The Weiner Component #140A – Congress: How it Works & Doesn’t Work

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

According to the United States Constitution, Article I: the legislative, law making power, is given to a bicameral, law-making, Congress that consists of two Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Only they have the power to make laws that have to be identical when passed by both Houses of Congress and then signed by the President.

 

Originally the House was directly elected by the people and the Senate, which was supposed to represent the states, was elected by the legislatures of each individual state.  In 1913 this was changed by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which had the people of each state directly elect the Senators, making them directly responsible to all the people of their respective states.

 

In the Constitution all financial bills have to originate in the House of Representatives.  This was put in so that the direct representatives of the people who paid the taxes could feel responsible for all government expenditures.  Even though the 17th Amendment changed this the power still rests with the House as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives recently stated in an interview.

 

House members serve for a two year term and then have to be reelected for another two year term.  Senators are elected for a six year period and can then stand for reelection if they so desire.  All members in both Houses are currently paid $170,000 a year for their services.

 

Today the number of legislators in the House of Representatives is fixed at 435.  Every ten years an enumeration of the population is taken and the seats are reassigned to the election districts within the states based upon increases in and/or population changes which may then redefine the election districts both in number and size within the individual states.  This was last done in 2010 and those states that had Republican legislator majorities redrew their districts in terms of their political favor by blatantly gerrymandering.  In fact in the 2012 Election over a million and ¼ more Democrats voted nationally for House Representatives but the Republicans emerged with majority representation in the House of Representatives because of favoring their party in creating the allowable number of election districts within their states.  Currently there are 247 Republicans in the House and 188 Democrats.  Each of the smaller states, even if their entire population is below the count for representatives in the larger states ate entitled to at least one representative in the House.  There are also six non-voting members representing Washington, D.C and most of the territories belonging to the United States.

 

In the Senate there are 100 members representing the fifty states.  The number of senators can be increased if additional states are added to the union.  As stated the Senators today represent the people of the entire state they come from and are elected by the entire voting population of each individual state.

 

One of the basic concepts of our country is the concept of compromise.  Without this ability our founding fathers would never have been able to bring forth the Constitution.  A document that established a government between the 13 states that were both free and slave, large and small, based with beliefs and basic values that were literally miles apart.  The current Congress seems to have lost that ability.  In fact if the current congressmen had to write a constitution today they would be unable to do it and the country would end up at best as a group of small federations.

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What always struck me as a basic concept of our form of government was best stated in a quote from Benjamin Franklin, which he wrote in all seriousness.  “In free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.  For the former therefore to return among the later was not to degrade but to promote them.”   Somehow this concept has become lost, particularly to many of the current Republicans in both Houses of Congress.

 

All of our members of Congress, according to Article VI of the Constitution take an oath, upon becoming a member of Congress, to uphold the Constitution.  Somehow, of late, I get the impression that many of our legislators have either forgotten or never understood this concept.  I also get the feeling that in the minds of many of our Republican legislators that the people’s function is merely to keep them in office so that they can force their will or agendas upon the nation.  And if these hard-core Republicans cannot get what they want then what exists is total gridlock, which is what seems to exist in the House of Representatives at the current time.

 

To the Tea Partiers among the Republicans in the House of Represenatives the country will function their way or not at all.  The fact that they and possibly their constituents constitute a minority of the population is immaterial.  Even though a Democratic Republic is supposed to be ruled by the will of the majority of the population they believe absolutely that they are right and everyone else is wrong or misinformed.  This is all very reminiscent of the old Communist Party where all the members had to follow the party line, or be expelled from the party.  In their hearts these people, the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, the 40 hard-liners know what is right for the American People and they will have their way or nothing will happen in Congress.

 

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, has resigned both as Speaker and as a member of the House, effective October 31st.  His immediate replacement, Kevin McCarthy, the House Whip has withdrawn as a candidate for the Speakership.  He did not have the votes within his own party.  The one other possible replacement, Paul Ryan, has initially turned down the offer of assuming that role.  Presumably the price of taking it was to support numerous positions that he found unacceptable.  Boehner said he will stay in office until a replacement is found.  After a little over a week of negotiating and also being cajoled Paul Ryan accepted the Speakership.  He got the support of most of the Tea Party and the majority of the other Republican House Congressmen.

