Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Symbolism and the $1 Bill

Published at Mentalfloss.com August 18, 2009 by

Crack open your wallet, pull out everyone’s favorite portrait of George Washington, and be prepared to learn about some odd symbolism that probably seemed perfectly normal in the 18th century. Here are the explanations behind some of the more baffling parts of our nation’s smallest bills.

What’s that weird pyramid drawing on the reverse of the bill?

The two circular drawings on the reverse of the bill are actually parts of the two-sided Great Seal of the United States. Although we don’t see the entire seal outside of our wallets too often, the notion of having a great seal is actually as old as the country itself. The Continental Congress passed a resolution on July 4, 1776, to create a committee to design a great seal for the fledgling nation, and heavy hitters John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson got the first crack at creating the seal.

Congress wasn’t so keen on the design these big names brought back, though, and it took nearly six years and several drafts to finally find a suitable seal. Congress finally approved of a design on June 20, 1782.

What’s the story behind the Great Seal of the United States?

According to the State Department, which has been the official trustee of the seal since 1789, both the obverse (front) and reverse (back) of the seal are rich with symbolism. The obverse picturing the eagle is a bit easier to explain. The bird holds 13 arrows to show the nation’s strength in war, but it also grasps an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 olives that symbolize the importance of peace. (The recurring number 13, which also appears in the stripes on the eagle’s shield and the constellation of stars over its head, is a nod to the original 13 states.) The shield floats unsupported over the eagle as a reminder that Americans should rely on their own virtue and strength.

The symbolism of the pyramid on the seal’s reverse is trickier. The pyramid has 13 steps – the designers apparently never got tired of the 13 motif – and the Roman numeral for 1776 is emblazoned across the bottom. The all-seeing Eye of Providence at the top of the pyramid symbolizes the divine help the early Americans needed in establishing the new country. The pyramid itself symbolizes strength and durability.

The divine overtones don’t stop with the unblinking eye, though. The Latin motto Annuit Ceptis appears over the pyramid; it translates into “He [God] has favored our undertaking.” The scroll underneath the pyramid reads Novus Ordo Seclorum, or “A new order of the ages,” which was meant to signify the dawn of the new American era.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Morning Bell: Is Obamacare Consistent With Our First Principles?

Published at the Heritage Foundation, August 14th, 2009 by Conn Carroll

During one of Sen. Arlen Specter’s (D-PA) early health care townhalls in Lebanon, Pennsylvania; mother of two Katy Abram told the audience: “I don’t believe this is just about health care. It’s not about TARP. It’s not about left and right. This is about the systematic dismantling of this country. I’m only 35 years-old. I’ve never been interested in politics. You have awakened the sleeping giant.” Abrams is dead on. Our federal government has, unfortunately, long been drifting away from the limited government principles first envisioned by our founders. But over the past eleven months, that drift has turned into an all out sprint towards an undemocratic, technocratic, leviathan state … a type of government that our Constitution was specifically designed to prevent.

As Abram points out, both political parties have been complicit in the rapid deterioration of our founding principles. It was after all President Bush who pushed for and signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). When the Bush administration submitted their legislation to Congress we warned: “From a constitutional standpoint, the current versions of the legislation are different in scope, and especially in kind, from almost any federal legislation that has come before.” Specifically we identified: (1) Congress’s enumerated power—or lack thereof—to intervene with private markets in the manner contemplated, (2) the lack of meaningful standards to guide the extremely broad grant of discretion to the Treasury secretary (the “legislative delegation” problem), (3) limitations on judicial review over the exercise of that almost limitless discretion, and (4) related separation of powers concerns.

The only thing that truly surprised us after the legislation’s passage was just how quickly our worst fears were realized. The TARP plan, as sold to Congress, was never even implemented and, instead, it quickly devolved into a political slush fund. Because of the broad delegations of authority in the bill, the American people were left with no real avenue to check the federal government’s unprecedented interference in the U.S. economy. When Members of Congress voted for the bill in October 2008, could any of them honestly say they thought they had just voted to bailout General Motors and Chrysler?

The proposed health care legislation is just as bad, if not worse, than TARP. Sec. 142 of H.R. 3200 grants the new Orwellian-titled “Health Choices Commissioner” broad lawmaking authority, including the power to: set standards for every Americans health insurance plan, determine which of your current insurance plans do or do not meet that standard, and then punish plans that do not meet that standard. Even worse is what is not yet in the bill, but is desperately wanted by the Obama administration. A super-empowered Medicare Payment Advisory Commission that is specifically designed to “save money in an apolitical, technocratic way.” The entire purpose of this part of Obamacare would be to take medical decisions away from patients and vest it in a panel of experts specifically designed to be completely unaccountable to the American people. Is this what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind?

