Can Obama directly appoint to SCOTUS?

“The President … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.”
— Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 2

The President has floated the name of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, succeeding the late Antonin Scalia.

However, the current Senate leadership continues to doggedly state they refuse to meet with or even consider the candidate, much less place the candidate up for a vote. This would seem to stop the candidate dead in his tracks to his place on the Supreme Court Bench.

…or could it?

The Constitution is clear: nominations for “judges of the supreme court” must be made with the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” However, is failure to vote for or against (i.e., taking no action) a statement waiving its right to act?

Indeed, Diskant, the senior partner of law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler opined in the Washington Post that this is indeed the case.

“It is in full accord with traditional notions of waiver to say that the Senate, having been given a reasonable opportunity to provide advice and consent to the president with respect to the nomination of Garland, and having failed to do so, can fairly be deemed to have waived its right.  Here’s how that would work. The president has nominated Garland and submitted his nomination to the Senate. The president should advise the Senate that he will deem its failure to act by a specified reasonable date in the future to constitute a deliberate waiver of its right to give advice and consent. What date? The historical average between nomination and confirmation is 25 days; the longest wait has been 125 days. That suggests that 90 days is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination. If the Senate fails to act by the assigned date, Obama could conclude that it has waived its right to participate in the process, and he could exercise his appointment power by naming Garland to the Supreme Court.”

This would break what Diskant noted as a “logjam” in our current legislative system. but could also set a new precedent in Presidential appointments: making the Senate act in one way or the other, requiring it to exercise its duty: even if its vote is in the negative, its still exercising its duty. Could this help break the ice of the current system of partisan stonewalling, by strongarming the opposition to act?

This isn’t entirely unprecedented — when the Senate was holding proforma sessions to stonewall Obama’s nominations, particularly to the National Labor Relations Board back in 2012, President Obama unilaterally declared the Senate out-of-session and exercised his appointment power and named his candidates to the Board. While the Supreme Court later ruled these exceeded his ability, this is somewhat different — the Senate is simply not willing to act; and therefore is not approving, but not denying either — and is taking no steps to decline his nomination.

I believe this very well could be a point: by giving the Senate ample time to act, and its refusing to, the reasonable person, and a living Constitution could accommodate the notion that the Senate is willing to waive its right to stop, and therefore grants an approval by being properly notified, and declining its right to stop the nomination and appointment.

Could this set a new precedent in Presidential appointment power? How will the Supreme Court view it; as power grab, or a break in Congressional gridlock?

Further Reading:

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Should Puerto Rico become the 51st State? Yes.

American-and-Puerto-Rico-FlagConsider the fact that Puerto Rico has been a property of the United States since the 19th Century, and the citizens of it have been citizens of the United States since 1917.

Add to that the fact that they can vote in the federal election [the primaries, NOT the general, though], are subject to Federal law, and enjoy many of the benefits offered to citizens of the United States — such as diplomatic representation, protection by the United States Armed Forces and are able to come and go with ease from and to the mainland.

However, there are many things they do NOT enjoy: Puerto Rico has one Delegate in Congress who speaks for them, but is unable to vote in a tie-breaker situation; they don’t have electoral votes for the Presidency. This quite effectively disenfranchises United States citizens of Puerto Rico at the federal level.

Add to this the fact that a majority voted in a 2012 plebiscite (61%) for statehood, and that the statehood movement in Puerto Rico continues to gain steam — both in Puerto Rico and indeed, in our own government.

Said Dr. Ben Carson: “When you stop and think about it Puerto Ricans have been Americans for a century or more already,” “You’ve already paid your dues,” “There have probably been more patriotic Puerto Ricans than any other state. Look at all the contributions that have been made to America.”

He further went on to mention that Puerto Rico’s proximity to Cuba, and its position in the Caribbean make it ideal for granting full statehood to.

Moreover, the fact that Statehood would eliminate the limbo that Puerto Ricans find themselves in: citizens in fact, but do they have the same privilege? In a lot of ways, no — particularly at the federal level. When you further consider granting them statehood would effectively eliminate their current sovereign debt burden, become a means of tax revenue for the federal government and engage already-citizens of the United States in the political process of their own country, the usefulness and positivity of this prospect crystalizes into a solid “YES!”

