United States and Everyone Else: Money, Power and Politics

The Associate Press reported that five emerging market powers including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will launch their own version of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Harold Trinkunas, director of the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said that the so called BRICS countries want an alternative to the existing world order which the U.S. dominates. At the summit Tuesday through Thursday in Brazil, according to the article Emerging nations plan their own world bank, IMF, the five countries will announce the $100 billion fund to fight financial crises much like the IMF and launch a World Bank alternative that will make loans for infrastructure projects across the developing world. The new bank called the New Development Bank will have all five countries equally invested in the lending, while the headquarter’s location is being heavily debated with some trying to keep China, the world’s second biggest economy, from dominating the new bank like the United States has with the World Bank. The countries involved cover vastly different economies, foreign policy aims and political systems from India’s raucous democracy to China’s one party state. The BRICS countries have shared the desire for a bigger voice in global economic policy and have all experienced economic sanctions imposed by Western powers or made painful budget cuts and met other strict conditions to qualify for emergency IMF loans. In addition, developing countries have been frustrated with U.S. Congress’ refusal to approve legislation to provide extra money to help the IMF make more loans to troubled countries. The money is part of broader reform to give China and other developing countries more voting power at the IMF. The IMF and the World Bank seem to be taking the new challengers in stride, the Associate Press reports. IMF spokeswoman Conny Lotze said: “All initiatives that seek to strengthen the network of multilateral lending institutions and increase the available financing for development and infrastructure are welcome. What is important is that any new institutions complement the existing ones.” Earlier in the month World Bank President Jim Kim said: “We welcome any new organizations … We think that the need for new investments in infrastructure is massive, and we think that we can work very well and cooperatively with any of these new banks once they become a reality.”

While the international community tries a new direction, the United States continues to grapple with the current status quo economics. On Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen announced that the economic recovery is not complete and insists for that reason the Fed will keep providing support to boost growth and improve labor market conditions, Martin Crutsinger reports,  Fed’s Yellen says U.S. recovery incomplete, defends loose policy. During the delivery of the Fed’s semi-annual report to Congress, Yellen believe the Fed’s future actions will depend on how well the economy performs. If labor market condition improve quicker than anticipated, the Fed could raise its short term interest rate sooner. However, if the conditions become weaker, then low rates will last longer. Many economists believe the rate will not increase until next summer as it has been at a record low near zero since December 2008. In her testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Yellen said the economy is improving and the sharp downturn in economic activity during the first three months of the year was a result of temporary factors such as significant slack in the labor markets such as weak wage growth with the lowest unemployment rate since 2008. Because labor market conditions have not fully recovered from the recession of 2007-2009 and inflation remains below target at 1.8 percent for the 12 months through May, Yellen said the Fed will continue with the current policies of low interest rates to boost activity. She told the committee: “The Federal Reserve does need to be quite cautious with respect to monetary policy. We have in the past seen sort of false dawns, periods in which we thought our growth would speed, pick up and the labor market would improve more quickly and later events have proven those hopes to be unfortunately over-optimistic. We need to be careful to make sure that the economy is on a solid trajectory before we consider raising rates.” The unemployment rate has fallen from 6.7 percent in February to 6.1 percent reflecting strong job growth in recent months with an average of 200,000 jobs created a month over the past five months, the strongest since the late 1990s Crutsinger reports. The Fed has two goals to promote max employment and keep inflation down. Many critics argue the Fed is setting the stage for a bubble in asset prices like stocks and real estate that could deflate rapidly making the market unstable once the interest rates are increased. However, Yellen assured the committee that the Fed is aware of such risks and noted that the price of real estate, stocks and corporate bonds have risen appreciably, but remain in line with historic norms. The minutes of the Fed’s June meeting showed that the Fed has discussed just how it planned to reduce its massive holding of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities totaling $4.5 trillion which is four times the amount on the balance sheets when the financial crisis of 2008 hit.