 

The Freedom Caucus, which seems to hold the balance of power among the Republican House members, were thrilled at presumably getting rid of Boehner.  If they did achieve this it was a pyrrhic victory.  They may have gotten him to resign but now Ryan is the new Speaker and in order to get him to accept the position most of the House Republicans have sworn allegiance to him.  This includes the majority of the Freedom Caucus but not the entire group.

 

There was also a move at the end September to “Ditch Mitch.”  Many far right Republican Senate members do not consider him aggressive enough to run the Republican Party in the Senate.  Louisiana Governor and Presidential Candidate Bobby Jindal has called upon Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resign.  They want someone who will stand up to the President and take some risks.  McConnell has too much support from Republicans in the Senate to be in any danger in terms of being forced out of the Senate.

 

The frustration for these hard-liners seems to be that they, the Republicans, have the majority in both Houses of Congress but their particular group doesn’t have the votes to stop legislation if it is also supported in both Houses of Congress.  The fact that this situation exists in Congress would indicate the epitome of dysfunctionality.

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The basic question, in terms of Congress, comes down to: What is the main purpose of the Government?  And the answer to that question, most simply stated is answered in the preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

This is what the members of Congress have taken an oath to do.  Is this what they, particularly the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, are doing?

 

Currently the House of Representatives has a new Speaker as its presiding officer.  There are currently 247 Republicans in the House and 188 Democrats.  The majority party has easily elected a new speaker if all the Republicans vote for whoever is running for that position.  But on the far right of the conservative party is the Freedom Coalition.  These are the 40 ultra-conservative hardline Tea Partiers.  To them the rest of the Republican Party is not far enough to the right.  Presumably they will not support anyone who will go against their agenda.  They want to get rid of Affordable Health Care and defund Planned Parenthood.  I suspect many of them may also be racial bigots.    I imagine this feeling goes beyond this specific group to many other Republicans in Congress.  Has any of this changed with the election of Paul Ryan?

 

If 40 votes are subtracted from the 247 currently elected Republicans they do not have enough votes to pass legislation if the 40 and the 188 elected Democrats do not support their move.  Basically what this means is that the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader both have to get the support of the majority of Democrats in order to pass bills that a percentage of their party will not support.

 

John Boehner has faced this situation since becoming Speaker of the House in 2011 and Mitch McConnell will face this situation for the next fourteen months.  Will Paul Ryan have to face this same situation?  The Republicans may have the majority in both Houses but it will take a coalition of both political parties to run the country.  This has to be the ultimate irony and could well lead to the formation of a new national political party after the 2016 elections.

 

The nation is now at the point of crisis.  Legislative actions will have to be taken or the functioning of the government could be forced to cease.  The Debt Limit Crisis has been averted by negotiations between the President, the Senate Republican leadership and the former Speaker, John Boehner, raising the Debt limit for the next two years.

 

There is also funding the Federal Government.  This could stop the Federal Government if Congress does not pass a bill by December.  John Boehner was able to avoid a Federal Government shutdown by resigning as Speaker and quitting the House effective October 31.  But that pushed the deadline from September to December.  It will again be reached in December of 2015.

 

This major problems still must be dealt with this year but there are numerous others that will be coming up early in January of 2016 like the automatic cuts of about 5% across the board on federal and discretionary spending if Congress does not act to stop some or all of this spending.  That is sequestration, which stays in existence until 2023.

 

This does not count infrastructure problems like hundred or more year old bridges, some of which seem to be ready to collapse at some near future point or intercontinental train tracks which are having innumerable accidents particularly oil tankers that are jumping tracks and burning for days on end, causing massive evacuations from the deadly toxic smoke of towns and large sections of cities.  This country is filled with infrastructure that was built in the first half of the Twentieth Century or earlier which needs to be replaced and/or modernized to meet the needs of today’s population.

