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. :)

17 comments:

frostygirl said...

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?

Relax Max said...

@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!

Relax Max said...

@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.

A. said...

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.

Relax Max said...

@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.

Relax Max said...

@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...

Relax Max said...

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

REALLY stopping now.

A. said...

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.

Stephanie B said...

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.

Stephanie B said...

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.

Relax Max said...

@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. :)

Relax Max said...

Hello Stephanie. It’s good to see you back again. I am glad you are feeling better now.

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.

I do realize that the thoughts you have put forward are shared by many people who were living on University campuses in the late 1960s, notably UC Berkely, and their progeny they sired in between protest meetings who are now occupying many positions in our government. I further realize that all I have on my side are the actual words in the constitution. But I will try valiently nonetheless.

There is so much, I am not even sure where to start. 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.

Or is your point that, once granted, those powers could never be modified or retracted ever again? Never be taken back from the federal governmen or never modified? A gift for life? Surely not. I KNOW you are aware the constitution can be modified, and I know you are aware that ONLY the states can modify it.

The federal goverment itself cannot actually amend the constitution as an entity unto itself. True, the federal courts TRY to act like legislators instead of arbitors (especially the 9th District out in the land of Oz - surely even YOU will agree that that bench contains only throwbacks from Berkeley, class of 1967. -"They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast". Never mind.) But try as they might, the REAL legislative powers are vested in Congress. Again, so says the constitution. i’m not making this up.

And I hope I don't confuse the issue by reminding you that the word "vested" means "assigned" in the sense used. But let's move on. :)

Bottom line, you DO believe that, as far as the federal government goes, the states giveth and the states can taketh it all away? Via amendments? Or is there another way of amending the constitution that I’m missing? Is there someone who can do it other than the states? No, I thought not. Or is there some subject in the constitution that is immune to amendment? No, I think it is clear that the states CAN “ungrant” the power anytime they feel like it.

But you are right: that is only what the constitution SAYS, and what happens in REAL LIFE is often quite different. Since I have only posted about the first sentence of the constitution, I’m sure you know much of this stuff about Congress acting on behalf of the states and amendments and much more will be posted on later. This will be an ongoing project. No need for us to pick out various points here and there and argue them willy nilly with no sequece.

However, jumping ahead with you, it is my understanding from reading the constitution that the federal government doesn’t give the people anything at all, rights-wise. The Bill of Rights is not something the federal government “gave” to the people. The Bill of Rights is a list of restrictions the people PLACED UPON the federal government. See... you guys always seem to get the power thing and servant thing backwards. In my opinion. And in the constitution's opinion.

As to the grand list of things “the federal government has done for us” I can’t really think of anything. True, you gave a list of examples:

“...like letting non-white, non-male, non-property owners be part of "we the people" instead of just white, male, landowners. [and the] US Highway system, FAA, NASA, NOAA.

Well, let me help you add to that list of "gifts": The Americans with Disabilities Act.

Well, excuse me for being a party pooper, but nothing on that list came to us as a gift from the federal government. Each of these things springs either from an amendment to the constitution (changes directed by the several states) or by public laws passed by the representatives of the people (the House) and the representatives of the states (the Senate.)

The federal government originates NOTHING Stephanie! The federal government is simply an INSTRUMENT OF ADMINISTRATION of the will of the states and of the people who live in those states. Arrrrgggghhhh!!!!

Sorry. A pirate got in. He's gone now.

Now, here I will freely admit that the Senate has often forgotten that they represent their states, and the House has often forgotten that it is there to vote on behalf of the people back home because it is inconvenient for all the people to come to Washington and vote.

Instead, they have drifted off down sideroads of grandiose social programs that neither the states nor the people told them to waste time on. All of these things are REALLY the province of the states (if they want them) and there is, for the most part, no need (and no legal justification in the constitution) for all things to be uniform throughout the states. Just as not every state wants to authorize gay marriage, so also it is true that not every state wants to have all the things Congress has shoved down their throats. It simply is not the province for the federal government to be doing all these things for the sake of uniformity; it is beyond the scope of what the federal government was envisioned to do: be a proficient administrator of the affairs of the states as regards common needs.

Building the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was a common need, and the several states (a majority) agreed that it should be built. It wasn’t something “given” to us by the federal government. They merely took bids, oversaw the construction, and used the money the people gave them to pay for it. A good little administrator. That’s what the framer’s intended. A good example, Stephanie.

