A Union I Support

Unions have been on the decline for some time now. In 2010, about 12 out of every 100 Americans held union membership, down from just over 12/100 the year before. Some say this is a good thing, as unions have continued to grow fat on ballooning pensions and passing the costs on to taxpayers or fellow junior members of their organizations. Others say this is a sign that workers’ rights are being more and more threatened as union protection shrivels.

Those of the latter opinion are a fickle bunch. Not only did they excuse President Obama for calling for a temporary freeze in union wages while viciously condemning WI Governor Scott Walker for passing state union cuts that were far less harsh,  but they seem to be only for “unions” in the official sense of the word: the sense that implies Democrat loyalty, receipt of pensions and benefits regardless of cost, and “solidarity” with those of the same stripe. Any other type of union constitutes a threat, an enemy, a bought-and-paid mouthpiece for an evil corporation, or…. Just something really sinister, even if they can’t really explain why.

Late into the Bush 43 administration, the workers of main street, Wall Street, and a hodgepodge of others in between began to unite. It was a national movement but strangely had no substantive nucleus. Loose bonds linked groups across the country but centralization was kept to a minimum, and this helped make it the quintessential union: anti-establishment, pro-rights, advocacy for economic improvement, and demanding those at the top play fair.

The inauguration of President Obama galvanized this grassroots organization into decisive action. When it became clear on the campaign trail that our first black President-to-be would further the agenda of the Washington elites (the target of this union’s activism), the group’s rolls swelled exponentially. People who demanded responsibility and accountability from their federal and state governments flocked to the meetings of local chapters.

There were no membership dues; no one made unilateral executive decisions; and only general principles tied the wider movement together with loose bonds. The name of the game was localized solutions to national problems. The group has probably been the most dynamic union ever formed. Its action to reform the establishment to create a better America came in all shapes and sizes, from efforts to minimize voter fraud; to educational seminars on civics, the Constitution, history, and many other subjects; to vetting candidates in local races.

But ever since the organization hit its zenith during the passage of Obamacare last year, traditional union members (you know, the ones from whom you expected to have the most support, considering the popular rallying cry of “Solidarity”) and several Democrat politicians have come out in force to blast the young, unorthodox union. Yes, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and other populous unions have waged a continuous assault on fellow American workers, almost solely because they were in an independent union that refused to blindly proliferate Democrat power.

By now, you have probably ascertained that the union of which I speak is the Tea Party. Yes, this most polarizing of all unions bears the brunt of mockery and vitriol in today’s political climate, and not just from other groups of workers in the Democrat-philic acronym-sporting organizations. Virtually every committed leftist hates – no, abhors – the Tea Party, despite its resemblance to their own faithful card-carriers. This leads to an obvious hypothesis: Maybe American unions exist primarily to feed a codependent Democrat party and don’t actually care about the long-term well-being of their members or others who use similar tactics. Just a thought.

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Was Anwar Al-Awlaki’s Assassination Legal?

The assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, unlike that of Osama Bin Laden, creates some tricky legal dilemmas due to Al-Awlaki’s American citizenship. The once-moderate Muslim cleric who taught at a handful of mosques in the U.S. had ties to major terrorist events – ties that have slowly but surely come to light over the last few years. Like Bin Laden, he was linked to a couple of the September 11th hijackers, as well as Nidal Hasan (the Fort Hood shooter) and the underwear bomber of recent infamy.

His actions are, in essence, the same as Bin Laden’s, who was never primarily known for acts of jihad himself (at least not of the caliber of the Sept 11th hijackers or Hasan), but rather for providing the strategy and/or inspiration for these attacks. Several of the usual suspects cried “foul” at bin Laden’s assassination, but since he was no American citizen, the legal hubbub died in its infancy. Al-Awlaki’s targeted killing is quite a different story.