 

There are also an obscene number of people being shot every day by people who, for mental reasons, should never be allowed to purchase guns.  We can follow the advice of Presidential candidate Jeb Bush who after the shooting of innocent students at a college said, “Stuff happens.”  A week later, after another similar shooting, he kept his mouth shut.  I expected him to say, “Stuff still happens.”  Mentally disturbed people should not have easy access to weapons.  Somehow, even with the NRA, Congress needs to deal with this problem.  It is time we stopped leading the industrial nations of the world in gun homicides.

 

There are other problems, including everyday things, like fiscal policy, the War against ISIS, the other crises in the Middle East, China, and Russia that require participation by Congress.  None of this is being dealt with by Congress.  They seem to be getting paid $170,000 each for taking vacations and leaving the country to go its own way without their participation.  In fact the House of Representatives will meet for 111 days in 2016.  No work week for them exceeds three days.  Most of the fighting going on by the U.S. Military has never been authorized by the Congress.  The Constitution clearly makes them the arbiters of war and peace.  Congress has left these decisions completely in the hands of the President.  They have refused to take any action.

 

In essence Congress is dysfunctional.  Speaker, Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech has defined Congress as broken.  He says he will start anew.  But Speaker Ryan is himself not far to the left of the Freedom Caucus.   Will there be positive changes or will the House fall back into non-functionality?  Will the House shut down the Government again?   The political future should be interesting.

The Weiner Component #112A – How the United States Government Works

During the Grand Jury examination of the August 8, 2014 shooting of 6’4” eighteen year old Michael Brown by the 6’4” police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri the question was asked by one of the jurors as to which predominated, the state laws or the Federal laws. The Assistant District Attorney never really answered that question for the Ferguson Grand Jury. The Constitution gives that power to the Federal Government and the issue was ultimately resolved by the Civil War which solidly placed power in the hands of the Central Government of all the states.

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The basic document for the organization of the Federal Government is the Constitution of the United States which defines all aspects of our government. Initially, during and directly after the American Revolution, this country was ruled by the Articles of Confederation of the 13 states with most of the power resting within the governments of each of the 13 states. The central government was run by a Congress of the States and had very little direct power. Any measure that it passed had to be agreed upon by all the states involved. It had to no power to tax and had to rely on the states for anything it needed. To fill its monetary needs it had request funds from the states which would simply and individually send money or not.

For these and other reasons this system of government did not work well. A meeting was called to have elected representatives come to Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, from May 25 until September 17. Its purpose was to amend the Articles of Confederation. This assembly occurred nine years after the start of the new nation. Not all the states sent representatives and not all the representatives stayed the full hot summer to work upon the reform.

George Washington, probably the most trusted man in the new nation, was elected chairman. They met during a very hot Philadelphia summer and had to be done when the meeting place would again be used by the state legislature. It was early determined to keep no record of the meetings and to keep the results secret until they were done.

They very early concluded that the Articles of Confederation were completely inadequate and could not be reformed to form a proper government. They determined that they had to start from scratch and develop a totally new government with the power to run the new nation. What emerged at the end of the summer was the United States Constitution. It required 9 of the 13 states to vote approval for the document to come into being. Not all the states initially voted to join.

Interestingly the one issue never resolved at this time was where did the ultimate power rest, with the states or with the new Federal Government? That issue was not resolved until the end of the Civil War. The power rests with the Federal Government.

Virtually everyone has heard of the Constitution but many people don’t quite know what is contains or how it works. They have not read it or remember what they learned in school about it. This lack of knowledge has caused all sorts of confusion and, at times, a lack of voting.

The Constitution begins with a statement of its purpose: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America”. This statement is highly important; it explains the reason for the government.

