As President Obama prepares to deliver his 2014 State of the Union address Tuesday, the talking heads have freely speculated on his central focus.
Paul Krugman of The New York Times wrote in his Thursday op-ed that the President ought to focus on inequality; Politico reported Saturday that the White House has said the address will empower the middle class with practical proposals for economic growth.
Hey NSA, did you hear that? Obama to give 'optimistic' message – shocking news from the man that brought us hope on a redesigned Pepsi symbol.
Meanwhile, down here in the Appalachian hills of East Tennessee, our dear State Senator Stacey Campfield is focusing on a slightly less feel-good issue – shutting down the NSA within state borders.
It's a stroke of unexpected wisdom from Campfield – the gentlemen that generally embarrasses his constituency with outlandish legislation.
For those readers unfamiliar with Tennessee's 7th district representative, his most memorable bills include proposals to: ban teachers from teaching about homosexuality in public elementary and middle schools, limit lottery winnings to $600 for people on public assistance, require teachers/counselors to report a child's private questions about sexuality and decrease welfare to families with a child making inadequate academic progress. He also has a beef with the University of Tennessee's Sex Week and led the charge against its funding last year.
Despite his history of backwoods ignorance and unrealistic public policy, Campfield's most recent legislation actually affirms his right to sit on Capitol Hill. Senate Bill 1849 aims to cripple the NSA by refusing material support, participation or assistance to the spying agency that has enraged Americans and governments the world over.
In layman's terms, Campfield's legislation would bar state government-owned utilities from providing water and electricity to the NSA. The bill also seeks to block public universities – such as UT – from serving as NSA research facilities and recruiting grounds.
For students with connections at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the proposal is particularly noteworthy.
Oak Ridge houses several supercomputers, including the Titan, one of the world's fastest. According to NSA researcher James Bamford, most of the data that the NSA gathers whirs through these supercomputers; the NSA depends on Tennessee to crack the encryption codes that would stop it from collecting private data.
Only five other states are considering iterations of the so-called Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and only one of them – Washington – has an actual NSA facility within its borders.
The fate of the bill is unpredictable at best, but if passed, it could spell trouble for the hallowed hills at old UT, a direct partner to ORNL through UT-Battelle.
The university conducts $300 million of externally funded research each year; $17.3 million comes thanks to ORNL. And areas of joint research between UT and ORNL span bioenergy, computational science, neutron science and more.
Though the bill takes aim at only the NSA-related facets of ORNL, it would be hard to avoid some attrition in other areas of the lab, areas that UT both depends upon and feeds with undergraduate and graduate research.
State's rights are increasingly relevant in an increasingly hegemonic age, and Campfield's stand probably has Andrew Jackson celebrating from his Hermitage grave. Cutting electricity to Titan would be a big step towards increased data security, and it'd be nice to see Tennessee on the vanguard of that progress.
But for the state's flagship university, this is a noble battle better left on the docket. We need ORNL if we intend to remain competitive among national research universities, let alone crack the top 25.
If the state goes toe-to-toe with the federal government, it won't just be the NSA that suffers. The university community, though perhaps more secure in our data, would lose the esteem we gain by sheer proximity to the national lab that built the atom bomb.
You won't hear Obama mentioning SB1849 in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. You won't see it in the headlines of The New York Times or on your next Buzzfeed list.
But keep an eye out for Campfield's most recent "Big Idea." The Volunteer State is taking on Uncle Sam, and the Volunteers might get caught in the middle.
R.J. Vogt is a junior in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.