After careful consideration and study, I have determined that Al-Awlaki’s removal poses no substantive Constitutional problems. The biggest question is that of a declaration of war against Al Qaeda. There has been some confusion on this point. While there was never a nominal declaration against the terrorist network, it was implicit in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), signed by President Bush one week after 9/11:

“The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.”

It’s obvious Al Qaeda is the focal point of this legislation. The controversial issues with this legislation regarding separation of and role of powers are the topic of another note. For the purpose of my point, the declaration of Congress appears to me to be sufficient in implicating Al Qaeda as an enemy of the United States.

As such, we are still faced with Al-Awlaki’s citizenship. I checked the U.S. State Department’s website, namely the section on loss of citizenship, and to simplify the legalese, it basically says that joining up with the enemy is a de facto declaration of intent to relinquish one’s citizenship:

“The premise that a person intends to retain U.S. citizenship is not applicable when the individual… serves in the armed forces of a foreign state engaged in hostilities with the United States.”

At this point, you might be thinking, “He deserves due process to determine if he did in fact join a hostile enemy army and if he actually did plan the attacks on America.” This is a petty and idealistic reach, in my opinion. We have fought numerous wars without individually questioning each and every soldier, strategist, and ruler of the enemy forces. Al-Awlaki blatantly and unequivocally chose a side by employing violent rhetoric towards the United States and fleeing to Yemen to consort with a known, declared enemy of his country of origin (the United States). In doing so, he forfeited his 4th Amendment protections. We are in a war, declared by Congress under the mandates of the Constitution. And if you are on the opposing side, you face the threat of violent death at the hands of the finest military force in history.

What about the slippery slope argument? For example, what is to stop the U.S. government from making another declaration of war against, say, Christians, in the future, based on the precedent set by broad-stroke measures like the AUMF? Again, I count this a far-fetched extrapolation. The Christian faith, aside from anomalies like the Branch Davidians or the People’s Temple, has for the last few hundred hundred years been one of peace, whereas Muslims have wreaked havoc more or less continuously since the time of Mohammed through singular acts of terrorism (such as 9/11), institutionalized domestic violence, and broad-based imperialistic warfare. A world in which Christians are the focal point of sweeping legislation like the AUMF seems highly improbable to me. And in a world whose condition is in such disrepair, implementation of said legislation would probably be accomplished regardless of precedent.

Rick Perry’s Social Security “Rhetoric”

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry recently referred to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.” Not surprisingly, he is taking some heat for knocking the “third rail” of politics in such fashion. National Public Radio claims this is just rhetoric. So is it?

Well, what is a Ponzi Scheme? In 1919, 16 years before the Social Security Act was signed into law, a Boston investment broker named Charles Ponzi opened a company in which people were asked to invest their money for a 50% return if he was allowed to hold their money for 45 days, or a 100% return on money held for 90 days. The money was allegedly used to buy international postal coupons, which actually could yield a fractional profit due to the strength of the dollar at the time. However, the profit was not the 50% or 100% promised by Ponzi. So how could the broker deliver on his promise?

Ponzi relied on a type of pyramid scheme to deliver early investors the promised profits. He used the deposits of new investors to pay the returns to the investors that had made previous deposits, rather than using the actual profits of the stamps in which his customers were investing, all while maintaining the appearance that the returns were due to the “lucrative” postage stamp market. He relied on the promise of the extravagant profits to attract new money.

For a time, it worked. Enough people bought into the company that Ponzi was actually able to pay the earliest investors. When people saw that some investors were apparently getting their money’s worth, they assumed the profits were legitimate and flooded Ponzi’s business with new cash. This allowed his business to temporarily grow at an exponential rate, and within seven months, Ponzi had collected an astounding $10 million. His assets, however, were only worth about $2 million, and when the Massachusetts attorney-general halted his deposits, people began to get suspicious. He was eventually jailed for fraud. His investors ended up getting back about 37 cents on every dollar they had deposited once the courts had sorted everything out.

