The Fight for the Senate: Who Will Win Control?

The main talk of the 2014 election has been which political party will control the Senate after the votes have been counted.  Democrats have been on defense throughout most of the country as President Obama’s approval rating has been low. So with just a little more than a week to go, where do I think the numbers will fall?

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Colored: Safe Seats; Gray: Toss-Ups

In this election cycle, Democrats have 38 seats that are safe or not up for reelection while Republicans have 42. So that is where my numbers start.

Democrats are projected to win the elections in Illinois (Durbin), Michigan, Minnesota (Franken), New Jersey (Booker), New Mexico (Udall), Oregon (Merkley), and Virginia (Warner).  Republicans are safe in the elections in Mississippi (Cochrane), South Dakota, and West Virginia.  This brings the total to 45-45 with 10 states that will determine the balance of the Senate.

In their latest forecast as of the time of writing this column, Nate Silver and those at fivethirtyeight.com give the Republicans a 62.1% chance of retaking the Senate.  The race is on for either side to grab 6 of the 10 toss-up seats.  It is going to be close, and it might just hinge on one thing we would not have predicted even 6-months ago.

It seems likely that Republicans will win seats currently held by Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Though in Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will win on November 4, she will not cross the 50% threshold sending the top 2 into a run-off in December in which she will fall.  Republicans will also hold onto their seat in Kentucky.  This gives the GOP a total of 50 seats.

So what about the Democrats?  I believe they will hold onto their seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  I’ve watched over the polls of Colorado, and they have given me a headache just as they did during the 2012 election.  I will go out on a limb that Colorado will stay in the Democratic column but just barely.  There is still a state that was a surprise for this grouping.  Even a month ago, I had not included it here but my gut tells me to do so now.  Georgia.  Again, I believe this will be extremely close, but that the Democrat will come out on top.  Total for the Democrats… 49.

This leaves one seat remaining.  Republicans need it for control; Democrats need it for a tie with Vice-President Biden (Democrat) being the tie-breaker.  I hinted at this earlier, and it is Kansas.  As the election year started, Republicans saw Sen. Pat Roberts as a safe seat.  He had a tea-party challenge in the primary which he defeated.  He was being challenged by the Democrats and an Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Then the Democrat, basically seeing the writing on the wall, dropped out leaving only Orman to challenge Sen. Roberts.  The race has tightened up, but I’m predicting that Orman will pull off the upset and join Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) in the Senate.  So it will come down to where he caucuses: with the Republicans to give them majority, or with the Democrats to give them a tie (and thus majority off the tie-breaker).

My 2014 Prediction

My 2014 Prediction

This is how close it is going to be.  The Senate will be 50-50 or 51-49 Republican.  The Senate may need to learn how to compromise and function a little bit better with the chamber so evenly divided.  Despite all the polls and predictions, it will all still be determined by who shows up to vote.  So make sure to vote on November 4.

** This column is my sole opinion based off examining various polls.
** Special thanks to RealClearPolitics for allowing me to create my own map.

US Involvement Against the Threat of ISIL

Americans are war weary.  The nation has been at war since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  We have been involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, and even Libya during its uprising.  For the past couple of years, we have even been “secretly” shipping arms to rebels in Syria.

As we finally see our troops coming home from Afghanistan, in what has become this nation’s longest war, we are now talking about Iraq once again.  This time it isn’t the nation as it is a group that calls itself ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).  It has also been referred to as ISIS.  It comes from Syria and has crossed the border into Iraq taking one town after another in sweeping fashion.

A couple of months ago, the United States began bombing ISIL targets on the ground.  First, it was to protect a minority group of Yazidis who are ancient Mesopotamian.  Then we began to assist the Kurds as they fought for their own survival in northern Iraq.

But where has the rest of the Iraqi army been?  The one that we spent billions training and equipping?  As ISIL swept through the country, they fled… some even without firing a shot.  And to make it even worse, they left behind the equipment that we left for them which includes tanks that ISIL now has and that we now bomb.

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President Obama has spoken with congressional leaders and has asked for approval before committing to a larger international mission that he laid out in a speech to the American people on Wednesday night.  But how much support is there from Congress or the American people?  Though we are only a couple of months away from an election, and Congress would like to duck this issue altogether, the stakes are too high and it is likely that they will indeed support such intervention.  The real question is whether the American people support such action.

