The Weiner Component #100 – Elections USA

English: United States Supreme Court building ...

English: United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., USA. Front facade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the Federal Government from restricting political independent expenditures by billionaires, corporations, associations, and labor unions. Money could now be limitlessly spend by these entities because money is now just another expression of free speech even though every other Democratic power in the world limits political expenditures.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

It was in this Amendment to the Constitution that a majority of members of the Supreme Court suddenly discovered that the expenditure of money was simply an expression of free speech.

Under this principle the more money you have and are willing to spend the freer and more equal is your speech.

Every other Democratic country strongly limits the amount of money that can be spent on elections but in the United States it is now almost limitless.

Interestingly, The Federalist Papers, was a series of eighty-five short essays, published in 1787 – 1788 explaining the Constitution and written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay prior to the vote on it in the colony of New York. These documents are considered the basic definition of the Constitution by men who participated in writing it. Nowhere in any of these essays is freedom equated with money. This discovery is solely that of the current five conservative members of the present day Supreme Court.

Of the original purposes of the United States Constitution the fifth one is to “promote the general Welfare” of the people. The issue of how this is done becomes extremely fascinating.

Congress makes the laws, the President administers them, and the Supreme Court defines both the laws and the Constitution. Nine Justices make up the body of this court; and they are each appointed by the sitting President, when a vacancy occurs through death or retirement, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, for life.

Since its inception in 1788 there have been two approaches to ascertaining the meaning of the Constitution. One has been a strict interpretation of what it specifically says and the other is a loose interpretation of its intent.

For example: Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, believed in a strict interpretation of the Constitution but when the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, offered to sell him the territory of Louisiana, which would double the size of the new United States, for the sum of 15 million dollars he instantly approved it even though he felt there was no authority in the Constitution to do this. Later the Supreme Court decided that the President had that authority through the treaty provision in the Constitution.

To Jefferson, time was of essence if the deal was to be made that would allow yeoman farmers to be able to have land to freely settle upon for well over the next hundred years and he had to act quickly. Practicality won out over principle.

Of the nine justices on the Supreme Court currently five are conservative and traditionally taking a strict interpretation of the Constitution and four are considered liberal and their reading of the document tends to be loose, dealing more with intent than the specific word.

In the 2009 case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission the role of the nine justices have been reversed with the conservative judges taking a loose interpretation and the liberal ones supporting a strict view of the Constitution. If one conservative vote were changed the decision would be the opposite of what it is.

In the 2013 case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which was decided in early April of 2014, the Court by a five to four vote invalidated aggregate contribution limits as violating the First Amendment. The Court found no merit in arguments calling for a level playing field or to evening the financial resources available to candidates. It concluded that “The First Amendment prohibits such legislative attempts to fine-tune the electoral process, no matter how well intentioned.”

The five conservative justices have taken a paternalistic view, apparently figuring that the wealthy have a larger stake in the country than ordinary people and ought to have more influence in making societal decisions. They have actually abrogated a good part of the concept of democracy allowing the rich far more influence than everyone else. And all this by one vote on the Supreme Court.

Of the five conservative judges who voted in McCutcheon v. FEC, one, Clarence Thomas, concurred but wrote a separate decision. He wanted all restrictions upon financial contributions done away with.

A separate argument can be made to limit financial political contributions based upon the police power of the state. No right that any individual or group has is unlimited, the basic principle here is providing for the common welfare; that is, essentially leveling the field for all.

Currently two of the conservative justices are over seventy years of age, one liberal justice is over eighty. Within at least the next decade one or more of these judges will retire or become deceased. If the sitting president is Democratic a liberal justice will be appointed. If it is a Republican president the judge will be conservative.

Also if the Senate is to support a Democratic president they must have a majority of 60 or more votes. Otherwise, the probability is that the Republicans will filibuster all Democratic candidates for the Supreme Court, leaving one or more vacancies regardless of who the Democratic chosen candidate is.

What emerges here is if you disagree with the above decision then it is imperative to vote in all the oncoming elections, both presidential and midterm.

It should also be noted that every Hispanic, or for that matter anyone who usually votes and does not in the 2014 Midterm Election, is indirectly casting a vote for the Republican Party and weakening the Democratic position. These votes can strongly affect the Supreme Court if the then president is a Republican.

Many Latinos are disgusted with both major political parties feeling that President Obama has not carried through on his promises to solve the immigration problem. The President can issue executive orders but he cannot make laws. This is done by Congress. President Obama has issued a positive executive order concerning Hispanic children who were brought to this country as youngsters. He has issued none about other immigration issues. What he can do is Constitutionally limited. No doubt the President is waiting to see the result of the 2014 Election.

In many of the states like Georgia, which has a hot Senate and gubernatorial race with both sides running neck in neck in the poles, every Democratic vote is important. This is also true in states like California, Nevada, and Colorado, as well as many other states in the United States.

Remember every person who does not bother to vote is actually casting a ballot for the opposite party.

English: First page of Constitution of the Uni...

English: First page of Constitution of the United States Česky: První strana originálu Ústavy Spojených států amerických Español: La página primera de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Weiner Component #99 – Stealing the Vote

During most of the 19th Century the United States was a Caucasian country with a Black slave minority and a very small Black free population. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution on January 31st 1865 freed the slaves and the U.S. suddenly had a mixed population with the Whites still in the majority but with all male adults legally able to vote. This continued until 1876 when the Northern armies withdrew their military forces from the Southern states that had rebelled against the Union and brought about the Civil War. From this point in time on the Southern Whites regained control of their states by a series of legal and illegal acts. Two popular ones were lynchings and the pole tax. The first instilled fear in all Blacks and the second, a requirement to pay a small tax in order to vote, was retroactive, the tax kept increasing with every election. In order to vote a man had to pay for every election that he had missed. Systematically Southern blacks tended to lose the right to vote. In the Northern ghettos this was done in other ways such as literacy tests.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Bill was finally passed after numerous earlier attempts had failed. This bill finally gave everyone the right to vote, both male and female, did away with the pole tax and literacy tests. This did not mean that everyone voted, one still had to register and many people didn’t bother or it was made very difficult for certain groups. The legislation was passed at that time as a sort of memorial to the late President John F. Kennedy who also had it on his agenda before his assassination. Versions of this bill had been attempted since the Administration of Eisenhower and had always died or been watered down with amendments to make them meaningless, mostly by Southern Democrats. It was passed in 1965 by votes of both Democrats and Republicans. The Southern Democrats adamantly had opposed it.

