The American Constitution

For our American readers, a lot of this, if not all of this, will probably be something you have known since your childhood. But, I feel that it is necessary that we write a blog on the fascinating constitution: how it was formed, what it involved and how different people view it!

How and why was the Constitution formed?

In 1776, thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain by signing the Declaration of Independence, making them ‘free and independent’ states. Consequently, this lead to the War of Independence between the former colonies and Britain from 1776-1783. The colonies had to pay tax to Britain, even though they had no representation in the British Parliament, so wanted to form their own system of government. In 1781, the newly independent colonies established a confederacy through the Articles of Confederation – a confederal government has a lot of power given to the states but little to the national government. However, this confederacy almost turned their victory in gaining independence into a defeat because it proved to be a disaster as their was little power for the national government, thus they failed to make a nation. In 1787, a group of people (now collectively known as the Founding Fathers) agreed to meet up at the Philadelphia convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. In the end, they scrapped the Articles of Confederation and created a new constitution with a number of compromises as to the allocation of powers.

Washington_Constitutional_Convention_1787

What were the compromises?

Three key compromises were the formation of government, state representation and choosing the president. Under British rule there had been a central government (unitary) with a lot of power for the national government, but the Articles of Confederation created a confederal government which gave a lot of power to the states (not the national government). The compromise was a federal government where the states and the national government had equally important powers. Representation for the states varied depending on their size. Large states wanted proportional representation where they would have more representatives compared to small states, but small states wanted equal representation regardless of state size. The compromise was to have a bicameral system (two houses): the House of Representatives would be proportional and the Senate would have equal representation. Finally, some people wanted a directly elected president and others wanted him/her to be appointed. The compromise was to have an indirectly elected Electoral College who would be elected by the people (in the Primaries) who then go on to choose the president (at the national party convention).

How liberals view the constitution

Liberals (such as the Democrats) would argue that the constitution creates a lot of gridlock (difficult to pass laws) and little accountability. Liberals also believe the Bill of Rights (defines citizen’s rights) is very important, but the system allows for the erosion of civil liberties during times of emergency. Finally, to a liberal, the courts have shown themselves slow and unwilling to intervene on a number of issues – especially social issues such as guns, abortion and gay rights.

How conservatives view the constitution

Conservatives (such as the Republicans) believe that the federal government exploits the vagueness of the constitution at the expense of states right and powers. The vagueness of the constitution can be seen through the ‘elastic’ clauses, such as the ‘necessary and proper’ clause, which allows the government to make laws which are ‘necessary and proper’ – conservatives wonder what laws are necessary and proper. They also question the growth of the courts through their power of judicial review, which allows the court to interpret the meaning of the constitution

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From a non-partisan view

The American constitution is the longest serving constitution in the world and the fact that compromises were made from the left and right meant that that there should be a good balance between the federal government and the state governments. Also, the difficulty of amending the constitution means that it requires broad based support for changes to be made to it.

Questions

  • Does the constitution fulfil its main functions?
  • Does the constitution need changing?
  • What are the pros and cons of the constitution?

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Venezuela Vote To Elect President

You may remember a couple of posts we made on the Venezuelan Presidential Election in early January:

https://digestiblepolitics.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/venezuela-re-elects-diosdado-cabello/

https://digestiblepolitics.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/swearing-in-day-of-hugo-chavez-in-venezuela/

These posts were about Hugo Chavez’s election as president, but he was unable to be sworn in due to illness and there were outcalls for his swearing in day to be postponed and nominate a temporary president. However, since then, Hugo Chavez has died and Venezuela is now preparing for a vote to elect a new president.

The current, acting president President Nicolas Maduro, who Chavez selected to be his successor, is challenging the governor of Miranda state (Henrique Capriles) for the position. Capriles had narrowly lost to Chavez in the election of October 2012. There are approximately 19 million registered voters in Venezuela for the upcoming election whose votes will be recorded electronically – one machine will confirm their identity and vote and another will identify their fingerprint.

maduro-capriles

There has already been significant tension between the two candidates. Capriles accused Chavez of breaking the rules of the election by continuing campaigning after the polls had opened and for visiting Chavez’s tomb which he stated was “violating all the electoral norms”.

The winner of the election is to be sworn in on the 19th April to complete Chavez’s six year term which began in January.

Who will win the election? And, what sort of president is Venezuela looking for?

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North Korea – Your Questions Answered!

North Korea is a large concern internationally and we want to clear up some questions you may want answered:

Do they have a bomb?

It is fairly certain they do in fact have one, but it is uncertain whether they have a missile that can carry it. In 2006, 2009 and this year North Korea have stated that successful tests have occurred and are prepared to launch – but nothing came of it. There is some satellite data that suggests they have been testing and conducting experiments underground in the East side of the country, and although it is certain they have enough chemicals to produce the bomb it is still unverified whether they have made a bomb small enough to fit on a missile.

