Nel's New Day

February 6, 2014

Climate Change in the Tunisian Constitution

Here on the coast of Oregon, we have had enough snow today to close the schools and keep us in the house—for the second time this year. My partner and I had planned to travel to Portland, but chains are required not only on the state road to the interstate but also on the interstate itself. Global warming deniers would say that the cold is proof that the planet is cooling, not warming. Their grasp of climate, long-term weather conditions, is that it is identical to weather.

Deniers also think that their cold is everyone’s cold. In Alaska, however, an all-time record high for January was 62 degrees. Temperatures across the state were as much as 30 degrees above average during the past month. If these record highs were to continue into the summer, Alaska would see 90+ degree highs. Alaska’s January temperatures come from a ten-month warm air invasion of the Arctic that causes a weakened polar jet stream creating all-time record high temperatures last summer in the state. The anomaly is now called “Arctic Heat Wave.”

One blogger wrote, “The west-east weather train is broken. And a strange south-north train from equator to Arctic is instead set in place.” And the pattern has lasted for almost a whole year. The polar vortex causing extreme cold in January has now split in half by warm air from the south into two separate cold centers. With this pattern, the Arctic and Alaska will continue record high temperatures while the lower 48 states suffer from extreme winter weather.

The Arctic is melting faster than at any time since satellite observations began 35 years ago. A video shows the 2013 meltback. The ice that replaces the melting will melt faster in the future because it’s not as solid, causing a chain reaction of less and less ice. People not at the Arctic might want to shrug off this melting, but they are at risk in the lower 48 states.

Scientist Benjamin Strauss predicts that the warming planet will cause oceans fast to rise at least one foot every decade. A four-foot increase will submerge half the population of 316 cities and towns on the current coastlines, causing about 3.6 million will lose their homes. By the end of the century, an additional 18 million people in 1,400 cities and towns will be affected from a possible rise of 23 feet. Acting now could keep that rise to about 7.5 feet. Check out this interactive map to see the changes.

Deniers  need to know that 97% of the 4,000 papers that analyzed the causes of climate change concluded that humans are causing global climate change. Among 14,000 peer-reviewed studies on climate change, only 24 rejected the phenomenon. In a Scientific American blog, Kyle Hill wrote, “If you put all of the almost 14,000 climate change papers, including the contrary 24, in a bag, the chances that you would pull out 10 studies that reject climate change is 0.000000000000000000000000003%.” He added that people are more likely to be struck by lightning and then hit by an asteroid. Yet 40 percent of people in the United States are convinced that climate scientists disagree about global climate change.

The media is partly to blame for the lack of understanding. For example, radio host Alex Jones has explained how the government has the ability to cause tornadoes—and does it! Jones is right that people are causing tornadoes because human-caused climate change is contributing to the number and intensity just as it contributes to all other extreme weather conditions. When high pressure cold fronts from the north meet low-pressure low temperatures, the result is tornadoes. The more extreme the contrast between cold and warm, the greater the force.

Even Forbes, the magazine that tells people how to invest their money, pushes the idea that climate change is a hoax. An op-ed piece, based on information from Exxon-supported Marshal Institute, claims that scientists study climate change only on a regional basis and that carbon dioxide is just water vapor. It blamed 75 percent of temperature changes on solar activity. According to Forbes, the cost of addressing carbon emissions would be $500 trillion. Beyond the fact that they are wrong, the cost of not addressing carbon dioxide is water shortages, more widespread famine, and war over the planet’s resources.

As the people of the United States complacently ignore looming disaster, Tunisia tackles it head on. I’m guessing that over half the people in this country don’t know where Tunisia is; I wasn’t sure until I got out the globe. This small, northern African country of fewer than 11 million people has a new constitution that addresses climate change, committing the country to contribute to the protection of the climate for future generations. The third country after Ecuador and Dominican Republic to put climate change into its constitution, Tunisia also mandates that  the “state shall provide the necessary means to eliminate environmental pollution.”

Parliament member Dhamir Mannai said that legislators were concerned about the potential impacts that a warming world would have on Tunisia. The country’s government is now obliged to act against global warming and addresses the importance of this issue on an international basis. David Estrin, an environmental lawyer, said it may be possible for one country to sue another on climate change and “eventually allow bodies like the International Court of Justice to act on complaints that one country is causing harm to another by not abating its emissions.”

Tunisia went beyond climate change to ensure gender equality and eliminate Sharia law. The constitution’s second article, which like some others cannot be amended, provides that the country bans discrimination against women by granting them rights and duties equal to those of men. “The state shall the necessary measures to eliminate violence against women,” the constitution also guarantees.

Another article, “freedom of conscience,” allows individuals to profess any religion, even “no religion,” and practice their beliefs without being deemed apostates. The freedom of conscience also covers freedom of political, intellectual, and ideological affiliation, and freedom of opinion away from accusations of apostasy and incitement to violence.

“Health is a right for every person,” the document announces, declaring that Tunisia shall “guarantee preventative health care and treatment for every citizen and provide the means necessary to ensure the safety and good quality of health services.” Another article guarantees workers the right to form unions and the ability to strike, excepting only the army and security services. All citizens, male and female alike, shall “have the right to adequate working conditions and to a fair wage.”

The Tunisian constitution also provides the right to due process and protection from torture, rights that people in the United States have gradually lost.

As a contrast to this constitution, a group of conservatives in the United States is working toward a constitutional convention that would pass amendments to the U.S. Constitution without going through the U.S. Congress. Rep. Ron Johnson (R-WI) believes that Article V would give them this power if 34 states call for a convention.  The popularity of the idea may have come from Mark Levin in his book The Liberty Amendments.

