Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who is serving whom?

Our Founding Fathers were very careful when they came to establish this great nation. Through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and through the correspondence among the Founders, the words to describe their vision were chosen carefully. The words of personal letters, public addresses, and our founding documents were carefully crafted as they were expected to live for the ages. In this, our Founders succeeded, as these documents are as relevant today as when they were written.

Initially, from the First Continental Congress, through the early 1800’s, following the War of 1812, being a member of Congress was basically a part-time job. Then, as now, Congress sat in regular session for about six months per year.

Pay for Congressmen at the time was $6 per day they were in session. It is difficult to give a direct comparison in today’s dollars since most colonial Americans still used barter as a primary means to acquire goods. However, an illustration may be drawn, when noting that Americans in the 1770’s and 80’s enjoyed the highest per-capita income in the world, at approximately $500 per capita in today’s dollars. The Congressional income, at an annual rate, would have equaled approximately $2,500.

The Founders gave considerable thought to the dangers of creating elected offices that overly compensated the office-holder. Their concern was that superior compensation would, itself, entice them to seek a position. The Founders, in what has become an almost passé expression, believed in service to the nation as a duty to be exercised when called to do so. Overt office-seeking was frowned upon, and although there were many Founders that had the ambition of leading our nation out of its infancy, most sought office quietly, usually through third parties, such as a friendly agent in the press.

Though ambition and the opportunity to set the standard for their Noble Experiment undoubtedly colored the motivations of many of our Founders, serving honorably was paramount in all of their actions and decisions. In a letter to Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams spoke for many in his wish of the men who would lead our young country:

If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour . . . of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.

The greatest example of a Founder exemplifying this, and of the final words of the Declaration of Independence. . . . ”we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor”, is General George Washington.

General Washington refused to accept any compensation for his service during the Revolution. Due to his service, and an inability to properly oversee his lands at Mount Vernon, General Washington enjoyed the victory of the Revolution, tempered by his own personal debt. Much of this debt came from his direct financing of supplies and equipment required for his soldiers, and the fact that Congress reneged on its promised reimbursement of his expenses.

Upon being elected President of the United States, Washington again offered to serve without compensation. Congress, however, voted the Office of the President an annual salary of $25,000. In today’s dollars, this would be approximately $550,000, compared to the $400,000 salary, and $50,000 personal allowance the President currently receives.

While the President’s salary and compensation is relatively similar to what the Founders envisioned, that of our other federally elected officials is not. At an annual salary of $174,000, and perks that include cut-rate health clubs and medical care at the US Capitol, our members of Congress are out of touch with the American people. The current salary they enjoy compares to the $58,547 our Founders received, adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars. Ironically, the Founder’s compensation, in today’s dollars relates favorably with the median household income of Americans today, of $49,777. Remember, Congressmen and women are only constitutionally required to serve while Congress is in session, approximately six months each year.

As an example of the level to which Congress has lost touch with the American people, the latest House Budget, that money allocated for the day-to-day running of the US House of Representatives, has budgeted $475,000 for bottled water. With an annual salary three times that of the average American, our Congress is unable to buy their own water? Add this to the additional perk of “franking”, free postage for sitting Representatives and Senators, which effectually gives them a means to campaign at taxpayers’ expense, under the guise of “constituent services”. Until 1984, members of Congress did not contribute to, nor receive benefits from Social Security. Not surprising, since they become vested in a congressional pension after only five years.

Over the years, congressional salaries have risen dramatically higher than those of the very people they ostensibly serve. While Americans pursue happiness in their lives, Congress reaps the rewards of those same Americans’ work. It is often heard, when referring to tax dollars, and the way Congress spends it, that “it isn’t their money”! While cliché, it is accurate. It is the money of the American people, earned by the sweat of their brow that, through taxation, is to provide defense for our nation and only those other powers specified in Section 8, Article I of the Constitution.

Section 6 of the Constitution specifies that The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law. . . . [Sic] Yet in the greatest possible example of a wolf in the henhouse, Congress writes the laws. Through the years, Congress' salary has grown with inflation, though not quite kept up with it. During this same period, median household incomes have grown about ten percent of that of our elected officials. A gulf exists and continues to grow between We the People and our elected representatives.