The document itself contained seven articles. The first establishes the government’s legislative powers, establishing a bicameral law making body, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House was to be elected directly by the People for a period of two years while the Senate was to be elected for a six year term at the rate of 1/3d of the Senate reelected every two years by the state legislatures. The House represented the people directly and the Senate represented the States. The minimum age for the House was 25 and the Senate, 30. House representatives were apportioned by population with each state having a minimum of at least one, while each state had two Senators. The Vice President headed the Senate with no vote except in cases of a tie with the second in command being the President pro tempore, the leader of the majority party. The House had to sole power of impeachment while the Senate served as the jury in such cases. All tax bills were to originate in the House of Representatives allowing the people to indirectly tax themselves.

Every bill after being passed in both Houses of Congress had to be signed by the President in order to become law. The President can sign the bill, veto the bill, or ignore it. After ten days an unsigned bill automatically becomes law.

Article 1 also enumerates the powers of Congress: lay and collect taxes, regulate commerce, coin money, declare war, raise and support a military, and establish the primacy of the Federal Government over the states.

It is important to keep in mind that only Congress can pass laws. The President can issue executive orders but generally they last only during his tenure in office. Another president can cancel them by a stroke of the pen.

Article 2 deals with the executive power, establishing a President and Vice-President for a four year period. The means of election is stated, requiring that the individual be a natural born citizen, at least 35 years of age. The people vote for electors whose total number equals that of all the Senators and members of the House of Representatives. Upon the removal of the President by death or for any other reason the Vice-President succeeds him.

The specific oath of office is stated. He is commander and chief of the military and can grant pardons. His appointments and treaties require the advice and consent of the Senate. He is to give Congress the State of the Union information and recommendations from time to time. The President can be removed from office on Impeachment for “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

From what has been stated the overall powers of the President have been specifically defined over the years by the way the men who have held that position have acted.

Article 3 deals with the judicial power of the United States. It requires a Supreme Court and such other Federal Courts that Congress establishes. It sets the judges tenure as lifetime and the Constitution as the basis for all court decisions. The document defines the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the specifics and structure of the Supreme Court and the entire court system is left to be defined by Congress.

Article 4 deals with citizens and state’s rights throughout the nation and with new states coming into the Union.

Article Five has to do with amending the Constitution.

Article Six Pertains to business contracts, the supremacy of Federal law over state law, and having all elected and judicial officials taking an oath to support the Constitution.

Article Seven deals with ratification of the Constitution. It required nine states to ratify the Constitution for it to come into being.

While the process of ratification was going on some of the states complained that there was no Bill of Rights within the document. The founders promised to add one after the Constitution was ratified.

James Madison wrote twelve Amendments to the Constitution. Following Article Five, it required a 2/3d vote for the Amendment to become part of the Constitution. Twelve states had ratified the Constitution. Nine states approved ten of Madison’s twelve Amendments and they became the first ten Amendments to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

Seventeen additional Amendments have been added to the Constitution since its inception making the total present number 27.

In 1865 the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

In 1868 the 14th Amendment was passed. It extended civil rights making all people equal.

In 1870 the 15th Amendment specifically extended Black suffrage.

In 1913 the 16th Amendment legalized the income tax.

In 1913 the 17th Amendment authorized the direct election of Senators by the people.

In 1913 the 18th Amendment authorized the prohibition of liquor and the 21 Amendment in 1933 repealed prohibition.

In 1919 the 19th Amendment gave women the vote throughout the United States.

In 1951 the 22nd Amendment limited future Presidents to two terms.

In 1965 the 24th Amendment made poll taxes illegal for anyone to vote.

In 1971 the 26th Amendment moved initial voting from 21 years of age to 18.

The Constitution of the United States is, with some exceptions, a general document. The interpretation of what it means has shifted over the years as the country has gone from a rural nation with some cities to an industrial one with some agriculture. It is a flexible document whose interpretation has been largely defined by the way it was run and by the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, which has the final say upon what it means. And what it means has changed over the years.

By being flexible the Constitution remains as valid today as it did in 1789 when it was first put into existence.

