The Electoral College, History and Purpose

It is my sincere opinion as a literate American citizen and student of the United States Constitution that the members of the Electoral College of 2016 have a moral and Constitutional duty to deny Donald Trump the Presidency and grant that position to Hillary Clinton.

My reasoning follows.


When I think about the United States Government I prefer when possible to look to the Constitution for guidance.

Article II Section 1 Par 2:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Article II Section 1 Paragraph 2 creates the Electoral College. Article II, as you know, is the article creating and defining the Presidency of the United States. The idea of a President was controversial at the time. Article II is the result of a great deal of work.

There is no indication within the the Constitution as to the reason for or purpose of the Electoral College. The Constitution does not say how states will select or allocate Electors, winner-take-all or otherwise. It does not say who electors have to vote for based on any consideration whatsoever. It says, in a nutshell, “States, each of you choose some Electors, designated voters, to meet in your state and vote for President. You get to have [so many] based on your population plus two just for being a state. They can’t be members of the Federal government. You figure out the rest.”

That “…two just for being a state…” part has Democrats outraged right now, particularly California Democrats, and has had (I’m guessing here) somebody somewhere in America outraged nonstop since before the Constitution was ratified. There is no point to being outraged. It is how it is, and it is not going away. All competitors for office play under the same rules. Those of us out here in the heartland don’t have to let the coasts elect our President all by themselves. We don’t really want them to.

By population math the United States government, including the Electoral College, appears to be not “proportional”, but we know from records that proportional representation was the topic of a great deal of debate the summer of 1787.  What constituted proportional? What was a fair balance of power between population and statehood? Population and geography? Persons and places? It’s not hard to imagine a delegate from Georgia saying, “I don’t care if you do have twice as many people in Massachusetts, I’m a free state now and there is a limit to how much I’m going to be pushed around by somebody from clear out at the other end of the country.”

Any attempt to eliminate the Electoral College by Amendment today is going to get the exact same comment from people in most of the states between the Appalachians and the Sierra Nevada. It’s not going to happen.

const-convention_at_philadelphia55 men worked on this Constitution, under the Speakership of George Washington. They represented the 13 states. They did not represent voters in any direct way. These men, these delegates were selected by state legislatures, which in turn were selected by a few powerful white male voters. The state governments were the sole power in the nation at that time, and they were made up of human beings. That means there were jealousies, rivalries, and cross purposes, as well as an honest, shared, well meaning attempt to solve a serious problem. Powerful, influential men in all of the states had come to the conclusion that the so-called United States whiskey_insurrectionabsolutely could not survive without improving their national government. A majority of the delegates opted to, rather than fix the current document of federation, create a new one, and a Federal government at the same time. There was no state then where every person in leadership believed in a strong Federal government, but there was enough agreement nationwide to launch the Constitutional Convention.

It has become popular these days to sneer at professional politicians, but professional politicians created this country. It could have been no other way. Welcome to humankind. Most of these particular professional politicians had also been soldiers, mostly officers, in the war of Independence. They literally had skin in the game.

Some of these professional politicians came from slave states and some came from free. Almost half of the delegates owned slaves. And they worked by consensus. They had to hammer out something everybody could live with. Parts of it look ugly from the present day, but we don’t have the same problems they had. Slavery was already there. They weren’t going to solve that one in one summer in Philly.

The Constitution defines the mechanics of how the Electors will vote. The original version never worked well and nearly ended the nation with election of 1800, which is a separate story in itself, and has been amended. Here is the currently active version, the 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;—The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;—The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.14  —The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

If you’re still with me, let’s take a look at that.

First, although it is complex, it does not specify how the electors are to decide to vote. The Constitution clearly leaves the selection of Electors to the states, and the voting to the Electors themselves. It is specified that the results of their vote will be cross tabulated, signed, certified, sealed, and delivered to the President of the Senate.

It is worthy to note that the text of the 12th Amendment, like the original text before it, appears to assume that Electoral votes in states will not be unanimous. The instructions appear to assume that even within states there would be an actual process of contested election underway in the Electoral College.

We can observe that Electors exist. The Constitution requires Electors. The election process could work essentially the same without them: the states could decide by whatever process they chose who to vote for and send that decision, sealed, to Congress.  The Senate could open the decisions, count them, and follow the rest of the instructions above. That’s not how they did it.

The Framers of the Constitution decided to insert citizens, almost certainly wealthy white males since nobody else could vote, between the decisions of the states who selected them and the direct vote for President and Vice President. The Constitution expressly says that the Electors themselves will gather and vote. There is no suggestion that they are there to deliver a note from the home district. We cannot know for certain what the Framers were thinking, but to me it appears that they thought that emotions on the streets in the Electors’ states might need further consideration, or reconsideration, before making some person President.

It is my opinion that the Electors have an obligation to their vow to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and that this obligation is higher than any other duty they have as Electors. That obligation requires them to, if necessary, stand up to the mob in favor of the Constitution, to make a decision, themselves, for a president who will uphold and respect the Constitution, and to vote that decision. Donald Trump’s holdings and businesses alone put him in direct contravention of Article I Section 9 Paragraph 8 of the Constitution; his many statements of intent to violate numerous provisions of the Constitution cannot be ignored; the strong evidence of Russian influence in the election is fully relevant to an Elector’s decision. The Electors cannot both uphold their oath of office, and vote for Donald Trump.

There is no Constitutional obligation for the Electors to select a President and a Vice President from the same political party. The Constitution does not acknowledge the existence of political parties. Political parties are a handy means for organizing like minded people, but they are not necessary to the operation of the Republic. Electors are expressly required to cast two separate ballots, one marked President and one marked Vice President.

If the Electors had no obligation as citizens to uphold the Constitution while performing their duties, the United States Postal Service could have done their job as well, cheaper. I do not believe that Electors were carefully inserted between the decisions of the states and the inauguration of a President as a rubber stamp. We cannot know the Framers’ reasoning, but we can feel nearly certain that they had some reason for creating the position of Elector.

The rest of Amendment XII is important too, but not for the purposes of this discussion. I don’t wish to muddy the waters further. It is my sincere opinion as a literate American citizen and student of the United States Constitution that the members of the Electoral College have a moral and Constitutional duty to deny Donald Trump the Presidency and grant that position to Hillary Clinton. They could, if they chose, simultaneously award the Vice Presidency to Mike Pence.*

*I would hate to see a VP Pence, but he has not indulged in multiple clear violations of law, nor stated any intention to violate the Constitution as President. He is qualified.

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No Double Dipping Presidents Allowed


First a definition:
Emolument (n.) gain from employment or position; payment dscf0207received for work; salary, wages, fees, etc Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition

The Constitution is vague about some things and very clear about others. One thing which is very clear is that no office holder under the United States of America may accept any pay, gift, or anything of value of any kind for anything whatsoever from any foreign government.

U.S. Constitution, Article I Section 9 Paragraph 8:

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

And that the President, in particular, may not accept any pay, money, or gain of any sort from the United States Government or from any state, except for his salary as President.

Article II Section 1 Paragraph 7:

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

Several Constitutional scholars have already raised the issue of whether an international business owner who is also President would be in violation of Article I Section 9 whenever a foreign state gave him license or permission to do business in their nation, which would obviously be a thing of value to him. It seems unlikely that the Constitution permits such transactions. Unfortunately this is the sort of “right on the edge” transaction for which Trump is known, transactions that are probably illegal but extremely slippery and hard to prove.

However, we see a far more blatant violation, of Article II Section 1, in the publicly announced plans for the Secret Service to rent space in Trump Tower in order to provide security for the President Elect’s family. The President is expressly forbidden from accepting any pay from the United States Government besides his Presidential salary. It is simply not permitted. No, he can’t rent space to his guard detail. He can’t charge them to fly on his airplane. He cannot make money off the government he is leading, no money in any way whatsoever. It is the clearest possible violation of the Constitution.

he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

I hope that someone, somewhere, will see to it that a President Trump, should he be seated in the office, does not openly defy the Constitution, Article II Section 1 Paragraph 7.  Do the other branches of government still recognize any obligation at all to the whole text of the United States Constitution?

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War Then and Now

War. War in the streets. Civil War! cries the headline. War.

One of my students casually mentioned to me recently that lots of his friends think we need a war here, you know, just to kinda straighten things out. Clear the air. Establish that white people who speak English poorly but as their first language are still boss, I guess. They are Trump supporters. He’s an 18 year old high school graduate, much of whose education was based on “Christian curriculum” before he became my student. He is a technically literate male. I don’t know his friends, but I think he met at least some of them in auto tech school. They are, I believe, regular rural Missouri kids living an hour away from Kansas City. They casually believe that a war here would be a good thing.

I fought in a war. Where I was we fought mostly in the woods, in dense ancient forests on worn ancient mountains. Periodically, usually in the small hours of the morning in the dark of the moon, a few thousand of them would run up onto a few hundred of us and kill as many of us as they could, while we killed as many of them as we could. These are literal numbers.  War is not a video game.  I’m talking about killing total strangers who are close enough that you can see the expressions on their faces while they die. I’m talking about finding out after that several of your friends died and will remain dead forever, but you were too busy to notice it at the time. I’m talking about spending days and days in the jungle sun surrounded by dead people who are getting smellier and smellier, their bodies reeking inflating balloons, black rotten blood bubbling out of the bullet holes you shot into them, while you wait for the shooting to stop long enough to bury them. I’m talking about sleeping in the mud in a tent you built this afternoon and will take down tomorrow morning for tomorrow after tomorrow… I’m talking about digging a hole and squatting over it to shit. Every time you have to shit. For months. Don’t even think “thank you for your service.” Please. I hate that phrase. I’m trying to pierce the jingoistic fog and express how horribly ugly war is. All war. Without exception.  Movies don’t tell you. TV doesn’t tell you. Video games don’t tell you. The only way to find out just how horrible war is is by simultaneously finding out you are in the stupidest predicament of your life. THESE IDIOTS THINK A WAR WOULD BE COOL! bundywar2 They saw it on TV, they played it on their computers. Under a layer of sanctimonious bullshit, a whole lot of American grownups appear to agree. The entire Cliven Bundy family does.  I’ll bet Ted Cruz does. Probably Donald Trump does too, although when he had the opportunity to find out how cool war is up close and personal back in ’66 through ’74 he turned it down. He “can’t remember” what his disabling condition was, he says, and I’ve seen conflicting reports, but he can golf OK at 70.

For myself, and for most others I know who were seriously wounded, wounding was not as terrible to experience or as horrible to recall as firefights. The onset, ambush, gunfire, rockets, explosions… lights, sights, sounds, smells, fears, the need to act… the aftermath, the dead on both sides all around you, survivors picking up the pieces… people who were only wounded a little now wandering over to the medics, who are all basket cases but still helping, for some disinfectant and a bandaid… dustoff birds in & out with your friends who might or might not survive… resupply birds in & out, like as not also carrying the wounded out on the return trip…. you shoot up a lot of ammo in a firefight… everybody kind of dazed… the fucking colonels flying in wearing clean pressed jungle fatigues, polished jungle boots, to strut around… colonels sleep in dry safe beds and wear clean clothes… None of us grunts have had a bath or a change of clothes in thirty-some days… there are quite literally no words. Roll another one.

