Nothing But Fireworks: A Reflection on the Fourth of July

CRDaily, Politics

As things continue to fall apart, Americans should learn to pay less attention to nationalism and focus on the origins of Independence Day

Fifty-six. That’s the number of men who risked everything they had to make a statement to a tyrannical leader. That’s the number of men who knew if their side was defeated, it was they who would be put to death first. That’s the number of men who, despite their personal and political differences, understood the importance of liberty and equality under the law.

John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence”.

238 years ago, the Declaration of Independence was signed and adopted by the Second Continental Congress. It announced that after years of abuse and unjust representation by the British Empire, the thirteen American colonies were to be regarded as independent sovereign states under a new nation: the United States of America.

It was not an easy document for the delegates to sign. By signing this, these men had placed a target on their back as they were committing treason against the British Empire. Many of the signers’ property was destroyed as a result of their support. Three delegates from South Carolina were even imprisoned when British forces came marching through the South.

But to these individuals, the rights of men were worth standing up for. The rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were to be secured by a government whose power was based in the consent of the people, and, if that government abused and persecuted their citizens, Americans had a duty to overthrow the government and start anew.

Thomas Jefferson remarked, “All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

So, in 2014, I have one question to ask: what happened to that importance of standing up against tyrants? Somewhere over those 238 years, we have forgotten that mentality and have become a people divided, a people more worried about barbecues and parades than freedom when July 4th shows up on our calendars. The vast majority of Americans have failed to remember what our Founders had to go through to become a sovereign nation, and instead have turned Independence Day, which should be a reminder of the bravery of those 56 men, into a once a year circus of American flags and nationalism, sentiments that quickly fade after the festivities are over.

Now, this would not be a big problem if the government we have was respectful and understanding to the rights of Americans that were stated later in the United States Constitution. Unfortunately, this is not the case. At the federal level, we have the NSA mining user data without your permission, the TSA invading your privacy without a warrant and agencies specifically targeting conservatives through their mandated authority. On a smaller scale, local law enforcement officers are forcing people to succumb to Breathalyzer tests or blood sampling with the threat of having their driver license revoked, again without a warrant.

A symbol of the times? (Photo and caption credit to Reddit user Quttlefish)

There is no level of government unable to ignore the appeals of tyranny. They have disregarded our basic rights in the name of safety and legality.

In addition, there is also the problem of lobbying. While I do respect lobbying as some form of free speech, it has allowed corporations to use their influence and power to pass legislation that serves their interests rather than ours because of the way Congress is able to engage in crony capitalism. This, in turn, has created a revolving door between Congress and lobbyists to ensure that money rather than people are represented.

As a result of the combination of these actions, the popularity of the United States government as whole has tanked dramatically. The Real Clear Politics average approval rating for Congress is 13 percent. For President Obama, it is under 42 percent. This, in turn, has resulted in an average of 63 percent of Americans feeling the nation is on the wrong track when considering its future.

So, everyone is on board that our government has become unfit to properly represent the American public, right? Yes and no.

You see, even though we are extremely dissatisfied with our elected officials, we have failed to do anything about it. In the last 50 years, the lowest reelection rate in the House of Representatives was in 1970 and 2010 with 85 percent of incumbents being reelected. The Senate has had better results, with the lowest reelection rate being 55 percent in 1980. Ultimately, there has been a lack of serious change in Washington concerning the opinions and people running our lives. We have failed to address our problems because we keep on electing the same people who trampled on our rights in the first place back into office.

While some may say the solution is to elect the other party, it really does not matter which party we elect if we keep having big government statists nominated. Both sides have had their moments of supporting government growth, and neither option sounds that appetizing. On one side, we can point fingers at George W. Bush for supporting the PATRIOT Act which allowed our phones to be wiretapped in the name of eliminating terrorism. On the other, we can point fingers at President Obama for tolerating the NSA’s excessive use of surveillance technology.

Points like these can tell you one of two things. One, Americans are completely naive and do not know what is going on with their elected officials. This I find hard to believe, as many polls like the ones I have mentioned previously show we are not satisfied with what is going on in DC. (Plus, calling all Americans stupid does not win you a lot of fans.)

The second possibility is that the vast majority of Americans just do not care about the seriousness of the issues we are in. While liberals and conservatives are busy arguing semantics and social policy and an overarching attitude of apathy among Americans, our rights have been deteriorated by a government we do not favor or care about.

Regardless of what the reason is, we are in serious danger of succumbing to tyranny, and it is time we all did something about it.

Protecting our rights and assuring our representation is just not a right or left issue; it’s an American issue. It does not matter who is to blame at this point in time. It is our fault for electing the same people every single election cycle and expecting different results.