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Initially the country had been populated by immigrants from Western Europe with indentured servants who had to serve for a period of time: five to seven or ten years before becoming free. These were mostly Western Europeans and some Blacks. Eventually the Western European disappeared as indentured servants and the Blacks became slaves, who served for life.

The influx of immigrants throughout the 19th Century came from Western Europe. By the early 20th Century a larger and larger percentage came from Southern and Eastern Europe. From the 1920s through the end of World War II immigration was based up a quota system, with unlimited numbers able to come from Western Europe and small quotas from Southern and Eastern Europe. Chinese and Japanese had been needed for labor but were not allowed citizenship. Their children, however, were born in this country and were automatically citizens.

Throughout this period the WASPs: White, Anglo, Saxon, Protestants made up the bulk of the American population. They largely controlled most of the levels of government, particularly the upper level of the Federal Government. In fact, the first and only non-Protestant, a Catholic, elected to the presidency was John F. Kennedy.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s led to the replacement of the ethnic quotas with per country limits. From that point the number of first-generation immigrants had quadrupled. The numbers went from 38 million in 1970 to approximately 38 million in 2007. Nearly 14 million entered the country from 2000 to 2010. In point of fact according to the Census Bureau’s population clock, counting births, deaths, and immigration, an additional individual enters the U.S. every 11 seconds.

Most of the immigrants entering the United States since 1965 have been from Latin America and Asia changing the overall makeup of the citizenry. Initially, as we’ve seen, the majority of the population was Caucasian, white. With this new influx these statistics have changed. The Caucasian population is no longer the majority. It is now one of the minorities. No one race or ethnic group today represents 50% or more of the population. And this is very troublesome to the former majority. Many of them now feel themselves threatened by the rest of the population.

The current majority on the Supreme Court consist of five conservative male Caucasians. Their recent decisions on voting rights and the level of expenditures on political campaigns and issues have tended to strengthen their group within the society.

The Republican or conservative political party within the nation appears now to be the party of the White male minority. They are spending far more money on elections of both candidates and issues than the Democratic Party can afford and they are far more aggressive. Also they refuse to accept responsibility for anything and they blame everything, including, it seems, Ebola, upon the Democrats.

The Republican Party is actually the minority party within the United States. They have since 2011 controlled the Congress by controlling the House of Representatives. They have extended the 2008 Recession, which they engendered, blaming it on the Democrats. They have made the current Congress the least popular in the entire history of the United States. In essence they are a minority attempting the position of the majority and refusing to compromise for the good of the country on virtually any issue.

Eventually in two or six or ten or more years they will change or be voted out of existence; but in this time period a goodly percentage of the population will undergo all sort of economic and other miseries. The irony of this situation is that many of the people undergoing these negative conditions belong to their group.

With the 2014 Midterm Election coming up they are and have been engaged in a myriad of ways to reduce the Democratic vote. The Republican Secretary of State in Kansas is claiming that 22,000 new voters did not properly register to vote. In Georgia 50,000 new registration applications somehow got lost. The Republican Secretary of State, after being sued, seems to have located them and is insisting that they were never lost. However the court case is continuing and will be heard on Friday October 31st, trick or treat day. In both these states the poling is essentially tied for the leading state positions.

In Texas the cost of getting the proper identification to register to vote was defined by a Federal judge as the equivalent of a pole tax and declared unconstitutional. However the Supreme Court, at practically the last minute, overturned this voter ID decision. The Court has denied emergency requests from the Obama Administration and other groups who said that this law harmed voting rights. On Saturday, October 18th, just two weeks before the Midterm Election the Supreme Court by a 6 to 3 vote declared the law constitutional. It is estimated that this law will prevent up to 5% of the state’s registered voters, or about 600,000 people from casting a vote. The majority of the disenfranchised will be Blacks and Hispanics who generally tend to vote for the Democratic Party.

In Florida and some other Republican controlled states thousands of people have been arbitrarily removed from the voting list as being dead or having moved without any documentation that this is true. Registration has been made very difficult in these Republican dominated states. College students in some of these voting districts now can only vote in their parent’s place of residence. This will limit those who are away at college and generally tend to vote Democratic. Virtually anything they could think up the Republicans have attempted to use to limit the vote

This is all the attempt of a minority trying to control the majority and bend them to their will. It certainly is not how a democracy is supposed to function. How much longer will the country tolerate it? There is no excuse for any group trying to steal the vote.

The Weiner Component #98 – Income Inequality

Income inequality and mortality in 282 metropo...

Income inequality and mortality in 282 metropolitan areas of the United States. Mortality is correlated with both income and inequality. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The United States and, for that matter, most industrial nations are today facing numerous major problems, economic and otherwise, that can and will definitely affect their futures negatively if they are not, more or less, solved in the near future.

According to the World Economic Forum: the gap between the rich and the poor is one of the major global risks we face today. The upper ten percent of most of these countries are expeditiously getting richer while the rest of the populations are either maintaining their level of income or finding it continually decreasing. How long can these conditions continue until the consumer base can no longer purchase the goods and services needed to reasonably survive and violence erupts from the level of subsistence more and more people find themselves living. The 21st Century could be bloodier than the 20th Century. The coming depressions could be deeper and far bitterer than that of 1929, the Great Depression of the 20th Century.

Over the last year or so in the United States many food prices have risen significantly, particularly the cost of many protein products have gone up 20 to 45 percent. Meanwhile the minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour and has been at that level for the last five years. Someone with a family earning that much and working a full forty hour week needs government aid to survive. This is true even if his wife is also earning that much.

