Posts Tagged States Rights

CONGRESS NEEDS TO ACT ON THE PUERTO RICAN DEBT! BUT, WILL IT?

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been a U. S. Territory since 1898, following the end of the Spanish-American War.  As American Citizens, Puerto Ricans can migrate freely to the Mainland.  Historically, New York City (and the surrounding region) has been the main destination; however, in more recent times, Florida has been the magnet, perhaps due its proximity to the Island, its large Hispanic population and similar climate.

Puerto Rico’s population is down to 3.55 million, while approximately 6.0 million live on the Mainland. The Island’s area is also quite small at 5,324 square miles, just 8.1% of that of Florida.  The Puerto Rican Gross Domestic Product, of goods and services produced in 2014, was just $103.13 billion, or $29,429 on a per capita basis.

The migration of Puerto Ricans from the Island has been going on since the mid-20th Century; however, it has increased somewhat of late as large corporations left following the elimination of certain tax preferences.  Younger, middle-class workers also left with the jobs; which, as a result leaves a population, back home, that is largely a combination of: retirees; young children; disabled residents and a 12.6% Unemployment Rate.

Puerto Rico is in a No-Win situation and the Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, are hesitant to act.  Perhaps that’s because Puerto Ricans, both on the Island and on the Mainland, tend to vote Democratic.  But, the economy in Puerto Rico is in a shambles, with: Personal Income stagnating; Consumer and Business Spending declining, and there is a negative 0.5% Deflation Rate.  Deflation (the opposite of Inflation) generally leads to a further-weakening economy, a reduction in bank lending and greater unemployment.

The only possible options currently are for Puerto Rico to choose between:  making their debt payments on $72 billion in bonds; paying creditors (including pensioners and tax refunds); or reducing such basic services, as police and fire, health care and education.  And that dilemma, unfortunately, will just cause more and more people and businesses to flee the Island, and thus further weaken the Commonwealth’s economy.  Unfortunately, none of those current choices will solve the debt problem.


The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico does not currently have the legal ability to file for (what’s called) Chapter 9 Bankruptcy Protection, under U. S. Law.  Basically, the situation for the Commonwealth can only go from bleak to worse.  The flight of Puerto Ricans fleeing the Island will quickly accelerate if: pensions are delayed; health care is greatly reduced; public safety is cut-back and schools become overcrowded.  And yet, defaulting on its debt will only cause significant legal problems, considerable expenses and preclude any ability to borrow money again in the foreseeable future.

Congress seems to be blind to the dire straits that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is in.  Unfortunately, in the U. S, there is always an election around the corner, and it seems that the moneyed-interests, that own much of Puerto Rico’s debt, know how to get the legislators attention.  When money talks, Congress listens!

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SOUTH CAROLINA, BIRTHPLACE OF THE CONFEDERACY, SHOWS SOME CLASS!

Surely, the whole world knows about the mental instability and cowardice of the White “Supremacist” who joined a prayer group at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina and, then, after sitting with them for an hour, he shot and killed nine of the congregants–after they welcomed him into their House. But. all is not lost in South Carolina, or elsewhere in the South…

After 150 years, much of the reasoning for the so-called “War Between the States” has been forgotten, even by Southerners.  The whole Slavery Issue, which I do not believe was the primary reason for the War, has been forgotten, only to be replaced by the resentment of mostly poor, ill-educated Whites who blame their black neighbors for their own insecurity and lack of purpose in life.

Recently, on a hot summer day, there were two demonstrations at the South Carolina Statehouse: the Black Educators for Justice group rallied, on the north-side (of course) of it, and the Ku Klux Klan and the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi organization, on the south-side.  Although the two rallies were scheduled to be held several hours apart, given the controversial Flag Issue, invariably as expected, elements of both groups did meet.

The linked article from the NY Times, however, demonstrates the very positive outcome as a black State Trooper helped a white man, in a NSM T-shirt, with large Swastika, into the Statehouse.  In actuality, the Trooper is the Director of the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the White “Supremacist” appeared to have been suffering from heat distress.  The law enforcement officer escorted the man into the air-conditioned State House merely to rest and recover.  It’s well worth a read!

The linked article demonstrates the old cliche, from Alexander Pope’s poem, “Essay on Man.”, that: “hope springs eternal”.  The Times article is linked, as follows: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/26/us/black-south-carolina-trooper-explains-why-he-embraced-a-white-supremacist.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news.

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YES, TEAR THE FLAG DOWN; BUT LET’S NOT LOSE THE FOCUS ON THE REAL PROBLEM. RACISM!