When the Constitution was being ratified, James Madison, writing as Publius, sought to allay fears that the new national government would turn into a Leviathan. In the 45th Federalist Paper he emphasized that adoption of the Constitution would create a government of enumerated, and therefore strictly limited, powers. Madison said: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined… [and] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce….” Federal tax collectors, Madison assured everyone, “will be principally on the seacoast, and not very numerous.” Exactly six months after publication of this essay, New York became the 11th state to ratify the Constitution. Is turning over one-sixth of our nation’s economy over to Obama’s super-MedPAC panel in any way consistent with this vision?

Quick Hits:

* The contentious health care debate is forcing many Democrats to rethink an August tradition: town-hall-style meetings.
* House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) compared townhall protesters to the “snarling dogs” used against the civil rights movement of the 1960s and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called Obamacare protesters “evil mongers.”
* The American College of Surgeons released another statement condemning President Barack Obama “statements that are incorrect or not based in fact” adding: “We assume that the President made these mistakes unintentionally, but we would urge him to have his facts correct before making another inflammatory and incorrect statement about surgeons and surgical care.”
* With 3,300 lobbyists working on health care reform, there are six lobbyists for each of the 535 members of the House and Senate.
* According to a still mostly secret White House deal with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, PhRMA promised to promote healthcare reform in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in return for a White House promise capping PhRMA’s costs under the overhaul legislation at $80 billion.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Proposal for the 28th Amendment

Two stories worthy of note:

Many Americans are aptly frustrated with their representative government, and for many reasons. The largest spending bill in United States history was passed in early 2009 with few members of Congress reading it. Presently we have massive health care legislation before Congress, and it appears this will be no different. It seems fairly non-partisan to ask: how can Congress do its job responsibly if its members won't read the bills?

If one knew only what was reported in main stream news stories one is likely to think anyone who opposes the health care bill is extremist and racist. But in reading for oneself the bills before Congress a different opinion may arise. Aside from the legislation itself, the game of politics is known around the world to be one of deception and corruption. While Republicans and critics of all political stripes are accused of lying and exaggerating elements of the health care legislation, it appears there is legitimate concern over the unwritten results of a government takeover of American health care:

The status quo of the day in Washington is to write massive legislation, rush it through Congress, and with selective attention to detail by Congress and journalists alike. The politics of personal destruction is used to attack those who disapprove of the government health care initiative coupled with lying and misrepresentations of the legislation, which is exactly what the critics of that legislation are accused of doing. And it turns out those critics actually do have good reason to oppose the legislation.

Returning to the issue of Congress' unwillingness to read its own legislation, we the people have seen too many examples of Congress willing to spend other people's money with little regard for accountability while selectively using the argument of accountability to attack their political opponents when expedient. We heard many complaints about deficit spending during George W. Bush's presidency and now a bill encompassing $1 trillion in borrowed money meets with little resistance from those same critics. Unruly and manufactured protests were common and lauded during the Bush years (with much insistence such protests were genuine) and yet today any dissent from the Obama administration is treated with contempt and accusations of being politically manufactured, not merely by leftist journalists but also by members our government. Serious problems are found in the health care legislation currently before the Congress and have been exposed, yet are largely ignored by its supporters. And now we hear dissent from the government is un-American.

In light of these grievances we the people of the United States therefore propose this amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. If Congress is going to act like spoiled children they should be treated as such.

Amendment XXVIII: amending Article 1, creating Section 11

1. All final legislation, before the final vote, shall be read aloud in its entirety in the main chamber to the House of Representatives on the same day of the vote; and likewise for the Senate. The reading shall be performed in person only by the Speaker of the House to the House of Representatives, and only by the Senate President Pro Tempore to the Senate.

2. The place, date and time of the legislation reading shall be publicly announced no earlier than 7 days before the day of the vote and shall not be changed once announced unless canceled, nor shall it commence before the appointed time. Any member of Congress not physically present in the appointed place during the entirety of the reading shall not vote on said legislation.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

10th Amendment Battle Lines

The battle lines over states' rights are beginning to form. Citing the 10th Amendment (yes, the actually-part-of-the-constitution kind of 10th Amendment) states' rights advocates, including not just governors and state legislators, assert the federal government has pushed too far beyond its constitutional limits. This argument asserts the continued federal overgrowth over decades past has led the United States government to boundlessly trump the rights of the states and the people. It is rather easy to reach this conclusion based on the actual text of the 10th Amendment, which states:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

What is apparently a "right wing" interpretation of this amendment is that the federal government cannot act where it is not specifically given power to act, and that power is defined in the main body of the constitution; everything else is off limits. This is the fundamental tenet of Federalism.

