the Middle East, this time with Iran.  The U.S. fighting three different wars at the same time (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran) could bring back the draft and lead to oncoming and other disasters.

By his current actions one has to question Bush’s integrity.  Why play games with the election laws?  His actions just prior to the 2000 Election, both purging the registered voter list and the faulty ballots seem to be what got his brother elected to the presidency.  Would he act the same way if he were elected?

On Monday, June 15 2015, months after JEB officially announced to the world, surrounded by avid supporters, that he would run for the Presidency of the United States.  And all this after he had collected approximately $100 million dollars for his super-pact.  He stated that he was running because the country needs a competent President.

To my mind he didn’t mention the Terri Schiavo incident where he got the state to force her family to essentially keep a brain dead woman alive.  And no mention was made of the faulty purge of registered voters shortly before his brother’s election in 2000 under the guise that they were clearing the registration rolls of convicted felons.   Of course in his mind it is possible that all Democrats are potential felons and the real legal voters are or should be all Republican.

Do we need another Bush in the White House?  Is his mother, Barbara Bush, correct in her initial statement?  Do we need another Bush as President?  Haven’t we had enough unnecessary wars so far?  Do we need another Bush as President of the United States

 

 

 

Al Gore

Cover of Al Gore

 

 

 

 

 

The Weiner Component #124 – Justice in America Part3: The Big Banks & the Federal Reserve

The big banking houses, like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and J.P Morgan-Chase to name a few, that have member banks throughout the United States, seemingly are sacrosanct, they can be fined for illegal or immoral actions but no perpetrator ever goes to prison.  Presumably the reason for this is that currently the country is dependent upon them for the movement of money throughout the national economy.  It is felt that if anything were to happen to them then the nation would go into a serious depression. Since they are presumably indispensable they can and do generally get away with actions that would cause people ordinarily to be sent to prison,

This condition exists because people are afraid of change; they are used to what they have and see anything different as too big a risk.

The banks exist in a free market economy as entities that persist for profit using money, people’s deposits, the safety of which the Federal Government guarantees, for their own general speculations.  In point of fact they are an oligarchy, which under the late 19th Century Sherman Anti-Trust Act is an illegal combination in restraint of trade.  It’s a no lose situation for the banks whose management have no morals in the use of the people’s money

***************************

Following is an edited version of The Weiner Component #57D -The Federal Reserve,

It became obvious during the Panic of 1907 that the Federal Government had no controls over banking practices in the United States.  The Panic was caused by speculators attempting to corner the market on United Copper Company stock.  Failure to do this led to the collapse of the Knickerbockers Trust Company, New York City’s third largest trust.  The failure spread fear throughout the City’s Trusts.  Panic extended across the nation as large numbers of people withdrew their deposits from regional banks.  At the time the United States did not have a central bank to inject liquidity back into the market.  The following year a Senate commission investigated the crisis and proposed future solutions, leading to the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913.

The Federal Reserve (FED) is the central banking system of the United States.  It was created in December of 1913 by the passing of the Federal Reserve Act.  This was largely in response to a series of financial panics, particularly the Panic of 1907.  The Federal Reserve consists of twelve regional Banks located throughout the United States, with the main branch in Washington, D.C.  The chairman of the Federal Reserve heads this bank.  Over time the roles and responsibilities of the FED have expanded and its structure has evolved.  It is still in this process of evolution as new financial crises occur.

It was through the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, with the compliance of Presidents Bush and Obama that the nation was saved from total economic disaster caused by the Real Estate Debacle of 2008 that was brought about by the Financial Institutions within the United States.  The assorted banking houses had been bundling and selling mortgages for about the last thirty years; maintaining control over these mortgages with no cash investment in them and then continually using the funds from the sales to issue new mortgages.  The banks made fat profits from continually handling all this paper.

There had been a need for more funds in the National Cash Flow and, in this manner, the banks kept adding money to the economy.  By 2007 the level of money creation reach a point of insanity with a larger and larger percentage going to the banks.  At this point most bankers were in denial that the system could crash and the insanity continued until the crash came toward the end of 2008.

The problem that existed from the 1970s on was a great need for a continual increase in currency in the National Cash Flow to keep up with needed economic growth.  The FED was not in a position to fulfill this need; the banks did so by inflating the value of property, particularly owned homes; and the process became a way of life until it was abused and over-abused and the bubble burst to the point of destroying the economy, if the Federal Government had not interceded and saved it.

Paul Volcker headed a committee that proposed new laws that would reign in bank excesses and put the country on a solid financial footing again but bank lobbyists got these proposals watered down and since 2009 the major banking houses have again endangered the economy by their excesses.  This does not even consider the damage that has been done to a multitude of individual households where, in many cases, the homeowners have lost their homes through bank foreclosures, a number of which were illegal, mainly because the banks did not own the mortgages.  The Federal Government has responded with massive fines for malfeasance but with no criminal cases against any banks or individuals who have brought these abuses into being.  It is time for a change in the situation.  For one or many forms of reform to bring these banks into line with the needs of the American public.

In 2014 Senator Elizabeth Warren made a public statement which was that the big banking conglomerates should be broken up.  A similar situation had occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century when President Theodore Roosevelt had gone after a number of monopolies and caused them to break up.  John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, among others, had been broken up into a number of companies, all with the title of Standard Oil of a particular state.  Each controlled by John D. Rockefeller.

The only way this process can be successfully done and end the irresponsible banking oligarchy in the United States is to upgrade the powers of the Federal Reserve so they can fully and effectively carry out their function of keeping the public safe from the excesses of the financial institutions and also keep the economy at a healthy level.

***************************

How can this be done?  The major banking houses must once again become institutions that deal specifically with people and businesses.  They must become either commercial banks or investment banks; they can no longer be both.  And if some or many continue as investment banks then the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) must no longer insure their deposits.

Also the Federal Reserve must have its power extended to be able to instantly add or subtract currency from or to the National Cash Flow.  Ben Bernanke did this as the FED chairman.  But he did it in a very interesting or sneaky fashion.  He added 45 billion dollars a month to the National Cash Flow by buying up mortgage paper within the 50 states and then ignoring the paper because they were fractional bits of mortgages which didn’t give the FED control of any of the properties. Instead they also solved the housing crisis mess that the banks created and put money in the pockets of a number of homeowners who had stopped paying their mortgages.  These people suddenly had money to spend.

In addition Congress needs to take a revolutionary step, it has to increase the power of the FED so that it is able to lend money directly to homeowners and small businesses. Each of the Twelve Federal Reserve Banks must also get the power to set up their own lending banks within each of the Twelve FED Zones.

After the 2008 & 2009 Bailouts the banks did not function as they had before the crash. They hoarded their funds and looked for investments that would give them large returns; these were largely in the futures market.  In essence from 2009 on the major banks, which had been saved by the Federal Government and indirectly the taxpayers, found ways to exploit the general public for their own benefit.  They actually worked against economic recovery.  The contention at that point in 2009 that once the Financial Institutions were saved they would return to their traditional roll was a myth since the large banks were solely motivated by the profit motif and could care less about the welfare of the individual worker and homeowner, or for that matter, the welfare of the country.

Since private enterprise, particularly private enterprise backed economically by the Federal Government cannot be trusted with the welfare of the nation it has become necessary for the Government to insure that welfare and that can only be done by the Government taking over the financial structure of the nation in the name of the “People” for the “Common Good” and not for profit.

There will be problems in establishing this system but they can gradually be resolved. There are the smaller banking houses and the Credit Unions that have generally functioned for the welfare of the general public.  Should they continue to be part of the system?  Do they continue to have FDIC insurance?  These questions will be answered as we go along.

The major banks in the United States, JP Morgan Chase, the Bank of America, Wells Fargo, to cite a few examples, have grown in size since the 2008 Disaster.  They are today too big to fail.  Their demise could bring down the economy of the United States and possibly also some of the European nations.  In essence they hold the world prisoner while they act making all sort of economic decisions for their own benefits using public funds.