We don’t tend to have the greatest luck in picking sides in the region.  We have supported authoritarian dictators in the region such as Egypt and Iraq.  In Iraq, we had to overthrow the regime; whereas, the people of Egypt overthrew theirs.  We support the Saudis and the regime in Bahrain though both are authoritarian.  We even overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950s to install the Shah who would be overthrown in 1979 by the Iranian people.

When civil war broke out in Syria, we didn’t want to get involved.  We didn’t know who the rebels were that we’d be helping.  There were too many factions.  It was only have chemical weapons were used that the world began to take more notice and an active role.

In the US, there were calls from members of Congress (Senator John McCain being one of them) that called for arming the Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime.  Interesting enough that ISIL comes from some of those Syrian factions that we were originally so worried about arming, and they still got American weapons when they invaded a destabilized Iraq and swept from town to town.

Now here we find ourselves again getting involved.  The President claims no actual combat troops on the ground just advisers though that is exactly how our involvement in Vietnam started.  Arming Syrian rebels has also come back into the discussion.  But exactly who would we be arming?  Even Senator McCain has called for helping Syrian President Assad deal with ISIL in Syria.  This sounds like a complete 180 from just last year.  Maybe we should just admit that in Syria, we shouldn’t support either side.

The members of ISIL aren’t just coming from Iraq and Syria or even other nations in the region.  They are also coming from western Europe, the United States, etc.  They are our own citizens with passports that can come and go as they choose making it easier for them to be trained to bring the organization into our own nations.

President Obama mentioned a broad international coalition including Arab nations that also see ISIL as a threat to the region.  It is important to have those nations in this coalition.   Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the region trying to shore up more support from those nations and work out plans.  This does include Iraq and helping bring the Sunni minority of that country into a government role.

A hundred years ago, World War I broke out across Europe.  Interesting how we are still putting out the fires from that great conflict here in 2014.  ISIL is a threat to the US, and they have already made sure that we get the message loud and clear.  Our involvement is crucial.  However, we must start realizing that we cannot arm people in other countries especially in this particular region.  Somehow we always seem to spend billions of dollars to destroy it all in the end.

Again, as I stated at the beginning, we are a war weary nation.  We have spent trillions of dollars in this region to evoke “change” and here we continue to do so.  We have seen what a well-organized terrorist group can do if we don’t take the necessary precautions.  We don’t need to relive that day again.  The nation is poised to enter the fray with a specific goal.  It will not be quick, and it will not be cheap, and it’s doubtful that in the end we will learn from our mistakes of the past.

Low-Wage Jobs and the Economic Recovery

In June 2014, the government announced that all of the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession has been recovered. Since then we have had a net growth of jobs higher than pre-recession levels.  However, the question remains as to whether the jobs that are being created are of the same caliber as those we lost.

According to a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP)

  • Lower-wage jobs were 21% of recession losses; 58% of recovery growth
  • Mid-wage jobs were 60% of recession losses; 22% of recovery growth
  • Higher-wage jobs were 19% of recession losses; 20% of recovery growth

By these numbers, lower-wage jobs are the bulk of the recovery.  These are jobs that have median hourly wages between $7.69 and $13.83.  With wages that low, it is likely that the person has a spouse that is making better money or the person has a second job and is possibly on welfare.

And though key mid-wage and higher-wage industries are not growing, there are some that are growing at a balanced and unbalanced levels. Some are just not enough to offset that massive losses of mid-wage jobs.  The key to this is manufacturing.  Though it lost more than a million and a half jobs, it has made a strong comeback during the recovery. This also goes for transportation and warehousing, and healthcare has had strong, steady growth as well.

jobs

A report from the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) indicates that the US job market was already in trouble before the Great Recession as a result of growing income inequality and shrinking numbers of good paying jobs.  The economic recovery has only exacerbated this with the creation of even more lower-wage jobs than were lost and fewer mid-wage jobs.

Our capitalist economy is basically built on what middle-class people are buying whether it’s a new car, clothing, a vacation, etc.  Though mid-wage jobs are still recessed, the cost of things such as food, clothing, and utilities have continued to increase.  This leaves people with less money to buy other necessities or the occasional splurge item and continues to keep certain parts of the economy from recovering at a faster rate.

Though our politicians may be happy to see jobs having surpassed those that we lost during the recession, they should withhold acting as though job creation is no longer the biggest issue facing our economy.  With wages still suppressed (far below the standard we lost) and basic necessities still continuing to increase in cost, it will only be a matter of time until the economy gets another jolt.  It’s imperative to create mid-wage and higher-wage jobs to help sustain, balance, and grow the economy.

Are the Causes of the French Revolution Present in the US Today?

