Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Power Company

At the very top of everything in the USA, government-wise and authority-wise, is the U.S. Federal Government. Or so those who think they are at the top would have you believe.

The federal government is the big boss, at the very top, and it tells the states what to do. It also regulates the daily lives of U.S. citizens. Anything it wants to do, it can do. And does it ever do! Laws by the hundreds - orders for the states and the people to abide by. It knows what's best for all of us. The federal courts, especially the Supreme Court, is over all the state courts and can overturn anything the state courts do. It is very powerful indeed. How much of this paragraph is true?

While the above may have come (nearly) to pass in today's world in the USA, it isn't really anything like the writers of our constitution had in mind. It wasn't what the states had in mind when they agreed to the new constitution, either. Indeed the constitution doesn't really say anything like the above at all. So how did we get into this sorry mess (my opinion) where the servant of the states grew into a seven-headed (at least) monster that devours everything in it's path, money-wise, angers the rest of the world and strikes terror into the hearts of the states and the citizens? Let's investigate. Then let's discuss how we can tame this monster and put it back in harness.

The first (and most important) thing Americans need to remember, or be informed of, is that the the federal government has only the powers the states allow it to have. The states "cede" certain powers to the federal government, and they can "uncede" them at will (by modifying the constitution, which only the states can do.) Somehow, the federal government has bluffed the states and the people into believing that all power derives from the top, that THEY are at the top, and that they are the final word in all things.

However, our constitution is what defines who has what powers, not the bureaucrats. What does the constitution say?

Earlier, we talked about the Preamble to the constitution. Although not law, the Preamble told us why the actual constitution was being written: to make the lives of individual citizens better and to form a better union between the several states. Frankly, it left no doubt where the true power was coming from: "We, the people...".

Now we look at the very first Article of the actual constitution.

Article I, Section 1. "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

Oh, my. Trouble already. I would call your attention to the word "granted".

The U.S. Constitution is essentially an enumeration of the powers that the new federal government would have. It is clear from the very first sentence that this listing of federal powers was "granted" by someone or something. If something is "granted" to you, that means the person or thing doing the "granting" is superior to you. Otherwise, you could just TAKE the power.

So... who is doing the granting? Ostensibly the several states which had decided to form a union, but more correctly the PEOPLE who lived in those several states. The state governments, after all, existed only at the pleasure of the people and for the purpose of carrying out the will of the majority of those people, as made known through their representation in the state legislatures.

Remember our discussion defining what a republican form of government is? ("Republican" meaning "a republic" - nothing to do with the political party that was formed much later.) Remember that the definition of that form of government was that the power rested with the citizens of the country, but was expressed through their elected representatives.

That is the not-so-subtile difference between a republic and a pure democracy: representation. In a pure democracy, majority rules. Period. Government by referendum. We don't have that form of government. In the USA, whether at the federal level or at the state level, only very large and important issues are put directly to the people. In a republic, the people we choose to represent us engage in democracy, not the people directly (except in the actual choosing of our representation, and an occasional legitimate referendum.)

Here we could argue the merits of pure democracy, but the end result would be an agreement that it is too cumbersome (in a very populous country) to have the individual citizens vote on each and every issue that comes up. For example, should our country be attacked, it would be rather foolish to have the people vote on what to do about it. Not while we are being killed. Our representatives are supposed to keep in touch and know our minds and do what the majority of us WOULD have done. The result, of course, is that up to half the people are always dissatisfied with their representation.

This constant segment of dissatisfaction, incidentally, is what keeps representatives who wish to be reelected listening to the citizens. The loyal opposition keeps those who are in power ever vigilant, with ears constantly open. At least that was the intent.

What very important thing have we learned from the very first sentence of the constitution?

In my opinion, it is that the framers of the constitution intended to give the federal government the powers needed to govern effectively, while denying it so much power that it would have had the ability to abridge the liberty of the governed.

To be continued. (There are even more sentences to discuss. :)


  1. Thanks for clarifying the difference between a republic and democracy as it is sometimes a bit confusing

    Our country is called "Republic" of SA but we have pure democracy where majority rules, a bit weird hey?

  2. @Frostygirl - Hey! I just missed you!

    I gotta disagree with you though. SA has a parliament and that means you have representative who do the voting on the laws. That's what makes you a republic. True, you elect those people who vote on your behalf, but the people of SA do not vote on each and every law themselves directly.

    Correct me if I am wrong. (You are much too big to have a pure democracy. You would never get anything done.)

    I am coming to see you - don't give up on me!

