Monday, July 9, 2018

I've Been Using Hemingway Editor and Slick Write

I’ve had Hemingway Editor sitting unused on my computer for some time, but I recently started experimenting to how well-known writers score in the parameters that H-E measures: the number of adverbs, instances of passive voice, phrases that have simpler alternatives, how many sentences are hard to read, and how many sentences are very hard to read. It is amazing how much these factors differ from writer to writer.

Earnest Hemingway, for instance, professed to hate adverbs, but used them more than I expected. I tried Joseph Conrad’s story, Karain: A Memory, expecting a high occurrence of adverbs. Conrad was a master of description. He portrayed life in an oriental jungle with a colorful realism that makes me feel as though I am in the boat, sailing up a tropical river, and observing fellow passengers, the luxuriant jungle lining the banks, and the creatures walking and crawling on the shore and swimming in the water. I tested the first two paragraphs of the story through Hemingway Editor and to my surprise I found that even though Conrad's adverb score exceeded what H-E considered proper, Conrad did not use very many adverbs—as few as any writer I recall reading. Conrad was stingy in his use of the passive voice, as well.

On the other hand, Conrad loved adjectives. It is hard to find a noun in his writing not modified by at least one adjective.

Below are Conrad’s scores for Karain in its entirety, calculated by Hemingway Editor:

 Long sentences, another pitfall flagged by H-E, are another “error” that novice writers are warned against. Conrad, however, used sentences as though they were musical phrases, to be squeezed or stretched as occasion demands. Words are like sequences of notes. They can be long or short or even silent, as in rests. He composed melodies, even symphonies, of paragraphs and sentences that evoke in the reader echos of forgotten exotic places, along with sights, sensations and feelings. He achieves that effect by loading his nouns with colorful adjectives and choosing his verbs carefully.

To illustrate, here are the first two paragraphs of Karain that I ran through H-E:

As you can observe, Conrad wrote long sentences marked as “Very hard to read.” It is probable that this assessment is based on length. Although most of Conrad’s short works were published in magazines, it would be much harder to get them published today. Long sentences are a negative factor in judging whether a story or novel will be published. Consuming hours of television, motion pictures and Internet content, it is reasoned, has shortened 21st Century readers’ attention spans, and made it more difficult and tedious for the average reader to follow.

Nevertheless, H-E assigns a difficulty level of grade 7 for the entire story, which it considers to be easy reading. And it is pleasant and easy to read because Conrad’s sentence structures are usually plain and his choice of words is well within the vocabulary of the ordinary person.

My conclusion: Hemingway Editor is a useful advisor but a bad boss. I run my articles and essays through it just before the final draft to see if everything is ok. It will usually point out a few places that need revising.

You can purchase Hemingway Editor for Mac and Windows at for $19.99. You can also try out the online version free at It’s definitely worth looking at.

You might also enjoy trying out Slick Write, which is free, but only available online. Slick Write has a slightly different algorithm with some different “mistakes” marked, such as excessive prepositional phrases, wordy or redundant phrases, adverbs, sentences with passive voice, plus improvable sentence structures, and word usage. Settings allow you to determine which errors it should mark. For instance, it will tell you when you might be using a word too many times. It nailed me for using the definite article “the” far too frequently. You can use it at by pasting your document into the browser window. There are plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome.
Disclosure: I receive no money or anything else in return for writing about products. I am not affiliated with sellers in any way.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Speech That Got the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Passed (Revised)

In July 1964, I remember watching Everett Dirksen, U.S. Senator from Illinois, speaking before the U.S. Senate, mobilizing his Republican colleagues in support the the controversial Civil Rights Bill that the House of Representatives had already passed. The southern bloc, led by Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, had filibusterd the bill for 60 days, stopping all Senate business. Dirksen, the Republican minority leader, after long and fractious discussion with the Republican caucus, brought enough of his colleagues around to support cloture[1], but their assent was shaky. His speech[2] swayed enough Republican senators sitting on the fence, that their votes, combined with the Democratic votes, invoked cloture, and ended the filibuster. A full Senate vote on the merits of the bill followed. The bill passed on June 10, 1964, and President Johnson signed it into law on July 2.