Their goals are a balanced budget amendment, term limits for the Supreme Court, Congressional overriding of Supreme Court decisions by a three-fifths vote, prohibition of international treaties and law to govern U.S. domestic law, limit on taxes, abolishment of the 17th Amendment which allows people to elect U.S. senators, and permission of 34 states to override any federal statute or regulation “exceeding an economic burden of $100 million.”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), resigning at the end of the year, plans “to be involved with the Convention of States. I’m going to try to motivate so that happens. I think that’s the only answer. I’m just going to go around and talk about why it’s needed, and try to convince state legislatures to do it.”

The Founding Fathers formed a constitution that limited voting rights, discriminated against women and blacks, and allowed people (if you listen to some people) unlimited rights to own guns and shoot at people. Conservatives even think that the Founding Fathers created a Christian country with Christian laws. Now the United States is working on constitutional amendments that would complete corporate ownership of the country.

Through a revolution almost four years ago, Tunisia earned its constitution banning gender discrimination, allowing freedom of religion, fighting against climate change, and union and health rights. Those who believe that the U.S. is “exceptional” should look to Tunisia.

January 6, 2012

Elected Officials Fight Citizens United

In the 21st century everything gets named “super” from Coca-Cola to politics. Super-PACs are a fine example of the bloating that results from “super” things. Unleashed in early 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, these monsters can raise and spend unlimited funding for candidates. Donors aren’t disclosed until after the presidential primaries or caucuses in early states.

Republican candidates may have approved of these in the beginning, but now some of them are beginning to whine about others’ advantages. Newt Gingrich, targeted by almost one-third of the over $14 million super-PAC advertising before the Iowa caucus, called on Mitt Romney to pull these ads in Iowa; Romney responded, correctly, that he cannot have anything to do with these super-PACs. (According to the ruling, a candidate can have no involvement in this advertising.) Then Gingrich, the man who wanted no negative campaigning on the Republican side, called Romney “a liar” on CBS’s Early Show.

People across the country are getting riled with the ruling. Montana, a state that may have anticipated the problems a century ago, passed a law in 1912 to fight Gilded Age corporate control over its government. The Montana Supreme Court has upheld this law that states, “[A] corporation may not make … an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political party that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” States rights will come into play here because Citizens United overturned a similar federal statute when a majority of justices claimed that independent electoral spending by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” that such laws were enacted to combat.

By a 5-2 vote, the Montana Supreme Court refused the ruling that Citizens United barring all laws limiting independent electoral spending. Chief Justice Mike McGrath cited the history surrounding the state law to show that corporate money, even if not directly contributed to a campaign, can give rise to corruption. Over 100 years ago, the ruling in Western Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General came during a time when Montana’s robber barons, the “Copper Kings,” so effectively politically and economically dominated the state that it lost its authority. According to Mark Twain, one Copper King “bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.”

To reverse the Montana Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court would, according to  Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine Law School, have to have said something like, “We don’t care whether or not independent spending can or cannot corrupt; the First Amendment trumps this risk of corruption.” They didn’t, however, so the Justices will have to explain how the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to consider the factual record in justifying corporate spending limits in campaign finance laws.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar stand when, in late December, it upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. Judge Guido Calabresi agrees that corporate expenditures need to be contained: “If an external factor, such as wealth, allows some individuals to communicate their political views too powerfully, then persons who lack wealth may, for all intents and purposes, be excluded from the democratic dialogue.”

Calabresi added that the desire for a functioning democracy “is, I believe, something that is so fundamental that sooner or later it is going to be recognized. Whether this will happen through a constitutional amendment or through changes in Supreme Court doctrine, I do not know. But it will happen.” Calabresi justified his ruling by saying, “Citizens United stated that mere influence or access to elected officials is insufficient to justify a ban on independent corporate expenditures, improper or undue influence presumably still qualifies as a form of corruption.”

A number of cities across the United States from New York to Los Angeles are requesting that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The New York City Council suggests that the amendment state  “that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights’ of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.”

California lawmakers have introduced a resolution calling for Congress to “propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” All this is following the large number of small towns that began to protest Citizens United months ago and the Occupy Movement protesters against this ruling.

At this time, the Supreme Court’s ruling that money is constitutionally protected free speech and corporations are legal persons entitled to these protections, will probably overturn Montana’s Supreme Court. That’s the reason that other political entities are taking a different approach.

According to the Constitution, 34 state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention which could create an amendment banning corporate funding from elections. A year ago this didn’t look possible because Republicans seemed to be the only ones benefiting from the misguided Citizens United ruling: now Republicans are hurting too.

Even beyond the very peculiar “free speech, personhood” piece of the ruling is the difference in rules for corporations and unions. According to Citizens United, both corporations and unions are allowed to spend freely on campaigns, but corporations are permitted to stockpile funds whereas unions are refused this provision for corporations. In addition, employees may opt out of funding union political activities, but shareholders are forced to participate in corporate political spending. The difference in treatment of the two groups is very likely unconstitutional, but the judicial branch determines constitutionality. So much for following the Founding Fathers’ wishes!

The advertising industry predicts as much as $4 billion in spending across all the campaigns, including those for president, Senate, House and governorships. Much of this will come from corporations.

In Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a 90-page dissenting opinion, arguing that “[t]he conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.” Stevens added, “[a]lthough they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office.”

According to Stevens, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

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