We need, at this point, to take a closer look at the banks and their ownership and control.  The stockholders obviously own the financial institutions but the people who control these companies and make all the decisions would be the CEO and all the upper management.  The actual owners of the banking concerns have almost no say in what happens in these companies.

The compensation packages of the upper echelon runs into the multi-millions of dollars. The stock dividends of a company like the Bank of America runs into the pennies. The Bank of America pays one cent per share per quarter or four cents per share of stock each year, actually within the last year or so B of A raised its dividend 2 cents a year; it now pays 6 cents a year per share.  One hundred shares of stock that cost anything from $14 to $17 per share pays 6 dollars a year.  For an investment of approximately $1,500 the shareholder earns $6.00 per year.  So much for owning stock in The Bank of America!  The other major banks pay more but not significantly more in dividends.

What happens to all the fabulous profits that the Bank of America makes?  Most of it goes to management as salaries, compensation, and bonuses.  If the Bank of America is a true example of American banking then the financial institutions are making money for the sake of making money.

It is a sad commentary if one remembers President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s comment that he made once during the Great Depression and again later during World War II that an individual can only spend so much during a year, that to earn far more is a total waste in terms of society and that this excess should be taxed, which currently it is as an unbelievably low rate.

The heads of the various banks earn more, in many cases, in one year than they can reasonably spend in a lifetime.  Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase had his yearly compensation package cut, after bank losses, from 22 million to only 11 million a year.  This, then, becomes the function of banks in the United States and beyond. It is a silly or stupid reason for running the finances of a nation.

The American economy deals with the needs of over 350 million people.  This is a complex issue.  The large banking houses have failed the public.  To what extent should they be allowed to continue to exploit them?  Or should these major Financial Institutions go off on their own in a Free Market System, functioning within the law and succeeding or failing without protection from the Federal Government and the taxpayers?

Taken together all the games, illegal and otherwise, that the banks have played have been in the trillions of dollars, the fines that the banks have paid have been in the billions of dollars.  How many trillions have the banks extorted; how many average Americans have the banks ruined; and how many additional trillions will they extort before this current system is changed?  Even with new Volcker rules the current system is bankrupt, incapable of working for the welfare of the people.

It is time for a basic, realistic change in the way finance works within the nation.  The needs of the people are far more important than the quirks of the modern day bankers.

As a footnote: considering the blog before this one, the teachers who were found guilty of the RICO Act and given jail sentences and fines for cheating on their student’s tests were guilty of far less criminal acts than these bankers.  If any of the bankers were tried under the same RICO Law they would all get far greater sentences and fines than were given to the teachers.  It would seem that this is an excellent example of Justice in America.

 

 

Logo of the United States Federal Deposit Insu...

 

Description: Newspaper clipping USA, Woodrow W...

Description: Newspaper clipping USA, Woodrow Wilson signs creation of the Federal Reserve. Source: Date: 24 December 1913 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

English: A map of the 12 districts of the Unit...

English: A map of the 12 districts of the United States Federal Reserve system. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Weiner Component #124 – Part 2: Justice in America – RICO, Wells Fargo, the Big Banks, & Duke Energy

Justice in America is an interesting subject. If nothing else it is known for its basic unfairness. In essence each crime bases its punishment upon a separate law which generally has nothing to do with any other law.

In Atlanta, Georgia eight teachers and administrators were convicted after a six month trial and eight day jury deliberation of racketeering in a state version of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), which was passed in 1970 and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon. It was and is a law aimed against organized crime syndicates. The law has been used against mafia leaders, Hells Angels, the Catholic Church in sex abuse cases, the Key West, Florida Police Department, Michael Milken, the “junk bond king,” pro-life activists, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Atlanta teachers and administrators for changing test answers.

In the case of the teachers the Districts that did not meet  minimum achievement standards were punished financially. The Atlanta schools where the test answers were changed were located in the poor Black ghetto areas of the city. Unfortunately many of those children did not have the advantage of parents who had succeeded economically within the society because of proper schooling.  Many lived in crowded quarters with limited or no space for study.  Many probably did not have proper nourishment to function as proper students.

Yet every child in the state took the same test and was expected to succeed at least upon the same minimum level.  The law, No Child Left Behind, had good intent but was extremely bad law in that it tried to legislate how students would progress throughout public school.  It created a situation where cheating was rife throughout the nation by economically punishing schools that failed to meet its goals.

Since the trial numerous school districts have opted out of yearly testing.  Apparently the small percentage of their yearly budget paid by the Federal Government is not worth the risk of being forced to falsify tests.

******************************

Wells Fargo, one of the major banking houses in the United States, is being sued by both a former customer and in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seeking class action status in accusing it of fostering a high pressure sales that ended up deceiving and defrauding him and customers nationwide, and also by the City of Los Angeles for forcing its employees to engage “in unfair, unlawful and fraudulent conduct.”  The L.A. civil complaint was filed Monday, May 4, 2015, in the Los Angeles State Court.

It seems that Wells Fargo has rigid sales quotas that force employees if they want to keep their jobs to open unauthorized accounts for customers and charging them fees for this and, in many cases, damaging their credit when they do not pay these fees of which they may have no knowledge.

According to the suits there is a pervasive culture of high pressure sales at the banking houses.  Employees have misused customer confidential information and often failed to close unauthorized accounts even when customers complained.  Some employees raided client accounts for money to open additional accounts.  The result of all this is that Wells Fargo has generated a fee generating machine through which its customers are financially harmed.  The employees take the blame and Wells Fargo reaps the profit.

Wells Fargo also failed to notify its customers of the breaches and refund fees that were taken out of their accounts. In addition the suits states that they, Wells Fargo, did not remedy the injuries its bankers caused.

Wells Fargo blamed the problem upon a few rogue employees who have been disciplined or fired. The bank personnel stated that Wells Fargo’s culture is focused on the best interests of its customers, that they receive only the products and services they need and from which they will benefit.

The L.A. suit was filed under an unfair business practices law that permits attorneys representing large California cities to seek redress for customers throughout the state. According to the suit Wells Fargo employees violated state and federal laws by misusing confidential information and by failing to notify customers when their personnel information was breached. The lawsuit seeks a court order shutting down the wrongdoing, along with penalties of $2,500 for every violation and restitution for every customer who was harmed.

A banking consultant stated that he was surprised to hear of Wells Fargo branch managers required to take conference calls four times a day to report to higher-ups on how each employee was doing in meeting quotas.

What we have here is a perfect example of practices that would fall under the RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act).  Why has not the Federal Government gone after these people?  I would suspect that just one criminal case would end these and similar behavior by all the big banking houses.

The banks by their irresponsible behavior brought about the economic collapse of late 2008, the Real Estate Bubble bursting, when the country could have faced an economic disaster far larger than the Great Depression of 1929. The country was saved by the taxpayers bailing out the banks during the early administration of President Barak Obama.

The banks have paid fines for their misbehavior by paying fines that are probably about 10% of the monies they extorted.  They paid multi millions in fines but gained, in many cases, illegally billions of dollars.  No one went to jail for their actions and the banks paid about ten cents for every dollar they took in.

Ultimately we are dependent upon the banks for the flow of currency throughout the economy . We need them in order for the society to function.  The big banks, particularly since the 2008 Real Estate Debacle, have become much too big to fail. Every account by the public which the banks use is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for up to ½ million dollars. If the banks were to fail the Federal Government or the taxpayers would be responsible for these amounts. In addition they, the banks, are necessary for are all the services that these institutions perform for people and the businesses within the country. The secession of functioning by one or more of the major banking houses, like Wells Fargo or J.P. Morgan Chase, would affect the entire economy in a very adverse manner. It could bring about a serious recession or depression.

We are in a manner of speaking at the mercy of these major banking houses to which the public and businesses entrust their funds for these entities to use in exploiting us for their own profits

Interestingly, even though Wells Fargo is being sued, a number of financial advisors are currently recommending their stock as a good buy . It seems that banks are sued all the time and they always come through at minor costs with no one executive ever being really disciplined or going to jail for illegal behavior.  Yet looking at the RICO Act virtually every one of the major banking houses could easily have been convicted of racketeering.