IMF still very critical of US banking and financial system

When I was reading CNN this morning, I came across a story regarding a strongly worded report from the International Monetary Fund, the Bretton-Woods financial organization that exists to foster international trade and monetary cooperation around the world that, while it noted some positives, noted a lot of negatives in the financial system of the United States.

Most troubling was the fact that the “Big Banks” noted in the 2010 report issued by the IMF have since “gotten bigger,” by absorbing or otherwise acquiring smaller banks. Indeed, it noted two prime examples in JPMorganChase and Wells Fargo, two powerhouse banks which got even larger as it acquired smaller banks during and after the Great Recession that weren’t able to do as well, further increasing their already behemoth sizes. Said the IMF: “Large and interconnected banks dominate the system even more than before.”

Further troubling was the Student Loan market, which has exploded since the Great Recession, tripling in size since 2005 to $1.2 Trillion, per CNNMoney. When one considers students who are drowning in student loan debt may not have a healthy enough debt-to-income ratio to acquire forms of credit, such as unsecured credit, automobiles or even mortgages, the threat to the economy in the future that could be developing becomes quite clear.

Further concern was that of the “shadow banking industry,” per CNNMoney as well, which is the more investment-based banking that includes hedge funds and big-money insurance companies, now account for more than 70% of assets, per the IMF. One major danger to this is that these organizations are not banks, and therefore, are not subject to the same laws and regulation that more “Main Street Banks” or even “Wall Street Banks” are subject to; which open the gates on possible threats to Main Street consumers.

Even moreover, was the detail that even though the Dodd-Frank Act is approaching its fifth anniversary, it’s largely not implemented. Dodd-Frank, often cited as the greatest overhaul in the American financial system since the Great Depression, included many consumer protections, particularly in the mortgage and credit industries.

While not necessarily stated in the IMF report, it does bear mentioning that the Volcker Rule, named for Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was not included in the verbiage for Dodd-Frank, which would prohibit the trading of depositor monies with the [Main Street] Bank off of the Bank’s own accounts — like those on Wall Street Banks; one of the catalysts of the 2007 Great Recession, per his own words.

Further risks cited by the IMF were that of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the common names for the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, government-sponsored entities in the housing industry. The IMF has noted that because the government still has direct control of these entities, which creates fiscal risk, it noted.

So… have we made progress overall? Or do some of the new minuses subtract against the positives we’ve made, leaving us largely where we were several years ago?

Good question. I honestly don’t know. [weighs hands] Consumers have a lot of new protections compared to a decade ago, thanks largely to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and even in the mortgage industry’s new “Closing Disclosure,” which streamlines three closing documents into one document that makes things a little easier to understand — eliminating some paperwork, and eliminating three separate pieces of paperwork in favor of one.

Further Reading:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/07/investing/imf-warns-us-financial-risks/index.html

– http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/gfsr/

The Average American Taxpayer pays… WHAT?

If you’re a taxpayer in the United States, you may find it interesting how much you actually pay to businesses and other interests you already pay money to…

Thanks to some compiling by Moyers & Company, and a couple of other sources; I’ve put together a list:

– A policy analysis from the Cato Institute from 2012 shows that the United States Federal Government loses about $100 Billion a year to corporate subsidy, on everything from energy, to the food and housing industries.  With the methodology of 115 million families, that’s over $800 a year.

– The State and Local Governments themselves are different picture.  The New York Times ran an investigation that determined that State and Local (i.e., the County and City/Town level) gave on average $80 Billion.   That adds up to be almost $700 per year.

– Retirement Banking Fees are another hefty loss for taxpayers — on average costing over $350 per year; which assumes a 1% management fee per year of one’s retirement fund, and a middle-range percentile retirement fund amount as cited by the Economic Policy Institute was assumed to be about $35,000.

– A report by the International Monetary Fund reports that over $83 Billion winds up in interest payments on loans and banking.  That accounts to $722 per year.  A further sobering fact: the five wealthiest banks in the world, JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs account for THREE QUARTERS of these subsidies!

– Overpriced Medications were a surprise to me on this list — while the notion itself was not, the amount certainly was.  A study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that US drug patent monopolies raises the price of prescription medications in the US by over $270 Billion per year!  That translates to over $2000 per year.

– $870 per year goes to corporate tax subsidies, which total about $100 Billion per year, as mentioned by The Tax Foundation.  This includes everything from depreciation, and even experimental tax credits.