Today’s wars aren’t quite like that on the surface.  Nowadays wars are mostly fought in cities, by invisible enemies with bombs, us bombing from the skies, them hand-delivering bombs under their shirts. The cities are indescribable scenes of horror, piles of rubble, rats ascendant… people starving and dying of thirst… Dead civilians outnumber dead soldiers by some ridiculous factor. Prime time TV in America ought to be live footage from Homs in Syria, homs-1from Sana’a in Yemen, interspersed with live footage from Somalia and the Gaza Strip. Americans need to take a close look at the unremitting grimness and misery of war. Yes, friends, American cities can look Just Like That.

As I write this we have, although not large scale combat, serious conflict on our streets, intense, angry, deadly conflict. Two black men have been murdered by police, in two different cities half a continent apart. Five cops have been murdered and another seven put in the hospital by one efficient sniper holding a monument to our sacred Second Amendment, an AR15, in his hands.

When we fought the NVA they used AK-47’s. That was a fearsome weapon in the sort of close quarters combat we did, and we respected it mightily. In early versions the AR15, or M-16 as we knew it, was an unreliable piece of shit that couldn’t be trusted in a firefight, so we were envious of the NVA and their indestructible AK-47’s. After investing a few thousand of our lives in their research project, Colt Inc. did some redesign work and was able to ship us new M-16’s that were as reliable as any AK-47. We used the improved version for the last 5 months of my part of the war, and it was a devastating man-killer. That’s the gun that America’s murderers choose today. The AK-47, although deadly at close quarters, isn’t a good long range rifle. American murderers prefer the AR15 because they can hide in a parking garage, or in the trunk of a parked sedan, and murder people from way far off and not have to face that death with their own eyes.

bundywarThe most recent previous mini-war was not in our streets, but on our Federally owned lands. One family has taken up arms against the United States of America not once but twice. Just like (and possibly including) my student and his poorly informed friends, many people think these pisspot revolutions were Great Things.

Of course, in the Bundy family’s second go-round one of their compatriots managed to get himself killed. There was (and I suppose still is) Much Outrage. He was Martyred! No, he wasn’t martyred. He chose to go to war. It was a tiny war, but it was a war. That is what it means to take up arms against a government. We call that “war.” So, in war, people get killed. It’s part of the deal. The good guys don’t all live, no matter who you might think the good guys are. And that, friends, is why it is a Very Bad Idea to bring war to the United States.

Many combat vets are permanently damaged by what they have seen and done. I am one of them. One of the ways this damage shows itself it in nightmares. My nightmares have been two: in one of them I have been drafted again and am back in the jungle in combat against a uniformed army made up of small Asian people.  I understand it to be the NVA although in world time there is no longer an N before the V… well, anyway, I’ve been drafted again and I’m fighting young, healthy, committed Asian soldiers. And the catch is, I am whatever age in the dream that I am in real life. So the next time I have that dream I’ll be 69, permanently addicted to synthetic thyroid hormone, and have fake knees. I will also be seriously annoyed that the damn government has drafted me again, and upset because they can’t find the records of when I served before, and meantime I’m getting into the same old firefights, but they’re harder because my knees hurt even worse than they did then, and I’m trying to help the child soldiers around me to not get killed… well, you get the picture. People and dogs who love me wake me out of the dreams and comfort me.

The other one is similar, but worse by orders of magnitude. Back in combat, check. Same age as in real life, check. Only in this dream the war is here. Here. Missouri. America. The United States. And… it’s real combat. Americans against Americans.  Not small Asians, but large, well fed, well armed Americans, at least at the start.  They don’t stay well fed – our food, water, and electricity delivery systems will collapse quickly and abruptly if serious war starts here.

People, I don’t know how to express this to you: we do not want to do this. Bringing war to the United States again will be a much worse idea than it was in 1861. There are more people. We are less able to feed ourselves. Most of us don’t even have direct access to water. We don’t want to do this. We really, really don’t want to do this. There are absolutely no words for how horrible war is.


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A Repairman Looks At Weather

Every time something happens on earth – every action, every thought, every motion living and dead – energy powers it.  Energy drives everything.

Friends make fun of me from time to time when I make these basic, blindingly obvious observations out loud and seem to think that they are profound.  But I do think that is profound.  Whatever observable thing happens in front of you, you can understand it in terms of energy.  And it’s not that hard.  Maybe I’ll explain it in another essay.  For now, it’s just a statement of fact to build on.

The same can be said of everything that happens in the universe, but tonight we’re on earth.

The label “global warming” represents or names a continuing human made process, the capture and storage of additional energy in the system which is Earth.  teapotYou.  Me.  Chica here in my lap. My laptop.  The frogs singing in the yard.  The mouse annoying me behind my stove.  Air. Water. Bugs. Rocks and dirt.  Everything there is around you.  We are adding energy to all of that. I’m stating as a fact the following:  We have increased and continue to increase the total amount of energy stored in the terrestrial system, meaning planet Earth, everything on it, and its atmosphere.

People tend to make it complicated, but it’s really quite simple.  It is not about the air, or the water, or the weather, or the cars and trucks, or the carbon dioxide.  We have added energy.  From there the  laws of thermodynamics govern what happens.  The laws of thermodynamics are inescapable; the laws of thermodynamics work all the time every time in every situation we know of so far or have managed to imagine.   We use the actions these laws describe to cook our food, heat our homes, move our cars and stop them, fly our airplanes, generate our electricity – the laws of thermodynamics are among the most fundamental principles of the layer of reality we live in, the visible layer above quantum mechanics.


One of the ways these wonderful laws show themselves in nature is through weather.  Things get hot, things get cool, energy inevitably moves from hot to cold and moving energy does work.  Moving energy makes stuff happen.  The more energy moves and the faster it moves, the more stuff happens.

The sun shines (radiates energy) on the world, but not evenly all over all at once. Where sunshine hits the air the air gets warmer. Hot air doesn’t weigh as much as cool air, so it floats up and gets even thinner, and thick air expands into the space where the air got thinner and we call that “wind.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Global warming doesn’t cause wind.  This was already happening before we increased the amount of available energy.  There has been weather on Earth for as long as we’ve had an atmosphere.  The sun has always provided energy.

Various things happen when energy moves around through the atmosphere.  And move it must.  Move is what energy does.  Wind blows, as described above.  Water evaporates. Water condenses.   All the free energy in the system, current energy from the sun and energy stored here locally, contributes to the stirring of the atmosphere / hydrosphere.  Energy stirs the air and water.

lightningThere is more energy in the system now than there was yesterday. We call it heat and measure it with a thermometer, but heat is just energy in one of its many avatars. Yesterday there was more energy stored on Earth than last week. Last week there was more than in 1900.  By 1830 there was already measurably more energy in the system than there had been in the previous, oh, ten thousand or so years.  Energy makes weather.  More energy makes fancier weather.

More energy makes bigger faster rain.  More water moving from down to up, up to down, faster.  100 year floods every few weeks.

Ten feet of water flood nearly 20 percent of the neighborhood throughout the city of Minot, N.D., leaving more than 4,000 homes inundated by flooding, June 25. With the Souris River expected to crest, city official scramble to implement a recovery strategy hoping to endure the high water preventing the loss of thousands of homes already damaged by flooding. At eight feet above major flood stage, the water appears to be leveling off.
Ten feet of water flood nearly 20 percent of the neighborhood throughout the city of Minot, N.D., leaving more than 4,000 homes inundated by flooding, June 25. With the Souris River expected to crest, city official scramble to implement a recovery strategy hoping to endure the high water preventing the loss of thousands of homes already damaged by flooding. At eight feet above major flood stage, the water appears to be leveling off.

We need a new name for them.  Maybe we should call them “water” and either move out of the river or live on floatable houses.  If we move we have to move completely out of all the river, as defined by the highest historic high water line wherever it is.  Because the river is going up to that highest high water line more often than it used to, and it’s always gone there.  That’s how the high water line got there.   Living in a fixed house below the highest high water line was never a real good plan, but it’s gotten worse.   floating-housePeople all over the eastern half of the continent, and especially in Louisiana, used to live in floatable houses. Or houses on stilts.  Houses that worked just fine if the river was running through the yard.  Time to get back to that.  We’re not this stupid.

More energy makes faster winds.  Warmer warms.  Colder colds.  Free energy doesn’t sit around.  It moves from here to there, doing work along the way.  Higher pressures and lower.  It could not be any other way.  The laws of thermodynamics say so.

It is the least informed question imaginable to ask if this or that weather event was “caused by” global warming.  Of course.  Of course not.  This isn’t a junior high school debating society. All weather always, since the earth has had an atmosphere, is caused by all the available energy in the system.  It is that simple.  It is not God’s breath.  Energy makes every thing that happens, happen. We have added energy to the system.

There may be no more important set of facts for 21st century literate well fed humans to internalize than the facts of energy and weather.

Here is how it looks from here:  We have two sides of a an incomplete conversation about global warming.  One side is either lying (the rich ones) or believes in magic.  The other side (the Better Guys, in my opinion) is talking about putting up solar panels and inventing self-driving cars. Which is all well and good, but it is not going to have any short term positive effect. Long term positive effect, yes, but it won’t help the next few decades much. The reason we need to do something now is for humans not yet born. We are borrowing this planet from them.

The humans already here have made our (electrified waterbed) bed and we’re going to sleep in it. We need to start making serious short term plans how we’re going to live with what’s already done. If you just think about what is actually happening out there, the continuing capture and storage of additional energy, it is obvious that even significant changes right now won’t prevent, for instance, a massive rearrangement of where our coast lines are. 092915miamibeachfloodingmichaelspearsphotoThe molecules are already in the atmosphere and they capture energy. We are still adding to them. We can’t stop it or even cut it down drastically all at once. We are acting like people who have jumped off a bridge and don’t believe they’re going to hit that water. Why aren’t we discussing the everyday reality of what is happening around us?

Most Americans of average intelligence are capable of understanding the basic principles at work here. Few do. Why is that?  The laws of thermodynamics are easier to learn than the rules of football, and many Americans know the rules of football.

Football is unlikely to end civilization as it has been.

Under our current system there is no money in teaching people what I am talking about – basic reality.  So nobody does it.  The current American social theory is that everything worth doing is worth doing for money.  I don’t agree. Reality is relatively important.  Reality matters.  It may even matter as much as who wins the Super Bowl.

We are going to have to live with  global warming weather.  It would be good to adapt to it, but adapt or no we’re living with it.  It’s the only weather we have.  Right now. Global warming weather is the only weather that there will ever be, from a human perspective.  Global warming weather is not a threat, it is our everyday reality.