So how could such a blatant act of criminality be associated with the sacred Social Security program we all hold dear? Let’s examine the very first monthly Social Security recipient, Ida May Fuller. Mrs. Fuller, over three years, paid into the program a total of $24.75. Her first monthly check once she retired was $22.54, due to her particular classification in the benefit structure of the program. When she died at the age of 100, she had collected a total of nearly $23,000 in Social Security benefits. Where did the money come from, if not from her own contribution? Other tax payers. In Ponzi Scheme terms, an early investor’s promised profits were financed by other, newer deposits.

Now, if by law, Congress mandated that the program work like a savings account, where you receive exactly what you put in, there could be no comparison to a Ponzi Scheme. The Social Security Trust Fund would simply be a holding account for later withdrawal. But that is not how it is set up. There are numerous projections and estimates that comprise the receipt/payout structure of the program. The Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA), the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and other factors are all considered in determining how to fund and dispense funds in the program.

It gets better. As you know, Social Security is funded through payroll taxes. When the amount of payroll taxes exceeds the cost of the benefits in a particular year, the surplus is invested in special U.S. Treasury bonds, which can be used for deficit spending! Ever wonder how Bill Clinton was able to run a surplus? Bingo. The federal government borrowed the excess payroll taxes and gave Social Security an IOU in return. That means that many people’s payroll taxes, designated specifically for Social Security payments, financed Clinton’s (and many other Presidents’) spending in unrelated areas. My friends, this is far worse than Ponzi’s plot. Not only are people paying for the previous generation of recipients, they are financing the out-of-control spending of the government with money that is kept in what should be a rainy day fund. Worse than that, the program is mandatory!

You can imagine what could happen if payroll taxes, which are paid via one’s employer, start to decline due to high unemployment (which is currently the case), or if the number of people retiring starts to increase in proportion to those paying in (a phenomenon which is also on the rise). In order for the program not to go broke, there has to be at least as much money coming in through taxes as money going out through benefit payments. Congress has to find the right algorithm (I.e., manipulating payroll tax rates or benefits based on the COLA and CPI, etc.) in order to maintain that balance. This is comparable to the promise of exorbitant profits in order to keep fresh money rolling into the Ponzi Scheme – if Congress can be clever enough, they can find ways to keep the program funded.

Although this is a simplified comparison, the differences between Social Security and the Ponzi Scheme are really quite trivial. Some say that since Social Security is not a program in which voluntary investors are lured in with false promises that it technically does not meet the requirements. I would argue that in light of 1) the program’s mandatory participation, and 2) a political climate in which talk of reforming the program is generally met with scorn, Social Security is actually worse than a Ponzi Scheme. Both are based on unsustainable models and both require bookkeeping gimmicks and/or false promises (i.e., assuring citizens that the program is sound) to attract (or worse, mandate) new deposits.

So was Perry right? I’d say mostly so. Either way, he re-introduced the “third rail” into the mainstream of political discourse. And that, I believe, is positive.

Three Disclaimers for My Progressive Audience

At first glance, I may come across as the stereotypical conservative (a very loaded term, I might add). I’m a Republican, I’m pro-Tea Party, and obnoxiously proud of my country and the principles set forth in the Constitution that have helped usher in unequaled prosperity. And let’s face it, there are probably certain things you and I will never agree on.

But let’s get a few things straight before you fire both barrels at me over the anti-intellectual rhetoric that you probably assume the Heritage Foundation is spoon-feeding me:

  1. I’m no Bushie. I started getting revved up about politics during the 2008 Presidential campaign. During the height (depth?) of the stock market crash, I was beginning to pay close attention to politics. In fact, one remark that really raised my antennae was when W said he would abandon the free market in order to save the free market. So don’t try to get me on the hook defending Bush, because I’ll only back the man if I happen to agree with the decision in question. And that leads me to my second point:
  2. I don’t adhere to Reagan’s 11th commandment. Conservatism is far bigger than any one person. So if someone on the right gets out of line, the “R” beside his name will earn him no free pass from me.
  3. While I am firmly in the Tea Party camp on probably 98% of its platform, I find it unfortunate that the group didn’t spring into action years before it did. There’s really no question that Bush was guilty of the same sins Obama gets slammed for, and in my opinion, the credibility of the movement has suffered because of the timing of its coalescence. (In the end, I believe what matters most is the question, “are the principles the movement espouses factually and morally sound?”, and since I believe TP principles do indeed meet these criteria, I will not criticize the group further. Either way, I digress).