As previously mentioned, the Declaration of Independence states the American public has a duty to overthrow an unjust government. While I do not suggest we should invoke violence and start a second American Revolution, I do believe it is time for all of us to be aware and active in changing our nation.

Much like Howard Beale in the 1976 film “Network”, I do not have to tell you how bad things were. You probably knew all of this information already through social media, but nothing is going to change if we do not change first. We, as a nation, must start to show some level of anger towards what our elected officials are doing. To quote Beale, “Things have got to change. But first, you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the 1976 film, “Network”. (Courtesy of Warner Brothers Entertainment)

Speak to your Congressmen, bang on their doors, write them letters, call them so much that their interns begin to recognize your number every time the Caller ID pops up. Tell them to respect you not only as a human being, but as the person who controls whether or not they continue to have a job. Make them realize that they are not your boss, they are your equal.  Then do the same with your Senator, your local Representative, your Mayor, and anyone who is doing a disservice to you and your fellow constituents. If they don’t change, vote them out of office and pick someone who can accomplish the main goal of protecting our rights.

Which brings me back to celebrating the Fourth of July. We have to drop the once a year ‘Murica nationalism. Forget the fading fireworks, forget the fleeting barbecues, and forget the expensive parades. And for a few moments, drop the minuscule political opinions that are tearing us apart. Remember the origins of Independence Day, stand up with your countrymen and get mad.

Fifty-six men were able to stop a tyrannical government from controlling their lives. It would be a shame if 310 million people allowed one to control theirs.

Out of Touch SBP? Sounds Right to me!

North Carolina Politics, Student Government

Elizabeth Merritt

I’m editor for CRDaily. I don’t speak for anyone on this campus except for myself. I am an average student. What if I were Student Body President?As SBP I would represent the student body (Section 3 Park H). If I wrote an editorial and signed it with my title as SBP, I would be speaking as the main representative of 29,136 of my fellow students.

On April 17, Student Body President Will Leimenstoll wrote a letter to the Editor in the Daily Tar Heel where he urged the student body to vote against Amendment One.  Personally, I am against the Amendment, but this isn’t about the Amendment. This is about the Student Body President, who represents 29,136 students.

As Student Body President, you speak for the student body. When you write a letter to the editor imploring students to vote in a certain manner on an issue, you disregard the opinions of students you claim to represent. There are students on this campus who are in favor of Amendment One, and this means that you must respect that. It is easy to claim that this is a personal belief, and that would have been fine, it if had been signed without the title “Student Body President.”

The same applies for appearing on campaign websites. It’s fine to agree with a politician on an issue, but to appear as the spokesman for the Obama campaign on student loans, means that as Student Body President, the representative of the student body, you have successfully ignored the political views of a strong minority of students.

When I met with Will Leimenstoll, he informed me that he wanted to make sure that all voices were being heard on campus, even conservatives. I find that hard to believe now. His Executive Board, full of Young Democrats and Moreheads, is obviously out of touch with any student who holds differing opinions. He needs to stop pretending to listen to those that disagree with his beliefs, and actually do so.

I sincerely hope that President Leimenstoll does not abuse his position as Student Body President further by urging us to vote for President Obama or Walter Dalton for Governor. I hope that he realizes that once he puts his title on anything that he says, he speaks for 29,136 students, not just himself. It’s a tough lesson, but it’s time to learn it.

Obama’s HUDdle on Campus

CRDaily

If you aren’t aware, Obama’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, graced our fair campus with his presence this afternoon. According to UNC’s Office of Federal Affairs (did anyone know we even had one of those?), the purpose of the visit was “to provide an opportunity for Carolina stakeholders to engage a member of the Obama Administration and to better understand some of their policies.” Sadly, the event resembled something closer to a campaign event (and a rather poor one at that).

In the Vicinity of Beijing's 4th Ring, or More Properly, What America Should be Shooting For

I think what was most disappointing was simply the quality of the questions students asked during the Q&A. The first one was “In your dealings with President Obama, what have you found to be his best quality?” And it was simply downhill from there. Now, if this man was addressing a group of third graders, that question might have been appropriate (maybe), but among a group of college students and academics it’s simply absurd. Consider the situation. Here you are, a college student (or professor, or whatever), with an opportunity to discuss anything, from the anemic job market, the depressed housing market, a rapidly nuclearizing Iran, a debt-to-GDP ratio north of 100%, or the impeding collapse of the post-World War II world order, and you essentially ask, “Why is the President soooooo awesome?” I think this little episode perfectly encapsulates what is wrong with American higher education today. Instead of thinking critically about events around it, the academy is so radically self-absorbed and out of touch and so obsessed with its own ideology, it’s simply laughable. Is this really all that the best and brightest of North Carolina is capable of? Maybe it was a fluke, or maybe some rogue from Duke snuck in, but it was kind of embarrassing.

