Thursday, July 25, 2013

Legal action against Congressional Republicans is overdue

They wanted to make him a one term President.  In a clandestine  meeting they conspired to block every piece of legislation that supported his policies so he would be ineffective as a President.  They lied about his intentions during the 2012 Presidential campaign.  They continually lie about the Affordable Care Act and have voted to repeal it 37 times.  They have even voted against their own legislation when it is clear that Obama supports it.

The obstruction happening in Congress is solely due to Republicans who hate Obama more than they love America.  The most frustrating thing is that not all of America is as angry at Republicans as Republicans in Congress are with President Obama.

Because this Republican obstruction is a conspiracy that is intentionally designed to be destructive to America, Republicans in Congress are guilty of the crimes of "Conspiracy to Obstruct"  and "Conspiracy to Defraud."

The following is the legal explanation of "Conspiracy to Obstruct" (18 U.S.C. 371).

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The following is the legal explanation of "Conspiracy to Defraud" 

Section 371 contains both a general conspiracy prohibition and a specific obstruction conspiracy prohibition in the form of a conspiracy to defraud proscription. The elements of conspiracy to defraud the United States are: (1) an agreement of two more individuals; (2) to defraud the United States; and (3) an overt act by one of conspirators in furtherance of the scheme.  The "fraud covered by the statute ‘reaches any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful functions of any department of Government” by “deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.” The scheme may be designed to deprive the United States of money or property, but it need not be so; a plot calculated to frustrate the functions of a governmental entity will suffice.

Debt ceiling discussions are coming up again in the fall.  Raising the debt ceiling is necessary to allow America to pay debts that Congress has already made.  Republicans have already threatened to use the debt ceiling as leverage to get the administration to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke and other financial experts have indicated to Congress, that blocking the debt ceiling increase will lead to a serious recession.

If Republicans go ahead with this threat it will do severe damage to the United States economy with their full approval.  This is more than ordinary politics.  It is akin to a terrorist threat that means to do harm to America.

If Republicans block debt ceiling increases, Attorney General Eric Holder would be correct to bring them up on criminal charges.  Republicans in Congress have so far escaped legal action for their conspiracy against the United States, but they are no longer legitimate politicians.  If they place America into default on its debts they have entered into the realm of disobedience to law and deserve to be held accountable.  

The chances of legal action against them are slim but you can do something about them.  Write them, call them and tell others how you feel about their actions.  Doing this now may help avoid disaster.  Don't wait until it's too late and you are personally affected by their actions.

At the very least, please vote them out of office in the 2014 mid-term elections and help get government working for all the people and not against them.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The straw that breaks the elephants back?

President Obama taught Americans about demand side economics today in a speech designed to kick-start action in Congress and allow Republicans to show they are serious about John Boehner's so far empty slogan "...Republicans most important action is to create jobs, jobs, jobs."  His presentation was inspiring and showed his sincere concern for America's middle class as well as his understanding about real solutions to initiating economic prosperity for all Americans.

Specifically he spoke about and elaborated on the cornerstones of improving the economy.  These are:

1. Good Jobs with decent wages and benefits.  His efforts will be towards recognizing companies that keep jobs in America and treat their employees fairly.

2. Education programs to prepare children for global competition.  He spoke about the need for pre-school for all 4 year olds; improving school infrastructures; reversing the student loan rate increase and making college affordable for all Americans.

3. Home ownership.  He wants to encourage ownership based on solid foundation of fair and clear rules and asked Congress to take action to encourage families to refinance at low rates.

4. Secure retirement.  He believes America has an upside down system where the wealthy get generous tax exceptions to save but the lower classes do not get the same breaks.  He wants to allow the middle class to save money and belay fears of poverty in retirement.  He reminded Congress that passing immigration reform makes undocumented workers pay their taxes and shores up social security.

5. Health Care focus.  He wants Americans to have security in knowing neither accident nor illness will cause you to lose your savings.  The affordable care act means a better deal for people.  Private insurers will compete for your business.  Pre-existing conditions will have to be covered.  Health care costs are being driven down.  Some states are finding that premiums will  be 50% lower.  The Affordable care act ensures health insurance coverage for 26 year olds under their parents plan.  He does not know why Republicans want to repeal such a benefit for people.

6. Rebuild opportunity for those who have not made it.  The President believes that too many are still in poverty.  He recognizes that America does not guarantee success and people need to be self-reliant.  But he wants there to be a quality of opportunity and upward mobility available for everyone.  The American idea is that you can make it if you work hard, but opportunity is harder to find over the last 30 years.  We must do more to give every American the chance to make it to the middle class.
He wants to rebuild run down neighborhoods.  He again calls for raising the minimum wage.  He believes economic growth will benefit everyone when it comes from the middle class out and not top down.  Even without Congress he says he will do whatever is in his power to focus on that philosophy.  He is calling on the private sector to step up and for Democrats to redesign or get rid of non-workable programs.

