The Balance of the Supreme Court

” […] and he 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, […]” Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of US Constitution

Word broke late on Friday of the death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. The death of the conservative justice during an election year is bound to have great ramifications.

Even before the Supreme Court had officially announced the passing of Justice Scalia, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted out that the next President gets to pick his replacement instead of President Obama.

When Republicans took control of the Senate last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that there would be few if any votes on any of Obama’s nominations still awaiting for the Senate’s confirmation with the exception of a Supreme Court vacancy. (The Senate did confirm a few State Department officials within the past week though.)

Now, however, Senate Majority Leader McConnell is talking differently as he states that the American people should have a voice in the next justice with the upcoming election.

One has to wonder if Republicans would be singing the same tune if the President was a Republican instead of a Democrat. The Court is narrowly split and a new justice appointed by President Obama could shift it in the opposite direction.

In 2005, Senator McConnell defended the absolute right of a sitting President to nominate judges, stating, “The Constitution of the United States is at stake.  Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges.  The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent.”

supreme-courtKeep in mind that the next President will not be sworn in until January 2017, just under a year away. The longest confirmation hearing in modern times was Justice Clarence Thomas at 100-days. This would be triple the amount of time just to wait for a nomination let alone the confirmation hearing and a vote.

President Obama is within his constitutional right to put forth a nominee, and the Senate has the duty then to hold confirmation hearings and to hold a vote. It doesn’t matter if it’s an election year or not.

In January 1801, in the wake of the 1800 election, President John Adams nominated John Marshall to be Chief Justice. Marshall was confirmed by the Senate within a few days much to the chagrin of the incoming Jeffersonian Republican majority.

In 1987, President Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. Kennedy was confirmed in February 1988 (an election year) by a 97-0 vote in which Democrats held the majority in the Senate.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called out the hypocrisy of her GOP colleagues in refusing to even consider a nominee by President Obama. She went on to state that they all took the same oath and shouldn’t abandon their duties.

President Obama has already stated that he will be making a nomination to fill Scalia’s seat as is his right to do so and names are already circulating. It will be up to the Senate to prove that it can perform its constitutional duties or whether they are willing to hold the third branch of government hostage to politics.

There is no doubt that Justice Scalia’s death brings the issue of Supreme Court nominations into the 2016 election. And though we are reminded of this issue in the most tragic of ways, it deserves more than just a partisan soundbite. The President and the Senate have a constitutional responsibility at this point, and they need to step it up.

Throwing Away A Vote

If you were to go tell someone at this moment that you were voting for a third-party candidate in the upcoming presidential election, most people would give you a dumb look which would be followed by a couple of different responses.  Some would say that you are throwing your vote away by doing that while others would say that you just shouldn’t vote since it wouldn’t count anyway.  The most audacious response is that you are taking away a vote from one of the main candidates… the democrat or republican and that’s why you are voting for that person and even why that third-party candidate is even running.

But let me ask it this way.  How is it throwing your vote away by voting for the candidate you want to win?  We will use our current election and candidates for examples.  So we have Obama (Democrat), Romney (Republican), Johnson (Libertarian), and Stein (Green).  According to a recent CNN poll that actually included the two main third-party candidates (most polls only give the two main choices), Johnson is getting 4% of the vote with Stein getting 2%.  When looking at the numbers with and without the third-party candidates listed, it would seem that Johnson is getting votes off Romney and Stein is getting them off Obama.  But that’s just going by the numbers and not the people behind them, and I’m not about to delve into that data on that.  So don’t worry.

For our example, we have a 1 in 4 chance of picking the winner.  So you have a better chance of picking the losing side.  So if you are basing the claim that voting for a third-party candidate is throwing away a vote because that person can’t win, then shouldn’t your vote be automatically switching to whoever is in the lead?  Otherwise, you are throwing away your vote for the candidate that is trailing.  There is a flaw in that overall thinking.  Besides, wouldn’t it be throwing away a vote if I was voting for Obama because I didn’t want Romney to win (or vice versa)?  Maybe the person voting for the third party doesn’t want either main party candidate to win.

