Tagged: usa

Lessons in Federalism

Imagine the local sheriff or police chief issuing an arrest warrant for the President of the United States.

Imagine that the majority of the citizens in that local jurisdiction agree with the arrest warrant, and in fact take to the streets to support its issuance.

Imagine that other local sheriffs and police chiefs band together to push back against dictates or laws enforced by the government in Washington, and accordingly mount a popular campaign to stop the President in his tracks.

In the American system of government, this possibility is quite remote, but other institutionalized federal systems around the world have done just that.

On Friday, leaders from the Federation of Greek Police, the largest police union in the country, threatened to issue arrest warrants for European Union and International Monetary Fund officials.

To the casual observer on the American continent, this may seem quite bizarre. Why would Greeks be trying to arrest people who are trying to help them get back on course, especially people who have no direct say in the government?

In much the same way as local sheriffs have no control over the President’s actions, the same exists for Greek police—or even the Greek people.

For a better understanding of federalism, it is fitting to examine three systems in three different contexts. This will include political power, economic power, and legal power in the examples of the European Union, the United States, and Canada.

THE UNITED STATES OF EUROPE

After years of successful treaties between European nations, the new form of government for the continent is one in which multiple nations have delegated away much of their individual sovereignty in order to secure a “common market” for all Europeans to enjoy.

Accordingly, Europeans are permitted to travel freely on the continent, as well as have access to the markets in other countries.

All the treaties were negotiated only by a few leaders of participating states, and individual populations were rarely, if ever, given the right to weigh in democratically on the new power structure sought by pro-European (as opposed to nationalist) negotiators.

In fact, whenever the treaties have been voted on publicly, they have been largely voted down. France and the Netherlands voted against the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, while Ireland initially voted against the latest Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

For the supranationalists of Europe—those pledging allegiance to a system of government where power is delegated to a higher authority above already existing states—the hope has always been for a kind of “United States of Europe,” as first imagined by Winston Churchill. This would follow the model of the United States of America, with a central government presiding over individual jurisdictions known as states.

While some would view this as a measure of natural evolution of confederated power, there are many other consequences that Europeans must deal with in this new federated system.

In the newly-constructed federal system of the European Union, laws and regulations are no longer solely decided by an elected legislature in the capitals of democratic nations.

Instead, close to 70% of all laws enacted in Europe are handed down by the EU bureaucracy, known as the EU Commission and headquartered in Brussels. The Commission is heavily staffed, adequately funded, and freed from the burdens of election cycles.

This means that individual populations have  no democratic control of the majority of the laws passed in their country. Even the makeup of the national budgets will be decided by the EU in the next few years.

According to the newest treaty compact, all European nations will be barred from producing any budget deficits larger than 0.5 percent.

And now, as Greece attempts to restructure its debt and pay back lenders who have sustained their grossly-enlarged welfare state for the past thirty years, the harsh decisions are not being made by the accountable politicians sent to Athens by the Greek electorate—all the power rests in unelected centers of power who have complete authority to dictate without repercussion.

Similarly, while the United States of America represents a union of closely-knit communities with a common history, language, and culture, the history of Europe is populated with a plethora of ethnic, linguistic, and historical groups.

THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Referring to the example entertained in the first section, it has always been assumed that the President of the United States enjoys an executive power which places the position far above the fray of local and state jurisdictions.

In the current American model, the most distinguishing factor is the growing centralization of political decision-making above local, county, and state levels.

And nothing is more evident than in the amount of money the government claims from its citizens.

In the last budget signed by President Obama, the federal government planned to spend $3.7 trillion. 

Considering the USA’s $14.58 trillion gross domestic product, this means that the Federal government in Washington, D.C. consumes 25% of all money earned.

For state and local governments, if spending and economic output are averaged across all 50 states, then each state’s spending  is approximately equivalent to 40% of total average GDP.

More simply put, if an average American works a full 12 months out of the year, then approximately 6.5 months’ worth of wages are paid directly to the the government, depending on the tax bracket.

At least for state government, more reasonable arguments exist for proportional amounts of public spending.

If the people elect certain politicians to spend a specific amount of money on programs, the ratio of electorate to elected officials should naturally determine that unpopular programs or spending will lead to new people being elected into office–the most basic premise of modern democratic government.

All politics is local. This is why local government is always more responsive to local concerns, whereas the highest level of federal government often exercises authority that large numbers of the population do not support. A public backlash against a county-wide health care plan, or even Romneycare, would be repealed much more easily than Obamacare, for example, because the political will against the bill is uniformly lacking across all 50 states.

This is a symptom of the significant amount of capital has been allocated to the central government in Washington, the federal system has overwhelming favored more expansive authority in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government.

