The Pendulum of Power
By Kevin Yang
Many presidential scholars liken the development and expansion of executive power to the undulating swing of a pendulum; during times of crises, the “pendulum” of presidential power swings to new heights, and during other times, the “pendulum” swings to Congress. While this model of power may comfort those who fear the onset of a totalitarian leader, there is one detail crucial to the accuracy of such a model – that the “pendulum” of power is constantly, and inevitably, rising. The “pendulum” may ebb and flow between the executive branch and Congress during different times, but both the executive and Congress have, over several centuries, increased their influence over almost all domestic and foreign affairs. The waves may rock back and forth, but the tide is rising.
Every president comes into office with a vision of America. Although these goals have not always been achieved – to the delight of some, and the dismay of others – the president’s authority remains a powerful, yet limited, executive branch. A president’s authority is confined by the enumerated power in Article II of the Constitution; these powers include the power to appoint judges and federal bureaucrats, the power to make treaties, and the power to veto. The president also bears some informal powers, either implied from clauses in the Constitution or derived from the inherent symbolic nature of the presidency, which aid him (or her) in carrying out his (or her) agenda. The founding fathers, no doubt, feared the creation of a overly powerful executive; their formation of the weak Articles of Confederation is strong evidence that they had intended for the executive to be limited. Yet, as we evaluate the executive branch in retrospect, has the power of the executive branch really been confined? Nowadays, presidents, and the executive branch, have more power than ever before. The power to wiretap. New executive, cabinet-level departments to expand the reach of the federal government. Have the checks and balances set forth in the Constitution failed? Or have the circumstances of the constantly evolving era necessitated a new, more commanding presidency? The answer is up for heated debate.
Power, paradoxically, is something so intangible, yet has such tangible, real consequences. Richard Neudstadt, one of the nation’s most premier presidential scholars, describes power as “a function of personal politics rather than of formal authority.” This description of power has interesting implications on the expansion of presidential power: it means that the power of the president differs from president to president. However, the power of the president to usurp power given the proper circumstances has undoubtedly grown over time. Most presidential historians note the Bush presidency (George H.W. Bush) as a paragon of how presidential authority has increased.
Perhaps the most defining moment of the Bush presidency is 9/11. The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington D.C. were truly traumatic and critical events in the 21st century. Times of crises, especially those related to national security, often act as catalysts for the presidential power grab. The 9/11 terrorist attacks provided Bush with a perfect opportunity to expand presidential power under the notion of “protecting national security.” Quickly following 9/11, the Bush administration facilitated the enactment of the Patriot Act, the creation of Guantanamo Bay and the formation of the Department for Homeland Security. The Patriot Act greatly expanded the executive branch’s power to invade on the privacy of citizens by allowing the government to wiretap phones and conduct more searches of records. The Department for Homeland Security is now the largest cabinet-level department. With 9/11 as a catalyst, the Bush administration significantly increased not only the scope of executive power but also the size of the executive branch.
Representative Harry Waxman of California published a report on the secrecy in the Bush Administration. The report confidently concluded that the Bush administration had greatly expanded the power of the executive and also had made the presidency more secret. With regards to secrecy of public records, the report concludes that:
“The President has expanded the classification powers of executive agencies, resulting in a dramatic increase in the volume of classified government information.”
“The Administration has expanded its authority to conduct law enforcement operations in secret with limited or no judicial oversight…”
By increasing the capacity for the executive branch to operate in secret, the Bush administration has effectively reduced the ability for the checks and balances set forth in the Constitution to work. If the operations of the executive are not known, how can Congress properly employ its checks on the president?
Clearly, the power of the president and the executive branch has dramatically changed since the time of the founding fathers. Given the historical trends that have demonstrated that the pendulum of power has constantly risen, the United States has important fundamental concerns about governmental power to address. While the modern era may require a new type of president, the founding father’s sagacious fears over a totalitarian executive have not faded.