In order for this family to survive it has to be subsidized by federal and state entitlement programs which the taxpayers subsidize. One can say that a percentage of companies like Walmart’s profits, are indirectly supplied by the taxpayers.

Rand Paul, a hopeful presidential candidate for 2016, who like his father, is essentially a libertarian, in a recent interview, stated that to raise the minimum wage would be to increase the level of unemployment in the United States. Here someone who is opposed to government interference in the marketplace is supporting a system that is ultimately socialistic, with the government paying the difference between the family earnings and what is needed for survival.

Of course the overall Republican attitude toward all entitlement programs, like payments to the unemployed and aid to dependent children, is to reduce these government programs. They seem to want to bring about more privation than already exists.

I fail to understand the thinking here. These people are loudly and dramatically supporting a system that they adamantly oppose, indirect government support of the marketplace. It would seem that the Republicans are totally ignorant of some of the basic principles of economics; they cannot think far enough ahead to realize that they are espousing socialism, having the government provide for people, by their definition of a free marketplace. Wouldn’t it be easier to raise the minimum wage to a level where people can earn enough to pay for their family’s basic needs without needing to apply for government help?

Another interesting area pertains to student college loans. It is estimated that student loan debt has surpassed one trillion dollars.   Approximately three of every five college students have taken out student loans in order to pay for their tuition and books. These loans are strung out over their university career and have to be paid back after they graduate. The average college graduate has over $26,000 in student loan debt at graduation.

Many students can end up owing many more thousands of dollars at a good rate of interest which they generally have to begin paying back six months after graduation. It can, in many cases, take a decade or more to repay these loans and the interest charged on them, in some cases it can be even longer. Even if the ex-student declares bankruptcy it is practically impossible to have the college loan removed from his/her record.

People like Senator Elizabeth Warren have tried to reduce the interest rates but Republicans have refused to go along and support such legislation. I remember one such legislator commenting publically that the interest rate can’t be reduced because the government needs the money. This, of course, is pure idiocy because it means that whole generations of former college graduates have to wait years before they can afford to marry or otherwise start their lives. They have to spend their early work years for a decade or more paying back their college loans. But even more than that it also means that these young people will not really contribute to the economic growth of the nation unit they have freed themselves from debt.

There is in economics a principle called the multiplier effect. This means that money spent in the society tends to be spent numerous times. The amount, for example, that I spend at the supermarket is spent again as salaries or for the purchase of more goods, which, in turn, is spent as rent or a mortgage payment by the employee who receives it. It can then pay for the bank’s utilities or be used as salaries, and so on. The money is spent over and over again until it becomes part of the natural flow of currency creating for the GDP up to six or eight times the original amount. This principle also works in the reverse, negatively, on monies not spent. Dormant or non-spent funds can subtract six to eight times their initial amount from the GDP. All the ex-student payments to their college loans have this effect on the GDP, not allowing it to grow as it would if these people did not have this debt. The overall effect of the payment of these loans actually shrinks the GDP.

From comments made by a House of Representatives Republican and by the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the young college graduates rather than the upper 10 or 20% of the population are needed to help fund the government. Their paying the interest on their college loan debts will importantly help the government financially. The concept is inane. Interest on the debt should be mostly reduced or completely done away with. Having the ex-students spend their earnings on goods and services that will allow them to live in a positive and normal fashion will most aid the nation by adding to the GDP. Their welfare adds to everyone’s welfare and the monies they pay in taxes will exceed what they have to pay on their college loans.

By succeeding in completing college they put themselves on an earning level far greater than they would earn as high school graduates. The government has actually invested in them and the return over their lifetimes will be far greater than the cost of their education. This is a good argument for actually forgiving the loans. People invest their money to make a profit; so does government in its population with the use of taxes.

To get back where we started, the ever increasing gap between rich and poor is one of the biggest problems currently existing within the United States. The Congress is largely at a state of gridlock with the Republicans actually continuously trying to pass legislation to expand the economic space between the two groups. And, of course, many of the conditions causing this problem already exist in law. The conservative right in Congress will allow no reform of archaic legislation, some of which was passed during World War II to encourage oil production. Unless there is change this country will eventually find itself a second rate nation with a largely growing unemployed poor not able to afford the basic needs of survival.

The oncoming Midterm Election can help or worsen already negative conditions. The people of the United States will decide our immediate future. If they don’t vote or do vote for the conservative Republicans they will be asking for continued gridlock in Washington and continued misery for many of themselves and the rest of the population. It will be interesting to see what happens!

The Weiner Component #97 – Legislative Gridlock: The Non-Functioning of the United States Congress

Traditionally over the 200 and some year old history of the United States there have been two major political parties; sometimes for a short period of time there has been a third or even a fourth one. There has even been two very short periods when there was only one political party.   Interestingly the founding fathers never visualized such a thing.

These political parties have served as a check upon each other, sometimes working together and sometimes against each other. Their purpose has been to further the growth of the United States.

Today we are facing a strange situation, two major political parties, but so far apart on the political spectrum that they cannot even communicate one with the other.

The Republicans are controlled by the far right element (the Tea Party) and by the evangelicals, people who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. To them compromise consists of the other side giving in. Recently one of their members in the House of Representatives stated on conservative talk radio about there being a “War Against Whites” by the President, Blacks, and all other minorities. Even the conservative woman who was hosting the program was shocked by the statement.

It would seem that once a member of the far right gets elected to political office he becomes directly inspired by God. Without any awareness of economics or how the Federal Government works he has instant inspiration on what should or shouldn’t be done. Innately he knows he is right and everyone else is wrong. His idea of compromise is having the other side, generally the Democrats, accept his position.

How do you reason with a person like this? He will see a doctor and largely follow his directions but he is anti-scientific, knowing the scientists are wrong about most of their discoveries. He is also anti-intellectual, knowing what is right; reason and logic to him are instruments of the devil, used to trick honest people.