While things are looking up for the overall economic picture according to the Fed, Congress continues to struggle to get their acts together on key issues. On Tuesday a critical highway trust fund bill was set for a vote in the House and the backers of the bill worried about defection from Democrats. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told Huff Post Tuesday that he will not support the bill backed by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), according to the article published, Critical Highway Trust Fund Bill Loses Support Of House Dem. His reasoning is two fold as the measure relies on accounting gimmicks to replenish the trust fund and lawmakers are abdicating responsibility by only funding the trust until next May. On Monday, two top conservative groups, Heritage Action for America and Club for Growth, opposed the measure and would score the vote for members with their primary complaint being the use of pension smoothing to allow delay in payments to pension funds from corporations resulting in higher corporate tax bills. While Welch agrees with the argument of pension smoothing, his preference is not to see the paring back of the highway trust fund to meet limited revenue streams, but to increase revenue to expand the fund. In addition Welch sees the idea as creating “a pothole in the pension system to fill a pothole in the highway” and sees his vote as protest to a short term solution rather than a long term one. However, he predicts that few Democrats will oppose the bill and his no vote will do little to stop the Camp bill from passing in the House before merging with the Senate’s version. On Monday, the White House came out in favor of Camp’s proposal. Unfortunately, Camp’s measure will be the last considered in the House before the highway trust fund runs out at the end of August. Even before then, states will make smaller, staggered payments on transportation projects as the federal government struggles to meet funding demands. Should the House fail to act, a substantial loss in transportation projects and jobs may result, according to Huff Post.

As Congress waits to find a long term solution to the crumbling transportation infrastructure, another hot button issue continues to be a thorn in the side of protestors and world leaders alike. The question on many peoples mind to seems to be when did America stop believing the words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. If you don’t know, here’s a refresher:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

While many still hold true to these words, since let’s face it most of the people residing in the United States immigrated at one point or anther in history except the Native Americans, dozens if not hundreds of people choose to protest the transport of undocumented workers around the country especially the children. According to the Associate Press article, Arizona protesters hope to stop immigrant transfer, dozens of protestors on both sides of the immigration debate swarmed a small town near Tuscon on Tuesday after the sheriff announced that the federal government plans to transport 40 immigrant children to an academy for troubled youth. One group waved American flags, held signs and blocked a bus arriving with immigrant children. A few miles away, pro-immigrant supporters held welcome signs. Protestor Loren Woods said, “We are not going to tolerate illegals forced upon us,” while Emily Duwel of Oracle felt her town was misrepresented by a minority of people against the children staying here. She explained, “I’m just concerned about these children who have had to escape worlds of incredible violence.” Anger has spread throughout Oracle since the Sheriff warned residents last week of immigrant children from Central America crossing the border illegally would be placed at the Sycamore Canyon Academy. Protestors hoped to mirror the demonstration in Murrieta, California, where immigrant buses were blocked from entering. The sheriff is credited with stirring up the anti-immigrant protestors with social media and a press release Monday in addition to leaking information  about the migrants coming to local activist. Since the massive surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally began more than a month ago, anger has been spreading and the influx of immigrants has become political fodder even though most consider it a humanitarian crisis. On the international radar, Pope Francis confronted the issue of undocumented immigrants by directing his address at the thousands of unaccompanied children that make up part of the influx. As Antonia Blumberg reports, Pope Francis: Immigrant Children Must Be ‘Welcomed And Protected’, on Monday the Pope delivered a message to the Mexico Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development paying special attention to the migrant children who undertake the dangerous border crossing alone to escape violence in their own countries:

“This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.”

In addition, Pope Francis noted the urgency of the problem as the numbers increases day by day with U.S. Customs and Border Protection reporting more than 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children crossing the Southwest border in 2014. Meanwhile, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin spoke at Mexico’s Foreign Relation Secretariat urging clergy and foreign ministers to protect young migrants.