The trend of the American federal system now leads to greater centralization, whether seen in education, health, or environmental concerns. This has been precipitated by the growing regulatory burdens passed by Congress, the unprecedented claims of power by the executive, and the nationalization of issues by the federal judiciary.

Viewed objectively, it is a very different system envisioned by the writers of the Constitution over 200 years ago.

The relatively simple, limited set of rules established by the founding fathers was to give preference to local jurisdictions and states, stringently holding centralized power to account.

Now, in the age of federalizing local police departments, nationalizing the simplest of regulations, and funding world history’s largest military ever assembled, the central government holds impressive weight in the balance against states, far ideal of a decentralized union championed so many years ago.

CANADA

The lessons of the American Civil War, which ultimately took close to half a million lives, were especially powerful in the formation of a new country in British North America.

Confederated in 1867, the nation of Canada sprung from the formation of two powerful political jurisdictions managed by the British Empire, later known as Québec and Ontario. By creating its own constitution, the newly-minted nation hoped to reclaim full sovereignty from the British crown, allowing it to eventually grow large enough to become the second-largest landmass nation in the world.

Keeping in mind the large size of the territory, as well as the disastrous Civil War to the south, the founding principles of Canadian Confederation rested on the idea of a powerful central government, authoritative enough to  manage affairs of the English and French-speaking populations spread out over millions of acres of territory.

After a century and a half of institutional evolution, as well as a formal legal separation from the UK in a new constitution in 1982, Canada stands proud as one of the most decentralized federations in the world.

Most functions of government are reserved for the provinces, such as healthcare, education, environmental legislation, and mining rights.

The federal government funds the military, federal police, and provides services for the aboriginal population.

If any constitutional question is brought before the Canadian Supreme Court, the presumption is always that the provinces have essential authority.

The provincial premiers (similar to state governors) exercise great authority in all realms of life (unlike state governors).

Juxtaposed with the American and European federated systems, the Canadian model is represents a proportional balance between major functions of government and equally powerful democratic accountability.

CONCLUSION

As long as states have been instituted among men, there have been restrictive arguments on how they should be ordered.

The major federal systems of today provide adequate examples where either too much authority has been centralized or where the discretion of the democratic majority has been purposefully avoided so as to bring out a government favoring certain groups.

If the populations of democratic republics wish to continue to honor the traditions and foundations which have overseen so much wealth creation and protection, they would be open to considering the true virtues of federalism in public life.

The Mystical War Against Terrorism

On April 22,1971, a young Lieutenant named John Kerry came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, being the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress on the subject of ending the war in which he served.

He appeared on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), a group of over 20,000 former military servicemen who collectively called for an end to the military operations and atrocities in Vietnam.

Lt. Kerry gave a prepared speech, eloquent and precise, poignant and riveting. He spoke of the crimes of the American soldiers committed in Vietnam, the mystic veil of communism which had justified such killing and destruction, the lies of the American executive which directed these immoral actions, and the convergence of all said injustice to yield the most grave mistake which had just then become realized to the majority of the American public.

That was another war and another era.

However, the hubris of the present cannot overcome the lessons of history, especially as they repeat so easily within one generation. The false events which led to the Vietnam War, beginning in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964, have now become openly accepted as acknowledged government lies in order to fuel war.  Upwards of up to 58,000 American servicemen and almost 4,000,000 Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians lost their lives over the span of a few years, caused by deliberate manipulations and deceptions committed by those holding the reigns of American foreign policy at the time.

And now, close to forty years later, where does the policy of the United States of America stand? The answer is quite brazen and beyond belief. Instead of the words Vietnam, jungles, and communists, it has become Afghanistan, deserts, and terrorists. The ever-malicious monolithic force still “threatens” the very core tenants of American freedom and democracy, even as those very ideals are skewed and curtailed in order to combat that same evil.

In the words of the young, sage Lt. John Kerry, who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, we find an eerie parallel to the grievances and realities of today. Wars continue to rage in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Small bands of mercenary contractors, intelligence operatives, and predator drones carry out attacks and drop bombs in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. Close to 2,500,000 civilians, 6,000 American soldiers, and 1,000 coalition troops have lost their lives in total since the United States began its vast re-colonization of the Middle East less than ten years ago. American soldiers are left to continue tour after tour of active combat duty, leading to a permanent army of psychologically-damaged young men and women who wear the stars and stripes upon their back, and the memories of death and suffering upon their conscience. All undertaken in order to combat yet another mystical enemy; that of terrorism.