North Korea’s Nuclear Programme

In 2008, North Korea said that they would stop operations and even dismantle their facilities, but this year they have stated that they will restart these facilities in opposition to the latest US sanctions (a threatened penalty for disobeying a law). However, it is believed the operations were never actually stopped in 2008 and that North Korea have a number of uranium-enrichment programmes. Furthermore, a number of new facilities are being built in the country which they say are for civilian purposes, but it is very likely that they are in fact facilities which will aid their Nuclear Programme.

rocket_jpg_2459473b

What is being done about their Nuclear programme?

So far there has been a lot of negotiation with North Korea from many countries (including USA, Russia and China) to stop the programme. In 2005 it seemed the Nuclear programme had been stopped with a deal that led to the country agreeing to abandon it nuclear ambition. However, enforcing the terms of the deal proved hard and it was believed they continued the Nuclear programme. In 2011, significant evidence suggested they had not stopped so talks and negotiations began again. In 2012, they agreed again to stop Nuclear testing and America would reward North Korea with food aid. But further testing in late 2012 and early this year broke down the talks.

The third nuclear test

This test, according to North Korea, was the test that confirmed that they had created a device small enough to fit onto a missile. This is very concerning to the international community and especially if the rumours of it being their most powerful device is true. It is also a concern that the monitoring of North Korea’s testing has failed to detect radioactive isotopes, meaning that it is uncertain what the bomb may contain. But, North Korea’s warning of “high-level” tests has led many experts to believe the bomb contains Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) – if this is true, then this is very concerning for countries worldwide.

What are your views on Korea and their nuclear programme?

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Ex-Egyptian President Retrial

In June 2012 Hosni Mubarak (the previous president of Egypt) was convicted of conspiracy to kill protesters and was given a life sentence, but a retrial is to begin in Cairo. The retrial is being called after his appeal against his life sentence was accepted by the Egyptian court. About 850 protesters were killed in the 18 day protests in 2011 but it is still uncertain whether Mubarak is responisble.

mubarak

Currently, he is being held in a military hospital as a result of his poor health. He was flown to a courthouse in Cairo, on Saturday, to begin his retrial, but his poor health meant he had to be carried to the trial on a stretcher (just as he had done in his previous trial, which lasted 10 months). Also being re-tried are are Mubarak’s two sons, a former minister Habib al-Adly and 6 aides. Al-Adly and his two sons were both charged for corruption.

However, some Egyptian citizens think that retrial is not necessary. One citizen, called Ahmed, reflected a widespread mood in Egypt that retrial was no longer the biggest issue. When speaking to the Associated Press he stated: What we care about now is how to make the country develop better, Mubarak no longer has any influence on our economy. The most important thing we should do now is to help industries recover.”

Is Mubarak guilty? Should Egypt move on or is the retrial important?

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UKIP – Can They Compete With The Conservatives And Labour?

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has already been on the rise in national opinion polls, but May 2nd county council elections will show Britain what they are capable of.

In these elections 1734 candidates are standing for election from UKIP, just 22 short of the Liberal Democrat party who are considered the third largest party of Britain. For UKIP to get these candidates elected they will preach their concerns of tax increases and immigration, both of which seem to be similar concerns felt by the country as a whole.

Ukip

Nigel Farage, the leader of the party, has predicted UKIP will win a seat in each of the 34 county councils where elections are going to occur. UKIP’s success has already been seen at a by-election (which takes place when a seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant) in Eastleigh where they pushed their flagship policy of ending “open door” immigration. Other policy measures they are pushing include:

  • Get out of the European Union
  • Increased spending on defence
  • Life sentences mean life
  • Franchise out key services including hospitals and GP surgeries to companies and charities
  • Child benefit for the first three children only
  • No benefits for anyone who has not lived in the UK for five years
  • Support coal-fired power and oppose wind farms

What are your views on UKIP? Will they be strong in the 2015 general election? Could your country do or do without a party like UKIP?

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Violent Protests For Education Reform In Chile

If you live in the UK you will probably know about the rising university tuition fees that caused large protests in London, and if you live in America you may have heard of the student protests to education cuts in New Jersey . In fact, wherever you liver, demand for education reform and changes to the system have the ability to mobilise large numbers of students.

In Chile, the protests to education reform are massive and have been continuing for 2 years, but the largest one in 2013 occurred yesterday. Approximately 100,000 people have been protesting in the streets of Santiago (the capital), even though the education system in Chile is said to be one the best in Latin America. The issue lies in the divide of education standards – the protesters are arguing that whilst the middle-class are receiving high class education standard, the lower classes are receiving a much poorer quality education.

Riot police in the city fired water guns, tear gas and used paintball guns to prevent the violent protest after being attacked by students. In total, 8 officers were injured and 109 people were arrested. One of the officers was hit by acid and is now in a critical condition.

Although the protest started off peaceful it soon became violent leading to widespread destruction of the city.

How can Chile progress and prevent further violence?

