Lifting The Veil On Politics: The USA

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This is the second of a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.

No matter where you are in the world you undoubtedly hear a lot about American politics. You cant turn on a screen without seeing President Trumps tangerine visage plastered in front of the press, with quotes snapped right from his twitter feed running around the blogosphere for years to come.

But what do you actually know about the system that put Trump in the top office?

The federal government of the United States is split into 3 branches, The Judicial Branch (The Supreme Court and the Lower Courts), The Legislative Branch (which is split into the United States Senate, which has two senators from each state, and The United States House Of Representatives which has 435 members from congressional districts, these two institutions are collectively known as the United State’s Congress). And thirdly the Executive Branch (the offices of the President and The Vice President of The United States).

The reason for the separation of powers between the three branches of government, was to create a series of checks and balances, so that no one branch of government could become more powerful than the other. For example the President can veto a bill from congress, the congress can vote down legislation introduced by the president, or the courts, when petitioned, can decided that legislation is unlawful or not in the spirit of the law.

The federal government is based upon the written constitution of the United States, which sets out the way the government should be run, the power of state legislatures, as well as the rights bestowed upon citizens of the country.  There are currently 27 amendments to the constitution, the first 10 of which make up the bill of rights, and the others deal with issues such as suffrage, presidential term limits and successions, congressional salaries, and the prohibition/ reinstating of alcohol.

State Legislatures

American law can get a little confusing to outsiders, because there are different laws for different states so you actually have 51 different sets of laws for one country. But its actually no different from the way the UK is set, federal government in Washington devolves law making responsibility to local state legislatures, the same way that the UK government devolves law making powers to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. These state legislatures will make laws on many things such as education policy, traffic laws and even controversial things such as gun regulation, gay marriage and drug decriminalisation.

The state governments are governed in much the same way as the federal government, The governor of the state will be held accountable by the state senate and both can be held accountable by district courts and the supreme court.

Hopefully that helps shed some light on the way that laws are made across the pond.

Guns Don’t Kill People Dickheads do

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Yesterday saw a tragedy take place in the United States. The 45th mass shooting of 2015, taking place at Umpqua Community College, which has now left nine dead (ten including the gunman himself) and a further seven injured.

I just want you to take a moment for that to sink in, the 45th mass shooting in under a year, in a so called civilised, first world country.  Now undoubtedly the gunman had some deep psychological problem, either treated or untreated, but the fact that this sort of person had access to a powerful firearm is astounding, this is why I’m glad things are different in the UK.

Chances are that in Britain, the only time anyone will ever encounter a gun is through the television, or at a major tourist attraction such as Buckingham Palace (where they are there for ceremonial purposes more than defensive). In Britain thanks to stringent firearms legislation fewer than 2.5% of all homicides were gun/firearm related in 2011 and by 2013 there were only 30 homicides caused by gun in England and Wales with fewer still in Scotland (5 in total). Statistics also show that since 2010 the number of gun related crimes in the United Kingdom has fallen year on year, thanks in no small part to our boys and girls on the thin blue line, the figures also show that in 2014 the number of gun deaths in the UK (homicide or accidental) is 21, which is less than 0.25% of the 8512 gun death victims in the US in the first 3 quarters of 2015.

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When it comes to America the use of guns is something of thorny issue with the pro gun lobby citing their constitutional right to bear arms and arguing that any new gun legislation is an erosion of their constitutional liberties (one of the many downsides to having a written constitution) and then of course the anti gun lobby citing every bit of butchery from Custer to Columbine as reason enough to tighten gun law, with a split congress and a beleaguered president caught in the middle.

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As an outsider it’s easy for me to say that they need to outlaw guns in the same way that Britain and Australia have, but I don’t know if it would work for America, as the US is a country with 50 different sets of laws at the state level and then federal law trying to keep a lid on that, but it’s this sort of thing that must make President Obama’s heart glow with the knowledge that an end is in sight for him, knowing that after January 20th this sort of thing is someone else’s problem.   But whoever President Obama’s replacement is they will certainly need to make headway into firearm reform its this sort of tragedy that should be the shot in the arm that America needs to wake up and see sense. In the UK after the Hungerford Massacre we got the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 making it illegal to own a semi automatic firearm, so what will America get after this its 45th gun spree of 2015.

American comedian Chris Rock said that American’s will never go for gun control, the best you could hope for is bullet control, put the price of bullets up so high that if someone winds up shot to death you know that they probably deserved it.

On that note I would like to pay my respects the victims’ families of this latest monstrosity.

*statistics courtesy of the Home Office and The White House*