Secretary Donovan, when he wasn’t answering inane questions from the audience, also did a fair amount of pontificating. Apparently, the administration is convinced that we can educate ourselves out of this recession. If only we spend (a lot) more on higher education and push as many people as we can through the system, we’ll all be happy again. Color me a skeptic, but the plan he described, where the federal government subsidizes education through new tax credits, etc., guarantees low-interest loans for all comers, and then requires those borrowers to make only bare minimum payments on those loans, seems awfully similar to American housing policy circa 2008 (which incidentally, HUD bears a lot of responsibility for). I suppose if the idea is to create a giant education bubble, such that when it pops, everyone forgets about the housing problem because the education bubble is so much bigger, then this is a great idea. But if the idea is to generate genuine economic growth, this is certainly not the way to go.

And what’s a State of the Union talk without some mention of trains? Aren’t those things amazing? If only we had more of them, those pesky Chinese wouldn’t even be able to touch us. Actually, the best part of the Secretary’s little speech was when he was talking about China’s impressive infrastructure and how the Chinese are just light-years ahead of us in this regard. He clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. If he did know what he was talking about, he would know that, even in the (very crowded and polluted) major cities (i.e. places like Beijing), you can’t drink the tap water or flush toilet paper because the sewer systems are so old and so out of date. He would also know that electricity is also a problem, and that you actually have to buy surge protectors to insulate your electronic goods from regular power surges. Indeed, even China’s much lauded trains aren’t much to write home about. When they’re not falling off bridges, many of China’s trains are (very) overcrowded, smelly, and generally a very hellish experience. And their highway system isn’t anywhere nearly as well developed as ours. Now, don’t get me wrong, China’s quite a charming place, but the U.S. is definitely winning the infrastructure game.

Shiny!

There was also a fair amount of green energy hype. The Secretary informed us that while there might be a few Solyndras along the way (who doesn’t mind a little government corruption after all), we can’t expect the government to make the right choice every time when it comes to deciding which business to support. This, of course, is the whole point! The government can’t make these decisions, because they are infinitely complicated and not something that some bureaucrat hiding in the basement of a federal building can make. Such choices are properly left to the market, which is a better evaluator  of risk and profit than the government will ever be. When the government tries to make these decisions, you end up with Solyndra. Solyndra isn’t merely a side effect of government intervention in the market, it is its natural conclusion.

All in all, this event was pretty disappointing. The questions were childish, and we got the same old, same old from the administration. It’s simply too bad that what could have been a really interesting event on the future direction of the country devolved into a Why Barack Obama is the Greatest Thing Since Baked Bread event.

The Entitlement State Hits Home

CRDaily

Today, while I was sitting at my desk refreshing the Drudge Report every 5 seconds, an interesting story wandering across my screen: “Adult Children’s Bad Mothering Lawsuit Dismissed.” It’s a curious title and an even more curious story. Apparently Steven Miner, in the midst of a rather messy divorce, decided to sue his mommy for $50,000 because she sent him an “inappropriate” birthday card (i.e., a card without a check inside of it). Apparently, Miner also failed to receive additional birthday cards or care packages (small wonder why) while he attended college, inflicting further emotional damage. While the suit was thrown out, the fact that someone would even consider suing on such grounds speaks to the cultural rot that an entitlement culture creates.

"Daddy, I want it all!"

Our country is currently involved in a very intense debate about the future of the Welfare State (primarily Medicare and Social Security). The debate has mostly focused on the fiscal aspects of these programs, but the moral aspect is just as important. Many people have come to view the gravy train coming out of Washington as some sort of God-given right. Merely suggest raising the retirement age for Social Security (much less eliminating the program altogether), and you’re met with a maelstrom of self-righteous indignation: “How dare you intrude on my right to Social Security,” etc. But look at the consequences such an entitlement culture creates. You’ve got the country running full steam ahead right off the edge of a cliff while the beneficiaries of 50 years of government largesse refuse to compromise. Then you’ve got 20-something-year-olds suing their mothers over birthday checks. Just add that to the list of “rights”: a free college education, a free house, free health insurance, free cell phones, Social Security, and now birthday checks. Just how do you expect to “win the future” when you’ve got a people that feels like they’re all owed something? If people are so busy suing over birthday checks will they have the time (or even the desire) to invent “the next big thing”? I think it’s pretty clear the answer is no. After all, there’s no point in working if Obama (or your mommy) is just going to dip into his stash and send you a check.

Ending the Entitlement Culture is just as important as reigning in the costs of the Entitlement State. The Entitlement State warps a person and degrades his dignity, in much the same way that drugs reduce an addict to nothing more than a pathetic shadow of a human being, removing his ability to think or operate outside the context of where his next fix will come from. The vastness of the national debt is merely a symptom of a moral problem which has reduced millions of Americans to little more than sniveling, entitled children. The debt is as much a moral problem as it is a fiscal one.

