The Weiner Component #148 – Death of a Supreme Court Justice: The Ultimate Irony

English: President Barack Obama and Vice Presi...

English: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden with the members of the Supreme Court and retiring justice David Souter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...

English: The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2009. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin G. Scalia, and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Ju...

photograph of the justices, cropped to show Justice Scalia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(For a more detailed discussion of the significance of the 2016 Election upon the Supreme Court see: The Weiner Component #136 Part 1, which deals with the current Supreme Court.)

 

With the unexpected death of 79 year old Antonin Scalia a strange and dynamic situation exists on the Supreme Court.  Judge Scalia was probably the most conservative member of the Court.  His death, from a heart attack, neutralizes a Conservative Court.  There are currently four liberal Justices appointed by Democratic Presidents and four conservative judges on it appointed by Republican Presidents, with one vacancy.  Most of the important cases now have four conservative and four liberal votes.  A tie means the case returns to the prior decision made by a lower court.  Whoever the ninth Justice will be, would determine whether the new Court will be liberal or conservative.

 

President Obama has announced that he will do his Constitutional duty and choose a candidate for the court and that he hopes the Senate will do their Constitutional duty and provide “advice and consent,” that is acceptance or rejection to the individual chosen.  Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and other Republican Senators have announced that they will absolutely not hold a hearing on anyone for that position.  They have said that they want the people of the United States to choose whether the candidate should be liberal or conservative by voting for the next President to be elected.  Their assumption is that if the next President is a Republican then he will choose a conservative judge.  Actually they feel that a Republican will be elected and they can replace Scalia with another conservative and maintain conservative control of the Supreme Court.  Of course their assumption may be wrong and a Democratic President would choose a more liberal candidate.

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The question here goes back to the Constitution.  On the one hand the Republicans tend to believe in a strict interpretation of the Constitution.  They believe that one should adhere to the original intent of the document.  Meanwhile the Democrats, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, the original founder of the Democratic Party, believed in a loose interpretation of the Constitution.  They would rely on the general meaning or intent of the document. 

 

The point to keep in mind is that the founding fathers came from both free and slave states.  They needed a document that could be agreed upon by both groups.  In fact when Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder, wrote the Declaration of Independence he, among other things, denounced the King of England for forcing slavery to be brought into the original colonies.  Benjamin Franklin edited that section out of the document.  The problems, which arose a number of times in the writing of the Constitution, was that issues arose that the two sides couldn’t agree upon.  Their solution in these cases was to get vague so that both sides could agree.  All of this would today be called compromise.  The document is a series of compromises; and the meaning of many of these has changed over the years as the conditions within the United States have changed.

 

In addition specific changes have been made to the Constitution by Amendments being added to it or just general historical usage.  The one major question over who was dominant, the Central Government or the State Governments was resolved by the Civil War.  Women are never mentioned in the Constitution.  It took an Amendment early in the 20th Century for them to obtain full civil rights for them and also the vote.

 

Today much of these arguments are nonsense.  The real question is: How would the Founding Fathers have behaved or have meant if they lived in the 21st Century?  In the instance of Antonin Scalia’s death the Republicans vie toward a loose interpretation of the Constitution and the Democrats toward a strict reading of the document.

 

The Constitution itself states in Article 2, Section 2, Second  paragraph:

          He (the President) shall have Power, by and with

          the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make

          Treaties, provided two thirds of the present concur;

          and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice

          and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors

          other Public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the

          Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United

          States. . .

The next paragraph states:

          The President shall have the power to fill up Vacancies

          that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by

          granting Commissions which shall expire at the end of

          the next Session.

 

What does the Constitution actually say?  According to President Obama it can mean that he has to choose a candidate to serve on the Supreme Court as soon as he finds someone competent.  President Obama will be in office until the middle of January 2017, which is approximately eleven months from now.  According to the Senate, he is a lame duck president, who cannot be reelected, therefore he should allow the next president to choose a replacement for Scalia. 

 

Who’s right, according to the Constitution?  I suppose you could say, whoever wins the argument.  But a year is a long time to wait for a replacement on the Supreme Court!  A lot of decisions will not be able to be made with its current makeup by a Court divided into four liberals and four conservatives.  Also in the entire history of the Court there has never before been this long a dormant period in the nonfunctioning of the Supreme Court.  Putting the Court on hold for a year is really stretching out the Constitution.  What this does is politicize the Court according to the majority will of the Senate.