The speech itself does not measure up to the speeches of the greatest orators, like Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and William E. Borah[3], but it was exactly what was required to sway wavering Republican senators to vote “aye” to end the filibuster. Some parts of the speech were outstanding, however:
To those who have charged me with doing a disservice to my party–and there have been many–I can only say that our party found its faith in the Declaration of Independence, which was penned by a great Democrat, Thomas Jefferson by name. There he wrote the great words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
That has been the living faith of our party. Do we forsake this article of faith, now that the time for our decision has come.
There is no substitute for a basic ideal. We have a firm duty to use the instrument at hand; namely, the cloture rule, to bring about the enactment of a powerful civil rights bill.
I appeal to all senators. We are confronted with a moral issue. Today let us not be found wanting in whatever it takes by way of moral and spiritual substance to face up to the issue and to vote cloture.
You can read the entire speech here.

Can anyone imagine Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), the current majority leader of the Senate, delivering a speech approaching Dirksen’s in elegance, depth, moral power, and faith in the ideals upon which this nation was founded? Or that today’s Republican Congress would enact into law the great 1964 Civil Rights Bill, that reaffirmed and put teeth into the enforcement of those Constitutional rights granted equally to all citizens by the 14th Amendment? The idea that any Republican in today’s Senate would be willing to speak those words in public is laughable.

Times have changed. With few exceptions, politicians in power do not deserve the title of leaders or even epigons[4]. It is difficult to find a description that captures their abject subservience to wealthy campaign doners, their flagrant disregard for the welfare of the bottom 90% of their constituents, their rank dishonesty as to their own values and motives, and their willingness, nay, enthusiasm, in protecting persons high in the executive branch from accountability for their open and obvious corruption.

Enter Trump.

Donald Trump’s phony war against the media is waged for two purposes, which may even be unconscious, since he is not given to reflection:
  • To dominate the media (including the press, TV networks, cable channels, and the Internet) by his antics to the degree that he sucks the oxygen out of other news. The media welcomes being manipulated that way, since it attracts viewers much like a freak show attracts visitors visiting the state fair.
  • To sow mistrust of the media (except for Fox news). Trump mixes truth and falsehood with equal insincerity, a technique that induces brain fatigue and inhibits his viewers in distinguishing the difference between true and false. Fox, on the other hand, usually keeps its story straight, an impressive achievement, considering the alternative universe it has constructed. When you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you said, but when you lie, you must remember everything you said to maintain the appearance of truth. Fox, whose political reporting is replete with false statements, manages to stay reasonably consistent, and it comes across to its viewers (most of whom are Trump supporters) as a voice of reason in a media world they have been manipulated into believing is “fake news.”
There are signs of awakening, however, especially online. While the Web has enabled right-wingers to recruit sympathizers and spread their alternate and hateful version of reality, it has also enabled progressive and liberal groups to organize and become politically active. The Justice Democrats and The Young Turks are two good examples. For the first time, thanks to YouTube, the public can now learn from political and economic thinkers that the newspapers and networks have ignored for years. These include, among many others, Noam Chomsky, linguist and public intellectual; Steve Keen, economist; Richard Wolff, Marxist political science professor; Ralph Nader, author and corporate gadfly with a big sting; and Slavoj Žižek, leftist philosopher.

But back to Senator Dirksen. During his time in the Senate, Senators usually treated each other with respect. They argued vigorously, but gentlemanly. Almost always, they put nation above party. When the nation was under great stress, like the McCarthy era, or the Vietnam War, some of that comity went away, but it always seemed to return.

Comity began to deteriorate when Ronald Reagan assumed office. Shortly thereafter, Newt Gingrich, speaker of the House from Georgia, finished it off. He saw that polarization of the political space gave the Republicans an advantage and acted accordingly. The Democrats, grown complacent by the majority they held almost continuously from the end of WWII on, were unprepared for the onslaught.