NOTE:   If the reader feels more evidence is needed then read: The Weiner Component #57A The Rapacious Banks, #57B The Rapaciousness of Banks, & #57C The Rapaciousness of Banks. A proposed solution to this problem will appear next week.

*****************************************************

In addition to the banks exploiting the people and companies that supply them with the money to use for their often nefarious projects there are industries that pollute the air and water that people breathe and drink. One of these blatant polluters, who has a history of this type of action, is Duke Energy, one of the biggest, if not the largest employer in North Carolina.

Shortly before the middle of May 2015 Duke Energy pleaded guilty to nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act for polluting four major rivers for four years with toxic coal ash from five power plants in North Carolina.  The utility had been surreptitiously dumping coal ash into the rivers that supplied drinking water to a number of cities for a number of years.  Apparently the people who ran the utility felt that the amount of poison that any one individual might drink was not enough to really harm them and that this was the cheapest way to get rid of the coal ash.

The 50.5 billion dollar company was fined 102 million dollars and placed on five years’ probation for environmental crimes.  Company compliance related to coal ash in five states will be overseen by a court appointed monitor and reported to a probation officer. The utility lawyer pleaded guilty nine times to each of the nine charges.

Duke Energy has a history of polluting water and air, and that is not just rivers but also groundwater. This plea bargain dealt with just polluting rivers, very little is being done otherwise.

Looking at what happened at Duke, with the guilty pleas and their history of pollution a RICO case can again be easily made against some of its executives.  Just one criminal case for attempting to prison the public would end the tendencies to be lackadaisical by the utility and many other similar companies about air and water pollution.

Why doesn’t the government do this?  Why can they prosecute teachers but not executives who cheat the public or pollute

English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, Ca...

English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Wells Fargo Advisors

Wells Fargo Advisors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Wells Fargo Tower

Wells Fargo Tower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Weiner Component #124 – Part 1: Justice in America

Whenever I think of Justice in America a song from one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s light opera’s, the Mikado, pops into my head: “To let the Punishment Fit the Crime.” Somehow this seems to fit the pattern of what is generally believed about crime and justice in the United States.  One can make up a chart of criminal acts going from the most to the least serious and the penalties would range accordantly. Going from death to a small fine. It’s as though everything is balanced in a giant pattern of fairness.

Unfortunately none of this is valid. There are in the United States fifty states and a Federal Government.  Each has its own system of laws.  Where state laws contradict Federal laws the Federal laws override the state.  Each of these laws that is passed by the legislative body of the state or by Congress pertains to a specific wrong-doing. There is no giant table of all the levels of crimes committed and punishment deals with each specific crime.  There is no scale of fairness; a minor crime could have a more serious penalty, in many instances, than a more serious one.

********************************

In Atlanta, Georgia, eleven public elementary school teachers and administrators were found guilty in a school cheating test.  They were tried under the RICO law.  The state version of the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.”  The original law was nicknamed the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon.

Under RICO, a person who has committed at least two acts of racketeering activity drawn from a list of 35 crimes, 27 federal and 8 state crimes, within a 10 year period can be charged with racketeering.  Those found guilty can be fined up to $25,000 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for each racketeering count.  A RICO related charge is considered easy to prove in court because it focuses on patterns of behavior rather than criminal acts.

While RICO has been used in numerous non-mob-organized crime cases it had never before been utilized against teachers and administrators in a school district.  In fact considering the current Wells Fargo law-suite now in which the giant banking concern is accused of violating customer privacy, opening an endless number of accounts for many of its customers in many cases with forged signatures and charging them fees for all of their accounts, many of which the customers had no knowledge.  And all of this was done to increase Wells Fargo’s profit margins.  The bank employees were pressured to enroll an impossible number of new accounts or risk losing their jobs.  This smacks more of fraud and extortion than anything the teachers and administrators have done.  But apparently federal prosecutors can be very selective where they apply RICO.

********************************

Early in the Administration of George W. Bush Congress passed and the President signed into law the “No Child Left Behind Act.”  The bill is based upon the premise that setting high standards and testing to see that they are accomplished by regularly testing student basic skills would improve individual outcomes in education and allow each child to improve above a minimum standard.  The results of these tests would also check the individual teacher’s level of competence.

In addition Common Core was established which attempted to standardize these levels throughout all the states.  The theory being that if a youngster moved from one district to another or from one state to another he/she would easily be able to adjust to the new school because it would be similar to the one he/she came from.  The object was to have one standard throughout the nation.  How realistic is this, even within the same state?

The Bill requires that each state set up minimum learning standards in basic skills: reading, writing, and mathematics, in every public school receiving Federal financial aid, that the states develop their own written testing instruments, and then have each school test yearly.  Those showing improvement would have their Federal funding increased; those not showing improvement would have their funding decreased.  This means that all students, including disabled, disadvantaged, and non-English speaking youngsters, in the same state take the same test under the same conditions.  The students must make yearly progress, doing better each succeeding year than they did earlier.  If a school’s performance is repeatable poor then steps are to be taken to improve student grades.  Also the funding for this program by Congress was never fully implemented.

If an individual considers this measure he/she should immediately see a multitude of problems.  Does any law making body actually have control over the progress each student, from elementary school through secondary school in the entire nation, can achieve?  Is the state able to legislate the extent of learning that will occur over a period of a year?  For that matter, can the rate of the ocean currents be legislated?  The state can motivate but it can’t decree.

If a teacher, in order to be successful, needs to have her students do well on these tests what will he/she mostly teach?  Much of the regular curriculum will diminish, possibly even to the point of non-existence while the 3R’s will be emphasized.

Also the early 2000s was a time of economic recession.  Both the Federal Government and the states saw their yearly budgets decrease.  Many states cut their education budgets at this time and the House of Representatives, where all spending legislation begins, was loath to properly fund this measure.

Even with proper funding the entire concept is not only ridiculous, it is also impossible to properly achieve; it would be like passing a law changing natural phenomena and then being upset because nothing changed or having the legislators being lied to about changing the course of nature.

*****************************

This underfunded law is administered by each of the 50 states.  They individually have a test generated for them by experts for each grade level, which determines the reading, writing, and mathematical level for each public school student in the state. That’s a total of fifty different state-tests for each grade level.

Every single student at each grade level throughout each state takes the same general test.  Each state has a record of every single student in the state because they pay ADA, a specific amount for each student to each school district.  In fact, according to a 2005 study on funding in the United States the states pay 48.7% of the cost of educating public school students; local government, usually through property taxes, spends 42.8%; and federal programs such as No Child Left Behind spend 8 ½%.  The students in the richer districts, generally upper middle class neighborhoods and beyond generally are better financed than less prosperous districts.

Upper middle class districts take the same test as students in the ghettos and barrios. It’s been my experience that the students in the barrios speak the language of their parents both at home and in their neighborhoods.  In California this tends to be mostly Spanish.  English is their second language and is generally spoken only in public school.  Their neighborhoods tend to be foreign islands within the American landscape.

In terms of the poor or lower class English-speaking areas or districts, generally, education is a low priority.  In middle class neighborhoods learning could go from disinterest to high priority.  One of the problems with disinterest is that a number of students don’t want to take the test.  They get no reward from it.  Consequently a percentage will answer the questions, which are multiple choice and machine graded, without bothering to read the questions.

One of the aims of these tests is to evaluate the effectiveness of the teachers.  If a teacher gets a class where a large number refuse to properly take the test or are generally non English speaking then he/she would be rated as incompetent.

From every aspect these test are ludicrous. They attempt to take an entity that is largely abstract and requires subjective evaluation and then turn it into something concrete and absolute that can be tested by a multiple choice examination.

Most of the premises of this law, “No Child Left Behind,” which was created by legislators who know little about education and are mostly lawyers, is complete nonsense.  You can’t legislate the how and way children will be educated.

Unlike European nations, in the United States education is a right.  In Europe and Asia it is a privilege.  Unfortunately in the U.S. a percentage of the students don’t want to exercise that right.