An example of scientific knowledge would be the beliefs of former Congressman, Todd Akin who believed that rape cannot lead to pregnancy. He stated that the body of a raped woman shut down during the act and she couldn’t conceive. Then following his fallacious reasoning: any woman who became pregnant during a forced sexual encounter had not been legitimately raped. Or one can follow the beliefs of another former Congressman, Richard Murdock, who knew that in a case of rape in which the woman conceived, God wanted her to have the child. To me and I suspect to a large percentage of the population, it is rather presumptuous for anyone to deliver direct messages from God.

The modern day far-right Republicans, or for that matter it would seem, the entire Republican Party seem to hold to these levels of non-intellectualism. The current House of Representatives and filibustering Senate, the 112th Congress, has done less to serve the needs of the country than any other Congress in the history of the United States.

If one looks at the placards held up by many members of the Tea Party, one of their major statements deals with the concept of the less government the better. One of their major goals since 2011, when they gained control of the House of Representatives, has been to shrink the Federal Government. And in this they have been largely successful. They are very good at not taking action on needed problems like bringing the early 20th Century infrastructure into the 21st Century, unemployment, the immigration problem, the young refugee dilemma, and climate change, to name just some of the problems this country needs that Congress should fix. Incidentally this also includes filibustering necessary presidential appointments like ambassadors to Russia and other important nations that do not presently have ambassadors.

If the House of Representatives were to authorize the President to utilize fiscal policy; that is, just begin the process of modernizing the infrastructure of the United States, we would end the unemployment problem throughout the country and stop having emergences whenever a part of the system fails. This happened recently in Los Angeles where a hundred year old system of underground water pipes collapsed causing extensive damage. We also faced a situation in the winter of 2013-2014 where extreme cold froze coal reserves so that they could not be used to generate electricity over part of the central United States. Luckily they were able to shift power from other parts of the grid. They may not be that lucky next time.

According to the majority of economists this country could reach a high level of prosperity for practically all of its population throughout the 21st Century. The poor could earn enough to live properly, the middle class could grow and increase their level of prosperity, and the rich could get richer. All it would take for this to happen is for Congress, particularly the House of Representatives to properly exercise their responsibilities. Will this occur? That depends upon the Midterm Election of 2014. If the Republicans maintain control of the House and they maintain 41 or more votes in the Senate the gridlock will remain for at least two more years. It will take an overwhelming majority of Districts voting for the Democratic candidates and a small number of additional Democratic Senators for the legislature to be able to pass progressive laws that would turn this country around.

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In 1944 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected for the fourth time as President of the United States. Within a year he was dead and Harry S. Truman, his Vice-President, had succeeded him as the 33rd President of the United States. In 1948 Truman ran for the presidency on his own. He was perceived by many as a loser. The Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, was expected by all the experts and pole-takers to easily beat Truman. Many Republicans announced that they expected to do away with most of the remnants of the New Deal shortly after the election.

Prior to the election President Truman recalled Congress, which had adjourned earlier, to a special session in order to pass legislation that he felt was badly needed by the country. The returning Congress did essentially nothing; and President Truman named them “The Do Nothing Congress.” He and the Democrats ran their campaign against the “Do Nothing Congress.”

The presidential election of 1948 is considered by many historians as the greatest election upset in American history. Just about every prediction and poll indicated that the incumbent President, Harry S. Truman, would be defeated by the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey. Truman won. Both Houses of Congress acquired Democratic majorities.

While the 2014 Election is not a presidential one, it still represents a similar opportunity to the 1948 Election. In fact, the 2014 Congress has passed far less bills than that of the 1948 Congress. If the President and the Democrats in both Houses of Congress were to propose a series of needed reform legislation in September when the vacationing Republicans return to Congress and continually verbally challenge the Republicans they could get similar results with 1948. However shortly after returning from their September vacation and doing almost nothing, except authorize the President to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the House voted to take another break until after the November election.

One of the major problems faced by this Congress was the fact that the President and the Democrats in Congress proposed legislation and then when it was filibustered in the Senate and not even considered in the House. Also the Republicans never ceased verbally attacking both the President and the Democrats largely for problems they themselves caused.

What the Republican House of Representatives has done in September, when their members returned to Congress, was to again take up the issue of Benghazi for the fourth or fifth time in order to again attempt to discredit President Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. This led nowhere and did nothing. They ignored issues like war against ISIS, but did approve bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They are now busy, back on vacation, trying to get reelected so that for two more years they can continue the gridlock and blame it on President Obama and the Democrats. The Republicans approved the first step in a war against a terrorist group but avoided approving a declaration of war.

The country is currently in a sad state. We are engaged in the first stage of a war without Congressional approval, the infrastructure of the United States is continually getting older and less efficient and there are enumerable social and economic problems that need to be resolved. The inept Republican members of the House and Senate are campaigning to get reelected. The country is in deep trouble.

 

The Weiner Component #96 – Obama’s Dilemma or the Dilemma of the Middle East

Official photographic portrait of US President...

English: Major ethno-religious groups in Iraq ...

English: Major ethno-religious groups in Iraq Shiite Arabs Sunni Arabs Kurds Assyrians Yazidis Turkmen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Islamic Caliphate State or ISIS or ISIL, which seized large sections of Syria and Iraq, is currently advertising on the internet for female recruits. They need people to cook and have babies, apparently to supply future generations of militants.

ISIS is a group that was expelled from al-Qaida, an organization that makes full use of suicide bombers, for being too extreme. They have publically beheaded captured reporters from the United States and England, as well as a large number of captured Shiite Muslims. ISIS, the Sunnite group, functions by terror and mayhem in the regions they have conquered. Their goal seems to be turning the entire Middle East into a Sunnite Caliphate.

The major question that emerges at this time is whose problem are they? Is it a Free World issue, requiring the Free World under the leadership of the United States, to come in and get rid of them? Of course there is also the question of oil in this fuel rich area. Are they a threat to the Shiite nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran? What about the more liberal Sunni countries in the Middle East? Is it also their problem?