The new Fox network, founded by Australian newspaper billionaire Rupert Murdoch, gave a loud voice to the Republican nastiness and lying that was directed against Democrats in the early nineties. In addition, right-wingers discovered AM radio as a cheap platform from which to spew their venom. The king of the spewers was Russ Limbaugh, whose daily two-hour program attracted millions of “ditto-heads,” as they called themselves, and promoted the right-wing cause among angry white males. As a vote-getting tactic, it worked. The Republicans seized control of the House and then the Senate and have controlled them almost continually up to the present.

The Republican drive in the ’90s culminated in the unsuccessful impeachment of President Bill Clinton near the end of his presidency by a Republican majority that clearly wanted to jerk power from a Democratic president and his party. The details and purported reasons for the impeachment I will omit, but the trial before the Senate was a solemn farce. Although Clinton was acquitted, it became obvious to anyone that paid attention that the system had become dysfunctional. The American People were bewildered by the rancor and the inability of either party to legislate without a solid majority and without shutting the minority party out of the decision-making process.

For those of us oldies that remember what it was like in the ‘60s and even the ‘70s, this is saddening. The younger generations of Americans, born after Ronald Reagan became president, have little conception of what life was like for the ordinary person living in the ‘50s through the ‘70s. I suspect that much of what we tell them about the past is often taken as the grousing of the elderly about how things were so much better in their youth. A little research into publicly-available records would reveal, however, that ordinary folk really were better off than they are today in almost every respect[5], and the change for the worse was the outcome of deliberate efforts by powerful people to bring it about. But that story is for another time.

As I was surfing through the Dirksen Center website, I came across a radio interview of Dirksen and Hubert Humphrey, the Senate majority leader, discussing the Civil Rights bill, soon to be voted on by the Senate. They were proud they were able to arrive at a document that satisfied almost everyone in the Senate other than the southerners, who bitterly opposed any legislation that might elevate the condition of southern blacks.

Dirksen and Humphrey had both served in the Senate for many years, and had developed a friendship that went beyond a mere business relationship. At the end of the interview, Senator Humphrey had the following to say:
SENATOR HUMPHREY: * * * Senator Dirksen and I will be formal for a moment. My friend, I want the people of Minnesota and the surrounding area to know that when we pass this civil rights bill, we will not only pass one that is workable and acceptable, rational and fair and enforceable, but one that I believe will make a great contribution to domestic peace and tranquility and justice in our country. And when that happens, you, sir, can claim–and you won’t but I will claim for you–a large measure of the credit for this achievement. It couldn’t be done without you, Everett, and I, for one, want to publicly express my respect and admiration for you and my sincere thanks for what I call service beyond the call of duty and putting country ahead of every other consideration.
SENATOR DIRKSEN: I can say as much for you, my friend.
SENATOR HUMPHREY: Thank you, Everett.
That says it all. As we would say here in Mississippi about our current Congress: “All those Senators and Representatives, didn’t their mothers bring them up to behave and treat everybody respectful?”

I guess not.

  1. Senators have unlimited time to speak, but if a 3/5 majority of the Senate votes to invoke cloture, any further speeches are limited to 30 minutes.  ↩
  2. I have searched for a video or audio recording of the senator’s speech, but to no avail. Dirksen’s speech was transcribed and appeared in the Congressional Record, which seems to be the source of all references to his speech on the Internet. Anyone that can direct me to an online source will have my eternal gratitude. The 1964 Congressional Record is not available on U. S Government websites. It can probably be found in libraries with a Federal Depository.  ↩
  3. William Edgar Borah (b. 1865-d. 1940) was a Republican U.S. Senator from Idaho (1907–1940), and reputed to be one of the finest orators of his time. He was a small-government isolationist and too often employed his silver tongue in the service of doubtful or even evil causes in the name of states’ rights.  ↩
  4. An epigone is an inferior follower or imitator, from the Greek word epigonos, one born after. In Greek mythology, they are the sons of the Argive heroes who had fought and been killed in the first Theban war.  ↩
  5. Except for blacks, whose life improved during that time, but still fell far behind the standard of living that everyone else enjoyed.  ↩

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Nobody Changed the World by Being Polite

Recommended read: Against Civility: You can’t fight injustice with decorum.

Do We Want to Live in the Shadow of a Nuclear Power Plant?