**********************************

Can School Districts or even individual schools cheat on this test? The states tend to have a record of each student since they pay the schools districts based upon the number of students attending.  Are answers being changed in schools throughout the fifty states and U.S. possessions?  Considering that there are hundreds of thousands of school districts in this country of over 350 million people, the answer would be in the affirmative as long as there is heavy pressure upon the teachers to be successful.  This pressure, at times, can mean, keeping their jobs.

Are answers being changed in many elementary and secondary schools?  The answer would be in the affirmative.  Can all these tests be checked for evidence of cheating? The cost, both in time and money, would be phenomenal.

If a student drops out of school because he has reached a certain age or because he/she has not fulfilled the requirements for High School graduation is this individual still counted in the test results?  In one particular school district 1,000 students entered high school at a freshman level.  300 of these students graduated four years later, the rest dropped out.  Was this a 70% failure or a 100% success?  The school district stopped counting the failures and drop outs as soon as they left the secondary school.

****************************

The eleven teachers and administrators were found guilty of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy to illegally boost students’ test scores in one Atlanta, Georgia, school district.

Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter indicated that throughout the trial he had tried to persuade defendants of the seriousness of the charges. “They are now convicted felons … I don’t like to sentence anyone to jail … but they have made their bed and they are going to lie in it.”

Ten of the eleven convicted educators were led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.  One who is pregnant and only weeks away from her delivery date was allowed to remain free on bond.

The jurors deliberated for eight days before finding eleven of the twelve defendants guilty of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  This charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  (As an aside it should be noted that murders have been released after a 12 year term in prison.)  Only one teacher was acquitted of all charges.

Around 180 people were originally identified as participating in these illegal activities. Most avoided jail after confessing and accepting plea agreements.  This is the first academic misconduct trial in the nation and whether it should have been tried under RICO is an interesting question.  A 2013 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office stated that officials in 40 states detected potential cheating in tests given to public school students between 2010 and 2012.

**************************

The teachers stated that the pressure came from their supervisors including the then Superintendent, Beverly Hall.  Hall had been Superintendent for eleven years.  She died of breast cancer at age 68.  Her lawyer claimed that she was too ill to stand trial.  It was claimed by the prosecution that Hall ‘created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that allowed cheating to go one for years.

It should be noted that all the accused administrators and teachers in this case are black and that all worked in areas in Atlanta that were low income ghettos.  The extent of this poverty problem covered 44 schools that were reacting to a situation where not meeting the standards meant a decrease in funding the following year, instead of receiving 8 1/2% of their budget from the Federal government they would receive 7 or 6½%.

Also the proportion of Blacks in the jury pool did not represent the overall population of Atlanta.  Among other things it could be argued that the jury choices were skewed against Black defendants.  In addition during this six month trial the white judge, Jerry W. Baxter, went through assorted emotional states while on the bench during the trial. This included a plea bargain offer which would mean a much lighter sentence.

Initially 11 educators were to be tried. Two accepted a plea bargain prior to the trial. One, a testing coordinator will spend six months of weekends in jail and five years on probation. The other an elementary school teacher will have one year of home confinement and five years’ probation.  After serving as convicted felons their record will be wiped clean because, the judge finally ruled, this is their first offense.

Of the other nine defendants, one was found not guilty, the other eight the jury deemed guilty. The elementary teacher who was pregnant was to be sentenced at a later time.

The prosecutors had recommended three year prison terms for the highest ranking administrators. The judge had offered all the educators, in open court, a last minute deal prior to sentencing that would allow them to forgo harsh punishment.   He wanted them to take responsibility for what happened, apologize for changing student test scores and waive their right to appeal.  The eight who were to be sentenced refused.

Judge Baxter sentenced the three senior administrators to seven years in prison and thirteen years’ probation.  The others, a principle and teachers, received one or two year prison sentences and probation time.  There were also monetary fines of $1,000 to $10,000 that were to be paid.

Two weeks after sentencing the teachers and administrators Judge Baxter changed his mind and lightened the sentences for the three top administrators and their fines were cut back from $25,000 to $10,000.  The sentences were reduced from seven years to three years which was in line with what the prosecutors had recommended.

All eight convicted educators are going to appeal this case.  The results could conceivably get the entire case thrown out of court. It should be interesting to see what happens.

******************************

According to the L.A. Times, “The No Child Left Behind Act is a product of good bipartisan intentions and bad legislating drafting.”  Two senators, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash) are in the process of realistically modifying a bad law after fourteen years.  Presumably the new version will still maintain the annual 3R testing, states will set their own academic standards with some minimum requirements from the Department of Education, states would create their own systems for measuring to see that their schools were doing a proper job of teaching, and states would decide how to intervene if schools were falling short.  The bill would emphasize helping schools improve rather than mandate punishment.  Teacher performance ratings will no longer be tied to test results.

Separate from this but equally important Title I dollars will continue to flow only to schools with high concentrations of poverty.

***************************

What’s especially interesting is that the new version of “No Child Left Behind,” if it is passed by the current Congress will eradicate all the needs to pressure public school teachers to cheat or enhance student’s abilities on the yearly evaluation tests.  Many public school educators will no longer have to teach to the test, they can focus on actual curriculum, on education. This new law would overnight change the focus of public education to what it should be, public education.

Flag of the city of Atlanta, Georgia

Flag of the city of Atlanta, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Weiner Component #123 Part 4: Iran and the West

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the United States there seems to be a problem, particularly among the Republican Party, realizing with whom Iran is negotiating.  By actions that have come from the U.S. Senate it would seem to be between President Barak Obama and the current government of Iran. This is not only nonsense, it is also blatant ignorance or stupidity.

 

For a number of years Iran claimed that she has been attempting to develop atomic energy as a form of electric power.  While the country has a goodly percentage of the world’s oil and gas deposits she also has a high level of pollution.  While the use of atomic energy has problems it is also free of the blatant pollution caused by excessive use of oil and or natural gas.

 

Is this explanation true or is Iran also secretly attempting to develop her own atomic bomb.  There is a lot of low grade uranium present among Iran’s natural resources. Some evidence has emerged of high grade or refined uranium being present in that country.  The Iranians have claimed that these few samples were present in the atomic equipment purchased overseas.  Are they telling the truth or have they been secretly attempting to refine uranium to the fine quality that is needed to produce an atomic bomb.

 

According to the United Nations, with whom Iran and numerous other nations have signed a non-proliferation treaty and has refused to allow total inspection of all its sites, Iran is in violation of the non-proliferation agreement.  The other U.N. members have passed innumerable sanctions against her.

 

P5+1 are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.  They are the specific nations that are currently negotiating with Iran: China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany.

 

These nations are attempting to negotiate an agreement over Iran’s development of atomic energy and missiles.  In June 2006 China, Russia, and the United States joined the other 3 permanent members of the Security Council, which had been negotiating with Iran since 2003.

 

Up to that point in time the U.N. Security Council had adopted six resolutions in response to Iran’s nuclear policy. The first resolution (July 2006) imposed gradual sanctions upon Iranian individuals and entities believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile program.  The last Security Council resolution (June 2013) expanded sanctions on Iran for its lack of cooperation and its continued uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

 

Germany’s dealings with Iran were different from that of the other Western nations. Iran’s nuclear program originally depended mainly upon German companies.  The thousands of centrifuges that were used to enrich the uranium were controlled by German firms.  Actually about 50 German Corporations had branch offices in Iran. About 12,000 firms had trade representatives in that country.  The value of Trade between the two countries in 2010 was 4.7 billion euros.  It was estimated that the sanctions cost Germany about 10,000 jobs and had a negative impact upon the economic growth of Germany.

 

On November 24, 2013, an interim agreement between P5+1 countries and Iran came about  in Geneva, Switzerland.  A six month freeze and partial rollback of portions of Iran’s nuclear program was traded for decreased economic sanctions.