ISIS is an ultra-conservative Sunni group that believes in their way or no way. The people in the areas they conquer have to follow their interpretation of the Sunni Muslim religion or die as non-believers. Arabia in the time of Mohamed was not as extreme as they currently are.

The current situation in the Middle East is a no win situation for the President of the United States. With the beheading of two U.S. reporters it would seem that the country feels a need to get even. Apparently President Barak Obama and a good percentage of the American people have taken the beheadings of the two American reporters as a personal challenge. But what is the reality of this situation?

Beheading seems to be a standard method of execution in the Middle East. The fact that it was advertised on the internet was a direct challenge to the United States. It was the equivalent of holding up a symbolic middle finger to the U.S.

Currently the U.S. is bombing ISIS military positions in Iran and, as of Monday, September 22 has, with a coalition of Arab and European states, begun to bomb similar positions in Syria. France has also begun dropping bombs on ISIS in Iran and Great Britain will be following shortly. The comment has been made by most people interviewed on TV that bombing itself will not wipe the group out, that this will require boots on the ground, a physical invasion by one or all of these nations. This is what President Obama has sworn countless times not to do. Under no conditions, he has stated, will we send troops into Iraq or Syria. What we will do is to train and arm moderate Muslim forces to successfully take over.   We will prepare Syrian and Iraqi forces to successfully fight ISIS in their country.

The problem here is that the United States is so far removed from the Middle East, that our thinking in no way parallels theirs. We would like to set up democratic nations similar to ours in both Iraq and Syria. This was tried three years ago in Iraq and Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite, took control of the country. Iraq is mostly a Shiite country with a fair percentage of Sunni Muslims in some of its sections. There is also a Kurd population in one area of the country. All were initially represented in the new government but gradually the Sunnis and the Kurds found themselves out of the government with many in jail.

Under U.S. urging Prime Minister Maliki reluctantly gave up his position and a new Prime Minister was elected who is in the process of setting up, once again, a more democratic government. This was the United States requirement in order to help. Will it continue in the same fashion or will it, once foreign help is no longer needed, return to where it was in early 2014. I find this question fascinating, particularly since the United States, one of the world’s great democracies, still has all sorts of problems with its minorities, particularly its Black minority. Legally slavery ended 150 years ago in 1865; but Blacks constitute the greatest majority in U.S. prisons and police seemingly can arbitrarily shoot Blacks as in Ferguson, Missouri. If the U.S. cannot maintain ethnic fairness in its own country how can it ask other nations to do so in their nations? An interesting question!

Will Iraq eventually become more democratic that the United States or will the same issues that made it vulnerable to ISIS come back eventually again?

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In terms of Syria, what can happen there? Syria is currently and has been for the last three years engaged in a civil war. There is the old government headed by President Assad and the protagonists fighting his dictatorship. His protagonists in this war are not just one or two groups; they are innumerable rebelling individual groups that are generally fighting Assad and numerous other rebelling groups. ISIS has evolved from this morass and is probably one of the strongest groups of rebels. From Assad and other rebel groups they have gained control of a large section of southern Syria. They have also moved into Iraq and gained control of a large area of land there. These they have claimed as their Sunni Islamic state; and are attempting to enlarge their holdings in both countries as a Sunni Muslim Caliphate claiming that they will ultimately unify the entire Middle East.

While bombing ISIS in Syria presumably weakens them it also makes the land they are holding vulnerable to attack. Since the bombing is not being followed up by military attacks it leaves those area vulnerable to being taken over by President Assad’s military, the original ruler of the area against whom the civil war is being fought.

When the Civil War began three years ago President Obama publically issued a declaration asking Assad to step down and allow the people of Syria to choose new leaders and a new government. This request was ignored and a multi-civil war continues there.

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages in bombing ISIS in Syria, but it would seem to be a no-win situation for the U.S. and the Western powers. We have very successfully and expensively begun the bombing but to what is this leading? There is no eventual exit plan for the U.S. and the Western Powers. Presumably the bombing will continue until ISIS is destroyed but then what? Presumably, then the Syrians, who are mostly Sunnis, will, with encouragement from their Arab neighbors, form a modern democratic state under the auspices of the United Nations?

In fact, if the Middle Eastern nations do not get involved in destroying ISIS on the ground are we going to send our troops in to do the job? At this point there seems to have been no real planning outside of the bombing and building the coalition against ISIS. In what direction are we going in the Middle East? How long do we intend to stay there? At present we have more questions than possible answers.

 

The Weiner Component #95 – The Ferguson, Missouri Fiasco

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, a 6’3” Black youth eighteen years of age who had recently graduated from high school was stopped while walking in the street by a patrolling police officer in an official vehicle. He was unarmed but shot six times, with one bullet entering the top of his head, and killed. Another bullet was removed from the wall of a nearby house. There may have been other rounds fired.

The police officer, Darren Wilson by name, wrote up no report on the shooting, presumably on the advice of his attorney. He is currently on administrative leave with pay awaiting the outcome of this occurrence. Even though he has made no official statement about the shooting over $234,000 has been collected for his defense.

A report was issued about a week later, because it was demanded by the Freedom of Information Act, which had been put out by the Ferguson Police Department stating that a homicide had been committed on August 9th without stating who had been shot or who did the shooting.

A Grand Jury which meets once a week has been empowered to hear the evidence about the killing. Presumably Wilson has been invited to testify before this group. To my knowledge this is an unheard of event since he is the one being investigated.

The Ferguson police captain in his initial statement gave out no information about the shooting but stated that Brown was suspected of stealing cigars at a convenience store. When asked by a reporter if this had anything to do with the shooting he answered emphatically that it did not.

The next day some unknown individual, presumably on the police force, stated that evidence of marijuana was found in the autopsy. This was neither confirmed nor denied. It would seem that the police position is to support their man without finding our why the police officer emptied his revolver into an eighteen year old teenager.