Third-party candidates tend to be more toward the center.  I’m not saying all of them are, but the major ones tend to be.  While the two main parties (Democrats and Republicans) continue to move away from each other, it’s leaving a vast void in the center where many voters are.  In that void, we can plug in both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party.  Already, more than 1/3rd of Americans are wanting a major third party.  The Democrats and Republicans seem to be more polarized and more focused on making the other side lose the next election rather than coming up with sensible solutions to the major issues.  Why has this become even worse in that past few years?  Because the moderates of both parties are either being voted out or they are choosing to get out because of how bad it is. At a time when we need them even more than ever, they are jumping ship.  The moderates were usually the ones that kept the extremists in each party in check.  They usually worked across the aisle to get things done.

We, the voters, have been brainwashed from the beginning to think that there are only two political parties worth considering.  The only thing that the two main parties can agree on is that they don’t want a viable third-party to be included, and they go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Even now, the Romney campaign is attempting to keep Johnson off the ballot in several states.  The Johnson campaign is fighting these attempts, but it is costing them money that they can’t replace as easily as the Romney campaign can.  Political parties were never envisioned as part of our political sphere when our Founding Fathers set everything up, but they developed as a result of different ways of thinking (i.e. strong central government vs. states rights).  Over time, these would develop into the Democratic and Republican parties.  There have been others throughout our history… including the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party which ran Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.  And here’s your shocker.  That third-party candidate (Roosevelt), actually came in second place… beating out incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft.  The Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won the election.  The Progressive Party would eventually fold back into the Republican Party within a few years though.  In more recent times, Ross Perot in 1992 received 18.9% of the vote.  Some say he cost George H. W. Bush reelection, but that’s assuming that all the votes that Perot received would have gone to Bush had Perot not been running, and we can’t assume that.  Same as we can’t assume that Ralph Nader tipped the balance in 2000 for George W. Bush by taking away votes from Al Gore in Florida.  Our mentality is set to assume that since it makes up the difference, then those votes must have gone there.  How many times have you heard that a certain third-party candidate is running just so the Democrat or Republican loses?  These are usually partisan voters who can’t see beyond their own candidate to realize that this is someone running to oppose both main candidates with different ideas.

For the first time this year, the Green Party is receiving matching funds.  This means they are getting money from the government that the Democratic and Republican parties are already entitled to each election.  If the Democratic and Republican parties were only allowed to use their matching funds and nothing else, then this would put them on a level playing field, but the two main parties won’t be doing that.  To even be included in the debates, the parties must poll at least 5% in several polls.  Here’s the catch, most media outlets don’t even include them in the polls to begin with.  So the dumb question of the day is how are these parties supposed to achieve 5% in the polls if they aren’t even included.  The CNN Poll that I listed earlier was the first one I’ve seen that has actually done so.  The Democrats and Republicans have rigged the system so that you only think there are two candidates until you get into the voting booth, by which time you’ve usually made up your mind.

If we absolutely must choose between two parties, then why not pick the Libertarian or Green parties?  It’s never been said which two parties we have to choose between.  In most democracies, there are more than two parties.  We are the rare one that only has two.  Any less, we’d practically be a dictatorship.  It’s time Americans realize that there are more than two parties out there and that you might be voting for the wrong one.  We keep complaining about how things are done in Washington, but we keep switching back and forth between the two parties that are creating the problems.  The pendulum just swings back and forth.  Maybe it’s time we throw a kink into it and make it go a third way… or at least stop in the middle somewhere.  I encourage all voters to make sure that they are voting for the candidate that best matches where they stand on the issues.  Don’t assume that you do.  Do the research.  If you are just willing to continue to vote for the same two political parties (despite where you might stand on issues) because they are the only two serious contenders, then you have only yourself to blame for the continued problems and the slow pace at which we attempt to solve them.

Does it mean that a third-party candidate will win in November?  Probably not, though anything is possible in politics.  But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen down the road.  We must make a stand somewhere at some point, and with the way things are going, why not let it be now.  Major third-part candidates such as the Libertarian and Green parties should be included in any national election poll, and they should be included in the debates.  The American people have the right to hear what these candidates have to say.  The media outlets also need to step up and start including them in interviews and political segments.  It’s time the mentality regarding these third parties changes.  They should be serious contenders.  Throwing away a vote?  That only applies if you are voting by determining the lesser of two evils.  How do you know you aren’t voting for the better of two liars?  Third-party voting isn’t throwing a vote, it’s making a loud and clear statement that no longer will we be subject to the duocracy that has crippled our government and our politics.