There have been numerous comments on the Flag issue, in and by the American media; however, a good bit of it is utter nonsense. The Confederate Battle Flag represents Southern Heritage! Confederate soldiers were traitors! Neither of those accusations passes the “smell test” once reality is factored in.

During the American Civil War (1861 to 1865), even President Lincoln referred to the nation as a “house divided”. No one in South Carolina or Georgia was any less an American than a resident of Massachusetts or Delaware. They were all among the original 13 colonies to sign-on.

History shows that most, if not all, of the various state militias–on both sides–fought under their own (generally) regimental banners. In fact, it has been suggested by some that the Flag currently flown over the Confederate Monument on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse was actually that of the Tennessee Regiment. Others say that it was the West Virginia Regimental colors (flag). The linked report from the Washington Post sheds some light on the history of (what is now regarded as) the Confederate Battle Flag: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/evolution-of-a-controversial-flag/1738/.

In reality, the Confederate Battle Flag in question had not been flown throughout the South ever since the Civil War. as some might claim. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan, pushed through the Civil Rights Act, followed by the Voting Rights Act in 1965. At the time, he stated that that probably meant that the South would go Republican for some time to come. The movement of those historically Democrats-turned-Republicans was know as the “Dixiecrats”. The South has leaned mostly Republican ever since.

The claims that that Flag honors traitors is likewise without merit. The overwhelming majority of Southerners, during that period (or before or since) did not own slaves. Many didn’t even own property. Let’s also not forget that a number of our Founding Fathers were, in fact, slaveowners.
The average soldier in the Army of the Confederate States of America was merely doing their job–perhaps as the best way to support their families during hard times. I doubt that their dedication and motivation was any different than that of their comrades in the Union Army. And, the same could certainly be said for today’s military serving in the middle East, and elsewhere around the world.

It is important to acknowledge, by the way, that one of the most capable and respected soldiers that the American Army has ever produced was General Robert E. Lee. He did not wish to join the Confederacy; however, he said that, as a “Son of Virginia”, he believed that it was his duty.

So, the Battle Flag has been hijacked by White Supremacists and represents a “call to action” for those who believe that hatred and violence–bringing others down, will demonstrate their “supremacy”. Instead, it shows their own insecurity and incompetence. This brings up a serious case of “whatchamacallit” from those on the “Right”.

For the past year, most Republicans have castigated President Barack Obama for not referring to the various terrorist groups in the Middle East as “Islamic” or “Islamists”. Perhaps Islamophobia sells well to the “Right”-Wing Base; but, those killers are no more Muslim than Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City Bomber) was a Christian.

Likewise, those on the “Right” have trouble condemning what happened at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, as Racism. The vilest form of hatred! The GOP, in fact, seems to like having the argument focus on the flag–which is a mere symbol of the problem–rather than look behind the curtain at the inbred racism that still persists today in America.

You see, many of those in the Republican political base tend to hate–Muslims, Jews, Blacks, etc. That’s why some states in the South have tried to ban Sharia Law from being introduced in the U.S. Frankly, that’s like trying to ban a convention of mythical Easter Bunnies. So, among the “Right”, Blacks are bad, and racism seems to be OK. Oh, and let’s throw the Gun Lobby in as part of the same movement. Just don’t label; it as such!

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WHAT IF THE GUN NUTS RE-WROTE OUR CONSTITUTION ?

Sitting at home on July 4th, as the Fireworks began (around 9:00 PM), I wondered what might have happened if the Gun Nuts who hi-jacked the Second Amendment, and the folks on the “Right” who encourage them, had free rein on all 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  You see, in their haste to cherry-pick selected wording, in order for them to carry assault rifles, have thirty round clips and carry them openly, they seem to have failed to actually read the entire Amendment.

Back in Colonial Times, Britain had very stringent control over who could carry weapons.  That was generally meant to apply to muskets; because, “rifling” (which caused the shell to spin more true in its trajectory) had not been invented yet.  So, by denying weapons to the Colonials, only the Crown would have firepower.  Thus, our Constitution’s Second Amendment begins with: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”  Part two, the words the gun nuts actually saw were: “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

As I sat here, I wondered what other Amendments might have been defaced, as well?  Now, I am only going to cite a few Amendments, which a deleted word, or another one added, or one of those political-speak redactions, might have used to change the course of American History.  Consider, just a few of the following, with changes in parenthesis:

First: Congress shall make (“laws”, instead of “no law”) respecting an establishment of religion…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble peaceably…

Fourth: The right of the people to secure their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizers, shall (delete not) be violated…

Fifteenth, Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall (delete “not”) be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color of previous condition of servitude.