But if you think the federal government (whoever it is) woke up one morning and said black people have the same rights as white people, then you are deluded. That was accomplished by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution, as ratified by the states. In other words it was a thing that was DIRECTED to come to pass. Directed by the states. The federal government was then charged by the states to enforce these amendments. In fact, ALL amendments end with the paragraph which gives congress the right to enforce the amendment. But this comes from the states as a directive, Stephanie. You MUST see that!

We are now FAR ahead of anything I have yet posted, but let me finish by saying you are, in my opinion, mistaken in my options of what to do about things if I don’t like them. I would submit to you that I need NOT turn to the courts, but instead seek more responsive representation come election time. It doesn’t take courts acting as the final say. It only takes enough congressional representatives who think like I think. That’s the road I pursue. I also pursue trying to pressure my state to stand up and take back it’s rightful powers and challenge the federal government's unfunded mandates. THAT is a proper item to go to the courts and the states are the ones who should be suing, not me.

I agree you are right that it is a pointless consideration to think about what the framers of the constitution envisoned for the future or didn’t envision. They got us started but the ball is in the court of the present generation now. But the precepts of who does what and how things get done remain the same. And the list of players and the formula is spelled out pretty clearly in the constitution.

Beyond the regulation of interstate commerce and providing for the national defense, let’s just leave it up to the states. If a majority of states want something to be done on a federal level - such as national healthcare, then it will be done, and the necessary administrative power to implement and oversee a national healthcare program will be granted to the federal government. But not because some president has it on his agenda and thinks he has enough robots in congress to rubber stamp him.

Just because the people who wrote the constitution are long-dead is no reason to pretend we don’t remember that the whole reason for it’s existence was to better administrate the affairs of the states -- to form a more perfect union. We don’t need to be rushing out to give the federal government more power than it needs any more than Europe needs to be dishing out too much power to the EU.

Stephanie B said...

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.

Relax Max said...

Wow, Stephanie. That's pretty harsh. Guess you aren't so thick-skinned after all. But I don't really want to attack you. (I don't want to, but I am going to in this comment.)

As for your question not being answered in my comment, that is true. It was addressed in the post itself (4th paragraph). But changing the constitution is not the only way states take away powers from the federal government. At least in theory, they also direct their representatives (their Senators) to introduce and work to pass new laws which limit, modify, or repeal previous powers. And not just the state state legislatures through their Senators, but the citizens who live in those states as well (in theory), by letting their representatives know when they are dissatisfied with the federal government - and ask THEM to introduce limiting laws, too. Anyway, that is the only answer that I have to your question of how the states can limit the federal government: constitutional changes and new laws.

Just so we are all clear, here is your question that you felt I didn't answer:

"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 [...}"

The "venue" is called "amending the constitution and passing new laws."

I am NOT trying to baffle you with BS. I'm not even trying to interpret the constitution. So far, I am only quoting it.

The only thing, really, that I was trying to prove with this post, to get in agreement on before proceeding, was that all the powers the federal government have are given it, in one fashion or another, by the several states, either directly through the constitution, or by proxy through their representatives in the federal legislature passing new laws. 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.

Eventually, I will prove that the federal government has involved itself in many things (mostly social programs) that have taken on a life of their own, and which were not originally intended to be the province of the federal government. I will NOT try to prove that the states should not allow the federal government to administer many programs, even social programs, but only that we need to get away from allowing the executive branch of the federal government thinking up and pursuing programs on its own. Those kinds of ideas, and requests for federal legislation to make them come to pass, need to be coming from the states. Then the executive branch needs to concern itself with implementing and enforcing the will of the people. Even things like foreign policy need to be driven by the states and only carried out by the Executive Branch.

The Executive Branch of the federal government doesn't need to be in the business of saying this state needs this or that, or we ALL need this or that. If there is consensus for such needs, they will drift upwards from the states through their congressional representation. Let Congress legislate and let the Executive Branch carry out what it is directed to carry out, and enforce federal laws. That is sufficient to keep the President and his crew busy.

I know you are a statist, simply by the way you talk and write, and that simply is not what this country is about, according to the constitution.

I also recognize your attacks and attempts at ridicule and marginalization as coming straight out of the radical left's Saul Olinski playbook, tactics used so often that the book itself isn't even read anymore by the current crop of statists. It won't work with me.

You call me rambling and rhetorical (lacking in meaningful content) but you don't rebut me with quotes from the constitution, only with conjecture and unfounded ideology. I want to debate you, and civilly. But I want to debate only the actual constitution and what each of us thinks it means. Show me you are above the average frothing-at-the-mouth left wing loon. (I don't have any use for you wild-eyed radical righters out their either, so don't presume to come to my defense.) I think you may be different, but you are slipping into that mold.

Stephanie B said...

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.)

Relax Max said...

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.

Stephanie B said...

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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