Summer thunderstorms here in northwest Missouri are stronger than they used to be.  No, they’re not all read-it-in-the-news storms, but we routinely get storms like last night.  Flash flood warnings. Rescuers pulling people out of their cars in Kansas City.  At least one car fully submerged in the street.  This was just a new normal regular late August thunderstorm in a hilly town.  Yes, that storm always could have happened.  Energy is like that.  It goes where it must, and sometimes a whole lot of it winds up in one place, and Hoo Hah! Gully Washers! Rip Snorters!  Only now it’s almost every storm.  Then when you get what would in the old days have been your Gully Washer, things get out of hand and everybody sees it on the TV.  Then they go back to the baseball game.  Or to Election 2016 The Movie.  Or maybe they get evacuated to a shelter somewhere.

What I mean by adapting, is we need to change our lives so that these storms don’t destroy our homes and kill us.  The storms aren’t going away.  “We’re brave.  We’re tough. We’ll rebuild.” Wrong. Every time a town washes away everybody acts surprised.  Meaning no offense, but it’s not a surprise. Which town washed away may be a surprise, but the fact that we lost another one is not. I find the pretense offensive.

I’m not kidding about building floating houses.  Move completely out of the river, or build a floating house, or quit asking for my money when it rains. It is not stopping. Accept that the only way to measure any river anywhere is by its maximum extent. If you live within a river’s maximum extent you are going to get water in your house.  Many rivers’ former highest high water line is obsolete.  Gotta move farther than that.  Or float.  I’m tired of disaster area declarations for easily foreseeable events.  That wasn’t a disaster; that was a rainstorm.  That’s what they are like now.

I’ll help you fix your problem.  I don’t mind my tax money helping to foot the bill – we’re all Americans and ought to be in this together.  However, I’m tired of helping you not fix it. Everybody out of the river. All the rivers. Start tomorrow. Or build a floating house. shantboatPeople were still living in floating houses in the United States in living memory. We quit it fifty years ago so now it’s impossible? Why?

Sea level rise is not going to happen at 3.728 cm / yr, or any other stupid average number. One day you’ll be above water, one day under.  The water will recede for a while. It will come back. This is the New Normal. Let’s get real.

We need to have a realistic discussion of what we might do about it. We can’t stop it. Do we want to do anything?  Maybe it’s best to assume that at least some humans will survive no matter what happens, and go with what we’ve got.  Ride it out.  I don’t know what’s coming.  Neither does anybody else.  But we’ve never known what was going to happen next.  The invisibility of the future didn’t start just because we heated up the planet, so… just go with it?  But if that’s what we’re going to do I’d like to hear somebody admit it. The moment somebody says, Roll back emissions to [any year except 1800] levels you know that person is not serious. Or doesn’t understand the principle. As long as we keep adding certain molecules, with carbon being the best known one, to the atmosphere faster than they go away, we are going to continue to capture more of the energy that falls on us from the sun. Heat is energy in one of its commonly observed forms. So the world is getting warmer.

If we want to do anything that might have a perceptible effect it must be drastic and it must be directed to the point of reducing new energy capture and storage.   Energy is the issue. Stored solar energy. This isn’t about carbon dioxide.  Or cow flatulence, although virtually all 9 year old boys like to talk about it.  Blacktop roads capture energy.  Parking lots too.  I believe that any realistic discussion is going to require a willingness to give up cars as we know them, totally, forever.  Almost all transportation will have to be on trains; they are simply the most efficient option we have.  I have some ideas about local transportation but I’ll save them for now.

If we continue to live by any of the norms of today, from sports cars to supertankers to skyscrapers, we are going to continue to accelerate global warming.  The sun has a lot of energy.  We keep thinking up new ways to capture and store it.  The more we store the more exciting life here is going to get.

We can’t stop global warming or prevent it.  Global warming is here, the energy is here, the enhanced energy capture/storage system is here.   It would not be too great a stretch to say that humanity has never faced an equivalent challenge.  It would be good if everyone who can do so learns what is going on here so that we can bring all the intelligence in America into this conversation.  This is too big a deal to be left to a handful of self-selected experts, no matter how well intentioned.

Or not.

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A Conservative Person

After listening to me rant about the madness of Conservatives in America, my VA psychiatrist quietly said, “You are conservative. Very conservative.”

After I spluttered and gasped for a while, I thought about what he said.  He was absolutely right.

I live in a modest house.  I drive a modest car at modest speeds.  I obey traffic laws, including speed limits, as a matter of course.

I do not wear flamboyant clothes.  I dress for comfort and utility.  My needs are modest and easily satisfied.  I am warm, well fed, and comfortable.  I see no reason to pursue wealth or fame for their own sakes.

I take responsibility for my own actions.  I dispose of my trash where trash belongs and return as much of it as possible for reuse.  I prefer not to waste.

I am somewhat resistant to change, especially change for no reason except It’s New! Improved!

I proudly claim my state’s long time motto: I am from Missouri. You will have to Show Me.  I am not easily swayed by fancy words; I require evidence.

I ruined my first marriage.  I take responsibility for helping this one to succeed.  It is succeeding.  This makes my happy.

Although I often fail, it is always my objective to address other people with at least a modicum of courtesy, and to reason rather than insult in discussions.

I give of what I have to those who have less.

I try to live by my religious beliefs and leave others to do the same.

I do not think that humans are perfectable.  I think that each of us is forever flawed and can only do our best with what we have.

I believe that the United States Constitution is sufficient to provide the framework for a workable, liveable republic.  I don’t think it is the only framework that could work, but it’s the one we have, and we’ve been trying to operate under it for a long time, and I think it is overall satisfactory and should continue to be our framework.  I can think of a couple ways it might be amended to improve its function, but not unless or until some semblance of sanity and meaning becomes again ascendant in our nation’s political life.

I believe that many problems can be solved, or at least ameliorated, but that solving or addressing them requires clear thought and reasoned discussion.

I recognize that, for at least 300 years, since the early works of Isaac Newton, humans have used a structured thought process which we call “science” in a serious, ongoing attempt to understand the world and universe we live in and thereby to improve our lot within it.

I believe that language is the fundamental tool which allows for humanity to flourish, and that honesty and courtesy are the twin lubricants which enable us to work and live together.  But no, honesty does not require that you tell your wife she looks fat in that dress.  That is the “courtesy” part.  We conservative people know that extremes are very dangerous.

I believe that perfection is an unattainable goal.  All things, all people, all constructs, all ideas are forever and inevitably imperfect.  Only the universe is perfect, because by existence it defines perfection.  This entire paragraph outlines an assumption; I can’t prove any of it.

That said, I seek perfection in the things that I do, comfortable in the knowledge that when I fall short I will have the very best I am capable of.

I am a conservative person.

That is why I am so outraged by this thing in America that has taken the title of Conservatism to itself.  Or sometimes “Movement Conservatism”.

Movement Conservatives are agitating for a Constitutional Convention.  The foundation document on which the United States has been based since its inception is not good enough for them.  They want to throw it out and change it.

I could end this essay right here, although I’m not going to.  Real conservative humans oppose needless change, change for no reason.  These people have the unmitigated gall to call themselves Conservatives and yet they propose to throw away the very foundation on which 250 years of Americans have built a reasonably functional republic.  Whatever they are they are not conservative.  There has never been a more radical proposition.

People who claim to be Conservatives want to inject their religion into the governance of the United States of America and into the governance of the various States therein.  This would be a change as radical as when the Puritans departed England to create a theocratic society on a continent then occupied by other people.  It wasn’t an accident that this experiment resulted in, among other things, so-called witches being burned and drowned.  It was inevitable.  It is the absolute opposite of conservative to be advocating such madness today.

Conservative people are satisfied with enough.  Warm, well fed, educated, and left alone, a conservative person will go on with his and her life largely unnoticed, accomplishing those things which matter to him or her.  The Koch brothers are not conservative.  They are radical anarchists, using their vast, largely inherited wealth in an attempt to destroy the government of the United States because it imposes modest limitations on their ability to acquire ever more money and power.

Paul Ryan is not conservative.  I don’t know what motivates him, although he does proudly proclaim his fealty to fiction writer Ayn Rand and her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.  If you have never read it, Atlas Shrugged is an unabashedly anarchist novel in which the Good Guys, at the end, create a non-governed Utopia where everybody just does good and treats each other fairly without any rules or umpires and life is perfect.  In its own way it is similar to Karl Marx’s fictional Worker’s Utopia.  Marx, too, predicted that under his proposed system the State would “wither away.” That one didn’t work either.  Ryan is an anarchist attempting to destroy the United States government.  Unlike the Koch brothers it’s not obvious what he has to gain by it.  I suspect, but do not know, that he believes if he destroys our republic the Kochs and their ilk will reward him handsomely.  If I were him I wouldn’t bet anything I couldn’t afford to lose on it.

When I was in high school I thought Atlas Shrugged was pretty cool.  It is the sort of simplistic Utopian slush that appeals to young people, people who are first trying out independent thinking but have not yet found out how complex the real world is.  For Paul Ryan, as the third highest elected official in The United States of America, to still advocate such childishness is embarrassing.  To be conservative is to be realistic.

There’s a Senator from Florida, a previous presidential candidate named Marco Rubio.  He’s a theocracy fan, advocating one particular offshoot of Christianity. Or no, I think he was going to two conflicting churches at once.  Something.  I can’t keep up with other people’s religions and don’t particularly care to try, but when Marco gets in front of a TV camera his religion comes bubbling out.  It would be acceptable if he wasn’t trying to run a non-sectarian country.  But he is.  He claims to be a Conservative.  Somebody asked him recently if his party should acknowledge the reality of science.  He replied that he didn’t think he was qualified to answer that question.

Marco. We’ve been doing science for 300 years.  It’s not a new thing.  Us conservative people like stuff that’s been around a while and been proved useful.

I could call out each of them by name.  Ted Cruz wants a government which forces all Americans to live by the dictates of his particular (different from Marco’s) extreme interpretation of Christianity.  Mitch McConnell is a flamboyant phony who will tell you on Monday that Black is White, on Tuesday that it is Green, on Wednesday that it is Orange, and on Thursday that he never mentioned black or any color.  The only saving grace is that he doesn’t work on Friday.

Theocratic Conservatives go to a bunch of different churches.  While there is some overlap, the only important thing they agree on is the name.  They call themselves Christians.  But since they can’t agree on the theology, if they get religion included in our laws and government it’s likely to turn out ugly, with one group after another being the current witch to burn. Shia’a. Sunni. Amish. Methodist. Catholic.  And of course the eternal scapegoat, Jew.  I prefer to conserve the traditional American way: no state sanctioned religion. It is a system that has served us reasonably well for a long time now.  I am, as I said, a conservative person.

All I’m going to say here about the economic lunacy which currently masquerades as Conservative doctrine is that old-line Republican George Herbert Walker Bush was absolutely right about it: he took one look and said, “Voodoo economics.”  Big-C Conservative economic doctrine is just another example of their actual anarchy.  It is another tool in their project to destroy the functioning government of our republic.  For more on this Google “Kansas”.

These self-proclaimed Conservatives have no respect whatsoever for language or meaning.  Their most egregious affront to language, though, is calling themselves Conservative.  It is not just false, it is Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Jabberwocky crazy.

There is no inherent conflict between being conservative and being liberal.  The entire pretense that the two are opposites is as fake as all the rest of their positions.

