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Democracy In The USA
The vital thing to comprehend about the country is inherent in its name - the United States of America. Each state is a separate entity with jealously guarded rights and powers, though united to every other state by acknowledging the Constitution as 'the supreme law of the land'. Each state has irretrievably delegated to the Union the basic powers of waging war, conducting foreign policy, levying federal taxes and regulating foreign and interstate commerce.
Democracy In The USA
Though federal power has tended to increase during the 20th century, many essential powers still remain with the states. Chief among these is the right to levy state taxes and to make laws governing such matters as private property, business, public health, works and education - provided such laws are not contrary to the letter or spirit of the Constitution.
The United States is a land of many governments, for in addition to federal and state, there are also city, county, town and village governments and several other bodies with local powers, including school boards. Americans are by no means overawed by authority, however, and more than the citizens of most nations, perhaps, are prepared to challenge their rules in the courts. Of the 241 842 civil cases filed in district - that is federal - courts in 1983, for instance, more than half were actions brought by private citizens aggrieved at some aspect of labour, social security, tax, patent, antitrust or civil rights laws.
The same courts that hear civil actions also try criminal cases - and in recent years a sharply rising crimes rate has kept them busy. In 1960, there were 3 384 200 crimes reported nationwide; in 1983, 12070213. The 1983 figures include 1 237 979 violent crimes and 18 673 murders, as against 9110 murders committed in 1960. The high murder rate is frequently blamed on the easy availability of handguns in many states, which in turn is often defended as a Constitutional right. The Second Amendment actually says that 'A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed' -which does not quite imply that lethal weapons should be available to everyone.
Thirty-seven states retain the death penalty, but no executions were carried out between 1968 and 1976. In 1977, a convicted murderer in Utah demanded the right to be executed, and, after a lengthy legal battle, he was shot by firing squad. This established a precedent for the execution of other murderers.
Drugs are probably the greatest single cause for the rise in the crime rate - crimes carried out by addicts in order to obtain money to buy drugs, and by racketeers endeavoring to gain control of the trade. It is highly lucrative. In 1984, police smashed a ring run by the Sicilian Mafia that had smuggled $1650 million worth of heroin into the USA and sold it through a chain of pizza restaurants.