This document was originally set up with a system of checks and balances. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives serve as a check upon each other since both have to pass the exact same bill in order for it to become law. The President by signing or vetoing the bill serves as a check upon the Congress. The President is essentially an administrator and can only suggest that certain bills be passed by Congress. The Supreme Court has, among other things, the power of judicial review which was created by its third chief justice, John Marshall, in the case of Marboro v. Madison and has functioned ever since. Also the Supreme Court can make the final decision about what a law or any part of a law means.

In addition it is important to remember that only Congress can make and pass a law. The President is the Chief Administrator in the government. He can issue an Executive Order but he cannot make laws only Congress or the People can do that.  Congress by passing a law and the People through Amending the Constitution.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Weiner Component #70 – Intentions of the Framers of the Constitution

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

One of the major objects, if not the major object, of the framers of the Constitution was to create a government of the majority with protections for the minorities.  A true Democracy is supposed to express the will of the majority.  The major reason for education in our society was to create a population capable of reasoning and therefore able to elect the best people capable of representing them.

Today instead the object of government as applied by the far right and the evangelicals is to create a government where they, the minority, rule and set the standards for the majority.  Through the use of seemingly endless amounts of money in advertising, gerrymandering, and outright prefabrication they have been able sway elections to give themselves the power to impede necessary reforms and cause untold misery in the nation.

The Republican Party has been vociferously attacking Affordable Health Care (Obama Care) since they were able to gain control of the House of Representatives in 2011.  With the upcoming Midterm Election in November of 2014 the leadership of the Party has promised to make that a major issue, destroying Obama Care.

In a March Special Election in Florida, in an overwhelmingly Republican District, the Republican candidate just barely won the election.  Interestingly he treated his victory as one in which he totally trashed the Democratic candidate and the overall bulk of the population in his District voted to get rid of Obama Care.  The reasoning by the candidate and the party seems to be fallacious.  Presumably the new basis of the November Election in 2014 will be to elect Republicans so they can do away with Obama Care.

This seems to be in the opinion of many of that group a way to regain control of Congress.  The concept is fascinating since the entire concept of Obama Care was originally developed by the Heritage Foundation, a Republican Think Tank, and initially set up in Massachusetts under Republican Governor Mitt Romney.  It would seem that the reason for attacking Obama Care is to gain political power In Washington, D.C.

Interestingly, if we take the different parts of Obama Care and discuss them with the general public we find that they like the parts.  For example, keeping a child on their parents medical plan until he or she is 26 if the youngster is going to college, insurance companies not being able to reject people because of a prior condition, overall lower insurance rates for most people, no maximum limit in terms of what the insurance company has to spend on any condition, etc., etc.  But then if you ask them what they think about Obama Care the answer is that they don’t like it.

What seems to have happened is that the Republican prefabrications, like death panels and other nonsensical statements, which the Republicans have repeated over and over again, have, more or less, taken hold.  A good percentage of the people do not associate Affordable Health Care with the benefits it’s so far provided.  It can also be stated that the Democrats have not provided enough positive information to the public compared to the Republicans who have given redundantly endless negative statements.

In addition to using Obama Care as a means of gaining political power the wealthy Republicans like the billionaire Libertarian Koch Brothers have begun, through groups they fund, utilizing television and other forms of advertising as early as March for the oncoming November Election.  The probability is that billions will be spent on the Midterm Election.  And most of this money will be spent by the Republicans attempting to buy power by trying to gain control of the Senate and keeping control of the House of Representatives.  This is also true for state elections.

Will they gain control?  An interesting question!  We’ll have to wait and see.  Can the American voter be bought by propaganda and go against his/her own economic interests?

If the Republicans are successful the country will have total gridlock for 2015 and 2016.  They will not have a supermajority in the Senate and the Democrats will do what they, the Republicans, have done from 2009 on, filibuster the bills they are against and the President will veto the bills he is against.  They might try to impeach him as they did President Clinton; but, I suspect, they will have a problem doing so.  Of course they might be able to push through some strange laws, that the President would consider unconstitutional and break, as they did in 1868 with President Andrew Johnson.  But that did not effectively work then even with supermajorities in both Houses of Congress.