By Kevin Yang
Among President Obama’s many actions, perhaps his most notorious and controversial one is his health care reform bill, known as the Affordable Care Act. Now, starting Monday, March 26, 2012, the bill will be reviewed by the one of the nation’s most venerable institutions, the Supreme Court.
The first thing the court will do is go through three days of hearings on the law itself. According to ABC News, the question of whether it is the appropriate time for the Supreme Court to take up the case is the first question that will be asked. This is an issue only because of the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act, which prevents lawsuits regarding bills with taxes that haven’t been paid yet. Since the individual mandate outlined in Obama’s bill, which requires all Americans to buy health insurance, does not start until 2014, there haven’t been any taxes yet. Thus, some people are able to argue that it is illegal according to US law for the Supreme Court to review Obama’s health care bill.
On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, the Supreme Court will address the most controversial part of Obama’s bill – the constitutionality of the individual mandate. If instituted, this individual mandate would force everyone to buy insurance, regardless of your ability to afford it. If someone does not purchase health insurance, that person will be punished by a fine. In fact, Obama himself spoke out against such an individual mandate during his 2008 campaign for the Democratic primaries.
Opponents to the individual mandate argue that such legislation would violate the basic principles of individual freedom and limited government. If the federal government has the power to force Americans to purchase health care insurance, then why couldn’t it force Americans to purchase every other good? Opponents to the mandate believe that it would make the government’s power effectively limitless.
On the other hand, proponents of the individual mandate argue that it would reap many benefits, most notably, a prevention of free riders in the health care system. The Christian Science Monitor notes that a free rider is someone who benefits from the health care system without actually paying for it. The problem with free riders is especially plaguing the health care system, as people who lack health insurance are still able to receive health care. Almost all health care providers are either unable or unwilling to turn people away. Consequently, the financial cost of these free riders lies on the shoulders of everyone else that pays health insurance. The CATO Institute finds that in 2001, the uninsured received $35 billion worth of care.
Despite the controversies surrounding the individual mandate, it is still expected to pass. The Republican American Action Forum and the Democratic Blue Dog Research Forum both released polls of former clerks of current justices, finding that a mere 35% of people thought that the individual mandate would be ruled unconstitutional. If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional and is taken out of the bill, it is likely that the rest of the Affordable Care Act would legally stand up to the Supreme Court.
Amidst the 2012 US presidential elections, this Supreme Court decision might be key in determining the next president. CBS News predicts that depending on if the bill is found to be constitutional or unconstitutional, democratic and republican voters would be more energized, respectively. This decision could indeed play a huge role in determining the United States’ next president, and as such, is one of the most important moments in our history.
The Tohoku Earthquake
By Kevin Yang
It was the largest earthquake ever recorded to hit the island nation, measuring to be an incredible 8.9 magnitude. When an earthquake does critical damage to Japan, a nation of “earthquake-veterans”, its major news. It is now around the half-year anniversary of this devastating tragedy we now know as the Tohoku Earthquake, yet the impacts are still being felt across Japan, specifically in Japan’s energy sector.
The infamous Fukushima reactor that was disabled and heavily damaged by the Tohoku Earthquake was one of many nuclear reactors in Japan. According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear energy provides about 30% of Japan’s electricity. Shortly after the earthquake hit, the Tokyo Electric Power Company laid out a plan to bring the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant back to a stable state known as cold shutdown. In total, the plan is expected to take around 9 months. The first part of the plan includes building new cooling systems, which would prevent any further release of radioactive materials. In a press conference, Tokyo Electric’s chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, explained the company’s intentions: “The company has been doing its utmost to prevent a worsening of the situation.” Experts are having mixed opinions about this plan, as some believe it is too ambitious, while others think the company can finish the entire process is less time than is outlined in the plan.
In a reaction to the problem of the contaminated water, the company announced that it would build an improvised water-processing unit that would remove radioactive particles from the water. Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency offered some discouraging words on the entire situation: “there is a possibility that normal cooling systems cannot be revived.”
Meanwhile, Japan’s ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that it will spend 20 billion yen on a new energy project, which includes the creation of six 2-mega-watt wind turbines off the Fukushima coast, in an effort to help rebuild the devastated region. These turbines are expected to be completed in March 2016.