So before you make any assumptions about what I believe or extrapolate on my exact words, leave a comment and ask me for clarification. I will make every effort on this blog to be objective, observant, fair, and amicable in each interaction. Again, thank ya for taking the time to read!

Obligatory Salutations

Well, I did it. Finally forced my fingers onto the keyboard to begin what I hope is a long and fruitful relationship with the blogosphere. Thanks to everyone reading this who encouraged me to start. And thanks for randomly dropping by if you have no idea what this is or how you got here. Here’s to a fresh start writing about what I love: American politics. I hope you find my perspective helpful and inspiring. *chalice clink*

I will be importing some of my Facebook “Notes” over the next few weeks, but if your appetite for conservative commentary demands immediate gratification, check out my page. Most Notes should be available to the public.

Oh, and lest one day you fear you have stumbled upon the wrong site while looking for an incendiary review of Harry Reid’s latest whopper, know that I also play drums in a rock band, so stay tuned for spontaneous updates on A New Day.

Till next time.

A Thumbnail Sketch of America’s Political Climate

This, the first of my substantive blog posts, summarizes my feelings on the political climate in America. From November 18, 2010:

Conservatives seem to have no legitimacy these days. Without exception, those who talk about small government have fatal flaws that somehow negate their entire message. Every argument, every idea, every platform, every premise is excluded for reasons that vary depending on what liberal you talk to, but make no mistake: each bastion of conservatism has a problem with it. Some examples:

We can’t listen to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity (and we’re not even allowed to THINK about Glenn Beck or Michael Savage) but must take the openly comical Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart at their word.

We can’t call Obama a “Socialist” but must endure the likening of George Bush to Osama bin Laden.

We can’t openly declare support for the Tea Party of Sarah Palin without fear of ostracism, but must accept the excuses made for the outright un-American George Soros and the Council on American Islamic Relations.

We can’t watch Fox News or read NewsMax but must treat the New York Times and the Huffington Post with complete respect.

We have to entertain the concerns over a “vast right-wing conspiracy” while completely dismissing any questions about Obama’s birthplace.

We’re treated like aliens if we talk about cutting major departments of the government but must swallow any and every new social program created “for the people.”

We’re called “racist” for opposing Obamacare and intolerant for supporting Arizona’s immigration law but must sit by while foreign nationals who have committed terrorist acts get acquitted in domestic criminal court.

We must say “yes” to enhanced pat-downs by the TSA but “no” to enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners of war at Gitmo.

Basically, we are reduced to voicing tasteless concerns on acceptable topics in a completely level-toned, perfectly balanced manner and answer the response (a.k.a. the pre-programmed Bush comparison) with humble resignation and acquiescence. Should we pledge blind allegiance to any person, party, or platform? Absolutely not. Should we overlook extreme statements and bending of facts? Nope. But neither should we write off one entity for taking a stand no one wants to take. No person, idea, or group is perfect, but we will no longer be marginalized for supporting the “outcasts” listed above.

On November 2, conservatism spoke. Our voices were heard loud and clear. From here on out, we will continue to engage in civil discourse, but we will not be afraid to take positions that are considered extreme (Constitutional). We will admit the flaws of our figureheads when confronted with the facts, but we will not allow ourselves to be viewed as mindless followers. No longer will we bend over backwards to accept the rhetoric of the left (“Obamacare will reduce the deficit,” “We must pass the bill to find out what’s in it,” etc.). No, we are the real deal. We are legitimate. And we will not be ashamed to shape the national debate for a change.