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/

Is Tenure important? Yes. Here’s why…

Tenure is one of the more controversial benefits offered to educators in the United States, in particular. Teachers who are “tenured” often are difficult to discipline constructively if they commit violations — even some severe violations.

But when examining the benefits, it becomes clear that Tenure is necessary for a classroom that is as little motivated by external politics as possible.

Consider the fact that Governors often appoint Regents to the University’s management board. This function allows the Governor to effectively control policy at a State school of learning, by and through his appointees to the Board of Regents. While this in and of itself doesn’t sound overly daunting, consider the following:

Consider an instructor teaching a course in a college the Governor appoints Regents to, and this instructor teaches philosophy contrary to the opinions of the Governor. The Governor finds this out, and wishes to see that this employee is somehow sanctioned; which he could theoretically do through his Regent appointees, because the Chief Executive of the State often has the power to “unappoint” individuals, as these individuals often serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The Regent could feel pressured to sanction the employee in some way, including not approving a new contract of which the employee is a part. Regardless of the issue, it gives one individual a LOT of power — that power being the Governor’s.

Without Tenure protections, teachers who teach “politically inconvenient” subjects or topics could find themselves in very serious trouble — and even fighting for their job. With this type of pressure in mind, is a teacher able to remain unbiased from external forces when building a lesson plan? Maybe so, maybe no.

Tenure helps deflect issues such as these — and allows the individual teacher to teach and conduct pedagogical methods or even politically or internally unpopular ideals, methods or philosophies, with a far diminished fear of retribution.  This allows the instructor to be influenced as little as possible by external forces, including shifting political views with the times, changes in administrative or executive leadership — both internal and external to the school, and other forces that drive education.

With these things in mind, what do you think?  Should teachers be as isolated as possible from forces outside the University or School System, or should they be directly held accountable — not the school?

I’ve always believed in holding the school accountable, so schools can error-correct themselves, particularly when it comes to more simple issues such as methodology, research or general practice.   [I’m not taking into account things such as gross dereliction, or showing up to work drunk, or other massive concerns where Tenure shouldn’t count as much, I’m assuming your average, every-day teacher].  Placing individual educators under the microscope of the public, or to forces outside the institution politicizes them — and that simple act causes a change in how the teacher will function, pure and simple.

Further Reading:

NYT: Tenure Firmly in Place, but Colleges Grow Wary of Lasting Commitments

UK begins borrowing in Chinese Yuan — dangerous thing to do?

The Treasury of the United Kingdom has noted that it has begun trading bonds in the Chinese Yuan.

Why is this a concern? The concern is two-fold: one, the currency and economy is centrally planned and manipulated in the People’s Republic of China. Not only is this in direct contradiction of the free-market model of the Western world — and not only is this validated by the Western world by sovereign funds trading in yuan; but this is also a concern of the authoritarian regime having a bigger centrally-planned grasp on Western economies, that is supposed to be relatively free from governmental controls past base consumer and business regulation.

Further, a serious concern is the manipulation of the currency itself by the Chinese government. Quite often, it depresses the yuan compared to the United States dollar, to inflate the US’ trade deficit with the PRC. Inso doing this, while it may be doing it strictly for the sake of manipulating its debt compared to the US currency, the reserve currency of the world, as it sits today — is the United States Dollar; and devaluing its currency compared to the US Dollar manipulates its value across the board. Is the United Kingdom taking a willing part in letting the PRC government manipulate its own currency and economic status by taking the yuan on as an informal reserve?

Further Reading:

– China’s currency dream gets U.K. lift
http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/09/investing/china-yuan-uk/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

Americans with Ebola Released From Hospital… But…

The fact that the Americans who contracted Ebola and returned to the United States for treatment — and have now been released from the hospital after apparently recovering should be a cause for celebration. We now have a potential cure for such a devastating disease.

However, there are those who have said that it took Americans to get sick to come up with a cure for the disease. To a point, that’s kinda true — however…

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method

As a scientist myself [admittedly in my own crack-pot, not-yet-a-REAL-doctor, amateur, Emmett-Brown kinda way], there’s one thing drilled into the psyche of every scientist: be it a surgeon, a researcher, a social scientist or a biologist: the Scientific Method. “Real” research takes time, indeed, often a lifetime’s worth of testing, re-testing, hypothesizing, re-hypothesizing, failures, and successes, before the fruit can be borne. Indeed, Albert Einstein’s own “Great work” which he died writing, is still being written even now by his successors! [That being a revision of general relativity, essentially.]

It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort to come up with true scientific data, particularly when it comes to that of real scientific progress, as opposed to an undergraduate paper being written the night before its due.

It *did* take Americans getting sick to get approval for the drug, “ZMapp” to be released, it would seem — but… it’s still untested. Its side effects, if any, are unknown. Could Ebola be completely wiped out of the body by the drug? Or, could the treatment be similar to how HIV is treated: where it can be functionally eliminated, but still “hide” in the body somewhere, and when treatment stops, the virus gains a foothold on you again. We simply don’t know.

The FDA’s “Compassionate Use” protocol allowed those who knew full-well the risks involved, indeed, scholars in the area themselves, to take part in treatment, knowing that further down the road could bring more problems. What if there is some side-effect that the medication has that winds up causing problems down the road? Could it be an unknown carcinogen? Could it degenerate the brain? That’s what painstaking research and the scientific method is all about — and that’s exactly why it takes years for drugs to be made available for everyone.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. Do “bad drugs” still slip through the system? Of course. But its BECAUSE of the system of test, re-test, test again, test repeating and re-testing the test results that people don’t die from new drugs every day. I herald the day that these people were allowed to go home and continue their recovery, indeed, I celebrate it — Ebola DIDN’T lose two of its most prominent soldiers fighting against it, and indeed, I’m willing to bet that these individuals may find a renewed determination in fighting this terrible disease because of their experience. But, it doesn’t mean that Americans get “preferential” treatment just-because. The rest of the world isn’t a petri dish for the American way of life. We care too — which is exactly why untested drugs don’t go to just “anyone.”

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.

For Behold: The power of political incumbency?

Cynthia Brim, a Cook County, Illinois judge was suspended in 2012, after a series of bizarre incidents wound up having her declared “legally insane.”

cynthia-brim

Judge Cynthia Brim

While the board investigating this incident (a panel made of two judges and two civilians) continue to investigate and determine her plausibility to stay on the bench, not only is she continuing to collect her nearly $200,000 a year salary while on suspension — she’s since won RE-election to the bench.

Reportedly having been hospitalized for mental-related illnesses nine times since 1994, including after having gone catatonic during an official proceeding, the major problem came after she assaulted two Deputy Sheriffs; one was struck by her, and another was thrown a set of keys in an allegedly dangerous manner.

While her case continues to be evaluated, she continues to serve as a suspended judge — meaning she takes no cases, but receives all the pay and honors of a member of the bench; and indeed, has since been RE-elected.

Does this say something about the power of political incumbency?   I encourage you to do your own research and find out.

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?