I was somehow reminded of the United States in the 1950s when we were in the middle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Dwight David Eisenhower was president and John Foster Dulles was his Secretary of State. Dulles’ policy with the Soviet Union was one he called “Brinksmanship.” Whenever the Soviet Union did something the U.S. did not like he would threaten to drop an atomic bomb in order to solve the problem. Unfortunately the use of an atomic bomb was too much force for a minor infraction.

At the time a Las Vegas bookie would have given very low odds against the U.S. getting involved with W.W.III. Hollywood made films dealing with the world after an atomic war. Fortunately there was no atomic war. We came close at times, particularly in the early 1960s with the Cuban Missile Crisis but there was never a hot war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. We may not now be friends with Russia or approve of everything she does but we are not about to go to war with that nation. Somehow all problems were eventually solved diplomatically; war is not an option.

Why did police officer Darren Wilson kill Michael Brown? Had he been around in the 1950s and acted as precipitously the world would not today be as it is.

From what we know Brown had been jay-walking in the street? Did the policeman say something overly sarcastic to him and did Brown respond in an overly negative fashion to him? Did the White police officer feel he was being disrespected by a Black who was far down the pecking order from him? Was the effect of this to put the officer into an emotional rage and did he draw his pistol and leave the car at this point emptying his gun into the teenager who had raised his hands in surrender? Would he have done as much with a white youngster? If it had been a Black policeman and a White youngster would the officer been put on administrative leave with pay? The issue here is totally crazy. Would a defense fund been contributed to a Black police officer?

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Ferguson is a former “Sundown Town” with a population that is 63% Black. What does this mean?

When I was in the military, stationed at an installation, near Aiken, South Caroling in the mid-1950s I remember going to town in the evenings and seeing elderly Blacks walking in the street. While it was no longer necessary this had been required prior to W.W.II and the Civil Rights Movement. The elderly Blacks still did it from force of habit or remembered fear.

A “sundown town” did not even do this; the place was closed to all Blacks after sundown. No Blacks were allowed out on the streets at that time.

This is the tradition in Ferguson of which, no doubt, all its Black citizens are cognizant.

There are in the city three Black police officers on the Ferguson police force. The overwhelming majority is White. The White police chief, by his actions, does not seem particularly sensitive to his community or overly bright.

The killing brought out the citizens of Ferguson who continued protesting and marching throughout the day and night. The police were present during that night and others with military gear and weapons so that they could keep order. They used canned smoke and tear gas upon crowds that were not disorderly. They claimed that shots had been fired and Molotov Cocktails had been thrown. Fortunately for them the bullets were so badly aimed that they did not hit anyone and the Molotov Cocktails also did no damage. The probability is that both of these claims were a fiction by the police to justify their behavior.

The governor of the state took the policing of the city away from the local police and gave it to the Highway Patrol which was headed by a Black man and brought sanity to the situation. However the protests still continue and tear gas and smoke were again used in the city.

What is the point of all this? In addition to the murder of Michael Brown and wanting justice for his death, against what is the purpose of the protest?

What is the value of a Black life against that of a White person? Statistically one of every three Black males will spend some time incarcerated. Is this because they are criminally bent or because a basic prejudice and fear exists against Black males. Statistically they are just as innocent or guilty as White males. Slavery may have ended in 1865 with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution but the feelings it engendered are still with us. Isn’t it time the United States became a country where all its population is treated equally?

 

The Weiner Component #94 – Consumption Equals Production

Comparison of real GDP using BEA Deflator vs r...

Comparison of real GDP using BEA Deflator vs real GDP using Money Supply (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much has been stated and written during the 20th Century about the production of goods, about how production brings about the consumption of a particular product, there are theories about how a finished good will find its own market.

How valid are these beliefs? If the product or products are highly desired as those produced by a company like Apple then the theory would seem to be valid. Apple, while not a monopoly, produces unique items. But if the product is an automobile like a Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen, or Honda then the theory is limited. First off there are a number of national and international companies competing for the sale of their product. Automobiles are expensive items. Only a certain number is needed on the market or can be afforded; and these can be new or used. If a seemingly endless amount are produced by the assorted companies then at some point the price will decrease and will continue to do so until the cost of producing the vehicle could be greater than the price for which it can be sold. What we have here is a question of demand and supply, not a theory of production; and even that is an anomaly because supply is engendered by demand.

The term supply and demand is actually the opposite of what it should be: Demand determines Supply. An entrepreneur will produce and market virtually any product from which he can make a profit. He is, after all, in the business of making money; profit is his major goal as an entrepreneur.

It would seem that the ability to purchase, having the funds to pay for goods and services, determines the extent of the production of wealth. After all free access of money determines the production of all goods and services.

In the period leading up to the Housing Bubble of 2008 a goodly percentage of homeowners used their homes as bank accounts, freely remortgaging again and again, in order to acquire whatever they wanted. There was essentially full employment and everyone was doing well, that is both consumers and producers. When the bubble exploded, because of the abuse of the banks, and housing values collapsed like lead weights many consumers were suddenly left underwater, owing more on their homes than they were worth. Consumption of both goods and services came to screeching halt and the economy tanked. There was suddenly massive unemployment. Generally outside of absolute necessities the public could not afford to consume and we were headed for a massive depression which the federal government was able to forestall by massive loans to some industries.

What happened here was that consumption of goods and services stopped when the money supply dried-up. It was the massive sudden termination of consumption that brought about the extent of the crash. Limited consumption had engendered what was largely the end of a production boom and unemployment suddenly became massive.

What suddenly happened in the economy was that consumption determined production. The ability of people to freely spend money had suddenly ended and unemployment almost instantly rose to phenomenal heights. The same people who could no longer spend were those who mainly suffered from the lack of spending. An interesting note of irony!

Money, currency was and is a tool issued by the government of the nation. It has no intrinsic value and can be freely issued by the central government. All that is required for an additional release of this paper is for the government to print it and issue it.

The problem is that if too much of this paper is released into the general society, if the people have more currency than the amount of goods and services that can be produced then the cost of the materials that can be produced within the society will be bid up and mad inflation can be the result. If, on the other hand there is too little money in circulation the public will be limited in what they can buy and a recession and large-scale unemployment will result. The government, in issuing currency has to keep a constant balance between these two positions.