As stated in Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution of the United States, Senators were elected by their respective state legislatures. This provided an additional check in the check-and-balance form of government that our Founders created. As any schoolchild knows, we have three branches of government: Legislative, Judicial, and Executive. Each branch has specific responsibilities, providing checks upon the others. By providing in the Constitution for the Representatives of the House to be elected by the popular vote of the people, the Senators to be elected by the state legislatures, and the President by the Electoral College, the Founders created an additional means of balancing our federal government.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified April 8, 1913, by 36 of the 48 states, changed this bedrock principle enshrined by the Founders. Subsequently, this Amendment was ratified by two other states. Nine failed to ratify it, and Utah remains the lone state to outright reject the 17th Amendment.

The 17th Amendment provides that Senators, like Representatives, will be elected through a popular vote. The reasons given during debates of the time dealt primarily with the rampant corruption which had encroached into our electoral process. The greatest abuses were found in the metropolitan centers of our young country, and in corruption dens such as Tammany Hall.

Regardless of the reasons, the 17th Amendment threw our government off-balance from what the Founders intended. Those states failing to ratify did so as they rightly felt the 17th Amendment took power and authority from the states, thus granting more to the federal government.

The time has come to repeal the 17th Amendment and return our electoral process to what the Founders intended. Men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson recognized that it was easier for the average colonist to approach their local and state officials than members of Congress, several days’ ride away in the nation’s capitol. This was where the “check” on Senators came into play, as each state’s legislature would be answerable to the people of their state, and thus the two Senators sent by the legislature to the Senate, were accountable to the people, through their state’s legislatures.

Our Founding Fathers were arguably the greatest collection of great minds ever assembled. Philosophers, inventors, statesmen-patriots all. Despite their many differences, they were able to bring out the best in one another. To study them today is to see into their collective genius, exponentially greater than any one. What is inspiring to anyone studying them today is their great foresight. A chess grandmaster may see four, five or even six moves ahead. In a forced position, a grandmaster may see as many as ten moves ahead. Our Founders had the foresight, almost a second sight, to see nearly 250 years into the future of our nation. Reading them today, it is nearly incomprehensible how uncannily they predicted the obstacles, hurdles, and challenges that our Noble Experiment would encounter.

With the advent of instantaneous communication, a camera in every phone, and a phone in every pocket, it is much easier to hold our elected officials accountable today. Much easier than even our Founders may have envisioned. By returning the election of United States Senators to the legislatures of their respective states, we will reestablish a level of accountability for our elected officials not experienced in 98 years. We will have the means to rein in their avarice and bring them back in touch with their constituents-We the People.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

And they say mainstream media isn't biased!

Anyone who thinks the Right Wing is "crying wolf" about media bias and the mainstream media's lack of any semblance of balance, check this out.

First, search CNN or MSNBC, and probably others (I haven't gotten that far yet), and see if you can find anything on Bill Maher's vulgar reference to Sarah Palin during his HBO special. I have tried since this morning, and haven't come up with anything yet. This is what he said, along with a link if you have the stomach to watch:

This is NOW's response. The link will probably be down by the time you check...NOW membership seems to be pretty upset too!

I've got a few things to say on the latest "controversy" getting everyone all fired up:

1. Listen, supposedly progressive men (ok, and women, too): Cut the crap! Stop degrading women with whom you disagree and/or don't like by using female body terms or other gender-associated slurs. OK? Can you do that, please? If you think someone's an idiot or a danger to the country, feel free to say so, but try to keep their sex out of it. Sexist insults have an impact on all women.
2. We're on to you, right-wingers:
a. You're trying to take up our time getting us to defend your friend Sarah Palin. If you keep us busy defending her, we have less time to defend women's bodies from the onslaught of reproductive rights attacks and other threats to our freedom, safety, livelihood, etc. Sorry, but we can't defend Palin or even Hillary Clinton from every sexist insult hurled at them in the media. That task would be impossible, and it would consume us. You know this would not be a productive way to fight for women's equal rights, which is why you want us stuck in this morass.
b. As usual, you're looking for any way to discredit NOW. You claim we care and work only for liberal woman, but that's a LIE. We have defended Sarah Palin and other conservative women from sexist attacks. Maybe not on your schedule, but we've done so. And by the way, all those laws we advocate for -- we don't ask that they include a clause saying only certified liberal women can benefit from them. Conservative women benefit from them, too! Just because we don't open up a Palin wing on the NOW website doesn't mean we don't think that every single woman -- right, left and in-between -- deserves equal pay, full reproductive rights, justice in the courts, etc. So knock off the facetious whining that right-wing women are not represented by NOW's work.
c. Prior to the emergence of Palin on the national scene: Where the heck were you when Hillary and Nancy Pelosi and other women were being demeaned in sexist ways? Did you speak up once on behalf of a woman politician before you learned the name Sarah Palin? Did you work toward equality for women in any way prior to August 2008? It would be nice to think that you've suddenly discovered sexism and are interested in joining us in the struggle for full equality. But this really smacks of the worst kind of hypocrisy: Folks with no history of working on an issue trying to discredit those who have been working for decades on the issue.
Ridiculous.That's all I have to say on the matter. Now, back to business.