Liberal means open minded, open to new ideas, given to mercy and kindness.  Conservative means modest living, thinking before you act, not changing things just to see them change.  Look before you leap.  The two characteristics actually go together quite well.

Now: I know that I can’t rehabilitate the word conservative.  Like awesome and gay it is forever changed.  We can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube.  I’m not pleased by it but I’m not that stupid, either.  This word is gone.  However, for just the next paragraph, for just these few seconds, I ask you to see that word and think of the conservative guy I described at the beginning, and think of the obsolete, dictionary meaning of the word conservative.

I submit that, if we are to solve any of our problems, the best way to do so would be to approach them in conservative ways with a liberal mindset.

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The Annotated Constitution

Being my annotation of the Constitution of The United States (original body before Amendments). Full text.

I hear a lot about the Constitution these days.  Mostly people fussing.  This or thatconstitution_image government action is unConstitutional.  So I thought maybe I ought to read it. The Constitution.  Fortunately it’s not that hard to find the full text on the internet.

Like most Americans I studied the Constitution in high school, kinda, but not really. We studied the Preamble, and – not much more.  Before I started this essay I don’t know that I had ever read the whole thing carefully. I never really read it like, for instance, I was going to focus one or more essays on it.

Do you know what the Constitution is? The Constitution, the base document before the addition of amendments, is a blueprint detailing the structure of the Unites States’ government.  No more and no less. We didn’t have a Federal government, so the same people who had led our decision to become independent from England and fought in the war to win that independence ten years before designed one on paper. And for good reason: Under the Articles of Confederation there was no clear national authority, and in the ten short years between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention it became obvious that wouldn’t work.

The Constitution begins with a Preamble, a brief explanation of why the Constitution should exist. For clarity, I will hold the Preamble until the end.

The first words of the body of the Constitution are as follows:

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.

There it is, America. The first sentence in the United States Constitution creates the United States Congress, and gives to it “All legislative power.”  Only Congress can make laws.  The people’s representatives are going to run this place.

Every thing that had ever been done in the name of these newly United States since our birth had been done by a Congress. The authors of the Constitution gathered in Congress to write it. It is only reasonable that, on forming their new government, they would make the Congress the seat of all national power. They did.

And believe it or not that truth still applies today. Congress runs the country. It is not obvious under current media norms, but Congress controls the country. They make the laws you see the President executing.

The Constitution next defines that Congress. First there is a House of Representatives:

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

Sec. 2 Par. 1 provides a couple things at once: Perhaps most important was that it granted (some) citizens – The People – the only voting power that the Framers thought common citizens were qualified to exercise, the right to vote for their Representative in the House. “Chosen… by the People…” There is no other Federal office for which the original Constitution prescribed popular vote. Paragraph 1 also grants the States unlimited power to say who among their citizens may cast that vote, by saying that whoever the State allows to vote for representatives to their State government may also vote for their Federal representative. “Electors” in this paragraph means “voters.”

You may have heard the House of Representatives referred to as “the People’s House.” It was literally the only body in the original Constitutional Federal government for which The People were allowed to vote.

Since it was 1787, each of the separate States at that time were 1780’s-era social and power structures. Only white men who owned property counted for anything. Voting qualifications boiled down to being white, male, and owning property. Real property. Land. Besides leaving out the female half of the white race and all members of all other races, these early distinctions even left out most white males. Wealthy white guys got to vote. Nobody else. Voting qualifications have been a problem for most of the people of the United States for all of our history. As a nation we have addressed this issue with Amendments and legislation. The sore still festers.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The lined-through portion of par. 3 was superseded or made moot by the 13th Amendment, submitted January 31st, 1865 and ratified December 6th that same year. Amendments will be in a separate article.

Three fifths of who?  Oh… slaves.   Of course. The Constitution as written did, in more than one way, provide for and guarantee for at least 20 years the continued existence and operation of slavery in the new United States of America. This is not some nefarious proof that the founders were racists; it is a tacit admission that the Constitution could not be ratified without some slave states voting for it. There weren’t enough free states to ratify. There were some interesting ramifications: the slave-holding South got a numerical advantage in the House (but not in the Senate) equal to 3/5 of a population they were simultaneously saying were not human and therefore were exempt from all the nice things the Declaration of Independence said about “inalienable rights” and stuff. This topic surfaces again later in the Constitution.

Paragraph 3 continues:

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

So the original House of Representatives had 65 members. Today the House has 435 members. It might be more unwieldy at 435 than it was with 65.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Americans have come to toss the word “impeachment” around carelessly, but the power to impeach any national public official resides solely in The House of Representatives. Given how clearly the rules of impeachment and trial are spelled out in the Constitution, the widespread public misunderstanding of the concept does not speak well of the People of the United States as regards their qualifications for self government.

Continuing with Article 1, next we’ll build a Senate:

Section. 3.

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Notice what’s going on here: the States as distinct entities were equally powerful in the new Federal government as the people in the aggregate. The House belonged to the people, and the Senate belonged to the States.  This constituted a great increase in the power of the people and a reduction in the power of States, since under the Articles of Confederacy each state had one vote in Congress; there was no People’s House. Under the new Constitution each State would have 2 votes in one house of Congress, as a State, and representatives of the citizenry had from one to ten votes per state in the other house. The Senate, as designed, was elected by the State legislatures, which were in turn elected by The People*. The Framers of the Constitution were of the opinion that the emotions of the mob had to be damped down and smoothed over by the considerations of sensible men who made a profession of being leaders of society. The Framers didn’t trust the mob. They weren’t trying to construct a democracy. They were constructing a republic. The People could not even vote for their Senators. The People chose their State legislatures and their Federal Representative. Their State legislature selected their Senators.

*Land-owning white men.

The right of the people to elect their Senators directly came with the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913.

The Senate exists to provide small states with equal voice and power in half the Congress to larger, more populous states. Tiny Rhode Island and Delaware got the same two Senators as behemoths Virginia and Pennsylvania. This is clearly not an accident. Forget that “one man, one vote” garbage.

Prior to the ratification of this Constitution each State was a totally independent, sovereign entity. The national government, which consisted solely of a Congress, had no power of any kind over the states. The nation could not tax the states. The nation could not require any state nor any individual citizen within any state to do or not do anything whatsoever. The United States were, prior to this Constitution, more States than United, as independent as the nations of Europe prior to the creation of the European Union. Representatives of the States in the Constitutional Congress were negotiating away a great deal of autonomy here, and State legislatures were going to have to vote to ratify. There were limits to what was possible.

The Senate and other provisions of this Constitution must be understood within this context.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.

The lined out parts were changed by amendment 17, ratified April 8th, 1913. Senators now face the voters directly.

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate President Pro Tempore technically runs the Senate. He calls it to order and pounds the gavel.  However, unlike the Speaker in the House, the President Pro Tem isn’t the most powerful person in the Senate (although he is a Very Hot Shot).  The President Pro Tem is the “Mr. President”  that Senators address their speeches to  – they’re not talking to the President of the United States.

The Senate Majority Leader is the most powerful person in the Senate.  This is rooted in the Constitutional power for both Houses to make their own Rules for their Proceedings.

Next come the rules for trials of Impeachments.  Although words get tossed around carelessly today, to be “impeached” is not to be removed from office. Impeachment is simply the filing of charges against a public official, and like all charges envisioned under the Constitution these charges must be resolved by trial.  Under our system the House Impeaches (files charges) and the Senate holds the trials.  As follows:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Impeachment and conviction does not, and cannot, result in any punishment other than loss of office and disqualification to hold office in the future. Impeachment does not result in jail. Ever. However, after impeachment the former office holder is just a regular citizen and can be tried and punished for the same crime if society and the courts so choose. Impeachment and subsequent indictment and trial for the same crime are exempt from the “double jeopardy” provisions of the Constitution.

Section 4 of Article 1 provides some general rules establishing how the Congress (both houses) will operate from year to year and  day to day.  These basic rules and definitions are mostly followed without much question or even thought for their existence. It’s like this part is simply in our national DNA.  With one exception mentioned later.

Section. 4.

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

Paragraph 1 continues the provision that States will hold elections, rather than any Federal election authority.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

Congress must meet at least one day each year. One day. Every year. At least.

Section. 5.

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members,

The States hold the elections but each House has judging authority over their own members’elections and qualifications.

The paragraph continues:

and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

In the eyes of the Framers, being a Congressman (only men) was not only an honor, it was an obligation, like being a soldier. When the battle starts you can, in fact, be forced to show up.

One of the problems the United States had under the Confederation was that States could not be compelled to send representatives to Congress. There were periods when even the smallest jobs of a Federal government, like paying the soldiers who fought for its existence, could not be done because States would not attend Congress.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

If you’re one of the people who doesn’t understand why Filibusters (technically, that would be refusal to cut off debate) aren’t unConstitutional even though they are not mentioned by name or even concept in the Constution, here it is: The members of the Senate long ago made that Rule for their Proceedings, and the Constitution gave them that specific right.  To make their own rules. The Senate rules give a relatively large amount of power to the minority by requiring 2/3 majority to do various things. Like cut off debate and vote on some bill or other. 

People whose parties are in the Senate majority often complain bitterly about the Senate Rules. Everybody knows the majority rules, says the majority, except it doesn’t exactly. Not in the United States of America.  Preventing simple majority rule is the reason the Senate exists, and this objective is further insured by the Senate Rules.  And one of the rules is that it’s really hard to change the Rules.  This is probably the greatest defense the United States has had against the Tyranny of the Majority and has its historic root in the same era as John Stewart Mill’s essay.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

If you want to participate in self government as is expected of voting citizens in a republic, you go and read the journals of Congress and find out whether your Representative or Senator is acting according to your interests. That’s the whole idea here.

The Journals can be found online. In a fully functioning republic there would be no need for Congress members to “campaign” for office; the Journals of the respective Houses contain all the relevant information that voters need to make a decision.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

Pretty self explanatory. Neither half of Congress can do anything at all without the other, so neither half can just go home or leave while the others are working.

The fact that these men, in Congress in Philadelphia in the heat of summer, 1787, felt it necessary to make detailed rules so that Congress absolutely had to show up and govern, is testament to just how bad it had been trying to be a country without a national voice.

Section. 6.

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

We’ll pay them, that says, and unless they do something Really Bad we can’t arrest them while they’re attending a session of their respective House or on their way to or from. And they can say Any Thing They Please and nobody can do anything about it – except they themselves, acting as our Congress, as provided for in their own rules.

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

Members of Congress can’t double dip the Federal Government. At least not out in full public view.

Article 1 is the longest Article of the Constitution, because Congress is the core of the government. However, the President, although he cannot write or vote on legislation, does have the power to require Congress to get 2/3 majorities in both Houses in order for legislation to become law. Section 7 defines the rules by which Congress and the President will interact in the creation of law for the new nation.

Section. 7.

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

This is known as the Origination Clause: Only in the People’s House, the directly elected House, can taxes be created. If a tax law can’t be introduced in the House it can’t be introduced at all.