The testimony given by Lt. Kerry not only flawlessly described the atmosphere and circumstances of the 1970s Vietnam struggle, but it so lucidly and perfectly embodies the global imperial struggle which defines the United States of America in the current year 2011.

Listen to the words of future Democratic Senator John Kerry, paying special heed to the mentions of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos. Replace these states (italicized) which experienced past American intervention and conflict with the plethora available in present times.

Such will illuminate the current struggle which is the Mystical War Against Terrorism.
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(Transcript from the Fulbright Hearing)

Mr. Kerry: I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam. The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.

As a veteran and one who feels this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.

In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to use the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.

We are probably much more angry than that and I don’t want to go into the foreign policy aspects because I am outclassed here. I know that all of you talk about every possible alternative of getting out of Vietnam. We understand that. We know you have considered the seriousness of the aspects to the utmost level and I am not going to try to deal on that, but I want to relate to you the feeling that many of the men who have returned to this country express because we are probably angriest about all that we were told about Vietnam and about the mystical war against communism.

We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.

We found most people didn’t even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with which ever military force was present at a particular time, be it Vietcong, North Vietnamese, or American.

We found also that all too often American men were dying in those rice paddies for want of support from their allies. We saw first hand how money from American taxes was used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. We saw that many people in this country had a one-sided idea of who was kept free by our flag, as blacks provided the highest percentage of casualties. We saw Vietnam ravaged equally by American bombs as well as by search and destroy missions, as well as by Vietcong terrorism, and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Vietcong.

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.

We learned the meaning of free fire zones, shooting anything that moves, and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of Orientals.

We watched the U.S. falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while month after month we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. We fought using weapons against “oriental human beings,” with quotation marks around that. We fought using weapons against those people which I do not believe this country would dream of using were we fighting in the European theater or let us say a non-third-world people theater, and so we watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the high for the reoccupation by the North Vietnamese because we watched pride allow the most unimportant of battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn’t lose, and we couldn’t retreat, and because it didn’t matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point. And so there were Hamburger Hills and Khe Sanhs and Hill 881′s and Fire Base 6′s and so many others.

Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of Vietnamizing the Vietnamese. Each day…(Applause)

Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon won’t be, and these are his words, “the first President to lose a war.”

We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to dies in Vietnam? How do ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? But we are trying to do that, and we are doing it with thousands of rationalizations, and if you read carefully the President’s last speech to the people of this country, you can see that he says, and says clearly: But the issue, gentlemen, the issue is communism, and the question is whether or not we will leave that country to the communists or whether or not we will try to give it hope to be a free people. But the point is they are not a free people now under us. They are not a free people, and we cannot fight communism all over the world, and I think we should have learned that lesson by now.

….

But we are here as veterans to say we think we are in the midst of the greatest disaster of all times now because they are still dying over there, and not just Americans, Vietnamese, and we are rationalizing leaving that country so that those people can go on killing each other for years to come.

Americans seems to have accepted the idea that the war is winding down, at least for Americans, and they have also allowed the bodies which were once used by a President for statistics to prove that we were winning that war, to be used as evidence against a man who followed orders and who interpreted those orders no differently than hundreds of other men in Vietnam.

We veterans can only look with amazement on the fact that this country has been unable to see there is absolutely no difference between ground troops and a helicopter crew, and yet people have accepted a differentiation fed them by the administration.

No ground troops are in Laos, so it is all right to kill Laotians by remote control. But believe me the helicopter crews fill the same body bags and they wreak the same kind of damage on the Vietnamese and Laotian countryside as anybody else, and the President is talking about allowing that to go on for many years to come. One can only ask if we will really be satisfied only when the troops march into Hanoi.

We are asking here in Washington for some action, action from the Congress of the United States of America which has the power to raise and maintain armies, and which by the Constitution also has the power to declare war.

We have come here, not to the President, because we believe that this body can be responsive to the will of the people, and we believe that the will of the people says that we should be out of Vietnam now.

We are here in Washington also to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying as human beings to communicate to people in this country, the question of racism, which is rampant in the military, and so many other questions also, the use of weapons, the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions, in the use of free fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners, accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam. That is what we are trying to say. It is party and parcel of everything.

Finally, this administration has done us the ultimate dishonor. They have attempted to disown us and the sacrifice we made for this country. In their blindness and fear they have tried to deny that we are veterans or that we served in Nam. We do not need their testimony. Our own scars and stumps of limbs are witnesses enough for others and for ourselves.

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. But all that they have done and all that they can do by this denial is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission, to search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbarous war, to pacify our own hearts, to conquer the hate and the fear that have driven this country these last 10 years and more and so when, in 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say “Vietnam” and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory but mean instead the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning. Thank you.