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While the major issue is whether the newly constituted Supreme Court will lean toward the right or the left, there is also in the minds of most Blacks in the United States the fact that they, the Republicans, feel that Barack Obama has never been a real President to the majority of their group.  They have questioned his citizenship and his religion.  Presumably many still believe that he is neither a citizen of the United States nor a Christian. 

 

The bulk of the Blacks in the United States believe that no white President would have been treated as Barack Obama has been, even though he won the presidency twice by overwhelming majorities.  They feel that the issue of confirming a new Supreme Court would never have arisen with any other white president, that a good part of this issue is race prejudice.  While a good part of the Republican leadership would vehemently deny this, I do believe it is largely true.

 

In addition ten Republican controlled states will be placing voter restriction laws into place shortly before the 2016 Presidential Election in November.  These laws range from new hurdles to registration to cutbacks on early voting to strict voter identification requirements.  These ten states have a collective population of over 80 million people and will yield 129 of the 270 electoral votes needed to elect the next President.  The theory here being that by passing these qualifications at the last minute no law suit or any other restriction can be put on them until after the election.  There will not be enough time. 

 

Whether this holds true is another question.  But taken with the so-called legal voter restriction that already exists, in addition to the long lines and long periods of waiting in order to vote, taking in some cases eight hours or more, the Republican pattern is to keep Democrats from voting.

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Irony is an interesting topic!  For example: the current Republicans in the United States Senate refused to allow Elizabeth Warren to become head of the new U.S. Commercial Financial Bureau which she strongly helped bring into existence.

 

Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is a legal scholar and former Harvard Law School Professor specializing in bankruptcy law and commercial law.  From 2010 – 2011, as special advisor she helped develop the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  In September of 2010 President Obama named Elizabeth Warren, Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to set up the new agency which had been, among numerous other things, specifically included in the new Dodd-Frank Law of 2009.  Elizabeth Warren was supposed to head the new agency as its director but was strongly opposed by Financial Institutions and Republican Senators who believed that Warren would be an overly zealous regulator.

 

President Obama, believing that Warren could not be confirmed, appointed Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray in January of 2012, over the objections of Republican Senators, to the post in a recess appointment.  (The Republicans and the banks did not want anyone to head the agency.)

 

Elizabeth Warren went on that year to run for the Senate as the Democratic candidate from Massachusetts.  She ran against the Republican, Scott Brown, who was known as the centerfold in an issue of Playgirl magazine.  He had won his Senate seat two years earlier in a Special Election after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.  She defeated Brown and won the election.

 

There was in 2015 a movement for her to run for the presidency in 2016 which she turned down.  She has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the current Supreme Court Opening. 

 

Elizabeth Warren is the Republican’s worst nightmare.  If they had let her head up the agency she helped bring into existence then, at least, she would have been quiet outside of her agency.  But the Republicans apparently felt that if they never confirmed anyone to head up the Consumer Protection Agency it would never function.  It is functioning and doing its job protecting American consumers. Their biggest mistake was attempting to force their will or opposition upon the President.  It didn’t work.  To them and a number of other conservatives outside of Congress they now have a strong force representing the rights not only Massachusetts but also of a lot of ordinary Americans, functioning in Congress who could conceivably run for the Presidency in 2020 or 2024.  In addition she might become the ninth Supreme Court Justice. 

 

This is true irony.  In essence the Republicans have set themselves up by attempting to force their will upon the President.

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On Thursday the 13th of February, 79 year old Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died as a guest in a luxury ranch in Cibolo Creek, Texas, of a heart attack.  His death has upset the balance on what has been a Conservative Supreme Court.  That night, during the Republican Debate of the potential candidates Donald Trump, who is currently leading the group in national popularity, stated that the Republican Senate should stall and refuse to act.  Others in the Republican Presidential Debate also indicated delay.  The consensus was that they wanted the next President to choose a Court successor.  That would be almost a year after Scalia’s death.

 

Later, in an ABC interview, Ted Cruz, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee stated, “Let the election decide it.  If the Democrats want to replace the nominee, they need to win the election.” 