This is one of the reasons why any House can block virtually every suggestion or request from any President. If a President might honestly say to the people, I want you to build a [this] for our country and we can get the money from [this tax], the House would have the designed power to say, No. Unfortunately the public conversation is rarely this straightforward.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Sec. 7 Par. 2 gives the President the obligation to look at every single bill Congress passes, and the power to either approve or disapprove it. If he doesn’t approve he must tell them why. If the President doesn’t approve of a bill Congress can still pass it, but they must get 2/3 of both Houses rather than a simple majority. The ultimate power still lies with Congress but the President can require a higher level of agreement among them.

Presidential Signing Statements, although they seem intended to somehow amend or attach limitations to some law the President is signing, have no Constitutional existence. Presidential Signing Statements have no power, no meaning, and no effect. The President, like all citizens of the United States, has a Constitutional right to express his opinion, but such an expression has no effect on the bill he signs. One assumes that Presidents and Congresses are aware of this fact. I find presidential signing statements to be an objectionable bit of theater intended to deceive the public about what has actually just transpired.

When a President signs a law, that law is the law. Every word of it. Regardless of anything the President says while signing it.  Whether or not the Congress that passed it has any clue what words are in it.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

No matter what the Congress passes, except for their own adjournment, it must be signed by the President or otherwise repassed by two-thirds of both Houses in order to take effect, be it even a resolution complimenting some citizen for some action.

Article I Section 8 grants specific powers exclusively to Congress:

Section. 8.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

That’s it, America.  Congress has all the power. Congress runs the show. In particular, Congress has sole and absolute control over deficit spending. Only Congress can borrow money; only Congress can write and collect taxes; only Congress can spend (appropriate) money. Presidents cannot make deficits; presidents cannot fix deficits. Blaming Presidents for deficits (or giving them credit for balanced budgets) is a primary falsehood, also known as a bald-faced lie.

Look at all the different things Congress is given power over in that one paragraph alone – and that’s just the beginning.  The Constitution says Congress will lay the taxes, collect the taxes, and pay the debts. (Congress made the debts and Congress is responsible for paying them. Another clear statement.)  Congress will provide for the general Welfare and the common Defense. Lots of nouns with capital letters. Americans tend to attach a great deal of power to the President, but he’s just doing Congress’s leg-work for them.

Congress created the Internal Revenue Service and told the President to oversee its operation.  The same with every other agency in the Executive Department. Every single one. EPA. OSHA. FCC. FDA. All of them. The President can’t create or abolish agencies. Everything you have ever heard that some President did, from freeing the slaves to passing Social Security, was done by Congress. Without exception. The President who gets the credit is the one who made the request, but if Congress had refused the request nothing would have happened.

Whenever a person running for President says, “I will do…” such-and-such, what that candidate is really saying is that as President she or he will ask Congress to do that thing.  Congress might do it. They might not.

In order for any President’s agenda to become reality that President must have a Congress which shares his goals and objectives.

Congress has been in business for over 200 years.  Every year Congress makes some new laws.  If they don’t make enough laws people make fun of them and call them a “Do-Nothing Congress.”

Who decides what constitutes Enough Laws?  Well, in this day, the people who can afford to own TV stations mostly decide what constitutes enough laws. And which laws have to be among the Enough. Theoretically that would be The People’s job, but – well, it gets complicated here. It has always been the case that some people were in a position or had the ability to persuade other people, and… like I said, it’s complicated. More on that some other day.

And every law that Congress makes, the President is required by the Constitution to enforce or put into action.  You’ll see that later on in the document.  But that’s how it works: Congress says to the President, “Do this.” and the President does it.  But it’s not this year’s Congress that gets to tell the President what to do.  This year’s Congress is less than one percent of the cumulative Congressional instructions to the President.  All 200+ years of Congress have their own bits in there, and the President is responsible to all of them.

And every additional law the President has to enforce gives him just a little more power over day to day life in the United States.  He started out with very little, as we will see later in this document.

We’re suffocating under the weight of over 200 years of accumulated laws.

The section continues:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

Presidents don’t make trade agreements. Congresses make trade agreements. Presidents do the talking to foreign nations but Congress has the final say on any agreement the President negotiates. It is Congress’s Constitutional duty to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations.

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

As it turned out before George Washington’s first term as President was over, Congress wasn’t able to handle the task of coining and regulating the value of money.  Alexander Hamilton, Federalist icon and first Secretary of the Treasury, saw the need for, and laid the foundations for, a Central Bank that ultimately evolved into the Federal Reserve system.

And in spite of all that, the paragraph still resides in the Constitution.  It is not one that has been reversed under amendment.  Technically it is still in force.

Exactly to what extent do you want to go back to living under the exact, literal Constitution?  Are you absolutely certain that you’re smarter than Alexander Hamilton and all the other government treasurers in the history of capitalism in the entire world?  I don’t understand central banking, frankly, although it would be an interesting subject of study, but there is one thing I do know: there is not an industrialized nation on Planet Earth without a Central Bank. I’m willing to follow that lead.

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

Isn’t this cool? Somehow or other we’ve semi-privatized the Post Office and reached the place where elected Congress persons and their corporate owners snivel and whine because they have to “subsidize” it, while in fact the establishment of Post Offices is one of Congress’s clear, specific Constitutional responsibilities.  Funny, ain’t it?

Of course, the Framers didn’t say Congress had to provide for operating the Post Offices. Just establish them.  You suppose that was Original Intent?  I doubt it.

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Patents and copyrights draw their legitimacy directly from the Constitution

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Only Congress has the power to declare war.  And only Congress has the power to make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.  Notice that the Constitution doesn’t differentiate between Prisoners of War and Enemy Combatants.  Those people in the United States’s prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are, in fact, under our Constitution, not as Citizens but as Captures.  Congress has a clear Constitutional obligation to resolve (make Rules concerning) their status.  Anybody taking odds?  I’m betting the poor suckers all die there,

The President is the Commander in Chief but he does not have the power to declare war nor to decide what to do with people or items we capture. This is one of at least a few (apparently intentionally) somewhat contradictory and seriously fuzzy and vague parts of the Constitution as written.  I’m 69 years old as of this writing and no Congress has declared war in my lifetime. And I’m a disabled combat veteran.  Most confusing.

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

The framers of the Constitution did their best to prevent the creation and maintenance of a standing Army in their free new nation. They made sure Congress could only fund the Army for two years at a stretch.  Oh well.  Nice try, fellas.

To provide and maintain a Navy;

It is interesting to note that Congress didn’t foresee a permanent standing Army – land forces – but they knew the nation would need a permanent standing Navy.

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

The laws which govern the actions of our Armed Forces – laws against torture, for instance – were not created by any President. Congress passes laws in general, and Rules governing and regulating our armed forces in particular, per their assigned duties under the Constitution.

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

We had an insurrection going on when I first wrote this, armed men in possession of Federal property in Oregon. Congress was shirking their Constitutional duty to suppress the insurrection. All eyes were on the President to do something. Not his job.

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

“Militia” is another word which is used incorrectly almost without exception in modern America. It is not correct that any group of semi-organized armed men is a Militia. Our Constitution clearly provides that Congress will organize, arm, and discipline the Militia. 

States will train the Militia, recalling that as of the Constitution’s writing each State was a fully functioning nation-state. States will train the Militia according to discipline prescribed by Congress.

Any group not organized, armed, and disciplined by Congress, and trained by States according to regulations from Congress, is not a Militia. A group of armed thugs does not constitute a Militia whatever they may say.

This is important today because the Second Amendment references a Militia. Article I Section 8 Paragraph 15 specifically defines that Militia.

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

This paragraph is where Washington, D.C. came from.  It was created out of whole cloth by the United States Constitution, in cooperation with Maryland and Virginia, largely because Congress’s predecessors met in Philadelphia, and in 1783 they got run out of town by a mob of angry Revolutionary War Veterans demanding their back pay.  The governor of Pennsylvania basically said to the Congress, “Tough. The Vets are right,” and refused to defend them. Congress had no power over States. So they included in the Constitution a place where they were undisputed boss and wouldn’t have to count on some state government to keep angry citizens at bay.

Oh, did somebody tell you that somehow this administration is the first one or the worst one in history to rip off veterans? That practice is literally older than the Constitution of the United States of America, and that’s just speaking of events around here. Ripping off veterans is as old as war.

This paragraph, Article I Section 8 par. 16, has been used by certain groups as a justification for their claim that the United States has no Constitutional authority to own land except as specified here. The Constitutional provision regarding national ownership of land can be found in Article IV Sec 3 Par 2 and specifically refutes their claim.

Continuing with Article I Section 8, Congress’s Constitutional duties and powers:

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

That last is a thousand horsepower fudge factor.  It is one of the provisions of the Constitution that has created the most quibbling. And court cases.

Congress has the power (and in fact responsibility) “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.”  So what constitutes necessary and proper?  Well, Congress and the Supreme Court have argued about that many times and will undoubtedly continue to.  It’s fuzzy. It’s fuzzy on purpose. These guys (the Framers) weren’t fools; they knew that they couldn’t foresee the future, so they left Americans over time to decide what they needed. And to recurrently point at each other and shout, “That’s UnConstitutional!”  

Article I Section 9

Moving right along, then, Section 9 of Article 1 opens with the following:

Section 9.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Once again the Framers of the Constitution managed to avoid the word “Slaves” or “Slavery”, but that’s what this section is about:  Meeting in 1787, and hoping to have their new Constitution ratified by 1788, the Framers provided directly in said Constitution that the importation of slaves could not be prohibited by law for at least 20 years.  But, in a gesture filled with the milk of human kindness, they did provide that they could put a ten-bucks-a-head tax on imported slaves. Which, by the way, they promptly did do.

Ten bucks was serious money in 1787.

This was, in a word that wouldn’t be coined for another hundred-plus years, an exercise in Realpolitik.  The Southern states weren’t going to ratify the Constitution if they weren’t guaranteed that they could continue to import slaves for at least 20 years.  And be given extra voting power equal to 3/5 of their slaves.  There were not enough non-slave states to ratify.  So: You want a Federal Government? Fine. I want my slaves. Live with it.

The remainder of Section 9:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

The privilege of Habeas Corpus is the right of a prisoner to be brought before a court and to demand that their imprisonment be justified. People will not be locked up without trial except in case of Rebellion or Invasion.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

A bill of Attainder is a law (act of a legislature) which declares some person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishes them, usually without trial. The internment of people of Japanese descent during World War II came perilously close to being a bill of Attainder. It appears that this Constitutional provision will be under threat again in 2017 with regard to Muslims.

An Ex Post Facto law is a law which makes a crime of some act which was not a crime when it was done. An example might be punishing a person for their handling of documents which would at some later date be classified. The Constitution specifically prohibits such law.

No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.

The crossed out section was removed by the 16th Amendment which, in 1913,  provided for individual income tax. Prior to that taxes applied to citizens of any State had to be directly proportional to the population of that State rather than the wealth or income of individual citizens.

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

Prior to the ratification of the Constitution, individual States could and did tax items coming from or going to other states.