A newsletter I get everyday from Wired magazine ran an article on the dangers posed to the public by malicious hacking. Here’s the pertinent passage:

AFTER LAST MONTH’S Petya/NotPetya ransomware outbreak you may be feeling like the next global attack could come at any moment. It hasn’t struck yet, but if the ransomware fear doesn’t get you, the phishing paranoia might. And don’t forget angst about power grid hacks. Reports this week revealed that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are scrambling to defend multiple US energy companies and manufacturing plants from hackers—including a nuclear power plant in Kansas. So far there’s no evidence that hackers have accessed the industrial control systems that actually direct physical equipment, so it’s not a doomsday scenario yet, but from an anxiety perspective it’s not great.

It’s not exactly a new idea that almost anything connected to the Internet is vulnerable to intensive hacking efforts. Hackers have usually gone where the money is, and that’s been financial institutions and individuals with an online identity. It’s beginning to look as though ransomeware has become the next scourge.

But things could become serious. Nuclear power plants, it now appears, are connected to the Internet, and the government reportedly believes that one of them, in Kansas, is vulnerable to hacking.

I have always opposed nuclear power plants. It seemed to me that, sooner or later, one of them would have a catastrophic accident that would spew tons of deadly radioactive dust directly into the atmosphere, to be carried by winds thousands of miles and deposited on the earth along its path.

Sooner or later happened at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, when a graphite-modulated reactor blew up and spread radioactive debris over thousands of square miles.

In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi Plant melted down as a result of an earthquake and the resulting tsunami. It has still not been brought under control and continues to emit radioactive material into the ocean and atmosphere. Robots sent into the most radioactive areas of the plants have ceased to function because of the intense radiation.

There are three things to remember about nuclear reactors: 1. Meltdowns are catastrophes, and the damage to property and loss of life are simply unacceptable. That means that the likelihood of a meltdown must be brought to zero, which cannot be achieved with today’s technology and probably with no future technology. The only reasonable course is no reactors at all. 2. If a reactor can melt down, it will eventually melt down. This is a corollary of Murphy’s Law. 3. As a reactor ages, the probablity of failure increases, because reactor parts are subject to heat, radiation, and corrosive substances that cause them to deteriorate. The probability can be reduced by decommisioning the reactor well before it becomes dangerous.

Now virtually all the power plants are connected to the Internet, where they can be managed and monitored from a central location. Because they are online, they can be targeted by both small-time hackers and state intelligence agencies.

The same is true of the nation’s electric power grid.

The reason that these problems haven’t been fixed is money. The only way to ensure that hackers can be kept out is air. There must be air between the internal network and the Internet. Data must be encrypted end-to-end and transmitted over dedicated lines. This is how the military and the intelligence agencies have been exchanging data for at least 60 years over leased lines. Transmitting secure data over the air requires strong encryption, since third parties can capture the transmissions.

When state actors come into the picture, things become much more serious. Even encrypted communications are not perfectly safe. Given enough computing power a state can crack a cryptographic system and access almost any information stored within the system.

As long as local networks remain disconnected from any open network, the network will remain secure from all outside efforts to compromise it.

The same goes for electric power grids. Many of these systems were fitted with interfaces to the Internet in the belief that the Internet was benign. The system worked well until hackers, thieves, and spys began to penetrate what were then regarded as secure sites

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Chile Redux

Putting the clamps on Venezuela

Venezuela has committed the unpardonable sin, at least in the eyes of the U.S. and Venezuelan power elite. Since 1999, it has been electing socialist governments that are feeding and healing the poor. They have also clawed back much of the nation’s mineral wealth from the ravenous oligarchy that has neglected and impoverished the people for hundreds of years.

The average American knows little about Venezuela other than what she hears on mass media. What she learns is false, cherry-picked, or lacking context.

When the mass media agree on an issue, be very, very suspicious. They usually agree for one of two reasons: First, when the truth is obvious, they would look like fools to deny it. The Earth is spherical, Grant is buried in Grant’s tomb, Iran is ruled by a corrupt theocracy.

The second reason is that the power elite are often up to no good. Men love the dark when their deeds are evil. What better way of keeping the average citizen in the dark than to repeat contradictory, irrevelant or false stories over and over again? Unanimity of the media is effective. The mental fog thrown up to obscure reality is hard to penetrate; it takes work to see through it.