  3. @Frostygirl - Of course the act of your representatives in parliament debating and voting is, of course, pure democracy. You're right, it is confusing. SA and my country are both republics, yet both democratic. Just different levels of democratic voting, I guess. :) It is a technical point. But sometimes important if someone asks you what form of government you have. Both you and I would answer, "A Republic". But we could also say "A Democratic Republic" I suppose. But that's an oxymoron, by definition. Never mind. Heh.

  4. Yes, but...
    The UK has a parliament, an elected parliament. The least said the better about the members of parliament and what they do to make ends meet, nevertheless, an elected parliament. Not a republic though, a constitutional monarchy - I think.

  5. @A. - So true. And if you got rid of her, then you would be a republic. :)

    We were talking about South Africa and the USA. Just sayin'. But your disruption is well taken.

    There are many forms of government in this world. Some ACT like republics (you) some SAY they are republics but aren't (North Korea-dictator, Iran-Theocracy) and some are REALLY true republics (those who actually elect representatives (and not just let some guy appoint them behind the scenes, or give lip service to a parliament but give mullas the real power).

    There are those (certainly not me) who say that since the queen has no real power and is only shown deference in some governmental areas, that you walk like a republic and quack like a republic, and (remember I didn't really say this) perhaps you ARE a republic. Sigh.

  6. @A. - And we are afraid we can't LET you be a real republic as long as you-know-who is head of your government. Power or no power. As long as she is not bound by your constitution, like the rest of you... Well. You see the dilema. :)

    Limited, yes. Different than "bound by".

    Perhaps she will let you elect her replacement; then you can call yourself a republic.

    I'm stopping now...

  7. I meant "head of state" not head of government.

    REALLY stopping now.

  8. I'm perfectly happy to live in a republic, as I'm sure you know. I'm not sure that the Queen would really have much say in it if it was decided the monarchy should go. It would be a huge step, and cause uproar, but, purely at a guess, I don't believe there would be anything the reigning monarch could do about it.

    REALLY stopping now.I'll believe that when I see it. Or, I'll stop when you stop. :) We all depend on your not stopping, you know that.

  9. It's lovely, but largely rhetoric. Your definition of "grant" is not the only one and the assumptions you attach to it don't necessarily make sense.

    For instance, you say that "grant" a power as something you have that you are granting something else which you say demonstrates who HAS the power. I say, "had." Individual states chose to band together and grant powers to a central government. Agreed.

    But I don't see how that means they can take them back or that they maintain precedence. If I grant you $500 to go to college, is the money still mine? No - I've ceded it away.

    The federal government only needs to go to the states to demand more powers (as in the case of amendments). I didn't see any provision for any state to rescind it's original ratification, it's granting of powers.

    Which, to me, argues it no longer has them.

    You tell me the government does more than it originally was intended. So? Much of that is a good thing, like letting non-white, non-male, non-property owners be part of "we the people" instead of just white, male, landowners.

    I'm sure they never intended what we have now, but then, I'm sure they never could have imagined any number of things that came to pass and are the way they are today. Who's to really say, if they knew the whole picture, what they'd approve or disapprove (assuming they would be of one mind - I wouldn't count on it)? To me, it's a singular pointless argument.

    If you think the federal government has violated the Constitution, you need only challenge it in court. If the courts agree, the fed is restricted. If they don't, well, apparently there's more than one way to interpret the Constitution.

    We can complain amongst ourselves all we want (as do I, but for different reasons) - if we have a Constitutional basis (and it seems you think you do), take it up in court.

    That's a pretty definitive way to win your argument.

  10. A few other examples of federal powers never envisioned but good for us all: US Highway system, FAA, NASA, NOAA.

    Just sayin'. OK, I'll stop now.

  11. @A. - Yes, the French love a republic. What are they on now, their fifth? Something like that. :)

    France is a socialist state. Give it up. :)

  12. Max, darling, I don't mind you repeating back the same thing I said and pretending you're explaining it to me, but do you have to use so many words? And a patronizing tone?

    Me: Individual states chose to band together and grant powers to a central government. Agreed.

    You: I guess I will start near the beginning where you contest the meaning of the word “granted” that the constitution uses. Who do YOU think was doing the granting, if not the states? What do YOU think was being granted? According to the constitution, the entities doing the granting were “the several states” and the thing being granted to the state’s new servant, the federal government, was certain powers (not money.) Before the federal government was formed, ALL the power was held by the states, wich is to say the people who lived in those states, so that is really the only place powers could be granted from.

    Let me help you: I know the states granted the powers. I know they and they alone can grant more to the bill of rights; however, the government proposes them (look at my comment - I say that, although I use the term demand inaccurately).