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

A further clarification that member States were part of all one nation, and there would be no taxing provisions like those which were then common in international commerce.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

Congress is the only body within the United States which has the power to withdraw money from the Treasury. Only Congress can spend our money. And only Congress does spend our money.

Congress withdraws money from the Treasury through appropriations, a type of legislation. After Congress has appropriated money for some purpose the specific agency responsible for that purpose actually cuts the checks.

Congress’s money spending authority is tangled up with their general authority to make laws. Congress makes laws but they are not required by the Constitution to fund them.  Endless fun and finger-pointing for everyone results.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

It’s a shame. The Framers did their best to prevent the nation they were creating from becoming a hopeless pit of hereditary wealth and nobility on the one hand and grinding poverty on the other.  That, in a nutshell, was the Europe that white people were coming here to escape. They had no way to know that some day Billionaire would be a Title of Nobility, with Millionaire a Lesser Noble.  Getting Knighted by some King, Prince, or foreign State, meanwhile, is kind of like getting the Keys to the City. It’s nice, but it doesn’t really unlock any doors.  Rock and Roll musicians get titles of Nobility.

The Framers were careful to provide that no person involved in the United States Government could take anything of any value whatsoever from any King, Prince, or Foreign State.  Unfortunately, over the years and with the assistance (connivance?) of the Supreme Court it has come to pass that in fact members of Congress can accept gifts of unlimited size from the world’s modern nobility – as long as the gifts are given to keep them in office.  Oops.

The Framers just couldn’t foresee that Kings and Princes would one day become decorative paperweights while semi-stateless Billionaires and Millionaires whose fortunes float on worldwide oceans of money would become the real Nobility, the real ruling powers of the world. It is sad.

There is some question as to how this clause would be applied to a President who is also an international businessman who needs and gets favors from foreign governments. The plain language is clear; whether the current people in office have the honor to uphold their oaths to protect and defend this Constitution is less so.

Next the Constitution spells out some things which individual states may not do under the Constitution.  It’s all pretty straightforward and I’m not aware of any significant disagreement about any of it.

Section. 10.

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

Article II of The Constitution provides for an Executive branch, with the Executive bearing the title of President:

Article. II.

Section. 1.

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows

The following paragraph creates the Electoral College, still in operation today. I have heard dismay expressed about it.

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Constitution did not take any stance on whether the people should vote directly for the Electors who would select their President, instead giving the power to make that decision to the state legislatures. The widespread right of individual people to directly elect our Federal government was not a feature of the original Constitution.

The Electoral College was one of several devices within the Constitution awarding power to the individual states as entities separate from, and equally sovereign to, the citizenry, by associating the number of Electors with the combined number of a State’s Representatives and Senators.

I have read and heard statements claiming that the Electoral College was created for this or that specific reason; these statements cannot be proven from the text of the Constitution. There is no “why” statement associated with the paragraph creating the Electoral College.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

The previous, lined-out paragraph specified the means of electing the President and Vice President.  It didn’t work out at all and was superseded by the 12th Amendment, ratified in June of 1804. Two elections were held under the original Constitutional provision; the second one resulted in a deadlock.

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Although the states decide who selects (votes for) their Electors, Congress decides when, and by Constitutional provision, that day will be the same nationwide.

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

As originally written the Constitution didn’t define what constituted a natural born Citizen. It appears that the Framers thought reasonable men would agree on that point without further instructions.

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

The preceding lined-out paragraph was superseded by the 25th Amendment, ratified in February of 1967, providing a clearer path of succession as well as provisions for removing an incapacitated President from Office without Impeachment.

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

The President will get paid, and his pay will be neither cut nor increased while he is in office, and neither the nation nor any state may pay him any other money while he’s in office.  The Presidency is not a part time job.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

And the Presidential Oath of Office comes from right here:  No Bibles, no Korans, no holy books.  The Framers of the Constitution were above all that.  Just words spoken. Solemn words. Words matter. Or should.

It is interesting to note the phrase “Oath or Affirmation.” This phrase occurs elsewhere in the Constitution as well. The Framers of the Constitution were clear that there was no religious association with the affirmation that an office holder would be true to the Constitution. A man’s word was his bond; it was specifically not required that there be an Oath sworn on, by, or to any religious tradition or holy book. Reality has not mirrored the Constitution in this regard.

I wonder if there has ever been a President who wasn’t accused by some opponent or other of failing to carry out this oath. Not in my lifetime I don’t think.

Article II Section 2 provides specific delineation of the powers of the President:

Section. 2.

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States,when called into the actual Service of the United States;

Interesting way to put it. When the various Militia are not on active national duty he’s not their commander. Congress and the state governments are responsible for all militias unless they are called up, say like a National Guard unit sent to Iraq or something, at which time the President does command them.  Under the Constitution there can be no militia that is not under control of, and obedient to, the United States government. And whether and when that controlling entity is the President or the Congress is clearly spelled out. Not one of the fuzzy parts. States take direct command of militia during the times that the Congress is the Federal authority.

Section 2 paragraph 1 continues:

he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

This paragraph gives the President authority to make Treaties but requires two thirds of the Senate to ratify (Consent to) them.  I am not aware of much present or historic dispute regarding this shared power.

And here, too, is where we find the President’s authority to appoint various people to various jobs, and the Senate’s authority to Advise and Consent.  Prior to the Senate’s refusal to provide advice and consent to Barack Obama’s appointment to the Supreme Court for the final year of his term, I am not aware of any time this shared power has been abused by either branch of government. What we saw in 2016 and early 2017 could be viewed as a Senatorial Coup.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

This paragraph has become a trick or joke in the present day. The Framers failed to foresee jet aircraft travel, telephones, and the Internet.  And any respect the Framers had for the plain meaning of words is long vanished in today’s Senate and Supreme Court.  (And in virtually all public or commercial discourse in 21st Century America, sadly.)

Senate Recesses aren’t quite the same as they were envisioned by the Framers.

Section. 3.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;

The  annual State of the Union Speech is not, contrary to popular belief, quite required under the Constitution.  Just “From time to time.” And “information.” Frequency has varied. Most Presidents in the nation’s first hundred years or so didn’t go talk to Congress, they just sent them a written document.

Now, of course, it’s an annual television Docudrama, complete with at least one opposition “response”,  which the Framers never even considered.

Section 3 paragraph 1 continues:

he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper;

Presidents have, in the past, convened both Houses of Congress in order to request declaration of war.

The paragraph continues:

he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers;

The decision by the House of Representatives to directly receive Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was a clear violation of Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution. The language is plain. Only the President has the power to receive any member or representative of a foreign government.

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

The President shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed. There’s the entire cause and reason that the President of the United States appears to have so much power.  He has, explicitly, both the Constitutional power and a Constitutional obligation to see that the laws Congress enacts are faithfully executed.  All the laws.  All 200+ years worth. Every law gives him a little more power: he has the power, and the obligation, to make people do or not do whatever that new law says.  Of course, it’s absurd. No human being or administration can oversee whether 300+ million people are obeying 200+ years worth of legislation.  So he (whoever he might be, and maybe she someday too) tends to focus on enforcing the laws he or she cares about and assign underlings to look after the others. 

This provision is the source of Executive Orders. The President, as chief executive of the country, has the responsibility to enforce all laws. He has the power to give instructions to the agencies which Congress has created in order to specify how they are to enforce the laws.

You know all those permanent bureaucracies and unelected bureaucrats making rules that people complain about today? They were all created, authorized, and provision made for their appointments, by Congress. By law. By Congress making laws according to the Constitution.

So that’s how they did it.  That’s how we got where we are today.

Congress made this mess, and only Congress can fix it – but a few hot dogs can’t go swaggering in and say, in essence, “My way or the highway,” and expect to get results. Because the Framers of the Constitution guaranteed that a temporary majority – half of Congress plus one – couldn’t alter the United States in any drastic way.  The minority can’t make laws, but they have the intentional, original, Constitutional power to prevent laws. So it’s going to take some actual statesmen to fix the mess we’re in, and they are in short supply in today’s America.

Section. 4.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This paragraph specifies that the Congress’s power to impeach does in fact apply to impeaching the President or any other officer of the nation.

All in all it’s really not much, is it?  The President doesn’t have much enumerated power at all under the Constitution.

I mean, that’s a lot of stuff and a lot of work, but it’s almost ceremonial.  There’s no power there.  So How did the President of the United States get so powerful?

Congress gave him the the power.  One law at a time, one act at a time, one dodged obligation at a time, the Congress of the United States gave the President virtually all the real-world power he has today.

And it would not have been humanly possible to avoid it.  The more laws Congress passes, the more power the President has.  And the Constitution says so.

OK, so now the President has all these tens of thousands of specific assignments (and the included powers) from Congress, which actually still does run this country just as the Framers wished all along.

But later, some other Congress disagrees with the Congress that gave the President some particular assignment and power, and turns to the President and says What Are You Doing???  And, by the natural amplification of human society, a bunch of other people pick it up and scream it too – but – but – somebody passed these laws. Some Congress cared that, for instance, the air and water in the United States were getting to the point where a big majority of voters on both sides were scared of them. So Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts.  Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency. It didn’t grow out of the President’s evil fingertips. Look at China: people are afraid to go outside without masks. The Congress of the United States saved you from that fate and should be thanked.  I mean, if keeping the air breathable doesn’t fall under the heading of Providing for the General Welfare I don’t know what could. People were dying.  

Of course, some people still are. Dying. Dirty air kills far more Americans every year than terrorists do. But it’s still better than the air in Beijing.

And everything – absolutely everything that the President does was either specifically assigned to him by Congress, or slipped on his back by a cowardly Congress that wanted to duck responsibility.

I fought in an international squabble in Vietnam. I got seriously wounded, watched a bunch of friends die – all that. But we weren’t in a war, no sirree, because Congress was too chicken to do their jobs. So they neither declared war against North Vietnam nor tried to stay out of the fight. They passed The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and told Lyndon Johnson to go for it.

So Johnson took the fall, and a bunch of Congress people got to go tsk, tsk.  And the President got a little more power, forever.  Oops.

Every war since World War II has followed that exact same pattern, including the two or three we are still in today. (Are ISIS and Iraq separate wars, or two parts of the same one?)

Pretty near everything the President does today, Congress – some Congress – told him to do. Period.

Article III of the Constitution creates the Supreme Court, directs Congress to create lower courts if they saw fit, and places those lower courts (if any) in the Judicial Branch, the portion of the government that would hold Judicial Power.

Article III.

Section. 1.

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

Judges of the supreme Court and other Federal Courts shall hold their offices during Good Behavior (for life or until they voluntarily resign, unless impeached and convicted.) They shall be paid, and their pay shall not be cut while they are in office.  Unlike legislators, their pay can be raised while they are in office, since (also unlike legislators) they can’t vote themselves raises.

Section. 2.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State,—between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The courts have jurisdiction over pretty much everybody, everywhere, in any kind of lawsuit or criminal charge.  It’s worked pretty well, all things considered.

The Eleventh Amendment took away the court’s ability to hear suits against a state by citizens of another state or nation. Since the court can’t hear the suit it can’t be filed. People may not sue states other than the one where they reside, nor may foreign nations sue individual states.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction.