Fantastical concoctions of misinformation, defamation, stories made from thin air purporting to reveal the real plot behind events,   travel by email and blogs with thousands and even millions of viewers. The originators of such misinformation usually claim to have connected the dots to reveal the true reason for the evil in the world. If the propagandist can interweave several conspiratorial tales, it multiplies their impact, much like a good mystery novel.

Their purpose is the same as bullshit: to erase the boundary between truth and falsehood. Humans have problems with contradictory narratives. We tend to seize upon the simplest story or the one that seems internally consistent. As Pooh-Bah would have said, bullshit is “merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”[1] The technique is to 1) confuse people to the extent that they don’t know what to believe, and then 2) repeat the big lie over and over until they believe. That’s the effect of the emails, irrespective of the writers’ intent.

But back to Venezuela. It should be obvious that the mass media, owned by our power elite, is presenting a united front against the the Maduro administration. Their intent is to convince Americans that the regime is corrupt, dictatorial and dangerous. Since contrary positions seldom appear in the media, the average American, having never visited Venezuela, studied its history, watched or read credible foreign news outlets, or even talked with a native Venezuelan, this propaganda is effective. Successive U.S. administrations have refined and perfected it for at least 125 years[2]

The mainstream media’s treatment of Venezula might be a little more believable if it were not so routine. Most baby boomers can recall the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Unless they do some serious research, however, they will never know the disgraceful role played by the U.S. military.

The invasion and genocide in East Timor by the Indonesian army in 1978–80 was ignored by the mass media because the U.S. encouraged the invasion. Our government even furnished arms to the invading forces. There was Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991. U.S forces invaded Iraq in 2003, selling the invasion to Americans on the basis of lies. Going further back there was Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. The mass media, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, shamelessly parroted the government’s war propaganda until the elite finally turned against the war.

Hugo Chavaz and his successor, Madura, have been in the crosshairs of the last four U.S. administrations (including the present one). It is not hard to predict how the media spin the story. They are portraying Venezuela as a failed state, with a corrupt government. They portray Nicholas Maduro, Chavaz’s handpicked successor, as a dictator. The object, of course, is regime change. The fact that Chavez and Maduro won a majority of the votes in elections that were universally proclaimed as fair is beside the point.

Venezuela sits upon the world’s largest oil reserves, the Orinoco Basin. Big Oil wants to keep its finger on the country for one reason: The bane of the oil industry is not scarcity; on the contrary, it is overproduction. Too much oil makes the price go down. It is in the interest of Big Oil that oil remains scarce and therefore expensive. The easiest way to control the price of oil is to control its production. They strive for an optimum price point that maximizes the price of oil but does not induce people to reduce their driving or become more energy efficient.[3].

True, Venezuela is suffering from a severe decline in the price of crude oil. Oil has been the sole source of international currency that Chavez and now Maduro have used to improve the life of the poor, and the decline has put the economy in a tailspin. Inflation has rendered food harder to buy and the poorer segment of the population is suffering hardship. Unfortunately, some shortages in essential foods are the result of hoarding on the part of the businesses owned by the oligarchy.

 Jimmy Dore recently interviewed Abbe Martin from Empire Files, who has recently visited Venezuela. The interview is enlightening and strongly recommended.

From the time Chavez became president in 1999, the oligarchy has been bent on overthrowing the government he founded. In 2002, with the encouragement of the U.S., they attempted a coup. They kidnapped Chavez from the presidential palace, and flew him to a prison island in the Caribbean. They replaced Chavez with Pedro Carmona, a wealthy businessman. Carmona declared the Constitution a nullity and proceeded to round up Chavaz’s supporters.

Carmona lasted a little over a day before a mass uprising ousted him and restored Chavez to power. Carmona fled to Colombia, where he now lives. The U.S. emerged from the affair with mud on its face.

The poor in Venezuela are Indians and Negro-Indian with dark skin. A small white upper class of Spanish ancestry have oppressed and exploited them for centuries. When you watch video clips of the rioting in Venezuela, examine the skin color of the rioters. Most of the rioters have light skin, which should tell you who is actually fomenting unrest. It is an irony that members of the upper class—who are not experiencing shortages—are the ones that are rioting.