If the Republicans were to gain control of Congress in 2015 they would have to find positive reasons for running the country and they would also have to be able to work with the President.  At this point none of this seems possible.  All they have done since 2011 has been to impede all programs for which Obama could claim credit.  They haven’t been for anything except lowering taxes for corporations and the upper 1%.  The Republicans have done an outstanding job of keeping the country in a recession, attacking woman’s rights, and limiting benefits in entitlement programs for the poor and needy.  Paul Ryan, for example, has defined sloth as a racial thing.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

 

 

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The Weiner Component #47 – The Tea Party & The Debt Ceiling

  

English: The holders of the United States nati...

English: The holders of the United States national debt as of December 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On October 17th the United States Government will reach its authorized Debt Ceiling unless the House of Representatives passes the bill raising it.  According to the analysis released Tuesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center the Federal Government will be unable to pay its bills and face default as early as October 22 and no later than November 1.  

The Treasury Secretary warned Congress that the 16.7 trillion dollar debt limit must be raised by October 17th or the Federal Government will face default.  At that point the Treasury would have to depend on cash on hand, about 30 billion, and incoming revenues to pay its bills on any given day.  Unfortunately all its multi-thousands of bills are paid by computers that can’t be reprogrammed to pay selectively or partially.

According to some Tea Party members of the House of Representatives this problem is no big deal.  These people’s knowledge of government and economics is non-existent.  They have said that they don’t trust economists who all have different opinions.  One member stated that his knowledge of economics is based upon the fact that he raised a family.  Rand Paul said that the Federal Government has so much money coming in it doesn’t have to worry about having enough funds to pay its bills.  Others have stated that this change won’t even be noticed.  Another’s statement was that the default would stabilize international finances.  Of course all these individuals offered no proof for their inspired statements.

The economic awareness or sophistication of the people in the Tea Party is non-existent; they function by “common sense” based upon limited experience with no awareness of what they don’t know or understand.  I am reminded of the man who didn’t believe in or trust doctors.  His wife came out with a cancerous growth on her neck. His experience with illness had to do with occasional headaches and for these he took three to four aspirins each time he had one.  Since his wife’s problem was more serious than a headache he gave her six to eight aspirins to solve her medical problem.  No doubt she died of cancer.

If the default problem were a burning house and what to do about it then their solution would be to pour gasoline on the flames in order to put out the fire; that way it would burn out faster.  They have a strange solution to a problem that they themselves have created.  Basically they would destroy the economy if they can’t get their way.  And what is their way?  They want to get rid of the Affordable Health Care Law, reduce entitlement programs, reduce taxes for the upper few percentage of the population and force other unpopular programs down the throat of the American public.  Since they can’t do this by taking over the presidency and Congress the will do it by extortion, the House will force the rest of the government to do what it wants.  And in trying to achieve this nefarious goal they are wasting billions of dollars and disrupting not only he United States but also all the other industrial societies that use the dollar as a basis of value.

There has never been a Debt Default before in the entire history of the United States.  We can only guess what will happen.  The guesses go from a complete disruption to a total breakdown of the economy, far worse than the Great Depression of 1929 affected the world.  We are talking about ever-growing massive unemployment, disruption and possible destruction of all VA programs, crashing financial markets, virtually destroying a major part of the national economy, plus disrupting Europe and Asia.  This is what the Tea Party seemingly is willing to bring about if they don’t get their way.  This is extortion greater than any ever committed by any criminal.

If we ignore everything above then not increasing the Debt Limit will freeze the Federal Reserve’s ability to use Monetary Policy.  The Fed has been adding 85 billion dollars monthly to the National Cash Flow.  This has been going on for well over a year.  The increased flow of currency has allowed for most economic growth since 2011.  That also includes the housing recovery.  There has been no fiscal policy, spending by Congress to increase employment.  Stopping this flow of currency will cause immediate stoppage of all recovery.  The economy will instead begin a process of ever-growing shrinkage with an ever-increasing level of unemployment.