Sixteenth: The Congress shall have (add “no”) power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source…

Nineteenth: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall (delete “not”) be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.

Now, I could go on, and if I chose to be more adventurous in my re-wording, let’s say more than a word or two, almost all of the Amendments could be changed, to varying degrees.  So, I just focused on some of our most basic rights:  freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, illegal search and seizure, the right to vote, the power to tax, etc.  These are all contentious issues with many on the “Right”.

States Rights tends to be an opportunistic choice, but mostly when a particular political party does not occupy the White House.  When their man (perhaps woman, in the future) sits there, they are all for an Imperial Presidency.  When the opposing party controls the Oval Office, however, they believe that most power should be centralized at the the State level.

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PUERTO RICO. THE FINANCIAL BASKET CASE…JUST OFF OUR SHORES.

The debt crisis in Puerto Rico has been overshadowed by Greece’s on-going negotiations with its European creditors.  When Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced yesterday that Puerto Rico could not repay its $72 billion in debt and $50 billion in pensions, however, the Commonwealth’s problems moved to front and center.

Yes, there are similarities, as in any potential bankruptcy situation; however, the two situations are also quite different.  But, in this post, I will focus primarily on what is going on in Puerto Rico, and why I think that it might have happened.  Let me also point-out that the legal status of the Commonwealth places it in a limbo situation–somewhat like a U.S. state, but yet it also lacks some of the financial options that states have.

Only 37.6% of the commonwealth’s 3.62 million population are in the labor force, while even 12.4% of those are unemployed. It is important to remember that Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens and, as such, they are entitled to migrate to, and work on, the Mainland, where unemployment is roughly half as high.  Most of the other residents of Puerto Rico, that are not included in the labor force, are either retirees or children.  And, the percentage of seniors in the population is growing fast.

With a debt-to-GDP (Commonwealth Debt divided by Economic Activity) ratio of 69.9%, Puerto Rico appears to be in much better shape than the U.S., which has a ratio of 109%. Unfortunately, the Puerto Rican economy does not produce much except for what is manufactured by U.S. corporations on the island.  The financial problems, on the other hand, continue to abound.

Besides the high unemployment rate, a third of the private sector jobs are at the minimum-wage level, and a significant proportion of the population is employed by various government bodies.  Thus, there is little attraction for creativity and entrepreneurship skills in the local workforce.  Additionally, with a brain drain of younger and more-educated people migrating to the Mainland, there is little reason to expect a resurgence of younger workers in the Island’s labor force.

And, that brings us to the Puerto Rican economic woes.  Similar to Greece and other weak economies in the Eurozone, its economy exists within a much stronger, more vibrant economic system, that of the U.S.  Under more normal circumstance, an independent Puerto Rico could devalue its own currency–thus discouraging imports, while making its exports more attractive in foreign markets.  Also, unlike Greece and even Detroit, Michigan, the Commonwealth cannot declare bankruptcy.

Over the recent decades, Puerto Rico has not opted for Statehood, which would have provided potential solutions for it.  And, for some reason, Washington has not been forceful in encouraging such necessary support that would potentially breathe new financial life into the Island’s economy.  I believe that it is time for the residents of the Commonwealth to finally vote “Si” for Statehood, instead of just “Mañana”.

NOTE:  On a political note, there might not be much interest in Washington to grant Statehood for Puerto Rico since the residents tend to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidates.

 

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AFTER TWO STATES LEGALIZED IT, WILL RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA GO NATIONWIDE?

After Citizens voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, it went on sale in Colorado at the beginning of this year, and in Washington State just this past week.  Realizing that, like other so-called vices, alcohol, gambling and prostitution, politicians see the opportunity to levy taxes on such products and services.  Additionally, when it is legalized, the prices drop and organized crime finds such vices less attractive financially there.

No doubt, both residents and politicians in other states have begun considering a similar move, in order to increase their own tax receipts, rather than lose them to Colorado or Washington.  At first, there is the urge to consider the legalization of gambling–first in Las Vegas, then in Atlantic City and eventually in many other areas where it seems that Indian Reservations just cropped-up–as a blueprint for legalizing marijuana.  However, the two are not the same and the impact, I believe, will probably be different.