After several posts disagreeing with her, she responded:

This is the level of professionalism that NOW has been reduced to? I don't care who it is about, what it is about, which side of the political spectrum anyone is coming from. The vulgarities spewing forth from
Publish Post
Bill Maher's, and other mouths is unconscionable.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Shared sacrifice

In light of current news, I realized today that many in my family, including myself, are employed in controversial jobs. I have two family members that are teachers, two that are air traffic controllers, one that is a city employee and a son that is a Soldier. I am a military retiree.

Excepting myself, since I always wanted to be a career military man, most of my family didn't start out to be a public employee. My brother, an Air Force veteran, became an air traffic controller when President Reagan fired so many, creating an opportunity. My son followed in my footsteps and my niece followed in my brother's. Regardless, as it stands, several of us make a living off of the public dole.

My nephew, a teacher and I have been having a back-and-forth about the protests in Wisconsin. I just wrote a paper for college on the dated nature of tenure in our public schools. His input has been invaluable, and while I understand his passion for the subject, I feel both of us have missed the main issue.

Public employees, by definition, receive all of their pay and benefits courtesy of the taxpaying public. Although it is often glossed over, our military are public employees also.

Collective bargaining, the issue in Wisconsin, has elevated public employees' pay and benefits to a level above what we as communities, states, and a nation can afford. While not all public employees are making exorbitant salaries, union-negotiated contracts have raised the levels of most public employee compensation to an unsustainable height. Due to longevity raises, generous benefit packages, and a great retirement plan, the average salary of our public employees is higher than the non-public employee.

To break it down into easy math, we, the American taxpayer, make $10 an hour, and pay our public employees $12 an hour. It is not necessary to have a degree in math to recognize the incongruity and unsustainability of what we have created.

It is time for all Americans to share in the sacrifices that must be made. From what I have read and heard, the proposals in Wisconsin will have little, if any affect on current public employees. Governor Scott Walker is trying to remove the collective-bargaining provisions for all public employees except First Responders. He has proposed to keep collective-bargaining for salaries.

Is he really asking too much? One of the outcomes of the 1990-1991 recession was that they changed the military retirement system. There was very little outcry against this. As military members, we understood the importance of a strong national economy and its relationship to our national defense. In my case, as a serving Soldier, already on a retirement track, this change led to my retirement being reduced by over 17%. I had several years to plan and prepare, because the changes did not affect those nearer retirement than I.

We need to curb our spending within our state and federal governments. Raising taxes to cover increased spending will take us down the path to serfdom. We must cut spending. We must, as citizens, get involved, contact our legislators and tell them that the rampant and unbridled spending must stop.

In order for us to do this, all must share in the sacrifice. Entitlements like Social Security must be cut, golden parachute retirement plans for public employees must stop, and yes, even our defense spending needs to be cut.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Putting my money where my mouth is

I am tired of words. I am tired of the talk shows and talking heads. It is time that action is taken. Not just by those that are always involved, but those that aren't.

To put my money where my mouth is, I went to http://www.nccs.net, the National Center for Constitutional Studies, and purchased 100 Pocket Constitutions for $30. They arrived yesterday and I gave out 27. My wife thinks I'm nuts, on my way to becoming a whackado. But really, why not? What is wrong with proselytizing the meaningful words that founded this country and have allowed it to reach its greatness? We, the United States, did not reach this point by accident. We have achieved our place in the world, our place in history, through the blood of the average men and women who have done above average things.

I handed out most of them to fellow students at IPFW in Warsaw. All of my classmates know that I am a staunch Conservative. I believe in less government, personal accountability and the potential of everyone to succeed or fail on their own. I did not however mention any of this when handing out our Constitution. I simply smiled and said "I have something for you".