7. Republicans must work with the President to find common ground.  President Obama thinks there are Republicans who privately agree with his policies in Congress now but they are afraid of retribution from their party.  He identifies Republicans in Congress as the greatest obstruction that hampers economic growth.  Republicans must now lay out their ideas.  He reminds them that you can't just be against something.  He insists they must be for something.  He is ready to work with Republicans if they have any ideas.  He says if Republicans have any better  ideas then they should stop taking ludicrous repeal votes and share their ideas with the country.  The President will not accept deals that do not meet the test of strengthening hard working families.

Still focused on the Republican obstruction in Congress,  the President says that doing nothing will lose a part of the character of America.  The American dream will be lost and the position of the middle class will erode further.  Money politics will destroy our country more.  Fundamental optimism will give way to cynicism.  He warns "that's not the vision of America we should settle for."

The President appeals to the moral compass of Republicans to stop the fighting in order to think about the American way of life.  Making America special is not to focus on making the few wealthy.  It's about making America benefit.  It's an American dream; not Obama's dream or Sally's dream or John's dream.

Unfortunately, demand side economics flies in the face of Congressional Republicans view of the
pathway for economic success.  According to Republicans since Ronald Reagan, supply side economics is the way to trickle down prosperity to the lower levels of society.  This means bolstering the wealthy with tax cuts and government money while reducing government spending on the public infrastructure and reducing government spending that benefits the weakest in society.

One must remember that Republican majority leader John Boehner assigned Paul Ryan to create their proposed budget.  Paul Ryan is a firm believer in Ayn Rand's anti-Christian policies of survival of the fittest.  As such his proposed budget slashes government programs that benefit the general public and the poorest in society in favor of tax cuts and government subsidy entitlements for the wealthiest Americans.  Even though Republicans will stand fervently united in their faith of supply side economics, economists have identified the undeniable fact that only the wealthy benefit from it.

From demand comes business profits.  Without demand, businesses will hold onto their cash reserves, remove jobs to be more in line with decreased demand and find cheaper ways to produce their products.

This is exactly what we have seen in the rush to manufacture in foreign countries, finding cheaper foreign workers, suppressing unions, hiring temporary and part-time workers instead of higher paid full time employees and keeping wages for Americans low.  Without demand, any business would not survive.  American workers who are the product consumers provide businesses with that demand.  Bolstering the working class would benefit businesses and improve the economy for everyone.

So will Republicans rally around President Obama's vision of economic prosperity?  My opinion is that they would rather ruin our economy by disallowing debt ceiling increases than changing this basic misunderstanding that they have about economics.

So what will the President's speech accomplish if our government is still obstructed by Republicans?  Perhaps I give more credit to the American voter than is due, but I believe this speech will setup the failure of Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections.  Any thinking American voter will understand the concept and should be fed up with Republican obstruction.

This speech may be the straw that breaks the elephants back.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Are unions really the bad guys?

Allow no compromise!
The longer I live in America the more I realize that politicians like to take sides.  It seems the culture is one where there are winners and losers but very few opponents, at least in modern day politics, who share success.

Look at Congressional Democrats and Republicans.  They have lost the ability to compromise on most everything.  It takes extreme measures to come to agreement.  Each party is at opposite sides of the political spectrum.   There are very few moderates who can empathize with the other side.  Progress in Washington has become stuck in needless competition for the most political points at the expense of America.  Anything is possible and it seems the important thing to most politicians is to propel their party to success in upcoming elections.  Deceiving the public is no exception.

Republicans stand with the wealthy.  Democrats stand with the middle class and poor.  Republicans support management.  Democrats support workers.  Republicans support a right to life.  Democrats support freedom of choice.  Republicans stand with the NRA.  Democrats want to protect families from gun violence.  Republicans want to end the National Labor Relations Board while Democrats support it as the only means left for American worker's grievances to be heard.  Democrats introduced worker union protections with the Wagner Act.  Republicans reduced worker union protections with the Taft-Hartley Act.

Senator Rand Paul
Today I received a mailing from Rand Paul asking me to petition my Senators, Congressmen, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to support the National Right to Work Act because (and I quote) "union lobbyists, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and their allies are going to use every trick in the book to bury the National Right to Work Act."

Sounds very serious.  Why would the Democrats want to prevent someone from having a right to work?

