Friday, April 30, 2010

U.S. Federalism

Serious issues of federalism have been in the news lately, like the new Arizona anti-immigration law in which the state of Arizona seeks to usurp what is a function of the national government, or the health care bill in which the national government seeks to usurp what many feel is a state function. But sometimes the most interesting issues tend to fly under the radar.

Thus we have an article in the latest issue of the Christian Science Monitor about Utah, which has passed a law authorizing the state to use eminent domain to seize federal lands in the state, and has set aside $3 million for legal fees to defend the controversial law from the inevitable legal challenges it will face. It is an important issue in Utah and other western states--over 60% of Utah's land is owned by the federal government. Court challenges will likely succeed in overturning this law, but the key point is that the states are fed up with the overreaching federal power and they want to determine their own destinies.

British Politics

I admit it, I love British politics. I watch "Prime Ministers Questions" avidly on C-SPAN. I don't know how many seats the Liberal Democrats have had lately, but I always assumed it was a minimal amount. Their leader, Nick Clegg, does get a chance to ask questions, and gets a follow-up as a party leader should, but his party is clearly not a large group.

Now I see in the latest issue of The Christian Science Monitor that there have been two debates among the three candidates recently and it is thought that Clegg won! As a result, the LD's are now tied with the conservatives with 32%, with Labour trailing at 28%! We think of the parliamentary system as being about ideas and policies rather than personalities, but this British election seems to be different. Clegg and Cameron come across as young and attractive, while Gordon Brown just seems like an old fuddy-duddy. And this article was written before Brown's recent gaffe, where he makes private remarks in a car not realizing his mike is still on.

With the three parties all hovering around the one-third mark, it seems inconceivable that any party will win a majority of seats in parliament. Thus, a coalition government seems inevitable. Surely it won't be the LD's with the tories, so will it be LD's with Labour, pulling the government to the left, or Labour with Tories, pulling it to the right? I can't wait to see what the election, coming up next week, will hold, and what the aftermath will be.

A blip on the screen is the British National Party. It has never won any seats, but its leader, Nick Griffin, is seen to have a chance this time, with his far-right, anti-immigrant message. and if not this time, they will surely be a force in future elections. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Republican Obstructionism Continues

Last night on C-SPAN I watched some of the hearings to confirm Goodwin Liu for the Court of Appeals. A summary can be found here:

Republicans, who had earlier delayed the hearing twice, jumped on Liu for several things. One was his failure to provide a complete record of his past writings and speeches. Democrats responded by using their time not to ask questions, but to give examples of past instances when Republican nominees also failed to provide these items upon request. In particular, neither Justices Alito or Roberts provided complete records, and tens of thousands of pages of documents were only provided a few days before the hearing, just what the Republicans were complaining about so vehemently here.

Similarly, Republicans were whining about the fact that Liu has never tried a case. Democrats responded by providing detailed examples of past Republican nominees with less experience than Liu, nominees who nevertheless sailed through to confirmation. A double standard here? I think so.

As with the Sotomayor confirmation, this nominee was hammered with quotes taken out of context. His criticism of Alito was especially troublesome to Republicans. Liu had written that "Judge Alito's record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse; where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance; where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep on the promise that they won't turn it on unless an informant is in the room; where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man." When asked about this, Liu explained that this referred to a series of decisions Alito had rendered, and that it was preceded in his (Liu's) book by a detailed analysis of those decisions.

How this nomination process unfolds will give us a clue as to whether the Republicans are going to be at all constructive, or whether our democracy is on the ropes.