NOTE:
For the sake of this entry, major third-parties were any third-party that has access to at leas 270-Electoral votes.

LINKS:
Election 2012 (Indeclaration)
CNN

Raising the Ceiling

I have been overly mum on this whole debt-ceiling crisis.  The main reason… I was hoping against all hope that the parties involved could get something worked out and that this wouldn’t really be necessary.  But as we are now less than a week away from defaulting, no one seems to want to work together, and it would seem that we are heading down a very dark and bleak path.  I’ve heard those blaming the Democrats for this current mess; I’ve heard those blaming Republicans; and I’ve heard those blaming the Tea-Party branch of the Republican Party.  As for me, I’m blaming them all since they all seem to be wanting to play politics instead of getting things done.  It’s all about winning the 2012 election rather than making sure that the reputation and stability of the United States is sustained.

So let’s start at an overlying question that the media is failing to ask, so I had to go find the answer for it.  We are in need of raising the debt ceiling (or how much the federal government can borrow) so we can keep ourselves up and running and not default on our current loans.  So how many times has the debt ceiling been raised?  Since March of 1962, the debt ceiling has been raised 74 times.  It has been raised 10 times since 2001… 3 times under President Obama and 7 times under President Bush.   That’s right… under President George W. Bush (Republican), and in which Republicans had control over at least once house in Congress for 6 of the 8 years, the debt ceiling was raised 7 times without any call for a cut in spending.  In fact, President Bush had us involved in two wars while cutting taxes to all… especially the wealthiest 2-percent.  He is the only President in US history to cut taxes during wartime.  Apparently, someone forgot to inform him that wars had to be paid for.  I’m like anyone else, I like getting a tax cut, but if the government is still spending it as if they still have it, then what difference does it make?  I just have to, technically, pay it back later… except with interest added on.  So despite the fact that Republicans raised the debt ceiling 7-times under President Bush without any call for a cut in spending, why are they now insistent upon it?  Simple politics and the 2012 elections.  (and it would be the same if the roles were reversed.)

I do firmly agree that there must be cuts across the board… and that does include the defense department.  The government is spending money like it grows on trees, and if it does, then I’d like to know where that tree is so I can grab some for myself.  In these times, with less money rolling in, the government must learn to do with smaller funds.  Yes, there might a slight deficit with spending as we can’t plan for all contingencies, but nothing to the extreme that we have been doing over the past 10-years.  The government has gotten big, and spending must be roped in and put in check.  This is something quite delicate to do.  We need to keep programs that work (whether they are liberal or conservative-backed programs), and get rid of (or even make more efficient) those that don’t work.  This is what takes time… and though it needs to be done, the debt ceiling (and our nation’s economy and financial status) should not be held hostage while we do this.  I believe it all needs to be part of a larger package… but we need to get the ceiling raised so that we can avoid a default, and then we need to start cutting spending everywhere (especially wasteful spending), so that we don’t have to do this again.

I do agree with the Republican party on something.  There is going to have to be changes to the way Social Security and Medicare operate.  As a young man, I expect both of these things to change long before I ever get to retirement… otherwise, both might not be around when I retire.  For those that are currently on either (or both) of these things, and for those close to using them, I don’t think their coverage should be affected in any way.  It’s my generation coming up behind that has to get these restructured for us so they we are able to use them, too.   For the Democrats, this is blasphemy… something they have enshrined, but I’m not talking about completely getting rid of either programs.  I’m simply saying that they need to be tweaked (or reworked)  so that they are more financially stable and sustainable over the generations.