As I read further into the mailing I soon realized that the real trickster was Rand Paul.  The name of the Act is a misnomer.  The Act deceives the American public into thinking that unions make people pay to work, when its real intention is to weaken employee protections by the further erosion of union membership.  Republicans in government hate unions and since Ronald Reagan have successfully hoodwinked the American public into believing they are the bad guys causing lots of problems with the economy.  Republicans hate of unions rises from the fact that unions protect the labor force.  Labor is a cost to business owners and Republicans in Congress represent business owners.

The Wagner Act became law in 1935.  It established the National Labor Relations Board and legally established the right to organize unions.  Unions were established by Congress as an employee protection against existing unfair practices by their employers.  These practices included such things as harsh working conditions, long hours, low pay, unsafe working conditions, workplace health risks and child labor.  These things really happened and at one time Congress sought to protect American workers from it.  In fact if you don't think it can ever happen again, just look at current working conditions in  factories in China, Bangladesh and India which are used by American manufacturers.  American CEOs are still looking for the cheapest labor and least government labor regulations in order to decrease costs so executive management can profit more.  There is no concern for the safety of employees in those countries and American CEO's know it.

Then in 1946 Republicans won both the Senate and the House.   They acted quickly to reduce employee union membership and further erode the unified voice that American workers had by passing the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 over President Truman's veto.  This act banned "closed union shops" and encouraged "right to work" laws.  The act gave management new weapons while restricting union activities.

Now just based on those two historical events, the reader should understand that Republicans support the management side of the equation and Democrats support the employee.  For Rand Paul to attempt to make people believe anything else is dishonest.  Any labor act introduced by Republicans will only reduce employee benefits in order to protect wealthy business owners.

Yet Rand Paul wants workers to believe that unions are greedy self-interested groups of mobsters and union dues bankroll tax-and-spend politicians and fund a "limousine lifestyle" for union "bigwigs."  How deceitful!

Rand Paul's Act proposes amending the NLR Act (National Labor Relations Act, a.k.a. Wagner Act)  and the Railway Labor Act in several places.  All amendments would change the current law with the major intention of reducing union membership by making it possible for non-union members to be hired in a union shop.  These non-union members would not pay union dues and still work under contracts negotiated by the existing union.  Paul's Act would allow all states to decide whether they should be pro-labor union or anti-labor union.

Senator Paul uses reverse psychology to make current law sound as though it takes something away from employees since their right to represent themselves to management is not present in current law.  This is completely opposite of the purpose of the law and unions themselves.  Employees could not protect themselves from employers in the first place and that is why unions were allowed by law.  Union negotiations and union actions are made much less successful when a large number of employees in a union shop do not belong to the union.  The protections of workers is seriously reduced as a result.

Senator Paul also believes that most workers would be better off if they do not have to pay union dues.  As he puts it workers are forced to pay union dues to keep their jobs.  Apparently he believes having the few dollars more in a paycheck that union dues would represent is better than having union protections for the average worker.

So what evidence do we have that workers in anti-labor union states are better off than pro-labor union states?   How do the anti-labor union "right to work" (RTW) states fair in comparison to pro-labor union states?

Anti-labor union states
The states where Republican legislatures have passed RTW laws is shown in the map and are shaded with greenish color.

RTW anti-labor union states on average have a 3.2% lower wage than pro-labor union states.  Because wages are lower, some manufacturers are moving their operations to the RTW anti-labor union states and so the statistic sometimes quoted by RTW states is that business is increasing its presence in their states.  Do you think the move to RTW states by business is due to more protections for that state's workers?  Or could it be some other reason, like reduced labor costs?  The AFL-CIO says that wages in RTW states are about $5600/year less than pro-labor union states.

Employers that have health insurance plans is about 2.6% lower in the RTW states and amounts to about two million less workers covered by health insurance nationally.  Employer sponsored pensions are about 4.8% lower in RTW states.  If workers in pro-labor union states were to receive pensions at this lower rate, 3.8 million fewer workers nationally would have pensions.

Republicans have been working for decades to erode labor laws so that their constituents, big business executives, can increase their share of the wealth in the United States.  They are not doing it for the protection of the labor force and don't let them tell you differently.

UPDATE: As with a lot of their policies, despite their phony rhetoric about saving America, there is an ulterior motive for Republicans desire to remove Unions from America.  Unions are the greatest political lobbying groups that working class Americans have against the vast array of conservative lobbyist groups.  Unions represent working class Americans.  By removing Unions, Republicans are removing all of their competition from the political money arena.   Especially with the Citizens United decision that gave big money the ability to buy politicians, this makes a huge difference in elections and increases the chances that Republicans will get elected.  This is not a coincidence.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fed Chairman Bernanke's report to Congress

Ben Bernanke
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke met today with Congressional leaders of the Financial Services Committee to report on the Federal Reserve's take on the state of the economy and Federal Reserve actions in that regard.

