Monday, May 16, 2005

Mayors to Bush: "Screw you, we're ratifying Kyoto"

From the New York Times: In one of the most public 'screw you's of the entire Bush reign, over 130 local governments in the US (and counting) have decided to override Bush's refusal to endorse the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and to voluntarily comply with it anyway. This is obviously great news for anyone who cares about the environment, but it also brings up a common complaint about the US that I hear from a lot of Europeans; namely, the impossibly complex relationship that exists here between local governments, state governments and the national government, and confusion over who exactly trumps who when it comes to enacted legislation.

And I'll admit, this is indeed a tricky and messy relationship, one that even few Americans seem to understand. The problem is that there never has been a general consensus in the US over what exactly we are as an entity; even when the Constitution was being written in the late 1700s, half the people writing that document saw the US as a loose federation of self-sufficient states, with a weak national bureaucracy holding it together (much like the current European Union), while the other half saw the US as a legitimate unified nation, one where the former power of states should be subsumed to a strong national government. It's this schism that led to the Federalist Papers, the first ten amendments to our Constitution (aka "The Bill of Rights"), and unfortunately the constant fight that's been happening in the 216 years since, over whether a law passed by a state or local government should hold more importance than one passed by the national government. And let's not forget, exploiting this system is a favorite way to get laws actually changed here; sometimes a local government will deliberately do something counter to what a national law says it can do, simply so that the case will be sent to a federal court, and a definitive ruling made over whether that city can actually do that in the eyes of the law or not. This news about local Kyoto ratification just reminds us of this schism all over again; it's one of the more fascinating things about the way the US works, I think, which is why I thought I'd mention it today.