Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Oakland pt 2

If you've read my previous post, you'd have seen that I was mortified upon watching two videos (here and here) showing police teargassing protesters at Occupy Oakland. Yesterday, an article in the Guardian reported that the man on the floor (that can be seen at the end of this video) is called Scott Olsen. He's 24, an Iraq war veteran and now in critical condition "after allegedly being hit by a police projectile".

A video of Olsen being hit, laying on the ground, then police using a flash bang grenade to disperse those attempting to help him, can be seen on Youtube. It's important that this kind of evidence is public, so that people can speak out against this happening, and that's one facet of social media we can be thankful for. This is scary. Western democracies (or 'democracies'?) are behaving as the world's moral compass, yet this kind of unjustifiable violence is happening right in front of our eyes.

Let's hope Scott Olsen gets better, and hope too that this terrible incident causes some police to think again when they use tactics that inflict pain. Already it has prompted an "independent police review", as another Guardian article reports.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Oakland

This morning, Dorian Lynskey posted this on Twitter:

It links to this video, which shows peaceful protesters of the Occupy movement in Oakland, California, being teargassed - seemingly for no obvious reason and certainly having no justification. The police say at one point during the video that the protesters have formed an "unlawful assembly" - so much for civil rights (including freedom of assembly) being upheld in the US.

The movement began in New York as Occupy Wall Street, but the slogan 'We are the 99%' seems to have caught the attention of activists and others around the world - over 900 cities worldwide, in fact.

Another video can be seen on the Guardian, in this article, which claims: "police used teargas and baton rounds to break up the camp".

This outrageously heavy-handed response from the police must be condemned quickly, and by everyone. Neither the 99%, nor even the 1%, deserve to be treated like this.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Discuss the claim that appointments to the Supreme Court are the most important appointments a president makes

Article Two of the U.S. Constitution declares that the President "shall appoint… Judges of the supreme Court". The handling of the President's nomination is then passed on to the Senate Judiciary Committee, similar to the U.K.'s Judicial Appointments Commission, which produces a report following hearings and interviews of the prospective Justice. Lastly, a vote is held in the Senate in which the deciding verdict is confirmed: rejection or approval.

The Twenty-second Amendment means that no President can serve more than two terms, yet a Justice has no fear of reprisal as the occupation entails indefinite tenure. A large majority of Justices only stop serving upon dying. Hence, an appointment can be considered a President's lasting legacy.

Presidents largely nominate people with similar political dispositions as their own. Ronald Reagan's notable nomination of Antonin Scalia is an example of a conservative President leaving a conservative imprint upon the judiciary. Scalia is known for taking a strictly originalist view of the Constitution, has been called a homophobe by Congressman Barney Frank and is widely admired by conservatives. Due to there being no requirements for the position, technically a President can nominate anybody - arguably a great power.

The Supreme Court has a considerable impact on American life. The bicameral legislature's role is to make laws, but most of the legislation proposed in Congress is not passed. During the last Congress (the 111th), only 3% of bills were enacted. The Supreme Court's much faster process involves both the interpretation of the codified laws and the creation of case law. Its decisions have enormous impact - landmark cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which was central to ending racial segregation, shape the liberties and rights of Americans for decades to come. These appointments are a President's only way of influencing those outcomes.

On the other hand, Presidents can often only appoint one or two Justices. Four Presidents have appointed none at all. This contradicts the claim that these are the most important appointments a President makes - as it assumes that every President has this opportunity. Appointments can also have unintended effects, when the views of Justices evolve or the fact that there are political conservatives who are judicial liberals is not appreciated. Contrary to Reagan's nomination of Scalia, that of Anthony Kennedy largely did not fit with expectations. Despite Kennedy's conservatism, he has been at the forefront of many liberal rulings. His siding with the liberal members in Lawrence v. Texas is one example, as this led to Texas' sodomy law being struck down. Eisenhower once said that his appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice was "the biggest damned-fool mistake" he had ever made. The Warren Court presided over cases that advanced social progress significantly, bringing an end to state-sponsored prayer in schools (Engel v. Vitale), racial segregation (Brown v. Board of Education) and the introduction of a requirement to benefit from publicly-funded counsel to defend themselves (Gideon v. Wainwright).

There is also a limit to President’s power due to the process of interviews and the Senate vote. Harriet Miers’ nomination by Bush was withdrawn when the interviews highlighted her inexperience and it became clear that the Senate would not vote in her favour. Concerns over Miers' lack of judicial knowledge fuelled the discontent on both sides of the political spectrum. Therefore, while in theory there is no obvious criterion which prospective Supreme Court judges must meet, there are many expectations of them in practice.

Lastly, many take the view that the U.S. government's executive, rather than judiciary, is the core of power. There is no elected cabinet unlike in the U.K., hence the President's appointments of the members of his cabinet may be more important than Justices.

How powerful are the governors of U.S. states?

The Massachusetts governor was rated the most powerful of the fifty by the University of North Carolina political science professor Thad L. Beyle. The position that Mitt Romney formerly held entails unlimited four year terms. After Romney chose not to run for a second term he was replaced by Deval Patrick. As a result, the Democrats controlled both the executive role and the statehouse for the first time in 16 years - giving them a considerable amount of power in Massachusetts.

As well as the factor of whether the governor's party controls the legislature, the extent of an individual governor's power also depends on that state's constitution. For instance, in some states governors have the power to hire and fire state employees. This ability can cause controversy. In Maryland a few years ago, the statehouse Democrats accused the Republican chief executive Robert Ehrlich of dismissing 340 state workers on the basis of partisanship.

New Jersey's governor was particularly powerful before 2009, as until then the post was the only elected top state official. This was changed in 2009 when Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey and ran with Kim Guadagno, who became the state's first lieutenant governor. The job was created following an amendment to the New Jersey State Constitution.

While some governors can even appoint employees in other sectors (such as education, health and transport), the Texas governor is unable to make such key designations and has limited power.

Nonetheless, all governors have bully pulpits - they are important figures and therefore can easily capture the media's attention. This is arguably a great power within itself.

Why is a governorship a sound basis for presidential candidacy?

It was reported in Esquire that everyone on Jon Huntsman's campaign has been asked to call him "Governor", "because governors become Presidents". In total, seventeen U.S. Presidents have been former Governors.

Governors have had executive experience, and voters may think that if you can lead a state, you can lead a country. Holding the position of Governor is similar to being President - they are rather like Presidents of their own states after all. On the other hand, Sarah Palin is frequently accused of being too inexperienced, despite having been Governor of Alaska, and Barack Obama had only been a Senator for one term before being inaugurated as President.

Apart from New Hampshire and Vermont, states hold gubernatorial elections every four years. This is one advantage over Congressmen (although not over Senators), who are only secure for two years, because it guarantees that Governors will be politically relevant for longer periods of time. It will help greatly that the candidate is well-known, having enjoyed a relatively high profile thanks to media attention over some years. There are only 50 state governors, easier for the common voter to remember than 100 Senators or 435 Congressmen. But, again, Obama defied this presumption by being relatively unknown when he won his candidacy.

Nevertheless, if a Governor is running for Presidency a voter will have a better idea of which policies they'd implement, where they position themselves on the political spectrum and, perhaps, their capability in a crisis. All these are far more applicable to former Governors than Senators for example, who are merely legislators tucked away in their ivory towers.