 

Early in 2014 the United States’ under-Secretary of State stated at a Senate hearing that Iran’s missile program would be dealt with as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal. On February 14th of that year Iran’s Defense Minister announced that they had successfully tested two new domestically made missiles.  During February 18 – 20, 2014 senior officials of P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna and agreed to a framework for future negotiations.

 

A former Israeli ambassador claimed that the comprehensive agreement being negotiated focused on increased transparency instead of reduction of nuclear capacity. A former U.S. State Department official stated that such an agreement would need  both increased transparency and lengthen Iran’s timeline for nuclear development.

 

Currently, after all sorts of drama or trauma by different nations, the negotiators from P5+1 and Iran are continuing to meet.  They are in the process of attempting to reach a long term comprehensive agreement that would insure Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful and the broad outlines of a final treaty.

 

President Barak Obama has stated in some of his public remarks that the final treaty would be more comprehensive than any earlier treaty signed with any nation and that it would allow for constant inspection of all Iran’s facilities.  He also said that the various sanctions would be lifted in stages as Iran complied with the agreement.

 

Assorted public remarks have been made by people on both sides who are not directly involved in the negotiations.  Both the U.S. Senate and House have passed totally separate and different bills increasing the sanctions against Iran even though Iranian religious leaders have stated that an increase in sanctions would end the negotiations. 46 Republican Senators signed a letter by young Senator Tom Cotton addressed to the Iranian Ayatollah stating that any agreement reached would function only during the presidency of Barak Obama which ends in 2016.

 

Some of the Senators were embarrassed by what they did.  Senator John McCain explained that he signed the letter without reading it because he was in a hurry to catch a plane out of Washington D.C. that Friday before an approaching snow-storm grounded all airplanes.  Other Senators had equally inane explanations.  Interestingly someone stated publically that the name Tom Cotton sounded like a character in a Disney cartoon.  My wife commented that they could or should rename him Tom Cottontail.  The Senator, who is a Tea Party Republican, was elected in 2014. He also later commented as a military expert, who had previously served for four years in the armed forces and attained the rank of captain, that a war with Iran would be a short and simple operation lasting only a few days. That reminded me of Bush and Chaney’s war in Iraq. They said the same thing.  We still have forces in Iraq even though officially our war there is over.

 

***************************

 

The final agreement would include practical limits and transparency measures for Iran’s enrichment program.  It would lift sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program which were imposed by individual countries, the European Union, the U.N. Security Council and would provide for international cooperation on civilian nuclear projects.

 

Each side seems to want a successful resolution of these negotiations; but each side carries a load of baggage or attitudes that it is very difficult to work through.  Listening to Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators and Congressmen one get the impression that they want Iran to bend to the U.S. will and desires as the colonies did in the late 19th and for most of the 20th Centuries.  After the Ayatollah returned to Iran in 1979 the country underwent a Revolution and among other things determined that she would never return to a colonial status which many felt had existed up through the reign of the shah.

 

The position that seems to be accepted by both sides is that Iran like any other sovereign nation has a right to use nuclear energy to generate electricity but does not have the right to enrich uranium to the point where it can be used to make atomic bombs.  It has been argued by conservatives in the United States and by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that this agreement will allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb in ten years.  Of course, without any kind of agreement, and with continued and possibly greater sanctions Iran may be able to produce an atomic bomb in five years or less.  If this situation prevails the Iranian people will pay a tremendous economic price in terms of their standard of living.  They may pay another tremendous price in terms of war.

 

The Israeli government wants war with Iran; but a war fought by someone else.  The Conservative Right in the U.S. seems to want a similar solution; but they will be stuck with fighting the war.  Senator Tom Cotton has stated that it will be a short easy war. I would imagine he has the same advisors that George W. Bush had before he declared war on Iraq. The situation is totally irrational.  Does P5+1 go for a diplomatic solution or is another war the answer?

 

There is another factor which nobody seems to have considered. That is time; conditions change with the passage of time.  None of us can predict our condition ten years from now.

 

If a diplomatic solution is worked out and the economic sanctions are gradually reduced to the point where they cease to exist then the condition of the Iranian people will improve to a large or even to a phenomenal extent.  Will the religious right be able to maintain the control it has had in the recent past?  In fact does it have that control now? Will the basic values of a successful country be the same as they are now?  Will Iran still be the backbone of Shiite terrorism throughout the Islamic world?

 

None of these questions can be answered at this point but they are well worth considering.  Nothing remains the same over time.  If, nothing else, the last ten years of my life have slowed me down considerably.  The capital of Viet Nam, where the United States lost a war in the 1970s, now sports a Hanoi Hilton hotel that caters to American tourists looking for an exotic but relatively inexpensive vacation.

 

************************

 

Let us now consider the prospect of Iran having its own atomic bomb.  Pakistan has the bomb and India also has the atomic bomb.  It seems to be an open secret that Israel has it.  North Korea, with its irresponsible leader, Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the original founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), who assumed leadership after the demise of his father and considers anyone disagreeing with him guilty of a crime meriting the death penalty.  He had his uncle, who was considered the second most powerful person in the country, executed, as well as a number of other officials in his government.

 

Virtually all the major industrial nations not only have the bomb but they have an advanced version of it that can be a hundred times more powerful than the one these nations have.  India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have a bomb similar to the ones dropped upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 that ended World War II.  The Industrial Western nations have bombs far more powerful than those.

 

These countries have had such bombs for a number of years. Some of the former colonial nations may bluster a bit but none of them have really been ready to use their atomic weapon.  The reason being that if they were to use the bomb other nations would use a more powerful version of the atomic bomb against them.  It would seem that having the weapon increases your power but in such a way that this new power cannot be used.  Iran being able to create an atomic bomb would not be the end of the world.

 

********************************

 

Another consideration is that if Iran and P5+1 does work out an agreement and the current negotiating deadline is in of June of 2015, and then the United States Republican dominated Congress is successfully able to keep the U.S. from joining in the agreement, then what are the possible results?  First off the only country thereafter to have sanctions against Iran would be the United States.  It would work to isolate America from the rest of the world and throw it back into a period of isolation such as existed after World War I.  The overall economic effect would be devastating to U.S. trade with the rest of the world and it would also considerably limit the nation as a leader in the world today.  Isn’t it time the Republicans came into the 21st Century and stopped playing politics against President Barak Obama?

 

Since I began working on this blog the United States Senate has passed a Bill giving Congress a say on the results of negotiations with Iran. Since the Bill was passed with no amendment both Democrats and Republicans voted for it. The one dissenting vote was by Tom Cotton who apparently would prefer war.  The bill was taken up by the House of Representatives which also passed it with no amendments.  From what I understand the President has or will sign the bill.  Congress can take the results of the negotiating up in each House and debate it but they cannot change it in any way. However, since the U.S. sanctions against Iran were passed as a law it will take an act of Congress to reduce or remove them.

English: The logo of the Atomic Enery Organiza...
English: The logo of the Atomic Enery Organization of Iran. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

Map of the world showing the Permanent members...

Map of the world showing the Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the G4 nations. Permanent member G4 nations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

The Weiner Component #123 – Part III: Iran Today

On June 14, 2013 Iran held its Presidential Election and choose a new president, Hassan Rouhani. He was one out of six candidates receiving 50.88 percent of the popular vote, 18,692,500 people cast a ballot for him. The second of the candidates received 16.46 percent of the vote, 6,077,292 chose him, while the other four had lower percentages and numbers. The prior president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not able to run as he was limited to two terms as president by the Iranian Constitution.

The six candidates who ran for this office all had to be approved by the Guardian Council.  Eight candidates were initially approved for placemen on the ballot.  Two withdrew before the election.  Other candidates applied but were rejected.  Women also applied for some of the offices but were immediately rejected.

Each of the candidates had an impressive political background.  Hassan Rouhani had been a member of the Assembly of Experts since 1999 and head of the Center for Strategic Research since 1992.  He had also served on the Supreme National Security Council since 1989 and he was secretary of the council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 1989 to 2005.  Rouhani was a member of Iran’s Parliament from 1980 to 2000, serving as Deputy Speaker of the Parliament from 1992 to 2000.