Gambling casinos prefer to box-out hotels and restaurants, which are not associated with casinos, to the point that their business drops-off and, in some cases, they close.  With legalized pot, however, it is more of a personal thing: quantities that can be owned or purchased are limited.  Similar to alcohol consumption, there are laws against public intoxication and driving while under the influence.  Legalized pot probably wouldn’t increase crime and prostitution like gambling does.  But there is another issue that remains to be seen as to how it works out in Colorado or Washington State.

In most states, there will be pockets of Conservatives and Liberals, with a mixture of the two in between.  Since issues like the legalization of gambling, prostitution and any intoxicants are generally decided through a voter referendum, a sales pitch is usually made.  So far, the usual blueprint includes the promise that the tax revenue derived from the gambling, marijuana, prostitution etc., will go to support such universally popular issues as education and programs for senior citizens.

What the sales pitch leaves out, however, is what will happen to the tax revenue that supported those very same programs prior to the legalization of any of the vices.  Just check your own state and see whether the spirit of those promises were, in fact, kept.  It can be somewhat like a shell game.  Thus, the revenue that supported, let’s say, education and senior programs is diverted to the politicians’ pet projects, and the new revenue, more or less replaces it.  So, the net effect is;  “No Change”!

Here’s where two questions come up:  did those popular projects improve in any way; and, what happens when the vice revenue drops off?  For instance, what happens when tourists from surrounding states no longer visit Denver or Seattle to do a little weed, after their states legalize it?  Will the politicians merely take funds from the pet projects to maintain equivalent funding?  Don’t bet on it!

Normally, the original politicians who invented that shell game are long gone from office by the time the schlitz hits the fan.  And, the politicians in office at the time the short-fall is projected would probably do what any “self-respecting” politician would do:  offer to raise taxes; reduce services or both.  Surprise! Surprise!

So, when your state or local politicians want to make you an offer you can’t refuse, be sure to grab onto your pockets, your wallet or purse and the keys to your car.  Be sure to ask the following questions:  how much is currently supporting those popular programs; will the revenue that currently supports them continue to do so, or will it be diverted elsewhere–where and why; and, lastly, what happens when that new tax revenue source drops off?  If your state or local government is merely replacing one funded revenue source with an unfunded one, while emphasizing how great that would be for you, it’s really just “Bait and Switch”!

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IS THERE A HUMANE WAY TO EXECUTE SOMEONE?

On Tuesday evening, the State of Oklahoma was scheduled to execute two convicted murderers; however, the first, that of Clayton Lockett, was botched as the three-drug “cocktail” did not work properly.  After the State realized that fact, the Director of Corrections tried to call it off.  In the end, Mr. Lockett died after 43 minutes of a Massive Heart Attack. Warner’s execution has been stayed for 14 days.

Stephanie Nieman, age 19, walked in on Lockett and his accomplice, Charles Warner, during the commission of a crime in 1999. They shot her twice and, then, buried her alive.  Lockett and Warner were both sentenced to Death, and spent the last 15 years on Death Row.

The European pharmaceutical companies that previously produced the drugs, which were used in Executions pretty much throughout the U. S., had stopped making them.  The State of Oklahoma devised several alternatives; however, there were two problems: the State would not reveal what drugs the cocktail was composed of, and the cocktail was considered “experimental” since the drug combination had never been used before.

On April 21, the State Supreme Court stayed the Executions of Lockett and Warner, until the Court could review whether the drug cocktail would constitute “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”.  Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallon ®, however, declared that the State’s Executive Branch would not honor the Stay.  Perhaps that misstep might have turned the heat up even more on the Governor.

The real question is, should America be one of the few so-called Civilized Countries that executes criminals?  Several points that I would suggest are:  maybe Capital Punishment is not really a deterrent; perhaps Life in Prison, without a chance of Parole, might be more punitive; the expense of going through the long Legal Process to Execute someone is generally more expensive than a Life-Term; and information that could be revealed later, such as DNA, might show that the guilt could be in doubt.

What is the impact of the eventual Execution on the Family of the Victim?  With all of the Murders that take place in this Country–much too frequently–the feelings of Family members may differ substantially.  But, for many, the initial Uncertainly as to what happened and by who, the Trial, Appeals Process and, then, the actual Execution just seem to prevent their Closure.  For some, they would just like to put the horror of it all behind them.

Lastly, what does putting Human Beings to Death say about our System of Laws?  Perhaps John Adams first raised the issue when,  before he was President, he agreed to defend the British Soldiers who went on Trial after the Boston Massacre.  Even though our Constitution had not been finalized as yet, Adams seemed to believe that “Equal ProtectIon” applied to everyone–even British Soldiers.  The point is who are we, as a Nation, that we can put someone to Death?

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