“Whether they travel for reasons of poverty, violence or the hope of uniting with families on the other side of the border,” Parolin said, “it is urgent to protect and assist them, because their frailty is greater and they’re defenseless, they’re at the mercy of any abuse or misfortune.”

Outside of the church, the Pope called on international communities to step up to find solutions to this humanitarian crisis. On Sunday Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell met privately with dozens of governors of states that will host these children from Central America, Blumberg reports. The program started by the Obama administration will take effect in October and try to tackle the increase influx of child migrants. Burwell added, “We want to make sure they’re placed in a safe and supportive home or placement….but also, it should be somebody that is legal and somebody that will be responsible to see that they show up for the hearing.”

East Meets West: The Struggle for Peace and Compromise

Iraqi insurgents wave their flag. Courtesy of CNN.com

As the world seems to head into a downward spiral of blaming and shaming, the United States struggles to keep its grip on the rest of the world and hold on to the power and respect it may of once had. No one event can be pinpointed in its illustrious and not soon forgotten contemptible past as many countries if not all have committed crimes against their own people including these so called superpowers. As of lately though, the POTUS seems to be dealing with many volatile situation involving our not so friendly sometimes outright hostile neighbors from across the sea even the world. The conflicts of Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, Iraq and Russia are just a few that have made headlines in the past year, however this article will only discuss the most recent conflicts and the involvement. whether warranted or not, of the United States, U.N. and other so called aggressors. This year alone, Obama and let’s not forget a lackadaisical Congress have had to determine whether these crises and conflicts warrant the attention of the military or require a more gentle hand  in order to prevent a much bigger catastrophe some call a war. With increasing tension around the world between neighboring countries, it is more important than ever for not just the United States but the world to take note that the solutions are many and war should not be the first. Of course, these problems are not all rooted in this presidency but left overs from decades long ago.

Iraq Conflict: Sunni Militants Capture Northern Iraqi Town, Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra explains the deepening Iraqi crisis has lead to an all out war between the Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency across the country according to officials. Iran has decided to help the Iraqi government fight against the insurgency which is something unheard just a few weeks ago and with this the United States has decided to help as well. The United States will deploy 275 military troops to protect the U.S. Embassy and other American interests, however the White House insists that no more combat troops would be sent. The insurgents has seized the strategic city of Tal Afar never the Syrian border as part of its goal to link both sides of the Iraq and Syrian frontier. According to Iraqi officials, Tehran’s Quds Force commander, Iranian General Ghasem Soleimani, has been advising in Iraq on how to push back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaida breakaway group. The U.S. has been notified of his presence, but his presence in Iraq has led to Sunni suspicions about the Shiite led government’s close ties to Tehran, according to the Associate Press. Since the U.S. troops left in 2011, the Islamic State has vowed to march to Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf threatening the stability of Iraq. The Friday before this article was published, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, orginally from Iran, call on the people to defend the holy shrines. The call to arms has lead to armed Shiite militiamen parading on the streets and volunteers joining the security forces chanting Shiite religious slogans. This new mobilization has lead to further allegations of a sectarian slant adding to increased tensions before and after the incursions of this last week with thousands killed since late last year. Soleimani, a powerful figure in Iran’s security establishment, and his Quds Force a secretive branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were also involved in the mid 2000s with organizing Shiite militias against U.S. troops in Iraq and more recently involved in helping Syrian President Bashar Assad against Sunni rebels, according to U.S. officials. His visit and subsequent training of the Shiite militias by his Quds Force means Iran could take a role similar to the one it played in Syria which has been crucial to the survival of Assad.