They cannot bear the loss of power to the lower classes. They are furious that the wealth that they themselves were draining from the country is now devoted to a public purposes. Although the schools, clinics, hospitals, water systems and other public works that the Chavistas are building have already improved the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of average Venezuelans, those improvements are of little concern to the upper classes. They want “their” country back like it has been for hundreds of years and out of the hands of the rabble.
It remains to be seen how this game will eventually play out.

Finally, for commentary that is also entertaining, watch a takedown of a recent show on Venezuela.

  1. Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado, (1885) dialogue following No. 19.  ↩
  2. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, linguist, author, and public intellectual: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon (1988); Reprinted edition (2002). To watch a moving and horrifying full-length film about Chomsky and the atrocities he has worked to expose, see Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992).  ↩
  3. It is likely that we will never run out of oil. Global warming will force us (if we are wise) to reduce our production of greenhouse gases. A large percentage of greenhouse gases comes from burning oil.   ↩

Thursday, June 21, 2018

America's Shame

The United States has treated Central and South America as a source of wealth that could be easily gotten with the gentle persuasion for which the U.S. Army and Marines are famous. This has been going on for well over a hundred years. After invading these nations, the U.S. installed right-wing strongmen to do its bidding and give the exploitation of the hapless populations a thin patina of legitimacy.

One does not have to look very hard to learn the fate of the ordinary people of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and other nations who faced murderous right-wing police states armed with weapons made by U.S. manufacturers and financed by the U.S. Government.
And now the beleaguered citizens of these nations who fear for their lives and the lives of their families have come to this nation, hoping to be taken in and accepted by the very nation that is responsible for their suffering.

We have a moral obligation to offer them bread, not a stone[1]. Our moral duty to them goes far beyond the generally acknowledged obligation to treat others fairly and humanely. These are the very people we have wronged, and we can never fully atone for the evils we have visited upon them, either directly or by proxy.

Our president, Donald Trump, won the 2016 election partly by demonizing the very refugees we have created, and he has followed up by treating them even worse as they seek refuge in the U.S., to the extent of separating parents from their children. In many cases they will be permanently lost to each other, because ICE[2] neglected to keep track of which children belonged to which parents.

Why is it that tough, steely-eyed law enforcers seem to almost enjoy making children suffer? Why must it be children? Is it because they are so vulnerable that it’s easy to control them? It reminds me of Ivan’s conversation with his brother Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov about the cruelty of adults to children:
You see, I must repeat again, it is a peculiar characteristic of many people, this love of torturing children, and children only. To all other types of humanity these torturers behave mildly and benevolently, like cultivated and humane Europeans; but they are very fond of tormenting children, even fond of children themselves in that sense. It’s just their defenselessness that tempts the tormentor, just the angelic confidence of the child who has no refuge and no appeal[3],….
Dear reader, the way ICE is treating these children is simply evil. The president’s allowing it to happen is perhaps even more evil, because he could have stopped it at any time. Now that he has ordered ICE to stop separating families, ICE is transporting over 2000 children previously separated to shelters all over the country without a thought of returning them to their parents. It’s inconceivable that a president would order this kind of treatment. Maybe you can now understand how little he and the ICE management are concerned with basic human rights when it involves people in their power.
Apparently, the Republicans are waking up, not to the cruelty of what is going on, but the risk to their reelection.

  1. Matthew 7:9  ↩
  2. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Land closer than 50 miles to the U.S. border is, for all practical purposes, a Constitution-free zone, in which ICE agents, as well as other law enforcement agencies, have more or less a free hand to do what they please. Don’t expect to retain any of your constitutional rights if an agent suspects you of being an illegal immigrant inside the 50-mile-wide strip.  ↩
  3. The Brothers Karamazov, Book V, Chapter 4 “Rebellion.” The entire chapter is a gruesome recital by Ivan to his brother Alyosha, an Orthodox monk, of the way in which adults abuse children. The next chapter is Dostoevsky’s famous story, The Grand Inquisitor, which bears even closer reading.  ↩