There once was a time when the wealthy upper class and the Catholic Church didn’t pay anything to the government in terms of taxes and had special socioeconomic privileges. It would fall upon the largest class of citizens, the peasantry to pay taxes and keep the coffers of the country full.

I’m talking about pre-revolutionary France but the description of that society would almost tend to describe the way U.S. society is currently.

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Taxes and the Wealthy

The wealthy of today are generally considered the one percent. Though they do pay taxes, many people still consider the system to be unfair.

Though the wealthy pay more in taxes than the average citizen in terms of dollar amount, it is the overall percentage of their income that is significantly lower. They use offshore bank accounts and tricks written into the tax codes specifically for them to pay a lower percentage and to even avoid paying federal taxes on some of their income.

Billionaire Warren Buffett brought this topic into the political spotlight in 2012 when he announced that it was unfair that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his personal secretary.

There have been calls for an overhaul of the tax code, but Congress has been in no hurry to act. The IRS though has begun to crack down on those who have foreign bank accounts and are not filing appropriate tax returns on the money that is contained within them.

Religious Exemption

According to University of Tampa professor Ryan Cragun, the U.S. government loses approximately $71 billion a year with religious exemptions. Cragun looked to his own home state of Florida as an example:

  • The state loses approximately $26.2 billion in property taxes every year;
  • Capital gains exemptions were estimated at $41 million;
  • And the clergy can claim up to $1.2 billion in tax exemptions through the parsonsage allowance

Though we can trace back the religious exemption, it hasn’t always been accepted.  James Madison, for instance, opposed tax exemptions for religious institutions.

Religious tax exemptions are seen as a privilege and not a right as they are granted by the government because of the positive contribution religious institutions are presumed to make to society.

A 1954 law bans political campaigning by tax-exempt groups which does include religious organizations. It should come as no surprise that there are several religious organizations that defy this law, including the Church of Latter Day Saints’ work to pass Proposition 8 in California. However, none of these organizations have lost their tax-exempt status.

The Third Estate

This is the bulk of society, yet it is the part of society that often feels as though it is left out and not heard. Even in pre-revolutionary France, the nobles (the wealthy) and the Church would often vote as a bloc to overrule the Third Estate (the commoners) though they had the largest delegation. What was then called the Third Estate can now be termed the working class.

Today, the working class doesn’t feel as though its elected leaders are working for their best interest or hearing their concerns.  It is often felt that the working class bears the tax burden of the country.

In the 2014 legislative session in Missouri, lawmakers approved a reduction in the state income tax, but are now asking residents to approve a sales tax to fund transportation/infrastructure projects. Both actions are largely seen as a benefit to the wealthy while placing a heavier burden on the working class and the poor.

The taxes part gets a bit complicated and murky, but Politico does it’s best to explain it in better detail.  On top of paying income taxes, the working class must also pay payroll taxes which are used to fund Social Security and Medicare.

Global Empire

In 1789, there were two main powers: Britain and France. At the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), both England and France were broke. To solve the problem, Britain attempted to levy taxes on its American colonies which led to the American Revolution.

Even with the coffers dry, France still entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonies.  It wasn’t because the French monarchy believed in the liberty the American colonists were fighting for but rather to humiliate Britain.  French forces were spread throughout the world to protect their overseas empire as our forces are spread out in a similar fashion to intervene wherever it is needed to protect American interests.

Our military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address in 1961 is still growing and becoming even more powerful and costs our nation a lot of money to maintain.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the US spent 19% ($643 billion) of its budget on defense in 2013.

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Our American Society

There were a lot of factors that led up to the start of the French Revolution… more than what I’ve gone into here.  But an underlying theme does still present itself.  The bulk of the population, the working class, is feeling as though it’s paying more than its fair share and being asked to bear more and more of the burden while the wealthy get off and religious institutions are exempt.

But is there a possibility of the US erupting into a French-styled revolution?  Despite the vast similarities that have been described, our societies are very different.  We do not live under a monarch.  The President is elected every four years and can only serve 2-terms, and we do have a representative body of our government that we elect.  Though we feel as though our voices are largely ignored, we do have ways to fight for change within the process… something that the people of France didn’t have.

But we must remember those causes for they should not be ignored.  When the vast majority of people feel as though they are being taken advantage of, they will institute change.  First they will try through the democratic processes that we are accustomed to, but if that doesn’t work, I wouldn’t put it past any society to rise up against their oppressors.  Afterall, we, as Americans, have already done it once before.

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