Party Like a Rockstar: Living Large on Taxpayer’s Tab

With the sequester and possible government shut down if Congress cannot get their act together, do we really need to worry about what happens after a president leaves office? Well it would be a good idea considering the taxpayers continue to pay their salary long after they leave office plus they keep a lot of the perks they had while in office. Who pays for all this? You guess it…the taxpayer. As the Associated Press reports being the leader of the free world can be an expensive proposition and doesn’t stop once you leave office as the government spent $3.7 million on former presidents in 2012 according to a report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The total includes pensions, compensation and benefits for office staff, and the cost for travel, office space and postage. The costliest former president last year was George W. Bush who racked up $1.3 million. Now all things consider, $3.7 million shelled out in 2012 by taxpayers is a drop in the bucket when you consider the country spends trillions of dollars each year, but the fact these men can command large sums for book deals, speaking engagement and the like the report raises the question should these ex leaders receive such generosity when the country is facing cut backs and cutting much needed programs.

Under the Former Presidents Act, previous presidents are given an annual pension equivalent to a Cabinet secretary’s salary of $200,000 last year plus $96,000 a year for a small office staff. Presidents on their way out also get a little extra help their first year after they leave office which is why Bush’s cost were higher than others in 2012 as he was granted $400,000 for 8,000 square feet of office space on Dallas plus $85,000 in telephone costs and $60,000 for travel. Bill Clinton came in second with just under $1 million and followed by George H.W. Bush at nearly $850,000. Clinton spent most of his government money on office space in New York’s Harlem neighborhood for his 8,300 square foot digs at a price of $442,000. The only other living president, Jimmy Carter, came in around $500,000. Of course the buck doesn’t stop there as former president’s windows are entitled to pensions of $20,000 except Nancy Reagan who waived her pension last year but did take $14,000 in postage. The costs do not include the protection that former presidents are entitled to as well as their spouses and children. These costs are part of a separate budget that is not public reports the Associate Press.

The funding of ex-presidents came under the Former Presidents Act back to 1958 when Congress created the program to help President Harry Truman post White House financial woes according to the Congressional Research Service. The goal was to maintain the dignity of the presidency and help with ongoing costs such as correspondence and scheduling requests. These days though many of the former president’s incomes come from speaking and writing as well as presidential centers and foundations who accept donations and facilitate many of their post presidential activities according to Associated Press. Why has no one challenged it? Saddest part is someone has. Rep. Jason Chaffetz from Utah has noted that none of the living presidents are poor so in response to this introduced a bill last year to limit the cost to $200,000 pension plus another $200,000 for discretionary spending and for every dollar made above $400,000 their annual allowance will be reduced by the same amount. Unfortunately, the bill died in committee. The government can’t agree on anything but what they can agree on is spending more… go figure. Washington needs to get its priorities straight as many people are suffering the consequences of their spending and especially cutting of necessary programs.

 

 

 

 

 

Where has all the hope gone?

History seems doomed to repeat itself as is evident in the news everyday with stories of suicide bombers, protests, and government failing to do right by its people. Reading these stories everyday makes a person wonder if hope has ever existed due to history’s lack of viable reasons to say otherwise. Every war and protest seems to follow the same patterns of behaviors and missteps taken by those in authority who believe they are doing right by their people without consulting their people. Even as a kid we are all told when we get older we will understand but as an adult I understand less now than I did as a child. What purpose does war serve and violence for that matter? Reading through the new and deciding what to write today was a challenge as I grow tired of the hopeless and sad stories I read about North Korea, South Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and so many more. Today, I look to history to guide me and the music to inspire me.

One of my favorite songs, “Where have all the flowers gone?” by Pete Seeger came to mind while reading the news today. One particular line struck me over and over…when will they ever learn? That is a question I am afraid will never be answered as humanity is already on the path to calamity as tensions rise around the world and through violence more has been accomplished than through peace or so it seems. Even looking at everyday occurrences, it doesn’t take much to see that the world has headed down a dark path not just with war and protests on a large scale, but look at everyday life with children killing children, the increase in suicides, violence against women, and the threat to a happy life for all. How as humans do we process and accept such a bleak reality?…by looking at the past of course.