The basic problem or problems here is that the government has to keep a balance and distribute this money, the national income, on the widest possible level throughout the society for maximum demand.

The principle here is that Demand Equals Production. And for maximum demand to occur the money, the national income, must be distributed throughout the entire society.

Unfortunately what is currently happening is the opposite of what should be occurring. Since 2009 a greater and greater share of the national income is and has been moving up to the upper twenty percent of the society. They are currently earning far more than they can possibly spend and their surplus funds in the millions are being stored while the bottom twenty percent is getting less and less of the national income, and the middle class is, in most cases, just barely maintaining itself or just about shrinking in size. There has been a redistribution of income continually going on.

In order for the economy to grow and for everyone to reach a level of prosperity the federal government has to take control of the national income and widen its distribution to include the entire economy. One way this can be done is through tax and entitlement policies. Another way would be by fiscal policies, Congress passing legislation to upgrade the infrastructure of the United States and bring it into the 21st Century. Of course a combination of the two would be even more effective.

The 2014 Midterm Election will give the country an opportunity to decide in what direction it wants to go for the next two years: with the Republicans toward continued gridlock or with the Democrats attempting to move toward fiscal policy, possible tax reform, and toward full employment.

The Republican conservatives who represent the well-to-do CEOs and successful entrepreneurs are generally representing congressional gridlock. They don’t want any changes in the economic system. But if they were to look closely at the system they would discover that their economic base is slowly shrinking. As more and more people are slowly being forced from the middle class to the lower class their ability to consume goods and services is slowly also shrinking. As the percentage of the poor goes from 20% to 22% to 25% to 30% their shrinking incomes will be able to buy less of the goods and services this society is capable of producing and the GDP will decrease at a greater rate than these people’s incomes. The profits possible will also shrink and so will the incomes of the upper 20%.

In essence these people are contributing millions of dollars in political elections to support an economic system that in the long run will significantly reduce their profits and shrink the GDP.

If they were to reverse their positions and support the Democratic positions of fiscal spending and reform of the tax system then they would be engendering a phenomenal growth in the GDP which, in turn, would massively increase their profits and incomes. By fairly paying taxes and encouraging the Federal Government to bring the infrastructure up to standards in the 21st Century the upper 20th percent could multitudinously increase their profits and income far beyond what they would be paying in increased taxes.

It’s a wonderful piece of irony, having the upper echelon of our society fighting tooth-and-nail against their own long-term economic interests.

English: Changes in US Money supply based on F...

English: Changes in US Money supply based on Federal Reserve historical data. Source code is in File:Components of US Money supply.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

The Weiner Component #93 – The U.S. & the World

English: U.S. President Barack Obama meets wit...

President Barak Obama has had absolutely no support for anything he does or tries to do by the Republicans in Congress who constitute the filibustering minority party in the Senate and the majority party in the House of Representatives. Their fervent goal has been and is to denounce any action he takes or tries to take.

House Speaker John Boehner has been recently making statements that it is not Congresses job to make policy decisions. But Speaker Boehner is presumably suing the President for taking actions without the consent of Congress.

The country is currently facing a number of international emergencies that defy simple solutions. In fact, each seems to be a no win situation. In the Middle East

Members of both major political parties in Congress have argued for immediate action without specifically stating what the action should be. A number of Democrats want the president to be more resolute while members of the Republican Party seem to want immediate action, the sending of troops to Iraq and Syria. Others want action without suggesting what that action should be. In the Ukraine there seems to be a war going on between the Separatists and Russia. Congress has not passed any resolution supporting any position. And no one in Congress seems to be ready to vote for any kind of war, or for that matter, any kind of action. At least this was their position before they went on vacation for the month of August. They will return to work on the second week of August.

In Syria and Iraq ISIS or ISIL has set up a separate Islamic State in areas they have been able to conquer and control. Here they are freely beheading and otherwise freely killing people. They have attempted genocide of a group within Iraq, forcing these people without food or water, to flee up an arid mountain. They have beheaded an American reporter because the U.S. has refused to pay a ransom of several million dollars and because they objected to the U.S. rescuing the group on the mountain and because of other military participation against them in Iraq. ISIS has also beheaded another kidnaped reporter, presumably because the U.S. did not stop its air strikes against them in Iraq. The effect of this has been the reverse of what they want.

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ISIS or ISIL is reminiscent of the old Nazi Party in Germany. They have essentially been able to organize an army of people who psychologically are losers, not able to successfully function in a normal society. As members of the group they are now the strong, the successful, the leaders, and they have absolute power within the areas they dominate. They can arbitrarily put anyone to death. They are now the feared winners within the regions they rule. Recently, I understand, they have also been providing social services for many of the poor within their state. They follow an old primitive form of the Sunni Islamic faith.

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The U.S. invaded Iraq, under the Bush Administration, in the year 2003 after the al-Qaida suicide attack and destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City and after the invasion of the al Qaida stronghold in Afghanistan. Its stated goal was to search out and remove weapons of mass destruction such as atomic bombs making material and poison gas. Its real purpose, which it failed to achieve, was to gain control of Iraqi Oil.

The United States completed its withdrawal from Iraq in December of 2011, during its ninth year there after helping to set up an elected government. The agreement to leave had been drawn up by the Bush Administration after the Iraqi Government refused to continue a policy toward Americans of immunity from Iraqi law. Actually both the Americans and the Iraqis wanted the U.S. forces out of the country.

Unfortunately Iraq ended with a Shia prime minister, Maliki, and a Shia dominated government which gradually discriminated against the Sunni minority within the country, arresting their leaders and other in the group. The result being that a percentage of the population did not and does not trust the government. ISIS, as we’ve seen, is a Sunni terrorist group that has cut out for itself a state that consists partly of Syrian and partly of Iraqi territory. It has voiced claims to other parts of the Middle East.