 

Marco Rubio stated that the Republican controlled Senate should ignore any nomination made by President Obama.

 

Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate clearly said that President Obama should not try to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia since there was less than a year left in the President’s term.  Actually there is only 11 months left.

 

The Democrats stated that a refusal to even consider a nominee would be an outrageous act of obstructionism.  No such case has ever existed in the entire history of the United States.  The Democrats predicted that there would be a voter backlash, particularly in swing states that the Republicans need to win in order to maintain control of the Senate after 2016.

 

Scalia died on Thursday, February 13, 2016.  By Wednesday the 17th of February a number of Republicans had cooled down.  For one thing they are afraid of a backlash and losing control of the Senate and for another since 1900 there have been over a half dozen instances where Presidents have appointed Supreme Court judges on election years.  One of these was President Ronald Reagan.  He filled a vacancy that occurred in 1988, his last year in office.  He first chose Robert Bork who was defeated in the Senate and then chose Anthony Kennedy who was confirmed.

 

President Obama said that the Republicans who call themselves strict interpreters of the Constitution were suddenly citing unwritten precedent about not confirming Justices during an election year to justify their position.  “It’s pretty hard to find that in the Constitution… The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now. 

 

Senator Charles E. Grassley, the 82 year old Iowa Republican who chairs the Judicial Committee, said Tuesday that he may be open to holding hearings on President Obama’s nominee.  “I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions…In other words, take it a step at a time,” he told radio reporters in Iowa.  Three days earlier he had insisted that the “standard practice” was to not confirm Supreme Court Judges in an election year.

 

Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina warned that if fellow Republicans rejected an Obama nominee “sight unseen” they would “fall into the trap of being obstructionists.”  Republican strategists said that GOP leaders may have made a tactical error that could trigger a public backlash.

 

As of Monday, February 22, the Democrats were for nominating a new Supreme Court Justice and the Republicans who were totally against it earlier were then sort of against it.  By Tuesday, February 23 the Republicans had probably held a party caucus and were again definitely against the idea.  Mitch McConnell stated that “If the shoe were on the other foot, the Democrats would not approve a Republican nominee.” But they did on February 18, 1988 when President Ronald Reagan’s choice, Anthony Kennedy was confirmed for the Supreme Court.  Another Republican Senate leader stated that there was no point in Obama appointing anyone because the Senate will turn him down.  On Wednesday, February 24th President Obama responded to the Republican declaration with the statement that he will nominate a fit candidate for the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  What will happen is anyone’s guess.

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If the Republicans are successful in not confirming anyone to take Scalia’s place.  After all they can hold endless hearing and conceivably vote down all the possible candidates.  It could happen with everyone President Obama nominates then I would suggest an interesting alternative.

 

The probability is that the Democrats being the majority party will win the Presidential election, especially after these shenanigans and either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Bernie Sanders will be the next President of the United States.  It will then be the job of one of them to nominate a candidate for the open position on the Supreme Court. 

 

In addition it is also probably that the Senate will return to Democratic leadership.  There is a total of 100 Senators, two from each of the 50 states.  Of these currently there are 54 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats.  In the November 8, 2016 election 1/3 of the Senate seats will be up for election.  A number of these are in swing states.  There the election could go any way.  The probability is that the Democrats will again take control of the Senate.  It seems that a lot more people come out to vote in Presidential Elections; this has historically tended to benefit the Democrats.  In nonpresidential elections more people tend to stay home and this has benefited the Republicans.

 

It is very possible, if the Republicans are successful in forestalling the Supreme Court appointment until after mid-January of 2017 when the new president takes office that the new incoming Democratic President will appoint an attorney who has taught Constitutional Law and is well experienced in the current problems of the United States.  And that would be Barack Obama, who would then have become unemployed.  He would, in my opinion, make an ideal candidate for the Supreme Court in 2017.  And the precedent is there, William Howard Taft was President from 1908 to 1912 and was appointed as chief justice to the Supreme Court in 1921.

 

This would be the worst nightmare the Republicans could experience.  Not only would the Court become liberal, it would have someone who could argue many of their cases from direct experience.  The Republicans seem to have an innate ability to “shoot themselves in the Foot,” to make a minor victory into a later tragedy for themselves as they did with Elizabeth Warren.