The impacts of the earthquake were compounded by the current economic stagnation in Japan. Following the earthquake, the production and sales of automobiles decreased. Furthermore, to make up for the lost energy resulting from the closing of the Fukushima reactor, Japan tripled its oil exports. These all went on to hurt Japan’s economy, which is the last thing the word needs in such tough economic times.
Although one may think that the nuclear disaster would change Japan’s view on nuclear energy, the amount of energy Japan gets from nuclear power is surprisingly expected to increase from 30% to 40% of total electrical power. While the Fukushima nuclear accident did increase awareness and cause Japanese policymakers to look to other forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar power, it did not reverse the upward trend in the usage of nuclear power was clearly evident before the disaster. Although unexpected, these predictions are a symbol of Japan’s resilience and fearlessness. With plans to build new, safer, sources of energy and to rebuild the Fukushima reactor, Japan is on its way to recovery.
By Kevin Yang
America is a great nation. We are a nation that has endured many obstacles but now we are faced with a dangerous and unique situation. Our growing dependence on foreign oil is eating America from the inside out.
The facts about this are ones that made my jaw drop, but they are the truth. The U.S. consumes about 19.5 million barrels of petroleum a day, making us the world’s largest petroleum consumer. Out of those 19.5 million barrels a day, we import 12.9 million barrels of petroleum a day. That number is projected to increase while our oil production is expected to decrease.
What does importing 12.9 million barrels of petroleum a day mean? It means we are spending $200,000 dollars per minute on foreign oil. If you do the math, that’s $249 dollars per American spent on foreign oil over a year.
Most of this money goes to the world’s most unfriendly and unstable regions like the Middle East. Most of the U.S.’s enemies on the “War on Terror” are nations with large oil reserves such as Iran and Iraq. This fact makes us more vulnerable, as we have become dependent on those who take hostile actions against us.
Besides funding our enemies, we are adding to the mountain of debt we already have. Currently the U.S. debt to GDP ratio is at a high 98%, the highest rate since World War II. Many experts agree that this unprecedented level of debt is a result of our dependence on foreign oil. We have already seen the detrimental consequences of trying to sustain a negative balance for too long. S&P, one of the three major rating agencies, recently degraded the U.S. long-term debt to AA from AAA. This is the first time it has happened in U.S. history, reflective of our fiscal irresponsibility and addiction to foreign oil. It has become incredibly clear that our greatest threat is not some terrorist hiding in a cave in Afghanistan, but ourselves-including our addition to foreign oil.
Economist Philip Verleger said oil prices took 15% out of our economic growth since World War II. This includes job losses, tax revenues, etc. Although foreign oil dependence is one of many factors damaging the economy today, it is one that we will have to eventually face, as drilling in American soil is not a practical solution. We only hold 3% of the world’s total oil reserves and will never be able to produce enough oil to meet our demands. In addition, the demand for oil is relatively inelastic, meaning that we will always have to buy it even if the price increases ten fold. The only practical path out of this problem is alternative energy.
There are so many ways to stop our addiction to foreign oil. Solar power, wind power, biofuels, and electricity are all alternatives to oil. We are living in exponential times. Developments in alternative energy technologies are happing faster than ever. It is essential that America capitalizes on this opportunity and invests heavily into alternative energy, an industry that is destined to become one of the largest industries when oil runs out, and it will.
The alternative energy debate has become more important than ever, as politicians at Washington have been stressing that our number one priority is now job creation. America is still one of the most innovative and competitive nations in the world today, despite its recent drop in rank to 4th from 1st as the world’s most competitive nation. We invented the automobile, created the airplane and now, we should strive to create the next “great” thing in alternative energy.
America has always been the leader in innovating new technologies. By leading the world in alternative energy we will be able to create American jobs and stop our dangerous addiction to foreign oil. Tackling our foreign oil dependence will be the first step to eradicating the fiscal cancer that has plagued America and threatened to take away the nation our founding fathers worked so hard to create.