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Syria

Want to know more about the Syria crises? Then read on and get a basic overview of what is happening in the country and what the fuss is about:

Syria is a mountainous country in western Asia bordering Turkey, Iraq and the Mediterranean Sea. For many years it has been involved in conflict, invasion, occupation and other disputes. Most notable invasions include those of the Romans, Crusaders, Mongols, and Turks. As a result of such invasions, Syria has developed a very large ethnic diversity. Although there are a number of different religions, the two religions that make up the vast majority of the population are Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis.

syria

In 1946, Syria gained independence from the rule of France but conflict continuous as these different groups occupied in the country continue to dispute. From 1958-1961 Syria united with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s (the Prime Minister at the time) Egypt. However, in 1961 an army coup gained independence back from Egypt before the Ba’ath Party took control in 1963. This is a Renaissance party from the Alawite Shias religion and they have ruled ever since, but the uprising in 2011 made it uncertain how long they were going to last.

Under President Hafez al-Assad, from 1970-2000, Syria saw a dictatorial style of leadership. The  Six Day War in 1967 led to Syria losing the Golan Heights (an Area in Syria occupied by the Israelis). In Lebanon (next to Syria), civil war broke out in the 1970s allowing Syria to to extend its military influence in that country. In 2005, Syria pulled out  of Lebanon in 2005 after heavy pressure to do so, especially after the assassination of the Lebanese prime Minister Rafik Hariri – it is uncertain who assassinated him, but it is suspected the culprit is Syrian.

Domestically, opposition to the government has serious consequences with thousands and thousands killed in the 1980s uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama. In 2000, the death of Hazed al-Assed allowed Syria a brief moment of relaxation but it was not enough for the government to have a complete change around and create complete political freedom in the country. In 2011-2012 Syrian security stepped up their forces to tackle anti-government protesters using tanks and other dangerous weapons, inspired by the Arab Spring. The protestors became more organised and more militant against the Ba’ath government. The protest against the government developed into a civil war in Syria in 2012, and the desertion of many government officials highlighted the problems are only going to get worse.

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Guns In America

Gun policy has been a very contentious issue in recent years, especially in the light of the incidents at Sandy Hook and Aurora. As a result Obama has made some key proposals:

  • Reintroduce an expired ban on “military-style” assault weapons
  • Limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds
  • Background checks on all gun sales
  • Ban on possession and sale of armour-piercing bullets
  • Harsher penalties for gun-traffickers, especially unlicensed dealers who buy arms for criminals
  • Approve the appointment of the head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

american-flag-gun

Here are some statistics on guns in America which sparked Obama’s desire to propose such changes”

  •  9,960 people were killed by a gun in the USA in 2010, a rate of 3.2 per 100,000 people.
  • They have the 26th highest death rate by guns annually in the world
  • Gun ownership is declining – In 1990 46% of households and 29% of individuals said they owned a gun, today this has fallen to 32% and 21

The second amendment of the constitution gives American citizen the right to “bear arms”. As a result, the reforms proposed by Obama has created arguments, feeling that he is becoming ‘imperial’ in manner, taking the law into his own hands and becoming to dominant – something the Founding Fathers wished to prevent through their implementation of a series of checks and balances on the executive.

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Blair’s Warning To Miliband

Tony Blair has warned Ed Miliband about turning the UK Labour Party back to a left-wing protest group that it had been in previous decades. In the New Statesman, a political magazine, Blair stated that Labour is “back as the party opposing ‘Tory cuts'” and is in danger of becoming a “repository for people’s anger” rather than a party with answer’s to the problems the country are currently facing.

Ed Miliband responded to Blair’s comments stating that the Labour party is “moving on and moving forward” and was leading the party in his “own way”. He appreciated Blair’s comments but Miliband feels it is necessary to “sketch out a different vision for the future” to ensure past mistakes are not made again.

blair

Blair showed his concerns of the “old left/right battles” that was in British politics before he himself moved Labour further to the centre ground, through New Labour. He warns Labour against settling back into its “old territory of defending the status quo” and allying itself “to the interests that will passionately and often justly oppose what the government is doing”.

Others have feared the Labour Party, and Ed Miliband, are becoming a second conservative party. Although this appears extreme, Miliband is unwilling to return to traditional ideological grounds for the party. He states: “I always take Tony Blair very, very seriously, but I think what the Labour Party is doing under my leadership is moving on and moving forward. I’m leading in my own way and I think that is what’s most important.”

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London G8 Talks – Korea and Syria Important

The G8 are the world’s 8 wealthiest countries and include the USA, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Italy, and Russia. At the London G8 talks the crises in Syria and Korea have been high on the agenda for foreign ministers. For those of you who do not already know, North Korea is threatening to launch nuclear missiles and in Syria there has been an ongoing civil war between those loyal to the Syrian Ba’ath party and those who oppose it.

After the session had come to a close William Hague (the UK Foreign Secretary) said that there had been an “intense discussions about Syria, the DPRK (North Korea), Iran and North Africa as you would expect”, but the G8 also pledged to “work together to end sexual violence in conflict”.

g8

Pyongyang, North Korea, have moved two missiles to the East coast of the country which means that it is possible they could be in range of US bases on Guam. Officials say that the launch date could be as close as Monday, corresponding with North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday.

In Syria, over 60,000 people have been estimated to have died since the uprising against the President Assad’s government, which began in March 2011. This conflict continues and the death toll rises, and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) demand more and more humanitarian assistance.

Are you worried? Can the G8 make a difference?

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