    What you don't have, in your long and rambling response is the answer to my question. What gives them the right to rescind powers once granted? You keep saying "the states can take it away" but they weren't provided with a venue to take it away (and you haven't either), because the Fed Gov't is just as vital a part of the process by proposing the amendments. Giving something away does not mean you can just take it away and, despite the length of your answer (and your many slurs on people are twenty years older than I am) never provided contrary evidence.

    The problem with your response is you take things that are demonstrably true - the congress and senate are (to some extent) elected by the people - and then use it to patronizingly admonish me that the government didn't make these laws or enforce their enactment but that the people did. Then turn around and say the government has try to inflict all kinds of horrible things (like, O the horror, gay marriage) on the poor people.

    Same folks, Max, but thanks for playing.

    Max, I work for a not for profit that works for the government. I swim everyday in page after page of non-artful nonsense masquerading as something and pulling the bits of truth out of it. And I'm VERY good at it.

    Baffling me with BS will not make me recognize the truth of your side.

    By the way nothing alerts me to a weak argument like a large ration of unrelated but smart sounding nonsense. Never fails.


    Note, by the way, I agree that speaking with your ballot is another alternative. By all means. And I shall do the same. Not that it will do me any good here in deep oil country. But I'll do it anyway.

  13. If this was all you were trying to say:

    "I was TRYING to demonstrate that the federal government has no intrinsic power of it's own that exists discretely from the constitution, and that the federal government's entire reason for existing in the first place is to administer those things which affect the states collectively."

    OK, I agree.

    As for the rest, Max, when someone takes a dozen paragraghs to say ONE sentence, the baffle with BS label does not seem misapplied.

    If you didn't like the tone, note your own comment before I was responding to:

    "I am happy you have chosen my blog to publish your latest work of fiction. But realizing you are possibly in earnest, I will do my best to clear up some of the misconceptions you are laboring under. Please forgive me for taking your comment seriously if you were only joking."

    You followed it with a sarcastic tone and repeating (the same thing I had already said) in a patronizing manner, sarcastic voice, as if I couldn't quite understand it. If I don't like to be talked down to, I am not alone as you have demonstrated.

    Let me paraphrase your position as I understand it.

    All powers to the federal government were originally granted by the governments of the individual states which chose to work in concert. The federal government has no powers outside of those granted by the constitution and they have no power to do more than propose changes to the constitution. The states must ratify every proposal or it will not become law (amendment). The states could, in theory, revoke the power vested in the federal government [me: if a sufficient number agreed] and an amendment were proposed.

    Did I miss anything key? I agree with all that and didn't disagree with anything you quoted from the constitution just your extrapolation from those quotes or the implications you assigned it. If you think I did, feel free to show where.

    Perhaps I would be less likely to think the rules are different if you wouldn't refer to the federal government as if it were it's own beastie and the "states" as if they were the people. "States" are governments, too, built by the people, but then, that's true of the federal government as well.

    As for your insinuations that I can't do my own thinking, I never went to Berkeley. I as a toddler when the sixties came to a close. I've never even heard of Saul Olinski. I don't claim a direction or a political party per se. I know how I feel on different topics, usually based on my own thinking and I don't think it unreasonable to be irritated by implications otherwise.

    In my job, I hear people pontificate all the time and the patronizing tone you took with me (NOT the other way around) is a red flag in my job that someone is baffling with nonsense. Since I had admitted to everything you told me you wanted me to know in my first post, I am, to date, wondering what it was you felt you needed to express so volubly.

    (Questioning the ability to rescind the power was making the distinction - which I don't think either of us made - between what ONE state could do and a consensus of them. I see no provision for one state to rescind their interest in the US States.)

  14. I understand you being upset at my tone but using words like rhetoric and pontificating is only going to invite a like tone in my responses. And you DID start your very first comment that way in your opening words, before I said a single thing. So let's continue (I would like to anyway) without the personal attacks. Just quote the constitution to show where you are right. Please.

  15. According to Merriam Webster:

    rhetoric: 1: the art of speaking or writing effectively: as a: the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times b: the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion 2 a: skill in the effective use of speech b: a type or mode of language or speech ; also : insincere or grandiloquent language

    Given that those are mostly complimentary descriptions and that you've admitted to stretching one sentence to 16 paragraphs, I don't see how one could construe it as a personal attack (as opposed to, say, telling one that one can't think for oneself).

    And, for the fourth time, I don't disagree with anything you've said the Constitution says. Why do I need to cite it to support my position? (Which is, to recap, I agree with what you say about the Constitution and agree that, if sufficient states work in concert, they can take back their power or change the power of the federal government. I do not see anything in the Constitution for a single state to back out of the original agreement.

    That's it.

    I can't cite the Constitution for that last bit since it is my belief it's not there.



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