When will the pattern of behavior change or when did it become okay to threaten violence in order to get the point across? It seems largely ignored when something good comes out of something so horrible because the story is not in the good but in a bad. Do we reinforce bad behavior as good? Maybe. How do we as a society end the cycle that history has found so hard to break? Do we unilaterally lay down arms or do we find peace through strength? I think I have more questions now than I did as a child.

Peace anthems seem to be a thing of the past but to me will ring true as long as people walk the earth and long after the song writers dies. It is there message to the world. I read something interesting on YouTube about Pete Seeger from a user called Thespadecaller:

On July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt, as they failed to cooperate with House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in their attempts to investigate alleged subversives and communists. Pete Seeger testified before the HUAC in 1955.
In one of Pete’s darkest moments, when his personal freedom, his career, and his safety were in jeopardy, a flash of inspiration ignited this song. The song was stirred by a passage from Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quie Flows the Don”. Around the world the song traveled and in 1962 at a UNICEF concert in Germany, Marlene Dietrich, Academy Award-nominated German-born American actress, first performed the song in French, as “Qui peut dire ou vont les fleurs?” Shortly after she sang it in German. The song’s impact in Germany just after WWII was shattering. It’s universal message, “let there be peace in the world” did not get lost in its translation. To the contrary, the combination of the language, the setting, and the great lyrics has had a profound effect on people all around the world. May it have the same effect today and bring renewed awareness to all that hear it.

Headlines full of accusations, disapproval, propaganda, violence, fear seem to outweigh human rights, human survival, and hope. Why does it take human tragedy to inspire a small change and why can’t we look to the past to inspire us to be a better version of the past? Pete Seeger a single man sparked a change in his time and his government saw him as a threat…a single man not a million. The song with a melancholy melody and repetitious lyrics lends to the haunting reality of the words that history continues to repeat itself, but with everyday that passes I hope that people begin to understand how to change not only themselves but the world.

Iraq War Missing

 

 

Guns In Capitols Laws Gain Momentum In States

Guns In Capitols Laws Gain Momentum In States.

The debate that has swept the country has now made it to the steps of state capitols and not everyone is excited about the idea. Kansas may join 11 other states allowing some civilians to carry guns inside the state capitol which most states restrict the practice to member of the state legislature while Texas allows anyone to carry inside the building. However opponents say that civilians carrying guns make them feel endangered, while gun enthusiasts see it as exercising their Second Amendment rights. Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) told Huff Post that, “The law enforcement in the Capitol should be done by the state troopers and not by members of the Legislature. I feel less safe. Even though someone has gone through training, sometimes it is better to move away from danger. Get the appropriate security there. The chance he will shoot an innocent person is high. It concerns me if someone wants to be a hero.” Eight states allow civilians to carry concealed weapons in their capitol buildings and three states say they allow guns in capitols but gave no specifics reported Morgan Cullen, a program analyst at the National Conference of State Legislature. Texas allows anyone to carry a concealed pistol with a permit to bypass metal detectors at the capitol as Texas state Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R-Bedford) told the New York Times that he wears his gun routinely and people are used to guns in Texas. Coleman sees it as a problem even though concealed carry permits require background checks as he explains, “Background checks mean that nothing has occurred in the past, it does not mean it could not happen.” Kansas state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told Huff Post he is not concerned with concealed carry permits bringing  guns because they have to undergo background checks. An example of things going horribly wrong is the shooting death of New York City Councilman James Davis (D) in 2003 inside City Council chambers by his political opponent, Othniel Askew, who legally purchased his gun and was able to under City Hall rules to bypass metal detectors. The Kansas plan adopted by the state House carries specific stipulations as state Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence) explains that the bill allows concealed carry guns in other public building not the Capitol. He also commented he is not in favor of guns in public places. Unfortunately the bill was passed before discovering an error in the written amendment allowing people to openly carry guns in the Capitol instead of the concealed carry which now leaves the decision up to the state Senate. Arizona state House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) told Huff Post he has a problem with guns in the Capitol as he explains, “I’m a gun owner and I have no problem with gun ownership. But I don’t think that there is a need to carry them to the floor.” Only time will tell if such laws are effective or a complete disaster.