There are innumerable political parties in Iran.  Rouhani was supported in the election by the Modernist and Reformist parties such as the Moderation & Development Party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Iranian Reform Movement.  His motto for the election was “Moderation.”  Rouhani is described as a moderate politician by some western sources.

After the election the United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, publically stated that he hoped that this election by the people of Iran would lead to positive talks regarding the country’s nuclear program.  The White House congratulated the people of Iran for their “courage” in electing moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani.  President Obama stated that the election is a sign of change in Iran.

Dr. Hassan Rouhani is a bit of an enigma. During the time of the Shah he, as a young cleric, was sent to jail by SAVAK innumerable times for making speeches against the government and was banned from delivering public speeches.  He was a follower of the Ayatollah Khomeini and joined him in France.  By 1979, shortly after the Iranian Revolution, Rouhani had been engaged in the struggle for about twenty years.  In 1980 he was elected to the Parliament of Iran.

Rouhani was born in November of 1948. Today in 2015 he is 67 years old.  He has a doctorate of law and has been an important instrument in the development of the Iranian state being actively involved with it since its inception.  Dr. Rouhani promised if he were elected he would “prepare a civil rights charter,” restore the economy, and improve essentially non-existing relations with Western nations.  He has also expressed official support for upholding the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.  Although Rouhani is a cleric he is viewed as a political moderate.

Dr. Hassan Rouhani took office on August 4, 2013.  He replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard liner, as president.  Iran is currently involved in delicate negotiations with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) over the issue of developing or not developing atomic weapons. The United States recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf off of Yemen to presumably prevent Iranian ships from unloading arms to the Shia rebel forces there. The Iranian ships never landed or were inspected; they turned back.  Were they carrying arms to further the Civil War in Yemen? A good question which will never be answered.

Is Iran negotiating in good faith? Can they be trusted to carry- on this process? The former leaders of Iran have sworn to work toward the destruction of Israel. They have systematically supported Shiite rebellion in Sunni countries within the Middle East. Rouhani presumably can be overridden by Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, at any time.

Iran currently is a poor country bound, on all sides, by economic restrictions imposed by the Western nations, generally in the name of the United Nations.  From the few sparse views we’ve had of the people of Iran they seem to strongly support the current negotiation, wanting them to succeed, and the sanctions to end.  How much of a force are they on the will of the religious leadership?  Can the President easily be over ridden if the religious leadership decides he is too liberal?  What currently is the position of the religious leadership?  How important is atomic development as opposed to getting rid of the economic restrictions?  Several interesting questions.

The economic policy of Dr. Hassan Rouhani deals with both short and long term changes in Iran.  He wants to increase the purchasing power of the public, enhance economic growth, significantly increase the national cash flow, and improve the business environment.  Actually raise the standard of living for the entire population of the country. Improving economic conditions would be accomplished by boosting the purchasing power of the people and by reducing the wealth gap.  An equitable distribution of national wealth and economic growth will bring this condition about.  He plans to increase direct and indirect assistance to low income groups.  He plans to have the government control high inflation, increasing people’s purchasing power, if necessary through subsidies, and on cutting down high unemployment.

Rouhani is a supporter of women’s rights.  In a speech he stated: “There must be equal opportunities for women.  There is no difference between man and woman in their creation, in their humanity, in their pursuit of knowledge, in their understanding, in their intelligence, in their religious piety, in serving God and in serving people.”  He has appointed the first woman spokesperson to the foreign ministry.

The enigma dealing with Iran’s current President is two-fold: to what extent is he telling the truth, and to what extent can he exercise his power with the existence of veto power by the religious right?  Can the Five Permanent members of the U.N. plus Germany (P5+1) honestly negotiate with that country?

Dr. Rouhani has communicated with each of the Five Permanent Nations on the U.N. Security Council plus with Germany.  He has stated to President Obama that Iran is ready to hold talks with the U.S. after 32 years.

Publically he has stated that “the ultimate responsibility to resolve the Syrian civil war should be in the hands of the Syrian people.”  But it is believed that Iran supports al Assad, Syria’s president in the civil war and that Iran is “strengthening the Shia crescent” that runs from southern Lebanon through Syria, Iraq, and into Iran.

In terms of Israel Rouhani, unlike his predecessor, believes in and deplores the Nazi Holocaust, but describes the Jewish state as “an occupier and usurper government” which “has brought instability to the region with its warmongering policies.”

Generally he is considered to be a moderate and pragmatic politician who will work to improve conditions for his people.

English: Iran فارسی: ایران

English: Iran فارسی: ایران (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Weiner Component #123 – Part II: The U.S., Iran & the Middle East

Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 14 ye...

Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran after 14 years exile on February 1, 1979. He is helped off the plane by one of the Air France pilots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ayatollah Khomeini (L) with the provisional go...

Ayatollah Khomeini (L) with the provisional goverment’s new Prime Minister Medhi Bazargan after the Iranian Revolution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1953 Dwight David Eisenhower became President of the United States.  This was the Era of the Cold War. His Secretary of State was John Foster Dulles, whose philosophy of fighting the Cold War was Brinksmanship; that is, taking every international political situation up to the brink and then threatening to use atomic warfare.  In the U.S. there was a fear of the spreading “Iron Curtain” of communism gradually enveloping the rest of the world.  On March 29, 1951 the two Rosenberg’s, husband and wife, were convicted of espionage, giving secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union.  They were executed on June 19, 1953.   Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Congressional Un-American Committee were investigating and accusing assorted celebrities of being communists or communist sympathizers.  One of the jurors in the Rosenberg case spoke of “communist slave states,” which at that time was a fairly popular belief.

In Iran in 1951 the Iranian Parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry which was controlled by Great Britain.  The very popular Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossaddeq, led this movement.

The British were able to convince President Eisenhower and his Secretary of State that this was part of a communist plot.  The head of the CIA at that time was Alan Dulles, the younger brother of the Secretary of State.  Under his leadership a plot was developed to overthrow the Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossaddeq.  An Iranian general offered to help overthrow him and CIA agents brought about the coup with the help of part of the Iranian army.  The effect of this coup was to unite Iranian communists, nationalists, and Shia clericalists against foreign meddling.

From this point on the Shah, Reza Shah Pahlavi, established himself as a close ally of the United States and Israel.  The United States supplied the country with most of its weapons and Israel helped them organize and maintain their secret police, the SAVAK.

The Shah, Reza Shah Pahlavi, advocated reform policies that included land reform, extension of voting rights for women, and the elimination of illiteracy.  These measures and the ever increasing arbitrariness of the Shah’s rule provoked both religious leaders and those seeking democratic reform. The clerics feared they would lose their traditional authority and the others wanted a further extension of civil rights.  Many were also angry about the Shah’s subservience to the United States.

The Shah saw himself as the heir to the Kings of Ancient Persia.  In 1967 he staged an elaborate coronation ceremony stating that he was the “Shah en Shah, ” the “King of Kings.”  A few years later he held an elaborate celebration commemorating 2,500 years of Persian monarchy.

In 1976 the Shah replaced the Islamic calendar with an imperial one which began with the foundation of the Persian Empire.  Since this sidelined the Islamic religion it was seen as a threat to the clerics by minimizing Islamic beliefs causing many Muslim groups to rally around the Ayatollah Khomeini.

By using the SAVAK the Shah suppressed his opponents with arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, exile, and torture.  This, in turn, further spread profound discontent.  The Ayatollah Khomeini, who had been earlier exiled from Iran, developed this discontent into a populist Islamic ideology of absolute theocratic rule, which was spread throughout Iran by smuggled books and cassettes.  Riots erupted in Iran.

Suffering from ill health the Shah left Iran in January 1979.  He announced that he was taking an eighteen month leave of absence.  The Shah died of cancer at the end of July in 1980.