– Corporate Tax havens are a very serious problem.  Indeed, the US Public Interest Research Group found that the average taxpayer family paid $1231 per year to offset the losses by those [such as large banks and wealthy individuals] who offshore their monies to avoid taxation.

According to my calculations, that’s $4873 PER YEAR.  Almost five thousand dollars; assuming an average income of about $50,000.

Consider these numbers, when one looks at what they pay out for social programs:

The Examiner released some information in 2012 about what Americans pay in social programs, such things as Education, etc.  A complete list can be found at that link, but leaving out the costs of Defense [as the Military Contract Industry is another racket in and of itself…], the costs turned out to be LESS than $500 PER YEAR.  This accounts for everything including Veterans Benefits spending, Housing, SSI, and even things like our contributions to the Railroad Retirement Fund!

…who should you *really* be mad at when it comes to who can’t afford what?  Where *IS* the “Big Government,” really?  I’ll let you decide.

I freely admit, I’ve abridged *some* information — mostly, related to Defense in Social Spending, but that, to me, doesn’t count…  and even then, admittedly, is only another $250 per year.  I also admit, I rounded *UP* on those figures — so the *actual* costs for Social Programs, are ACTUALLY a little lower.   But I’m a fair guy.

All of a sudden, the political cartoon above isn’t so ridiculous, is it?

I want to especially thank Moyers & Co., and Paul Buchheit for their work on compiling some of this data.

China set to surpass the US Economically This Year — Wait, not so fast…

US-China-Economy-2011

US and China – 2011. Courtesy: WSJ Click for Larger.

While it’s true that the economy of People’s Republic of China [PRC] is indeed set to surpass that of the United States “soon,” [some estimates even say by the end of the current year] — that’s really not that important.  Here’s why:

The United States has held the top economic spot in the world for well over 120 years.  It turns out, if you count everything but sheer “mass money,” America still is the largest economy — and still will be for quite some time.  Here’s why:

Firstly, the Chinese market and economy is manipulated and controlled directly by the Chinese government.  While a lot of what goes on in China that involves international trade or business goes on in “Special Economic Zones” [which are areas that involve far less government intervention than anywhere else], its relatively safe to say that the Chinese economy, as such, is otherwise centrally planned and managed.  The world knows this, and this is something born in mind in any economist, businessman/businesswoman or otherwise when considering the economic power of the PRC.

Secondly, PPP.  Fareed Zakaria aptly demonstrates that the Purchasing Power Parity of the United States still far exceeds that of the PRC.  Indeed, Fareed’s demonstration of the same loaf of bread in China being bought for $1.66, compared to that of $2.39 on average in the States.  Further, his example of the cost of utilities, on average being a third the cost in the PRC compared to a similarly sized home in the US also further demonstrates the US’ superior PPP standing.

Quite so, when one analyzes the PPP of the US and China, China could combined its PPP with that of JAPAN and still not exceed that of the United States.  Indeed, China’s still not able to bank on its PPP — it has to pay for everything at the prevailing exchange rate — not the rate based on its PPP, unlike the US.  And this is just one singular example.

So… is China really overtaking the US economically?   In the words of Tom Wright at the Wall Street Journal, “Yes and No.”  You decide.

Further Reading:

– Tom Wright.  China’s Economy Surpassing U.S.?  Well, Yes and No – The Wall Street Journal Blog

– Chung-Tong Wu. China’s special economic zones: five years later – Asian Journal of Public Administration

– Fareed Zakaria  Is China really about to overtake the US? – Fareed Zakaria 360 – Global Public Square

RadioShack — On the Decline…

One of the places that was special to me as a kid was RadioShack.  As late-20s guy, I saw RadioShack at its height — late 90s/early 2000s, as the corporatization of the stores was taking place.  Back in the day, RadioShack was more a hobby-shop, a place where you could get LEDs, solder for your soldering iron, and was meant to be a “Geeky place, for Geeks, by Geeks.”

Indeed, people actually KNEW what they were selling, and what they did — and how they worked.  You effectively had to have a Ph.D. in “Geek” to work there.  Now, not so much.