Sequestration 2013: When will it end?

Sequestration 2013: With Cuts In Place, Obama And GOP Brace For Next Fight.
To all my readers, I find it important for everyone to inform themselves about the actual sequester with an official document sent to Congress  as a direct result of Congress and the President’s inability to reach a decision to avoid the sequester that has now gone into effect on March 1. There is a lot of misinformation going around through various groups so I decided that the actual facts might be nice, then let you the reader decide what is truth. Since both parties the President and Congress refuse to come to a decision on Saturday to avoid sequester, we as a country now face the consequences through automatic spending cuts of $85 billion. Even with last minutes talks and no deal, the sequester which is outline in the official document below has gone into effect with the stroke of Obama’s pen. There are no signs that either group will budge as the Republican refuse any deal with more taxes and Democrats will not do a deal without it. Both parties lay the blame on the other for damages the cuts might inflict which are across the board.  In the words of Obama on his weekly radio and internet address, “None of this is necessary…It’s happening because Republicans in Congress chose this outcome over closing a single wasteful tax loophole that helps reduce the deficit.” The president also commented that the cuts will cause ripples across the economy the longer they stay in place and could cost more than 750,000 jobs not to mention disrupt the lives of middle class families. The next major battle for both will be to negotiate a plan to fund the government beyond March 27 or possibly face a government shutdown and another debt ceiling clash in May.

OMB REPORT TO THE CONGRESS ON THE JOINT COMMITTEE SEQUESTRATION FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary Of State, Defends Americans’ Right To Be Stupid

John Kerry Syria

John Kerry, U.S. Secretary Of State, Defends Americans’ Right To Be Stupid.

Scary enough I actually agree with the logic here, hey here me out before you decide otherwise. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the freedom of speech, religion and thought on Tuesday by telling German Students that in America “you have the right to be stupid if you want to be”, according to Reuters. When you first read it I know sounds insulting but let him explain. Kerry continued to tell the students in Berlin that, ” As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view.” He continued with “People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another.” Oh you want a reason then I suppose, well he gives that to”The reason is, that’s freedom, freedom of speech. In American you have a right to be stupid – if you want to be.”  As the students laugh, he then said, “And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be….And we tolerate it. We somehow make it through that. Now, I think that’s a virtue. I think that’s something worth fighting for. The important thing is to have the tolerance to say, you know, you can have a different point of view.” You know John Kerry I like you more now than I have in the pass purely because he is the first person to admit that. As a country, we are forced to tolerate everything regardless of whether we agree or not with what is being done or said to us it is a part of Americana. The reasoning has played out in our favor at times and sometime to our detriment but in the end I am glad we have the freedom to express ourselves and opinions even if it is not in the majority.

Kerry made the comment in Berlin his second stop on his inaugural trip as Secretary of State which began Feb.1 and will take in on one night stops to London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Ankara, Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and Doha before returning to Washington March 6. Kerry also did a little reminiscing with the student talking about his 1950s adventures in Berlin being a son of a diplomat roaming through the streets of East Berlin with his bike. He said, “I used to have great adventures. My bicycle and I were best friends. And I biked all around this city. I remember biking down Kurfuerstendamm and seeing nothing but rubble. This was in 1954 … the war was very much still on people’s minds…One day, using my diplomatic passport, I biked through the checkpoint right into the east sector and noticed very quickly how dark and unpopulated (it was) and sort of unhappy people looked…that hit this 12-year-old kid…I kind of felt a foreboding about it and I didn’t spend much time. I kind of skedaddled and got back out of there and went home and proudly announced to my parents what I had done and was promptly grounded and had my passport pulled.” Time will tell if Kerry will be able to fill the shoes of his predecessor Hilary Clinton, but for now we will have to wait and see.