Before leaving Iran the Shah appointed Shapour Bakhtiar as Prime Minister.  He was unable to keep order and publically and foolishly invited Ayatollah Khomeini to return to Iran.  The Ayatollah’s return sparked a revolution and the prime minister, Bakhtiar went into hiding.  He was eventually exiled to France, where he was assassinated in 1991.

With Khomeini’s return Revolutionary Tribunals were set up and mass purges of the Shah’s supporters began.  There were executions of generals, military and police forces, SAVAK agents, cabinet ministers, and officials of the Shah’s regime.

A referendum was held in March of 1979 establishing an Islamic Regime.  Ninety-eight percent of the public approved it in a non-secret ballot.

Mehdi Bazargan was appointed Prime Minister.  At the same time anarchy gripped Iran. There was mass confusion from this point on; sometimes with horrific results. Revolutionary committees, generally not answerable to anyone took over many government tasks.  Members of the general public, from students to factory workers or civil servants, were often in control demanding a say in running the government. Officials appointed by the Prime Minister were often rejected by the lower ranks.

Meanwhile Ayatollah Khomeini, who headed the Revolutionary Council, organized his own version of the government trying to set up an Islamic Theocracy.  He mobilized street mobs to foster their version of rule upon the government.   Also minority groups like the Kurds, Arabs, and others demanded varying degrees of autonomy.  From August 1979 the Revolutionary Courts tried and passed death sentences upon members of ethnic minorities and others who caused disturbances.

In May of 1979 the Ayatollah created Pasdaran which was conceived as a force loyal to the Revolution and the clerical leaders.  This was in addition to the regular army.  Shortly afterwards Khomeini brought about the creation of the Basil Volunteers.  The two groups functioned both as internal police and as a politically reliable army for the clerics.   Later they would be the main force against Iraq when the two countries went to war.  The Ayatollah used them rather than the army whose loyalty he did not trust.

The revolutionary government gradually turned to the right as power became concentrated in the hands of the clerics.  Critics, like leftist newspapers were shut down.   The National Democratic Front was broken up.  Opposition leaders were arrested.  The power of the clerics grew.   Those who wanted democracy and thought that by eliminating the Shah they could achieve it found themselves under the thumb of a Theocracy.

The Ayatollah Khomeini and other clerics delivered extremist and threatening speeches against the United States, calling it “The Great Satan.”  They also verbally attacked its Persian Gulf allies.  But at the same time the Prime Minister, Bazargan, attempted to maintain good relations with the U.S.  This was important because a U.S. supply of spare parts was needed for the military weapons and for the oil industry.

On November 1, 1979 Prime Minister Bazargan met with President Carter’s security advisor in Algeria.  The Shah, who had cancer, had been admitted to medical treatment in the U.S.  The Iranians believed that this was part of a plot to overthrow their government.  In Iran there were demonstrations against this action.  On November 4, 1979 Islamic Iranians stormed the U.S. embassy taking 66 hostages.

The Iranian Prime Minister resigned and no one was named at that time to replace him.  The radical Revolutionary Council took over the functions of the Prime Minister.   The hostage crisis deepened.  President Carter froze several billion dollars in Iranian assets.

In April 1980 the U.S. tried to rescue the hostages but several of the helicopters failed to function over the desert sands and the mission was aborted.

Negotiations were begun to gain the release of the prisoners on November 1980.  The Embassy prisoners were not released until January 20, 1981, after the new President, Ronald Reagan, took office.

What followed the Hostage Crisis was war with Iraq.  Iran was Shiite and Iraq and most of the Middle East had Sunni majorities.  Apparently the leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, saw this as an opportunity to make territorial gain at the expense of Iran.  Also, at this point, Iran had alienated most Western nations and was propagandizing rebellion throughout the Middle East.

On September 22, 1980 Iraq began a massive invasion of Iran.  Both prior to and during the war Iran encouraged discontent among the Middle Eastern nations.  In Saudi Arabia it instigated riots among some Shiite communities.  In Lebanon Iran backed and armed terrorists who kidnapped U.S. and British citizens.

The war would cause about a million casualties on both sides.  Iraq used gas and chemical weapons during the war; Iran did not.  Both countries agreed to a compromise peace after Iraq had made some territorial gains.

After the war the government of Iran moved farther to the right, imposing an Islamic legal system and an Islamic code of social and moral behavior.  This sparked a rebellion from opposition elements within the country.  The government responded with heavy repression. 50 to 100 people were tried before revolutionary courts daily and sentenced to death.  Eventually widespread revulsion caused the government to slowly terminate this policy of repression.  By then almost all opposition parties had been done away with.

Beginning in 1985, the Reagan Administration violated its own laws in the Iran-Contra deal.  Israel and other intermediaries sold military hardware to Iran in return for cash and the release of one or more U.S. hostages.  The Reagan Administration used the money to finance an illegal war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

On June 3 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini died of a heart attack.  He was replaced by the president, Ali Khamenei, as the Supreme spiritual leader.   At this time the Iranian economy was devastated by the war, the Western trade boycotts, and the erratic economic policies of the government.

In 1997, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami was elected president.  He pursued political reform and modernization, with the support of broad sections of the society.  Many of his efforts toward democracy were frustrated by the veto power of the Supreme Council which was controlled by the new Ayatollah.   Shia Iran does not support terrorist groups like the Sunni Al-Qaeda terrorist network. She has cooperated in arresting Al-Qaeda members.  But she does support terrorist Shiite groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the West Bank, and other similar groups throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Early in the 21st Century Iran began a program of nuclear development, claiming that she wanted to develop nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel.  Teheran is highly polluted because of vehicle and refinery emissions.

Through reports of informants it was discovered that Iran was also developing high grade uranium that could be used in the manufacture of atomic bombs.  Traces of highly enriched uranium have been found at Iranian nuclear sites.  The Iranians claim that these traces were present in the machinery shipped to them from abroad.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hardliner, was elected president of Iran in 2005.  At home he instituted strict dress codes and the persecution of minorities.  He refused to stop the enrichment of uranium that was demanded by the United Nations.  He conducted a racist campaign of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

In the 2009 Presidential Elections Mahmoud had an overly large victory.  Opponents claimed fraud and many rioted to protest the election.  The government supported him and killed and arrested a number of protesters.  The 2013 Presidential Election tended to be more honest and Ahmadinejad was disqualified as he had already held the office for two terms.

Throughout recent history there has been a dichotomy running through Iranian history. On the far right are the clerics, headed by an Ayatollah with an absolute veto over any civil law, while on the center vying to the left there has been the civil government. Meanwhile the country has been under economic sanction from the Western world.  In addition the United States and the other Western nations have essentially frozen their bank accounts to the sum of many billions of dollars, euros, etc.  The people of Iran have undergone all sorts of misery, economic and otherwise, having far lower standards of living than they should have.  How far can the clerics go against the will of their people before the people rise up against them?  It’s an interesting question.  They may  reach a compromise position with the current P5+1 negotiations.

The Weiner Component #123 – Part 1: A History of Iran and the Middle East

Long before Jesus Christ was born, Persia (Iran) had conquered most of what is today the Middle East.  In 539 B.C. they captured Ancient Babylon in Mesopotamia.  During the 5th Century B.C. Darius, their ruler, invaded the Greek mainland.  His armies were defeated in the Battle of Marathon.  The following century, in 330 B.C., Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered Persia and Mesopotamia.  With the death of Alexander his empire passed to his generals and the region came under the control of the Seleucids, who would rule until the Romans conquered them.         *******************************

In the late 6th Century Muhammad was born in the city of Medina in what is today Saudi Arabia.  He was considered by Muslims to be the last profit of God sent to restore the original monotheistic faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.  To people of the West he is considered the founder of Islam.

During the early 7th Century Muhammad unified most of the Arabian Peninsula through religious warfare.  He destroyed all the pagan symbols that existed and declared that there is only one God and Allah is his name.  He died in 632 and was succeeded by Abu Bakr as the first Rashidun caliph.

With Muhammad’s death there also occurred the first major split in Islam with two major denominations coming into being: the Shia and the Sunni.   Approximately 90 to 96% of all Muslims are Sunni and 6 to 10% are Shia.  Sunnis are the majority in most Muslim communities.  Shia make up the majority population in Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain, as well as being a large minority in Lebanon.