In an introductory statement Mr. Bernanke made it clear that the fiscal policy that legislators have chosen to take has been a detriment to the economic recovery.  In an effort to acknowledge the impact that a dysfunctional Congress has on the economy, he highlighted that tight fiscal policy will restrain economic growth.  He warned that political fights over raising the debt ceiling as has happened in the past would hamper the recovery.  Although a few of the Congressmen on the committee appeared to understand the importance Congress has in assisting in the recovery, it is still to be seen if Congressional Republicans take this guidance into consideration as they enter discussions about raising the debt ceiling, ending sequester or resurrecting the American Jobs Act.

Bernanke believes the economy is recovering at a moderate pace.  He cited the improvements in the housing market as contributing to economic gains and predicted this would continue to improve notwithstanding recent mortgage interest gains.

He believes the labor market is improving gradually and contributed a 0.1% drop in the unemployment rate to the Fed's policies of buying assets.  He admits that job growth has a long way to go to be considered satisfactory.  As I have stated in previous blogs, I question the impact that buying assets really has on the job market especially because it does nothing to increase demand for products and services.  It does have an important impact on the stock market as we have seen investors sell off stocks and bonds when Bernanke hinted that the asset purchase program was going to be discontinued.

Understanding the emotional nature of the stock market, Bernanke was careful not to repeat the mistake of hinting at a change in the asset program at the committee meeting.  He emphatically stated that the current asset purchase program will continue and monetary policy will be "accommodative" for the foreseeable future.  As of noon today the US markets appeared to be unaffected by Bernanke's comments.

In order to help prevent another Bush era financial collapse of the big banks, Fed policy is to prevent  collapse by increasing the requirement for cash reserves under what is called Basel III capital reforms.

 In summary, Bernanke explained three mechanisms that the Fed is using to support economic growth.  These are mortgage asset purchases, forward guidance on Fed plans for the federal fund rate target and Basel III capital reforms.

Based on the comments at the committee meeting, it appears obvious that the Fed needs a lot of help from Congress to revitalize the economy.  Bernanke's warning about Congressional actions around fiscal policy may have been his cry for help.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Harry Reid is giving Senate Republicans one more chance before launching the nuclear option

Senator Harry Reid
Senate majority leader Harry Reid entered closed door session Monday evening with Minority leader Mitch McConnell and other Senators interested in avoiding the "nuclear option" being threatened by Reid which would likely change Senate filibuster rules solely by Democratic votes.  

Because Republicans in the Senate have caused an unprecedented number of filibusters, some of which are directed toward obstruction of President Obama's appointments to key federal agencies, Reid has hinted that the rules around Presidential appointments might be changed to allow a simple majority vote for approval.  Currently, appointments must be approved by 2/3 of the Senate, or 67 Senators.  Additionally, the rules change could also reduce the number of votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Reid's urgency to adopt a rules change is the result of the Republican disruption of government affairs.  There are a good number of federal agencies that cannot function properly without the appointees who are being blocked.  Republicans have publicly announced that they do not have a problem with the appointees, but they are opposing the appointments because they are trying to change the mandates of and prevent affected agencies from being effective.  To paraphrase, Republicans believe this conspiracy to obstruct government affairs is necessary in order to mold government into one that would better serve their constituents.

What has been disclosed about the meeting thus far indicates that no agreement has been reached that will prevent the nuclear option.   Senator Reid will test the stubborn determination of the Republicans in blocking President Obama's appointees by calling for a vote to approve some critical bureau appointees in Tuesday's Senate session.

Among these appointees is Richard Cordray, acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  If Republicans block this appointment, Reid will go ballistic and initiate the nuclear option.  It is not clear if Reid will still go nuclear if all of the previously blocked appointees are still blocked by Republicans.   See the details about the CFPB here.

During the meeting, some Republican Senators were still expecting to get the advantages they have been fighting for by offering empty compromises.  For example, they offered approving Richard Cordray provided the CFPB could be changed the way that Republicans wanted it.  

Reid has said that if the rules change is enacted, only Presidential appointments would be affected by the simple majority rule and not all Senate business.  Some are concerned that such a change could be used against Democratic  introduced legislation, such as ObamaCare if Republicans take the Senate majority after the 2014 elections.

Opinion is that the chance for the nuclear option is high, particularly because of the blockage of the appointees to the National Labor Relations board.  Republicans want to eliminate that agency and approving the appointees is the furthest thing from their minds.

Senator McCain is trying to strike up a deal with other Republicans and Senator Reid to stave off the nuclear option and is leaning toward approving the appointees.  Senator McCain was not sure what the outcome would be.

So we wait.  The one thing that seems most certain is this: if an agreement does not happen before tomorrow's vote and Republicans still block the appointments, the nuclear option will be used.