About Those Gas Prices

CRDaily

Because we rapidly seem to be approaching $4/gallon gasoline (a fact that seems to be largely ignored by mainstream outlets, particularly when compared to the coverage such developments got just a few years ago), I thought I’d look at how gas prices have fared during the Era of Hope and Change. It turns out the Saudis are doing pretty well. Here’s the breakdown:

Price per Gallon of Regular Unleaded Gasoline (data from the Federal Reserve)

January 26, 2009: $1.838

April 18, 2011: $3.844

Price Change: 109.14%

Would anyone care to explain to me why the Obama Administration thinks it’s a good idea to subsidize oil production in South America while curtailing any attempts to exploit our own, local resources, all while the price of gas doubles? Furthermore, why is no attention given to this dramatic price swing when we are in the midst of a rather tenuous economic “recovery”?

Ben “The Helicopter” Bernanke likes to say that inflation has been rather subdued. Looking at the CPI, one could get that impression. But considering that fuel costs typically take up a substantial portion of a household’s budget, a doubling of those costs is going to have significant psychological and economic implications for how the household is able to spend the rest of its budget. When people see the price of gas double, their first instinct tends to be depressive, i.e. they associate higher gas prices with a lousy economy and act as if they are in a lousy economy (even if the economy is performing well- which wouldn’t really apply in this case anyway). They then have to reallocate the rest of their income to account for the higher fuel costs. So, they spend more money on fuel and less on splurges at the mall. So, this is really a double-whammy for economic growth, and yet no one’s talking about it.

On a side note, if you look at the data, you’ll notice that gas prices really take off right as the FED began implementing its QE2 program. I can’t really say anything authoritatively without looking into it more, but the correlation is certainly interesting, particularly considering that one of the main criticisms of the QE2 program was that it would produce significant inflation. I’d say that an approximately 30% price jump over a 6-month period counts as significant. Although some of that may include added risk-premiums to compensate for the Middle East’s increased instability of late. But that’s not likely the entire explanation, as gas prices were on their way up well before the Arabs started getting restless.

Some Questions About Libya

CRDaily

This whole Libya business has me a bit confused. The first point of contention that I see is a Constitutional one, namely that the President doesn’t have the authority (by himself) to commit troops to a conflict, as that power lies within Congress. Obama’s own words are particularly enlightening on this subject:

2. In what circumstances, if any, would the president have constitutional authority to bomb Iran without seeking a use-of-force authorization from Congress? (Specifically, what about the strategic bombing of suspected nuclear sites — a situation that does not involve stopping an IMMINENT threat?)

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.

As for the specific question about bombing suspected nuclear sites, I recently introduced S.J. Res. 23, which states in part that “any offensive military action taken by the United States against Iran must be explicitly authorized by Congress.”

However, it seems that somewhere along the lines, Congress got left out of the process in favor of the United Nations Security Council and “the court of international opinion.” While I’m sure the people at the Security Council and in the “court of international opinion” are all well-intentioned people, they have no accountability to the American people. The decision to commit American military forces to a conflict rightly lies within the sovereignty of the American people and, the whims of France and the UK should not trump that sovereignty.

The wisdom of engaging in this conflict is also highly debatable. Effectively what we have here is yet another African, tribal civil war. What strategic interests is the United States protecting by embroiling itself in this conflict? Why is this particular situation special, differentiating it from similar situations in other countries (e.g. Iran, Sudan, etc.)? In short, what’s our bone in this fight? Answering some of these questions might be a little easier if the President were capable of projecting some sort of leadership in this situation. It might be easier to agree or disagree with his decision if he at least said what his decision is. Right now, there appears to be no clear strategy and no clear goal. The best I can tell, Europe decided it doesn’t want Gaddafi killing people, and Obama kind of sort of agrees with them.

There’s also the fiscal issue. Our military forces are already committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This by itself raises several questions. Does our military have the capability to successfully execute three different wars at the same time? War tends to be expensive, and with the highest annual budget deficits in history, will our military have the resources to put forth its best effort in all three conflicts? There’s also the human cost. While some defense systems are automated, you generally need to use real people to take out the bad guys. Does our military even have enough people to conduct these campaigns without producing an undue strain on our armed services? Considering that the vast majority of our armed services are real people and not robots, this is a question that deserves due consideration.

What is lacking in this whole situation is any sense of leadership from Obama. He has left dozens of questions about this conflict unanswered and seems to have made this decision on the spur of the moment. He hasn’t even attempted to rally the American people behind his decision largely because he hasn’t really made one. This is a rather inauspicious start to a war that seems likely to devolve into a very sticky situation.