The split between the two occurred in 632, when the prophet Muhammad died, over his succession as caliph.  Today there are differences in religious practices, traditions, and customs.  Both groups consider the Quran to be divine.

Over the years Sunni-Shia relations have been both cooperative at times and marked by conflict at other times.  Sectarian violence exists from Pakistan to Yemen and is a major element of friction throughout the Middle East.  The tensions between communities have intensified during power struggles, such as the Iraqi War and recently during the Syrian Civil War.  The formation of ISIS and its advancement into Syria and Iraq have added to these tensions.

After Muhammad’s death Islam spread generally by conquest westward through North Africa to Spain and also Northward through the Middle East and then Westward toward Europe.

**********************************

In 1299 A.D. the Ottoman Turkish Sunni Islamic Empire was established.  By 1389 it was transformed by further conquests into a transcontinental nation and claimant to the Islamic Caliphate.  In 1453 they overthrew the remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire and conquered Constantinople, which became their capital and thereafter was called Istanbul.

During the 16th and 17th Centuries the Ottoman Empire reached its height, controlling much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, and North Africa.  By the year 1600 the Empire had 32 provinces and numerous vassal states.  It was the center of interactions between Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries.  Afterward it went into a period of gradual decline and was dissolved after World War I, where it supported the losing side.  It emerged after 1918 as the State of Turkey.

It’s Middle East and other possessions became spoils of war, which were taken over by the European victors of WWI as colonies under the term issued by the World War I Versailles Peace Conference as “mandates.”  The theory then being that since these states had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire they were not ready in 1918 to rule themselves; consequently they needed guidance by the victorious European nations.

After World War II many of these “mandates” were entitled “Trust Territories” by the United Nations and given or returned to their former colonizers.  But after World War II many of these “Trust Territories” revolted against their European colonizing countries and when it became too expensive to hold onto these colonies it was discovered that they had reached a state where they were ready for self-government.  Many, like Persia (Iran), became fully independent with ties to their former European elder relative (England).

*****************************

This, of course, is a very thumb-nail sketch of several thousand years of history but it makes the relevant point that the European Industrial Nations colonized much of the non-industrial world well into the 20th Century and gave up those possessions only when they became too expensive to hold.  What I have not gone into but is equally relevant is that the citizens of these Mandate-Trust Territories were treated as second class citizens by their European masters and exploited by them for profit.  There is an historic chain of resentment that still exists from this behavior.

*******************************

While Persia was separate from the Ottoman Empire prior to WWI it still came under European influences by Russia in the north and Great Britain in the south and east.  In 1901 oil was discovered in the country.  By 1907 there was an Anglo Russian agreement dividing Persia into two Spheres of Influence.  During WWI (1914-1918) Persia was occupied by Russian, British, and Ottoman troops.

*****************************

While the countries surrounding Iran were eager for more land there were other important reasons for European nations wanting control in Iran.  These go back to a change that occurred in England around 1800.  It was called the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing changed from hand-made items to machine-made products; when industrial production went from handicrafts to machine manufacture.  This process began in Great Britain in the cotton production industry and gradually spread to the rest of the world.  It required a constant, ever increasing supply of markets and a constant, ever increasing, supply of raw materials.  It set up a competitive race for colonies.  And it also ushered in the Age of Imperialism, which essentially lasted until after WWII.

The terminology underwent gradual changes, as we’ve seen, beginning with the term colonies and colonial empires, to Mandates, Trust Territories, and Spheres of Influence. Industrial nations ruling non-industrial countries.  Those that also manufactured guns and cannon against those who did not have the technology.  The English utilized such phrases as “The sun never set upon the British Empire.”

In some cases they were protective areas, supposedly independent states but run by European advisors.  The French had the French Foreign Legion to keep order; King Leopold II of Belgium owned and criminally exploited the Congo Free State; England used the locals as soldiers, officered by the British.  The Germans, when they began colonization in Africa, used their own military against the non-industrial peoples.

Each nation had a variation of the above. The United States, which came into this shortly before World War I, used its own military.  Whatever euphemism was used it all meant the same, these were colonies belonging to a better armed industrial nation with economic needs.

As we’ve seen after WWI the term colonies disappeared, all the possessions became “mandates.”  The term implies that these former colonies were the children being protected by adults, the mother countries, their former masters.  The term “Spheres of Influence,” which had existed earlier, also became dominant at this time.

Also, as stated earlier, after WWII the term was changed to “Trust Territories,” giving the process a slightly religious overtone.  But after W.W.II most of the so-called backward nations had had it with their colonial masters.  They revolted against them.  Most of the Trust Territories had their own independence movements.  And when it became more expensive for these industrial nations to keep their colonies than they could earn from having them, the colonizing countries discovered that their “Trust Territories” had reached the point where they could rule themselves as independent states, that it was more profitable to trade with them than to continue to exploit and rule them.

French Indo China became Vietnam and when the French Foreign Legion was finally defeated at the 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu the United States replaced the French in Vietnam because of a fear of the spread of Communism and much later lost that war in 1975, and today, interestingly, the United States trades freely with Vietnam and Conrad Hilton has a hotel in Hanoi largely for American tourists who can have a very pleasant inexpensive vacation there.

*****************************

In 1901 oil was discovered in Persia (Iran).  Today the oil discovery there is estimated to be nearly ten percent of the world’s oil reserves.  Great Britain early took control of the oil through the Anglo Persian (Iranian) Oil Company.  It is interesting to note that the taxes paid to the British government in the early 20th Century was greater than the royalties Persia/Iran received from the Anglo Iranian Oil Company.

In Persia (Iran) there was in the 20th Century a series of Shahs (rulers) with Reza Shah Pahlavi ruling from 1921 to 1941.  In 1925, after suppressing several rebellions, he became Shah ruling the country until 1941, modernizing it.  In 1935 the name of the nation was changed to Iran.  Reza Shah transformed Iran into an industrial and urbanized nation.

From 1949 on the movement for nationalization of Iran’s oil industry grew.  Many Iranians were well aware that the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) was paying more in taxes to Great Britain than the Iranian Government got from royalties.  By February of 1951, when AIOC finally offered fifty-fifty profit sharing, it was too late.  Sentiment for nationalization had become widespread throughout the country.  On March 15th of that year the legislature voted to nationalize the oil industry.

Oil production came to a halt as the British left the country.  Great Britain imposed a world-wide embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil and froze Iran’s assets banked in their country.  It also banned the export of goods to Iran.

The British then questioned the legality of the nationalization and brought their case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.  The Court’s verdict was in favor of Iran.  Still the dispute between Iran and the AIOC remained unsettled.   Iran’s economy underwent suffering from the loss of foreign exchange and oil revenues.

The 1950s was the time of the Cold War and the fear of the spread of communism.  Iran had a ruler, the Shah, an elected prime minister and a legislative body.

In 1953 the Eisenhower Administration approved a British plan for a joint Anglo-American operation to overthrow the popular Prime Minister who was at odds with the Shah.  A member of the U.S. CIA traveled secretly to Iran to coordinate plans with the Shah and the Iranian military.  On August 19th pro Shah Army units and street crowds defeated the forces of the Prime Minister and the plan was successfully carried out.

The coup earned the U.S. and Great Britain the lasting enmity of a large section of the Iranian population.  It united communists, nationalists, and Shia clerics against foreign meddling in Iran’s affairs.  The former Prime minister became a folk hero of Iranian nationalism.

One of the points that should have emerged is that the Iranian view of the Western nations, including the United States, is negatively tinged by the imperialistic practices which these nations practiced in exploiting them, particularly from the 20th Century on, actually with the lifetime of many Iranians still living..

They also have been caught between religious rule, traditional absolutistic rule, and an urge for democratic rule. Unfortunately the power has rested with both religious and absolute rule..  In addition the role of women varies throughout the Middle East nations. It is still in the process of being defined.