The population of Iraq tends to be mixed and confused at this point; the government is largely ineffective. If the United States were to become involved in a full military capacity now it would be in Iraq not only fighting ISIS but also supporting the Shia government against the Sunnis living in the country.

President Obama has called for and continues to call for a democratic reorganization of the Iraqi Government, with both sides fairly represented, before the U.S. takes any large scale decisive action. Under these circumstances he apparently feels Iraq will be able to mount an effective military force against the Sunni terrorist group, ISIS.

Currently the U.S. is effectively supporting the Kurds, another ethnic group within Iraq, with air support.

On Monday, September 1, 2014, President Obama formally notified the U.S. Congress that he had authorized air strikes and humanitarian airdrops over the Iraqi city of Amerli, the preceding weekend where ISIS militants had trapped the civilian population.

Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite militias and Kurds on Sunday broke the two month siege of Amerli and entered the city after U.S. military carried out air strikes on the attacking forces.

In this case, with American help, the Kurds, a non-Islamic ethnic group, were able to save their city and defeat ISIS. Will the Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis be able this time to form a democratic government which is fair to all groups living in Iraq; and will this allow them to form an effective military that can successfully fight ISIS? And how long will this take? Can the United States be marginally involved until this occurs? An interesting question.

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What should the U.S. do in terms of Syria which has been involved in a civil war for the last few years? There is the original absolutistic government led by Assad who is fighting over a dozen different revolutionary groups of which ISIS is the most extreme and probably the most successful since it now rules a section of the country. By attacking ISIS there we strengthen Assad’s government, which is in the middle of a civil war, and weaken the Arab Spring in their attempt to reform Syria.

We are, in a manner of speaking, caught on the horns of a dilemma. Any move we make in Syria is a no-win move. We do have drones, pilotless planes, flying over Syria and presumably mapping out everything. This is even though Assad has officially stated that he will allow no planes to occupy Syria’s air space unless that government were cooperating with the Syrian government. What should President Obama do in Syria? Should we aid the more moderate groups with shipments of arms? Eventually we may have to bomb ISIS bases there.

President Barak Obama’s strategy seems to be to gather as many allies as he can, form cooperating coalitions, both in the Middle East and Europe, who are opposed to ISIS as a terrorist state that is both anti-Arab and anti-Occidental. He seems to want to build a coalition that is anti-terrorist. He has also stated in a letter to Congressional leaders on September 1, 2014, of his decision under the War Powers Act that he chooses to broaden the U.S. military role in Iraq. He will deliberate carefully before making final decisions on whether to expand U.S. air strikes into Syria. He has avoided military intervention to date during the three years of civil war.

There is also the situation in the Ukraine with Russia. Under Putin’s leadership Russia is trying to forcibly take over Ukraine. This presents another problem. How does the United States and its European allies (NATO) stop them short of war? The Russian premier, Vladimir Putin, has threatened atomic war. This is something that was never done during the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis the two countries were on the point of war but both backed off. Chairman Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba and the U.S. secretly agreed to remove our missiles from Turkey six months later. If Khrushchev had not backed down then President Kennedy was ready to openly remove the missiles in Turkey in exchange for the missiles in Cuba. Neither man would consider an atomic war.

As a footnote: Joseph Stalin’s daughter married an American and settled in the United States. Khrushchev’s granddaughter currently teaches at a university in the United States

If Congress wanted to defuse the situation between the two countries it would end its vacation prematurely, return to Washington, D.C., and authorize the President to take whatever action(s) necessary in dealing with Russia, including war. This would give Putin second thoughts and he would be forced to act as an adult in the situation. It would also give President Obama a full range of possible actions in dealing with Russia. It would mean the U.S. is standing together, which it is not doing, with the Republicans jockeying for political advantage against the President and the Democrats.

During the last week of August 2014 President Obama stated that his administration did not yet have a strategy to combat ISIS, at least in the areas it controls in Syria. By the end of the following week in Wales at the summing up of the results of the NATO meeting between its 27 members the President had a fully worked out strategy. Obama spent the week at the Conference building coalitions against the radical Islamic group and also spelling out a response to Putin’s war threat. He specifically stated publically more than once that an attack upon any NATO member would be treated as an attack against all of them. It seems that even though Ukraine does not belong to the group they will be allowed to join.

Toward ISIS the United States and its allies aim to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the militant group. The process will include NATO and the majority of Islamic states including those that are Sunni. ISIS, he believes, is a threat to all the nations.

Even though the Ukraine and Russia are not technically at war on Saturday, September 6, they agreed to a cease fire agreement and an exchange of prisoners. On Sunday, September 7, the truce is holding in Ukraine with a few violations on both side. Will it break down or end up in some sort of peace settlement?

Congress returns on Monday, September 8, the second week of September from its monthly vacation. What will be their response to President Obama’s requests under the War Powers Act and will they support or ignore the President’s actions. It should be interesting to see what happens. Particularly with an interim election coming up early in November.

Official photographic portrait of US President...

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

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

+ Midyear 2009 Incarceration Rates by Race and...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Statistics: Bureau of Justice Statistics

December 2010     1.6 million state and federal prisoners

128,195 housed in private facilities

May 2012            217,690 Federal inmate population

27,970 Federal inmates in private

managed facilities

2011     37,330: Estimated number of detained immigrant population

– U.S. Department of Homeland Security

 

CCA: Correction Corporation of America

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

91,000: number of beds available across 20 states

$1.7 billion: Total revenue recorded in 2011

$17.4 million: lobbying expenditure in last ten years

$1.9 million: total political contributions from 2003 to 2012

$3.7 million: executive compensation in 2011

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

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

Both prisons held about 1,500 inmates

 

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

$1.6 billion – 2011 revenue

65 domestic correctional facilities owned and operated by them

65,716: number of beds available

$2.5 million: lobbying expenditures in last eight years

$2.9 million: total political contributions from 2003 to 2012

$5.7 million: executive compensation for CEO

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

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

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History – from Private Prisons – edited from Wikipedia article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Weiner Component #91 – The 2016 Presidential Election

Breakdown of political party representation in...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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