Monday, June 11, 2018

Executive and Legislative Power in the Ago of Trump - A Present Danger

Our federal legislators, it seems, are finally awakening to the fact that Donald Trump’s behavior has become dangerous to the nation and the World. It’s even beginning to dawn on the person in the street (PITS) that he has exceeded the power given to him in the U.S. Constitution. I’m thinking particularly of Article 1, Section 8, where the powers of the legislative branch are set out specifically. Here is a portion of that article enumerating the war powers of Congress:
  • To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
  • To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
  • To provide and maintain a navy;
  • To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
As we all know, Congress has completely abdicated its responsibility to exercise the war powers granted to it by the Constitution. In 2003, it passed a joint resolution giving the President virtually unlimited powers to attack Iraq whenever he deemed it to be necessary[1]
(a) Authorization.–The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to–
(1) defend the national security of the United States
against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council
resolutions regarding Iraq.
This subsection gave the president unlimited discretion to attack Iraq whenever he felt like it. Every time since WWII that the executive branch has had a hankering to use armed force against another nation, Congress has let him do it and then weasled out of declaring war by renaming it[2].
If you believe, like me, that the Constitution is a living document, and must be read in the context of the world as it is today and not 1782, or if you believe to the contrary that the Constitution should be interpreted solely by the original intent of the founders, there is no getting past the exclusive grant of war powers to Congress. Short of the problems presented by the possibility of nuclear war, the words mean the same thing. Further, there is no provision for delegating or assigning these fundamental powers of Congress to another branch of the government for any reason.

The issue of presidential power versus congressional power to make war has come into the spotlight now that über-narcissist Donald Trump has become president. Never before has it been so important and urgent for Congress to claw back its constitutional war powers from an executive branch that has become impervious to the checks and balances that the founding fathers included in the Constitution. Checks and balances, incidentally, were established with the stated purpose of preventing the executive branch from dominating the government.

Our senators and representatives have reasons for maintaining the current arrangement. Declaring war is serious business. It commits the nation to common sacrifice, and most people are unwilling to sacrifice anything whatever for an unnecessary war, certainly not a war for the sole purpose of enriching a few defense contractors.

If you want to learn the reasons why the U.S. has been involved in “police actions” almost continually since WWII, you could not do better than to read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. After reading Perkins, you will have gained a firm understanding of the true motives of the power elite in invading other nations. It’s not pretty.

But I digress.

Anyone who has acquired a passing acquaintance with American history knows that every war in which this country was engaged had the effect of strengthening the executive branch at the expense of the legislative. Alexander Hamilton observed this tendency in 1787. [3]

It logically follows that if war increases the strength of the executive, then the executive branch, as time passes, will become increasingly inclined to find excuses to go to war. Hamilton failed to mention that those who profit from war, especially arms manufacturers, would be numbered among a war’s most enthusiastic supporters.

Bernie Sanders recently spoke words well worth paying attention to. Watching this YouTube clip set me thinking once again about the subject. It’s high time that U.S. citizens started pondering presidential versus congressional power and how to find a balance that will protect both our security and our freedom. There is no reason why we should give up either one, but if it has to be one it should be to give up some security, because if we give up liberty we will inevitably lose security. Dr. Franklin wrote “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Historical Review of Pennsylvania 1759, p.289

A government in which the executive power dominates is either a monarchy or a dictatorship. If the legislative power dominates, very little will get done; legislators are deciders, presidents are doers. Thus, the greatest danger to a republic is an overpowering executive, pushing the legislative body aside and doing what it pleases. No one’s liberty or property will be safe from a chief executive with unchecked power.

We live in dangerous times, not because of enemies abroad, but because those charged with keeping us secure and protecting our liberty are either corrupt from extreme wealth or asleep from complacency. The real danger lies in ourselves for letting this happen.

  1. Public Law 107–243  ↩
  2. For example: Police action, conflict, use of armed force, military actions, war on terror, right to protect, and armed humanitarion intervention. The ability of government progandists to devise euphemisms is endless.  ↩
  3. Federalist Papers, No. 8, ¶5  ↩