Will Barak Obama allow this to happen?  I don’t see how he can.  If the Republicans refuse to give in unless they get their way then he is left with two choices: (1) He can give the Tea Party Republicans what they demand and set a precedent for extortion, or (2) He can invoke Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment Of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing Insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

The next sentence states essentially that the United States shall not be held responsible for paying for the freed slaves and the last section gives Congress the power to enforce this Amendment by proper legislation.

Can the President then authorize paying the public debt or does only Congress retain this power?  It’s an interesting question that in the end can only be answered by the Supreme Court.  And their decision, depending upon the makeup of the Court, could go either way and even be reversed by a future Court. 

But if Congress is irresponsible does the President really have a choice?  He swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States.  He assumed responsibility for the welfare of the nation.  For him to allow this to happen would be breaking his oath.

Currently and each day increasingly there is greater pressure on the Tea Party and other Republicans in the House of Representatives to end the Debt Ceiling and provide a budget for the United States, to again fund the government.  Currently the Tea Party group within the House is reluctant to do this but the more moderate Republicans seemingly are willing.  If the Speaker, John Boehner would bring a clean bill on both of these issues up before the House then, with Democratic support, it should easily pass.  Up to this point he has not been willing to do this.  Doing so will probably cost him the speaker-ship of the House of Representatives.

And when both the Debt Ceiling and the budget problems are resolved there is still the Sequester.

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The Tea Party Group is actually living in the wrong century.  They would have been happy and well adjusted in the late 18th Century, around the time of the American Revolution.  Government then was far away and bothered you very little except for taxes.  Many of the people living then considered taxes a gift that they gave to the government.  The people were very independent, building their own houses, clearing their fields, raising their own food, making their own furniture, running their own stills, bringing meat to the table by the use of their muskets.  They were an independent lot, standing tall, and proud of it.

The problem with the Tea Party is that they are now living in the 21st Century where everyone is interdependent upon everyone else.  The muskets have become automatic weapons capable of firing over 100 rounds a minute and there are specialists to do all the other tasks.  People are crowded in society and function best through endless compromise.  The Tea Partiers see compromise as a sign of weakness.  Real men don’t compromise; they push until they get their way.

Unfortunately for them the group that financially backed the Tea Party, the billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the large corporations are withdrawing their support, which means their money contributions.  I imagine these people thought they could control the Tea Partiers and have just discovered that they created Frankenstein Monsters that are out to destroy the country if they can’t get their own way.

What I suspect we will be seeing in the near future is an inept Tea Party breaking away from the Republican Party and forming its own third party.  They will then be like the No Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, appearing noisily for a decade or two and then disappearing.  Their influence will wane to nothing as time passes.

tea party

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The Weiner Component #18 – Myth & Reality

Washington DC - Capitol Hill: United States Ca...

Today, December 31, 2012, the Republicans and the Democrats in the U.S. Senate are currently attempting to negotiate a compromise to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff; that is, to prevent automatic tax increases from throwing the nation into a recession and possible depression.  Will they succeed?  At this point, 12 noon, Washington time, it’s anybodies guess.

The so-called compromise isn’t really a compromise; it’s a process of each side giving in to some of the other side’s demands.  A compromise is where both sides  can accept and live with an agreement that is somewhere between their initial positions.  What is happening here are that the Republicans are being forced, in their opinions, to give in to some of the Democratic positions.  As a result of the 2012 Presidential Election they have to give in to the other side to some extent.  Given another election, probably in 2014, they believe a victory would allow them to totally get their way.  One Republican candidate for the Senate, who lost the race, stated that compromise, to him, was the other side coming to his position.

The arguments, mostly Republican, are based upon faulty reasoning and a total misunderstanding of economics.  I was surprised last night listening to some eminent newscasters discussing the state of the economy.  They sounded like they had never taken a course in economics or read a book about the subject.  They were talking about the National Debt and they were doing so from the prospective of Microeconomics, equating the National Economy with their household budgets.  This was on MSNBC not on Fox news, which is a fountain of misinformation.  The were respected reporters on “Meet The Press.”  It struck me that everyone, with the exception of the Administration, has taken a Microeconomic view of the National Economy.