Walking into the store, I’m often surprised to find how much Associates do *not* know about the product… more about how to *sell* it.  When asking about products capacity, or the output of another product, etc…  they simply don’t know anymore.  They’re educated now, in “upselling,” and “add-ons,” versus how products themselves actually work.

This is a stark contrast from the RadioShack I grew up with — maybe its because of the restructuring that took place in the early 2000s, where hiring was adjusted from the Store Managers, to now strictly out of its Headquarters in Fort Worth, and Store Managers having little control, past scheduling, to the restructuring of simple education and training — versus being a “hands-on with your project,” they’ve become “hands-on at getting you to spend more.”  While there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself — its changed the culture of the store, dramatically.

Maybe it’s a symptom of my age, maybe it’s a symptom of the brand of the RadioShack label, I’m not sure — but I think if RadioShack went “back to the basics,” and went back to the model that worked, of hobbyists doing what they love — versus a corporatist atmosphere of “We wanna get you what you want, but also sell you this shit too!” I think they could find the glory they once had.

Further, recently, RadioShack noted the close of 1100 stores, citing a 19% loss in sales, particularly during the last holiday season.  CFO John Feray says simply “We are overstored.”

I tend to disagree — I think its more a matter of quality of experience, versus simply being overstaffed.  RadioShack isn’t the place it used to be — and people are taking notice, I think.

I miss *this* RadioShack.

radioshack

Russian Military lands in Ukraine… What now?

The Ukrainian President has been removed from office.

Former Prime Minister [and oligarch?] Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from prison.

…and Russia has begun an armed invasion.

Those are the images seen from the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula today — Russian Spetsnaz gunships landing in civilian airports, Russian soldiers crossing the border on foot, and reports of telecommunications sabotage.

These events happening in just a matter of hours all begs the question: what’s next for the former Soviet republic?

Eurasian Union compared to the European Union

Eurasian Union compared to the European Union

With the so-called Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as Russian Chairman President Vladimir Putin’s brainchild of the Eurasian Union, which is billed as an European Union-answer to post-Soviet states; to which its own stated policy seems to be more a 21st century answer to the USSR than another EU — this apparent military takeover of a pro-West/pro-European Union nation seems to be more a politically self-serving move for Putin than an allied military entering to assist a nation to restore order.

General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO

General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO

Former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark states this is “an armed invasion.”  Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN has said that his nation is prepared to defend itself, and urged the UN to support it.  This isn’t a nation who’s “friend” is entering to “assist” the government in Kiev.

So… what now?

Michigan Supreme Court, including the disgraced former Judge Diane Hathaway

Should Court Judges be elected… or appointed?

Image

A man insults Broward County Judge John Hurley after an unfavorable bond decision, to which he has an astonished look upon his face, who later handed down two consecutive 60-day contempt of court convictions.  Judge Hurley is an elected official.

A question that’s recently been raised to me is:

“Why do we ELECT judges as opposed to having them appointed?”

I’ve always been extremely uncomfortable with elected judges; particularly with educational or other professional credentials required simply to get on the ballot; and the argument is simple: elected judges become constrained and influenced by the political process.

This is a contrast to an appointed judge — someone who is selected by an executive or other governing body, to some term, and is not subject to the political or partisan process otherwise.

With this in mind, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Judges may find themselves rendering politically-biased and motivated decisions and findings if they are subject to an election.  Indeed, this is evidenced in several case studies, one in particular by Loyola Law Professor Berdejô and Berkley Professor of Business Noam Yuchtman found that in Washington State alone, judges who were up for re-election gave considerably harsher sentences in the time leading up to their election compared to their appointed peers; a figure that sharply declined following their re-election.

Another issue to consider is one of judicial bias — not toward the people, as-such, but toward those who are funders, or otherwise their political “heavyweights.”  For example, the justices of the Michigan State Supreme Court enjoy election, and while on the ballot as non-partison, the individuals are nominated for the ballot by the party.  This not only lends to possible bias, but even “judicial gerrymandering.”  All it would take is one “bought” justice to walk to the offices of all the others and say “Look, I’m facing a re-election battle, this guy could pull out on me if we rule unfavorably against him.”

Possible?

An upcoming Constitutional Crisis… Same-sex Marriage.

I had an exam in a State and Local Government class where we were asked about the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the United States Constitution.  I see a very big crisis coming in the future with Article IV here, very soon…  What do you think? Continue reading