If an Ambassador, Public Minister or Consul, or state is called before a court, the Supreme Court is the only court which has jurisdiction.

In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Supreme Court is the final level of appeal in all cases, and has the power both to decide what the law says and what the facts are of any case, but the text states that Congress, the ultimate power in these United States, may enact legislation creating exceptions or regulations regarding to the court’s jurisdiction.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

The preceding paragraph is where Americans get the right to be tried by a Jury of our Peers and to be tried in the State where we are alleged to have committed a crime.

Section. 3.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Treason is specifically defined.  The definition is clarified by act of Congress under 18 USC 2381, but not significantly altered from the original Constitutional definition.

The punishment for treason is specifically limited to the generation of the individual charged and convicted. No Corruption of Blood – their kids can’t be punished or disenfranchised, or at least not by the government. Society may be less gracious.

I wonder if a bunch of armed bozos occupying a Federal bird refuge and threatening violence against Federal agents are “Levying war against [the United States.] I guess they’d better hope not.

Going to join ISIS or Al Qhooziz is definitely Treason.  No, wait… Congress hasn’t declared war.  Against anybody.  Nobody else can.  If we’re not at war against somebody can they be at war against us?  Very confusing.

Article IV of the Constitution can be thought of as the “We’re all one country” part.

Article. IV.

Section. 1.

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

If you sign a contract in one State that contract is binding in all States. If you are tried and acquitted of a crime in one State that acquittal is valid in all States. And so forth. In case of dispute, Congress (of course) is the arbiter.

Section. 2.

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

Paragraph 1 above has never, to the best of my knowledge, been taken literally nor enforced. Federal law applies equally in all states and federally applied rights and privileges do, but as far all “all Privileges and Immunities…” the states have a great deal of leeway as to how they can restrict their people’s freedoms. Just as one example, at the time of ratification of this Constitution citizens of some states were immune from being owned by other citizens but in other states these same citizens could be enslaved.

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

You can’t escape justice by fleeing from one State to another. Citizenship is national. However, in deference to the sovereignty of each State, there has to be intergovernmental formal contact between the two States before the fugitive is returned. Extradition is required by the Constitution but performed by the States. This same process is used by independent nations, as the US might ask Mexico to extradite a fugitive, and is another indication of how powerful States were prior to ratification, and indeed how powerful they still are today.

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Escaped slaves could be captured, even in free states, and taken by force back to their owners in slave states. All the other Constitutional gifts to slave states would have been weakened if slaves could escape to free states. This provision was another gift to slave states to encourage ratification. It was superseded by the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery..

I am not certain that all Americans today really approve of the 13th Amendment.

Article IV Section 3 provides for, and limits, creation of new states and their admission to the Union.

Section. 3.

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

Notice that there is provision for new states to join the Union. There is no Constitutional provision by which a state may leave the union. The one time it was tried it didn’t go well.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

The United States already owned property when this Constitution was written. Resolving property issues between the states and the nation was one of the things which our founders did while they were establishing their independence and forming one nation rather than thirteen.

Each time the nation expanded across North America as it grew from the original 13 states to the whole territory of the lower 48, the initial owner of the new land was the Federal government. From the Homestead Act to the creation of the nationwide system of Land Grant Colleges to Federal wildlife refuges the government, meaning Congress, has managed this land in the way it felt best suited its Constitutional duty to promote the general welfare.

Although it may seem obvious that Congress has the power to make all needful rules and regulations regarding the nation’s real property, its land, the Constitutional Congress thought it worth specifically including that power in the Constitution.

Nothing else in this Constitution weakens any claim the United States has on lands that it owns, nor of any state to land that it owns. People who wave around scraps of paper with Article I Section 8 par. 16 of the Constitution inscribed on them are leaving out the rest of the document for a reason: it refutes their claim.

Section. 4.

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.

The Federal government also has the Constitutional power and obligation to guarantee each state a Republican form of government (as defined in this document, one assumes, but the definition is not explicitly specified.)  The Federal government also has the power and responsibility to protect each state against Invasion, and can, if the legislature of the state so desires, also become involved in case of domestic (intra-state, local) violence.

Article V is not divided into sections. It consists of one single paragraph.

Article. V.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

The Framers seem to have known even as they were creating the Constitution, that it was not going to be perfect.  They included provision for amending it as necessary.  However, slavery was protected for 20 years (until 1808) against restriction by amendment, and states were protected against any amendment that might reduce their voting power in the Senate without their consent, which doesn’t seem likely.

Article VI covers what might be called “odds and ends,” things which don’t comfortably fit in the other articles. Like Article V it is not divided into sections

Article. VI.

All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

Article VI contradicts some people’s impressions about the National Debt.  This nation has always been in debt. The United States was already in debt before this Constitution was written, and by this paragraph promises not to try to weasel out of our existing debt by some kind of New Constitution We’re Not That Country Anymore sleight of hand.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Constitution, and treaties, and all Federal laws made under the Constitution shall be the Supreme Law of the Land. States can’t pass laws exempting themselves from Federal laws passed under this Constitution. This provision has been stretched considerably in recent years by various states over various issues.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Every person in legislative, executive, or judicial office in the United States including all state offices must swear an oath or affirmation to support this Constitution, but they don’t have to swear it on any holy book, because no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

To me this paragraph and the concept it embodies is critical to understanding the objective of the Constitutional Convention, and the ideal of the United States Government. We do not swear to support the President. We do not swear to support the Congress. We do not swear to support any human being or group of human beings. We swear to support a carefully codified, readable, accessible package of rules and concepts. We swear to support the very idea of a small-r republican form of government for our nation and our states.

Besides the people specified in this Article, all members of the United States Armed Forces also swear to uphold and defend the Constitution. We do not swear to follow our platoon leader or our Commander in Chief if they tell us to violate this Constitution. Our Constitution is our nation.

And equally important, right here where the 55 men of the Federal Convention of 1787 were telling us that our highest obligation as officers, soldiers, or citizens of the United States was to this Constitution, they told us that No Religious Test would ever be applied to serve this nation. None. Ever.

Article VII, the final article, specifies the rules for ratification, and handles some housekeeping regarding letters and words wedged into this long document during its transcription.

Article. VII.

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

The Word, “the,” being interlined between the seventh and eighth Lines of the first Page, The Word “Thirty” being partly written on an Erazure in the fifteenth Line of the first Page, The Words “is tried” being interlined between the thirty second and thirty third Lines of the first Page and the Word “the” being interlined between the forty third and forty fourth Lines of the second Page.

Attest William Jackson Secretary

done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,

And finally, the signatures:

G°. Washington

Presidt and deputy from Virginia


Geo: Read

Gunning Bedford jun

John Dickinson

Richard Bassett

Jaco: Broom


James McHenry

Dan of St Thos. Jenifer

Danl. Carroll


John Blair

James Madison Jr.

North Carolina

Wm. Blount

Richd. Dobbs Spaight

Hu Williamson

South Carolina

  1. Rutledge

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

Pierce Butler


William Few

Abr Baldwin

New Hampshire

John Langdon

Nicholas Gilman


Nathaniel Gorham

Rufus King


Wm. Saml. Johnson

Roger Sherman

New York

Alexander Hamilton

New Jersey

Wil: Livingston

David Brearley

Wm. Paterson

Jona: Dayton


B Franklin

Thomas Mifflin

Robt. Morris

Geo. Clymer

Thos. FitzSimons

Jared Ingersoll

James Wilson

Gouv Morris

I will close with the Preamble, the Goes Before, the introduction that the delegates of the Federal Convention placed on their document. Who and why.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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I love the poorly educated

Donald Trump claimed to love the poorly educated but he lied. I really do love them. Some of them. Just like I love some of everybody else.

There appears to be a widespread assumption in modern America that it is a bad thing to be poorly educated.  That poorly educated people should just become like everybody else and get well educated.  Poorly educated is, in this construct, typically poorly defined, but I don’t think it is usually meant kindly.

There are many of us out here who did not go to college.  There are as many reasons why as there are individual people.

Some of us spent much of our lives getting a formal, technical education that couldn’t be had in college, because we were happier traveling around installing or fixing stuff than we could be doing anything else for a living, and because somebody has to, because stuff breaks and wears out.  So “poorly educated” when used to refer to us is both false and insulting.  We know different things than they teach in college, but it took as many years, as many hours, and as much study.  We have taken a pretty serious beating in the evolution of the world economy since, say, 1970.  Not as bad as some people, though.

Others of us didn’t have the sort of intelligence it takes to go to college.  Nor could we become a tech / craftsman / repairman.  Speaking of (and I hate to, I apologize, in a way) Political Correctness – we all seem to operate under this pretense that all Americans of working age have exactly equal intelligence.  It is seriously not politically correct to speak otherwise.  We must not acknowledge the existence of not-so-smart people.  Every term that means “person of lesser intelligence” sooner or later becomes an insult.  Idiot, moron, retarded… I hate to be this way, but some people are not as smart as other people.  It is seriously not their fault.

And even worse, there is not a bright, sharp line: it is not, retarded people on one side, people qualified to go to college on the other.  It simply does not work that way. There is an unbroken slope from the most smart person alive to the least smart. All of us are on that slope somewhere.

Are you a dog person?  If you are, you know that no two dogs are the same.  Not even litter mates.  Same for people.  An economy which can only employ “the educated” is a failed economy.

Even Bernie Sanders, bless his heart, has fallen for this fiction.  Speaking about coal miners who will surely be put out of work if we do anything real about global warming, he went straight to the “we’ll educate them” line.  Come on, Bernie.  These are people tough enough to spend their lives under the ground cutting rocks with their bodies.  Oh, yeah, they’ve got tools, but to operate those tools they need strength, stamina, and just a sort of undefinable toughness that isn’t in everybody.  They are good people.  They are very much the people who built America.  And they are not. going. to. college.  They can’t.  That’s not who they are, that’s not what they are.   Coal miners are not people who forgot to go to college, or at least not many of them.

It is almost impossible to talk about relative intelligence without insulting somebody, which is a pity.  Start out with this thought: we are all human.  We are all human, and we all have (as we now know) our own specific genome.  You can tell any two people apart by their DNA.  And everything that we are is coded in that DNA.  It is not bad, it is not unfortunate, it is not a fault, to be born with DNA that limits your ability to think in some way.  How could it be?  Every human being’s ability to think is limited.  Not even Stephen Hawking can think infinitely.  We are all limited.  And no two of us reach our limit at exactly the same place.  Nor do any two of us have the same abilities.  I can do things you can’t do, I can have thoughts you can’t have.  But I can’t have the thoughts you can have, because only you can have them.  No matter who you are, it is virtually certain that you can do something that I can’t do.

The common fiction that everything will be fine just as soon as all “those people” get “educated” is brutal and shameful.  It is cruel and dishonest.  It was thought up by educated people, and it is stupid beyond words.