On the other side of the battle is a massive effort to grow the federal government even further. Federalism was set up to protect the people against tyranny. The effort to grow federal control is therefore, wittingly or not, an effort to strengthen that tyranny. And it is bolstered by journalists not at all concerned about their own pretense of integrity and impartiality.

Evidently, we've forgotten what federalism is, and what it means to be a state. On July 31, 2009 CNN aired a report on this 10th Amendment movement. In this report, with anchors John Roberts and Carol Costello, we are given an excellent example as to the problems of the anti-states' rights argument.

Most of us like to think of ourselves as normal. This includes our beliefs. CNN's staff and crew are no different from the rest of us in this regard. And so when CNN asked for viewer response to a story it seems only natural that their predominantly left wing audience responds accordingly - and that CNN anchors would consider this response as "most people".

ROBERTS: Now, you would think- because states’ rights advocates are so strong in their opinions that the opinions- we’ve been asking for comments, right? Therefore, you would think that most people would be in favor of states’ rights, but it’s running, to a large degree, the opposite way.

COSTELLO: Oh, yeah. But my favorite comment so far- you know, ‘asking for states’ rights is asking, you know, the children to be the parents.’


COSTELLO: It’s comparable to that.

ROBERTS: Somebody else wrote in and said, “We’re the United States, not the divided states.’

We have here selected statements from members of CNN's predominantly left wing audience affirming their ignorance of federalism and statehood. And, of course these journalists can claim "we didn't say it" as if that were relevant, particularly with Costello's own admission that she liked a particular sentiment.

So what's the problem here? Federalism, after all, is a system in which the power to govern is shared between national and central (state) governments, creating what is often called a federation. The European Union might be an example of this. Each member of the European Union is its own sovereign country, but it should be no surprise that even this national distinction is quickly eroding. I expect to see within my own lifetime the notion that France or Germany or the U.K. or any member nation in the EU should be allowed to make their own laws independent of the EU treated as an absurdity. That's the problem with Socialism, state and individual rights are usurped by a national government.

And that is precisely what has happened in the United States. Through decades of being taught too little about American history and civic duty American society has been cultivated to think the Federal government is supreme over the states in all matters, and that the states are merely provincial denominations of that national government. Now advocates of states' rights are largely portrayed as right wing kooks by both Congressional Democrats and by left wing journalists.

But what about the "Supremacy Clause" you say? It's clear that when a state law conflicts with a federal law, the latter is the "supreme law of the land" as stated in Article VI of the constitution. This is in the context of a federal law being legal in its own right. No where in the constitution do we see authority for the federal government to impose itself in areas not explicitly granted it (a limitation imposed by the 10th Amendment), such as acts of benevolence, education, retirement and certainly not health care. Today Congress acts as if there are no bounds to the areas which it can legislate. A limitless government is precisely what our founding fathers wanted to avoid.

At its inception the United States of America was a small federal government designed to handle several specific tasks, such as interstate commerce and treaties with foreign governments. The individual states were to be otherwise regarded as independent and sovereign countries, on the same level as England, Russia, or any other nation. New Yorkers would have thought of themselves as citizens of the nation of New York. Federalism, as written in the Constitution by America's founders, did not establish a parent/child relationship between the federal government and the state governments. It separated powers along distinct lines: the federal government could do some things and yet was explicitly denied authority to do other things. The federal government does not have authority to do anything or what ever it deems as the "general welfare".

But it should not be assumed historical and civic ignorance are the real problem here, though they contribute a great deal to it. As seen in the comments given to us in the CNN news story mentioned above, and in the brief commentary offered by the anchors, those opposed to states' rights often just don't care about the reality of the situation. They want a centralized national government to be in control. Federalism no longer means powers separated between the states and the national government, now it means a parent/child relationship between the two, with the national level government treated as the parent.

Indeed, The 10th Amendment was great idea, but there is An Impending Showdown between the federal government and the states.

Let us not presume our individual liberty is uninvolved in this conflict. After all, individual liberty was the whole point of the constitution. Does our freedom have a place in a Socialist society?