Some senator stated that he was not going to burden his grandchildren with current deficit spending.  What he missed was the deficit spending in World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the Viet Nam Police Action, Reagan’s “Star War” military spending, and the three Bush wars.  Have these sunk us into enormous debt?  Are we still economically suffering and paying for all of these events?

In dealing with this issue there are numerous factors to consider.  One is population growth.  According to the Census Bureau official population clock the population of the U.S. increases at the rate of one person every eleven seconds; this includes births, deaths, and immigrations.  That causes the population to grow at approximately 5 ½ people per minute, 330 people per hour, 7,920 a day, 55,440 for a week, 221,760 for a month, and 2,661,120 people per year.  The Bush Economic growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Bill of 2001 was passed twelve years ago and extended for two more years in 2010 under President Oboma.  The population increase in the last twelve years is about 34,573,440 people.  The prices of most items have doubled during this period.  Going back to the 2001 level, even if it’s for a short period of time, would bring large-scale unnecessary hardship upon the majority of the population of this country.

This increase in the population requires a significant increase in the Gross Domestic Product in order for the economy to just stay even.  For anyone, be he a Senator, member of the House of Representatives, TV Reporter, or anyone else to talk about the future in terms of conditions today is not only nonsense, it is blatant naivety or ignorance.  And to project to when one’s grandchildren will reach adulthood is utter nonsense.  The entire nation, its population, and the value of money will be different at that time.

Another, and perhaps more important factor is the concept of Macroeconomics.  We think of money in terms of our household budgets.  Anything we buy we have to pay for; but is this true for the Federal Government?  What is the purpose of money to it?  In fact, what is or are the purposes of the Federal Government?

According to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States:  “We the People, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Nowhere in the Preamble or the Constitution is Microeconomics or anything about it mentioned.  The Constitution gives Congress the power to “Coin money,” and “regulate the Value thereof.“  If we consider the power given to Congress and the purposes stated in the Preamble, then we can understand the function of the Federal Government in dealing with money. It is to control the money supply to allow for, or insure the greatest prosperity for the people of the United States.  That is the function of Macroeconomics.  Money is the tool that the government uses to achieve the greatest functionality of the economy of the country.

The argument of the National Debt getting so large it will drive this country to bankruptcy is also nonsense.  If we ask the question: Who owns the bulk of the National Debt, 70 to 80 percent of it?  The answer to that is the Federal Government and its agencies.  For example Social Security owns over 2 ½ trillion dollars worth of the debt.  Can an entity owe itself money that it borrowed from itself?  The question points out the irrationality of the concept.  After all, who prints and issues the money?  It is the National Government.  There is nothing behind the dollar but the word of the National Government.

Money is, after all, a tool that the National Government uses to enhance the level of productivity in the nation.  It is supposed to allow for full employment and a certain level of prosperity for all the people in the country.  The National Government’s goal is not to pay off its debts but to allow the nation to function to it highest possible level.

Currently the Federal Reserve, under Chairman Ben Bernanke and his Board of Directors in Washington, D.C., are spending four hundred billion dollars a month on real estate paper and four hundred and fifty billion dollars a month on government bonds.  This is a very creative use of Monetary Policy.  With the multiplier effect, money is spent numerous times before it becomes part of the National Flow through the economy; this adds trillions of additional dollars monthly to the available currency.  Is it working?  The economy is improving new housing is being built throughout the country, employment is increasing and unemployment is gradually shrinking.  As long as there is no inflation, too much cash chasing too few goods, the economy needs the currency to grow.  We are having a healthy development.

It would be nice if we don’t go over the cliff.  It would be even nicer if all the Congressmen understood Macroeconomics and the proper functioning of the Federal Government.  With full employment much more wealth would be produced and much more would be collected in taxes on all levels of government.  We might even be able to pay off some of the “so-called” debt.  In order for this to happen the government has to spend more money than it takes in.

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