Nearly all thanked me. I asked that they promise to read it. That was it. I didn't express my views or try to persuade them in any way. When they asked why I was giving them away I simply told them that I spent 25 years defending it, and was ashamed at the number of Americans that had forgotten what it says. When pushed for an opinion, I told them to read it, and form their own opinion.

Once I gave them out, I had a level of rapport. Three conversations came from my "gifts".

First, the one push-back I received was from a couple of former Marines in class with me. Since I'm a dogface Soldier, we're constantly giving each other a hard time, so they may have been yanking my chain. They simply told me that they thought it was silly, what I was doing. They chuckled when I reminded them that I had just given them the document they had sworn to support and defend. When they blew that off, I called them ex-Marines...a big no-no. They finally agreed with my point.

Another conversation was with an older student (like me). She is studying to complete a nurse's certification so that she can make more money. The two of us started speaking about the union stuff going on in Wisconsin and Indianapolis, and politics in general (she broached the subject). She mentioned that she was considering moving to Indianapolis since she could actually make more, without the additional certification (she was stressing over an exam!). I told her that she just proved my point about unions and individual responsibility. She has a choice to make. Stay in Warsaw, complete her education, or move to Indy. Choices that she has, to determine the path she wants to travel. Regardless of what she chooses, she is being proactive and taking responsibility for her life...she is not waiting on a handout, a bailout, or some other government "program" to make her decision for her.

The final conversation I had was with an 18 year-old girl who mentioned how much she enjoyed her government class in high school. Her teacher tied their lessons into current events for context. She lamented that she wished she could have a class like that every day. I told her she can! She had never thought about watching the news or reading the papers. She is working towards a degree in fashion merchandising, and as I sit behind her, I see her surfing the Net, checking out fashion websites. When I suggested she surf some news sites, it was like a lightbulb went on. It sounds silly, too easy, but for some people, especially young adults, they don't look at it this way. They don't realize that decisions made in Indianapolis and Washington, D.C. have an effect on their lives. They don't see the connection between what happens in Wisconsin affecting their lives down the road, as other states, and potentially the federal government, learn from Wisconsin and adopt new policies accordingly.

This final conversation was by far the most exciting for me. She said that knowing what was going on, getting involved and voting were as important as starting her retirement savings early. It pays off more down the road. An apt analogy in my opinion.

If out of the 100 Pocket Constitutions I give away, only one person starts paying attention, it will be worth the $30 spent. If I only convince one American that we live in the greatest country on earth, not by accident, but by us, We the People, getting involved, I will consider it a success.

Although I am Conservative, my goal through this experiment is not to convert anyone to my way of thinking. It is simply to get people to think. Period. One person can make a difference. Can you?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Please, think before you post.

Just yesterday, a family member of mine posted on Facebook how the GOP needed someone better than Trump or Palin. Of course she was referring to their appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC.

In my comment to her post, I asked what specific issue she had with Palin. One of her other FB friends and I started a back-and-forth about politics in general. One of her friends agreed with my post that too many people dislike Sarah Palin, but when pushed, cannot give a reason why.

My family member finally deleted her initial comment, and thus all of the posts saying that she was just trying to be funny. How funny is it to throw something derogatory out there, without even a generalization as to why you don't like a potential candidate, and then delete it when challenged?

Have we become such a non-thinking society that we cannot have a civil discourse about issues? "Being funny" has become, it appears to me, the news source of choice for a lot of Americans. From Bill Maher, to Colbert, it seems that so many young people take what they hear at face value without any thought at all.

Admittedly, I watch FOX News a lot. I also tune in to CNN and MSNBC to see how they are reporting similar issues. More importantly, I try to ask myself if what I've heard is accurate and balanced. If it doesn't pass the smell test, then I research it on my own.

The bottom line frustration for me is this: If you are going to disparage a person, policy, or action, don't share it with me unless you are prepared to discuss it, and in many cases, back it up with facts or examples. Disliking someone or something because it is in vogue holds no merit. It is symptomatic of the careless way many express their views, which when challenged, we learn usually equates to them not having a view at all. By throwing out vague, unsubstantiated comments on FB or other social media, demonstrates an ignorance and naivete that, unfortunatly, permeates our society. Everyone is entitled to [their] own opinion, but not [their] own facts (Daniel Patrick Moynihan).