 

There is a good probability that the Senate, after the election, will move back to Democratic control.  If this were to happen it would be the ultimate in irony for the GOP, for they would have brought it about themselves, on themselves by their own stubbiness and irascibility.

 

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 #79 – A Letter to Elizabeth Warren

 

English: Elizabeth Warren speaking at March 29...

English: Elizabeth Warren speaking at March 29, 2010, at the Women in Finance symposium. Warren was part of a five-woman panel discussion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Tuesday, April 22, 2014, Senator Elizabeth Warren appeared on two television programs, the Rachel Maddow Show and with Jon Steward on Comedy Central. She was promoting her new book, A Fighting Chance, and in approximately fifteen minute interviews explained her position in the Senate and the meaning of her book, which, from what I understand, deals with the great financial burdens the Federal Government places upon those youngsters with their college loans, charging them extensive interest when they pay them off over goodly periods of time. She concentrated upon the unfairness of this.

(As a footnote it is interesting to remember that the reason the college loan interest rates are so high is because the Republican dominated House of Representatives refused pass a bill to lower them. Both the Democratic majority in the Senate and the President wanted to lower the rates.)

I sent the following letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

April 28, 2014

Dear Senator Warren:

I felt a need to communicate with you for two reasons:

First to tell you how much I enjoyed watching you on the two Tuesday broadcasts stating your position and promoting your new book. My son-in-law, who was present for the Maddow interview, said he would vote for you for president.

My second, and more important reason, was your position on education and student debt. This obviously was one of the main purposes of your new publication. I particularly appreciated your point about paying $15 a semester as an undergraduate and comparing that amount with the current costs of a college education.

If we go back to the 1950s and 60s many cities and states valued an educated citizenry and were willing to pay for it from a far smaller GDP than we have today. The Federal Government in 1945 also inaugurated the GI Bill which allowed a large number of returning veterans to go back to school and eventually graduate from college. At that time the country on all levels put money behind its words.

Today, with an irrational distribution of the national income, the majority of college students, with help from their parents, do not have the funds available to go to college. The Federal Government has allowed them to borrow the money with usurious rates of interest. This puts the student after graduation in a position where most of their newly earned income is devoted to paying back debt for a large number of years. They cannot really get on with their lives, living the American dream, instead they are debt encumbered.

The overall effect of this upon the society is also very negative. This process impedes economic growth. These graduates cannot afford to buy houses, decent auto-mobiles, or what is needed for middle-class living. A large

Percentage of their earnings go back to the government limiting economic growth in the economy. Money spent in the general society is re-spent a number of times generating six to eight times the initial amount while money used to pay off debt remains at the initial level. In addition these students will live for years in this fashion.

In your comments you spoke of lowering student debt by new legislation and you also stated that the funds spent for any purpose have to be made up. You suggested closing tax loopholes. While this would be worthwhile it is not really necessary. The two items are not interdependent or are they in any way related. One can be done without the other. For example a massive rebuilding of the infrastructure of the United States does not require new taxes. In fact if it were done it would generate, after an initial increased expenditure, a great deal of new wealth and probably lower the national debt below its present level.

Historically, the only time the country spends freely without any concern to debt is during time of war. Where did all the money expended during World War II come from? The Government created it and the nation became more prosperous. How was the Government able to pay for the GI Bill after the end of the Second World War and the Marshall Plan in 1948 that brought Europe out of the decay caused by W.W.II? We can also consider George Bush’s two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or, for that matter, the Korean and Viet Nam Police Actions.

These were done by the government simply creating the funds needed. The money was not the wealth; it was and is the productivity. The goods and services brought about by the expenditure of these funds is the real wealth. It would be the new and refurbished bridges and roads, the new electric grids and structures that would bring the country into the 21st Century. All this would increase the wealth of the United States and its people. Fiscal policy expenditures would actually decrease the dollar value of the national debt. It would act similar to the Kennedy tax cut which substantially increased the GDP.

A bill that would begin this process would be one that forgave most of the student debt. One, for example, that wiped out the student debt of all students who graduated with a C or better average or who completed training for some specific occupation. The money these individuals would spend over the years becoming and being part of the middle-class or better would more than pay for the small amount of the GDP the government would have spent on their educations.

Sincerely,

Bernard Weiner

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