It is only possible to keep hiding behind this fiction because everybody is ashamed to say, “Yeah, but what about the stupid people?”  Stupid is an insult.  A pejorative term.  There is quite simply no polite way to refer to the existence of people who aren’t smart in a way that will enable them to soak up book learning.  Maybe they can’t soak up much learning at all.  Maybe they are just barely able to learn to pick up a bag over here, and put it down over there, all day long, over and over.  In my lifetime, in my memory, we had paying, productive work for that person to do.  Literally.  I have known some of them.  Lots of them.   They are, by and large, good people.  They have every bit as much right to a decent life as any other person.  Casually discarding them cannot be justified in any way.   Treating them with contempt because they are “uneducated” is bigotry just as sure as is saying somebody is worthless because of the color of his or her skin.  It’s all in the DNA, y’all.  We’re all people.

We are people. The ones around here are American people. Each of us, at all levels of capability, has an equally legitimate claim for a decent life and for a government that represents his or her needs equally to the needs of anyone else.

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Starting Where We Are

huge-crowdI often write about things I see in the “outer” world, the “natural” world, the part of the world that is not part of global human society.  Out there is global warming; out there is the steady march of extinction; out there are many things which tend to concern me.  Out there is also much beauty and much of value.  I look at it often; I live among it; I should write about the beauty more.

When I write about human society, I mostly am viewing society at a mid level: politics, business, and other small, essentially local things. Local to the United States at least.  I live here; I write about what I see.  Sometimes, though, it is an interesting mental exercise to take a step back, to think of myself in terms of my membership in all humankind and to consider how we are doing.  

There are a lot of us.  Our numbers have grown exponentially in just a few short lifetimes.  We are the big change.  For a long time, for most of the time since we got here, human populations grew only slowly, in fits and starts, with bursts and setbacks.  Nobody knows exactly how long, for sure, but we have a pretty realistic idea, give or take a few millennia. Tens of thousands of lifetimes at least.  Humans as we are now have been a part of the earth ecosystem for maybe a couple hundred thousand years.  And before that, we spent eons  becoming what we are, evolving our differences from the rest of creation.  Then and now, we’re just as much a part of this world’s ecosystem as any other critter here.  For almost all that time we wandered around, little bunches of us here and there. Tribes, extended families. We ate what we could find or what we could kill. We became human; we invented language, music, and art.  At some point we decided to stay put where we were and plant, herd, domesticate and harvest our food.  I’ve heard a theory that we did it because we had discovered beer. I can’t prove that one but I do find it appealing.

Even after inventing agriculture our numbers grew slowly.  Some two thousand years ago, at the point at which we today divide the count between “years before” and “years since”, there were maybe 350 or so million humans on earth.  On the whole planet.  There are over a tenth that many in Tokyo today.

Where 350 million people were in the year one CE, in 2016 there are about 7.5 billion.  For every person on Earth then, there are over 21 people on earth today.  Go into your bedroom.  Close the door. Now open it and invite twenty more people in with you.  That’s the difference.

Our sheer numbers have a great deal to do with the damage which our existence does to our home planet.  The Earth would be overburdened with 7.5 billion whitetail deer, or 7.5 billion hogs, or 7.5 billion goats.  Of course it is overburdened with 7.5 billion human beings.  Human population levels drive the extinction of other species.  We all have to eat.  A lot of us aren’t getting enough to eat, but only a few of us are getting so little that we die from it. Therefore even the hungry get up the next day and eat again.  We eat animals; we eat fish. We plow up their homes so we can eat rice or cattle.  There are so many of us that the planet can’t keep up.  Things vanish. They go extinct. The future is not bright for most living things besides humans.  Rats and cockroaches appear to be doing fine.

Add to that our blasted cleverness.  We can light up the night, cool the summer air, heat the cold winter.  We can jump into our magic carriages and travel hundreds of miles, and do it faster and more easily than most humans in all of time could go five miles

There is simply an amazing number of human beings on Earth.  It sounds like I might be saying that this is a bad thing.  I don’t know that one could reasonably say that.  It’s not a good thing, either.  It just is.  This is the actual, inescapable arithmetic of humanity today.  We figured out how to cure a bunch of diseases. That’s one of the roots of how we got so big.  People used to have maybe 8 or 9 kids, and be lucky to raise 2 to adulthood.  The 9 kids are natural. Sex is pleasurable.  It used to be dark longer every day.  We are part of nature.

It’s natural, too, to want to keep your kids alive.  Throughout as long as we have records, people have wept at their children’s deaths.  No doubt longer than any records can show.  Medicine saved me when I was five, medicine which had just become available about when I was born.  Penicillin.  Antibiotics.  My parents didn’t say, Gee, I wonder if saving our kid will contribute to an ecological disaster, they said SAVE MY KID and the doctors did.  Saved me.  Saved a lot of other people’s kids, too.

We – humans – invented vaccinations.  It became common for people to raise all their kids to adulthood, uncommon to lose some of them along the way.  It still happens, people still lose kids, but not so many, not so often.  Nobody said, Hey, bad idea.  I certainly didn’t.

There are issues regarding distribution but to a greater or lesser extent lifesaving medicines and technologies are available worldwide.  Everybody’s kids are surviving at never-before-known rates.  So most of the kids lived, and they had kids, and most of those kids lived, and… seven billion.  Plus. Now what?

To me our huge numbers appear to be as hard on us as they are on our planet and all the things that share it with us.  By one set of standards simply having attained seven billion plus could be seen as proof that humanity has been, and is, pretty successful, but there are other ways to look at it. I think we could do better than we are, even with all these numbers, but I’m not that confident that we will.

For one thing we are clearly getting on each other’s nerves.  Overcrowding is making us crazy, at different rates and to different extents, but crazy.  Terrorists are crazy.  Anybody who straps a bomb onto his or her body and goes and blows it up, killing themselves and a bunch of other people, is crazy.  Anybody who chooses out of the clear blue sky to kill a bunch of strangers is crazy.  Anybody who flies an airplane into a building full of people, or parks a truck bomb in front of a building full of people, or puts a bomb in an airplane full of people, is crazy.  Anybody who takes a gun and goes and murders a bunch of theater goers, or school children, or coworkers or fellow students, is crazy.  I’m not talking of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” I’m saying that these people are, in the current vernacular, batshit crazy.  Something has driven them mad. These acts, and many like them, are acts of madness.  They are qualitatively different from war.  Overcrowding is making many many people all over the world crazy.

War is, unfortunately, not part of this particular craziness.  I don’t approve of war. I wish it would go away.  However, humans have always done war. Chimpanzees do war.  War is different from the craziness of today.  And a few people have always done crazy things.  But that, too, has increased exponentially right along with our numbers.

Lots of us all over the world aren’t getting enough to eat.  Not that many are literally dying of starvation, although here and there some do and everybody looks the other way, but there are more people on Earth today who live their whole lives hungry than all the people in the world when the United States Constitution was written.  Literally.

So we’ve got terrorists.  We’ve got hungry people.  There might be a connection, although I don’t think it’s a simple 1:1 link.

Here is what happened: the population grew to the point where the economy as we have it currently arranged can operate just fine while employing only some of the people, and the rest can just starve.  They are unneeded.  They are redundant.  There are too many people for the work that needs to be done.  Pretty much all the terrorists are among those for whom our economy has no other use.  As are all the homeless people. And lots of other folks.

We can break this down into finer detail if we choose.  Technology and so forth.  Things that might be causes, things that might be effects.  That is for another day.  The point here is that there are many millions of entirely capable human beings – over 200 million by UN estimates back in 2013 – who can’t find productive work to do in the world economy, and yet somehow the world economy manages just fine without them.  In fact, the world economy manages to produce so much stuff every year that the bigger problem is finding somebody to buy it all and enough landfill space to throw it away into. Nobody needs those 200 million people. Add that to being crowded by seven billion other people, and some of those 200 million unemployed are going to get grouchy.

There are, of course, a great many things that it would be nice to see being done in our economy, things that the extra people could do.  There are productive things humans could do that would improve our lives, but there is no money to be made doing them.  What we have now appears to me to be a nearly textbook, worldwide, ideal example of a free market economy at work.  Only profitable things are worth doing; only certain classes of people are profitable to employ.

Our capitalist economy has only one use for those 200 million unemployed people; it is profitable to make things to kill them with, and to arrange fights between them.  It’s not hard to get groups of people to fight with one another.  It’s one of the things we humans do best.  But to make the most money in the arms trade there must be compliant governments.  So that’s where we are.  How did we get here?

Most of the machinery ever invented has replaced people who did physical work.  Weavers, one of the first to go when industry revolted, had to know more than meets the eye, but the knowledge only had to be applied once in a while.  The rest of the time the weaver stepped on treadles, lightly tossed a shuttle across the loom, pulled the beater to himself, pushed it away, and repeated the process, step, shuttle left, beat, step, shuttle right, beat, over and over for however many hours a day they worked.  One of the earliest machines ever invented replaced the weaver.  The original, real Luddites were redundant weavers who smashed power looms because the machines were taking away their livelihoods.

Machines replaced warehouse workers, factory workers, farm workers, even an amazing number of road workers.  Machines replaced typists.  Machines replaced people who did physical work.  You don’t go to RoboSurgeon.  You may check the law on the internet, but if there’s going to be a real judge and real money involved you aren’t going to CyberLawyer.  Machines may some day replace educated professionals, but they’re not there yet.  

Drivers are likely to be next, which will be another disaster.  Hauling the products of our techno-industrial economy around the world is one of the last refuges of working men.  Now all the talk is remote control cars, oh goodie, but not far down that road is a truck that drives itself to the warehouse.  It won’t be hard from there to engineer the truck and the warehouse to plug themselves together and unload the stuff. Here and there, widely scattered about, for a while, will be humans interacting with the warehouse machine. The warehouse part of that vision, by the way, already exists.  They don’t know how to unload a truck yet, but vast modern warehouses are giant, computerized material handling machines. So far there are still a few humans scattered about inside the machines, working feverishly, doing those bits that nobody has yet figured out how to automate, barely keeping up with the machine’s inexorable pace.

Human society needs to have physical work to do whether or not our economy does, because that’s what some people do.  You can’t turn them into something else. We are all human.  The fact that some of us had skills that were easier to automate than others of us does not reduce that fundamental fact. The value of a human being cannot be measured solely by his or her ability to generate money for somebody else. We are all human, and all valuable, just as we are.  And if somehow all those working people did miraculously change – does anybody really want to pretend that the world economy could absorb 200 million more IT techs? 200 million more computer programmers? 200 million more doctors and nurses? Not unless nurses want to work for minimum wage.

A whole group of human beings is not needed by our economy.  Not a race – race problems come and go, but this group spans all races.  Twenty-first century Earth has very little use for people whose fundamental skill set is to do productive work with their bodies. We would never have gotten this far without them; it is not reasonable to just throw them away now.

I have some dreams, some visions, of how we might work our way out of this mess.  I believe that it would be possible to find productive work for all who are capable.  I believe that everyone would be better off if we did.  I don’t think it is likely to happen.  I’m more inclined to expect ecological disaster and mass murder to fix the overpopulation problem.  However, I’ll be making some suggestions over time, just on the off chance that anybody cares.

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