I do also agree with the Democrats on something, as well.  There needs to be additional revenue raised.  Some of this can come from raising taxes (or ending the Bush-era tax cuts) on the top 2% of wealthiest Americans.  (At this point, I’d even settle on the compromise of the top 1%.)  People like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Ted Turner have all said many times that their taxes should be raised since they can afford it.  It’s time others of their stature (and yes, there are still plenty others)  stand up with them and say the same thing.  Maybe the Republicans might actually hear them then.  Tax loopholes need to be closed, as well.  This all just forms a much needed base.  Without an increase, more just has to be cut.  Republicans (and especially Tea Party Republicans) just want to cut, cut, cut.  And cutting is a good thing, but we also need to be thinking about how to raise additional money, as well.  And this shouldn’t just come from raising taxes on the top 2% or with closing tax loopholes.  Congress needs to find some creative ways for new sources of revenue.  Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) wrote a piece recently in the Wall Street Journal outlining 4-new sources of revenue.  (Click Here to read the report.)  It might not be perfect, but at least the Congressman was willing to think outside the box and come up with some creative ideas.  I haven’t heard or seen anything from any other member.  They all just seem to like the talking points.   Congressman Polis has also introduced a bill that would reform the Presidential Dollar Coin after reports came out that the demand for them is down and the government is having to store them because no one wants them.  It’s spending a lot of money to make money no one wants… and then having to shell out more money to ship and store them.  So Congressman Polis brought about a bill that would curtain that wasteful spending.  (Click Here.)  Congressman Polis has shown what can happen if we were to stop the partisan bullshit and start working together on an actual solution to this mess… once we get passed the current crisis which we are creating ourselves.  He has come up with new sources of revenue, found an area of wasteful spending to cut out… and this all without still raising taxes on the top 2% of wealthiest Americans.  See… it can be done, and he has proven it.  (Disclaimer:  I do not work for Congressman Polis nor have I ever contributed money to his campaign or office.  I do not live in his Congressional district or even in his state.)

We also need to remember that this is a self-made problem.  We have brought this on ourselves.  We set our own debt-ceiling, and we are the only western industrialized country that even has a debt ceiling.  Is that a good idea or a bad idea?  Depends on the point of view.  In terms of trying to keep spending in check, it’s a good concept.  But in terms of what we are going through now, it’s a bad one.  If you have happen to see the news over the past few months, we’ve heard a lot from the country of Greece, who has had to make a lot of spending cuts as a result of overspending and having to borrow money from the European Union to even stay afloat.  What we see happening over there, could be coming here if we default.  Defaulting could mean sliding back into recession, more jobs lost, and even more cutbacks than if we had dealt with this problem efficiently from the beginning.

Compromise has become a dirty word in Washington since the 2010 midterm elections and the Tea Party portion of the Republican Party came about.  Politics is all about given and take.  Neither side is 100% correct, so you talk it out and get something together that is better than the other two plans individually.  (The final bill is still not perfect either.)  But to the Tea Party, they are always right and they dig their heals in and refuse to compromise or negotiate no matter what.  And that’s just not the way to run any type of government.  It cannot function when sides dig in their heals and refuse to work together.  If you want the other side to come your way on some parts, you have to be willing to move their way on other parts.  Again… give and take.  I think most people belonging to the Tea Party need to take a basic college course on the subject of government to learn how a government (more especially, our government) actually works.  I honestly do believe that we would not be sitting here with this current situation if the Tea Party legislators hadn’t been elected.  I think a deal would have been reached prior to this point.

Congress has currently come up with two different plans.  One in the Republican-controlled House (which might not even escape the chamber due to lack of Tea Party backing) and one in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Neither bill has any hope really of making it through both chambers of Congress because the opposing side wasn’t consulted in writing them up… nor would they even allowed to advise or have any input.  So why are they wasting time with these bills then?  Simple politics… gesturing for the 2012 elections, and to try to make the American people blame the other side for the situation.  Well, as I said before, I’m going to rise above the finger pointing and blame them all for the current situation since they have all let us down, when they could have rose the occasion and shown us that they can work together in the hopes of our national interest.  And to make my point even more clear, I will make this vow that I will not support any candidate seeking reelection in the 2012 campaign.  The incumbents will have proven that they cannot work above that of a child on the playground and thus don’t deserve to be serving within the highest offices of our government.  They are holding our nation hostage on the grounds of partisan politics, so I’m going to hold my vote as a hostage to them and their inability to get anything done.  Perhaps some words of Thomas Jefferson are best suited for this moment in history that when the current form of government isn’t working, it then becomes time to abolish it and form a new one.  Is history really at that particular moment or is their still a tiny bit of a chance that we can still rise to the challenge?

(CNN Money, Fortune magazine, and Money magazine helped with some numbers and additional information for this article.)

SIDENOTE:  And for those wanting to source the economic stimulus package, the bailouts, or TARP, I suggest reading the following article beforehand… http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2011/07/08/surprise-the-big-bad-bailout-is-paying-off/

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