Wednesday, March 28, 2012

De Rerum Novarum

So it's time either to delete this blog, or to renew it. There have been a few changes since the last posts nine months ago. Key West's alternative "Blue Newspaper" is now defunct, as is the web site of Key West Neighborhood Associations. Also removed are the links to Seablogger and Mutations of Mortality, since the authors of both have passed away, (leaving a great void in the blogosphere). Seablogger's audience carries on under the banner Sullivan's Travelers. Now to prod the muse, and see what shall issue forth.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Running Hot and Cold

Here's a little something from the "All I Know Is..." Department.

Current political correctness, aided by former vice-president Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth, would have us believe that industrialization is leading to a potentially disasterous climate change.

At the same time many voices are offering a counter-argument that the opposite is occurring, citing examples like the Maunder Minimum.

The picture above is of Big Knockemdown Key, one of the uninhabited Florida Keys. In the background is a stand of pine trees. During the last period of glaciation, which ended about 10,000 years ago, the sea level was substantially lower. What is now Florida Bay was a pine forest. As the sea intruded the area covered with pines became smaller and smaller. Although this species is tolerant of salt air, they will not grow in salt water. Their range was gradually limited to the mainland or to the few offshore islands that had a small freshwater aquifer.

According to botanists the pines pictured above are the descendants of remnants of the original post-glacial pine forest. The pines on each island are autochthonous--descendants of the original pines that were growing on site (as opposed to pines developed from seeds spread by birds or by the wind). Thus they or their descendants had been growing in place for at least 10,000 years.

After Hurricane Wilma passed through the Keys in 2005, the pines all died. So for 10,000 years they had survived countless storms and hurricanes, all of which leads to the strong conclusion that in recent years the sea level has increased slightly, enough to inundate the island during a high-water incident like Wilma to the point that they were killed by salt intrusion.

So I don't really know if we are in a warming phase of a greater overall cooling phase, or if human-generated warming is counteracting a strong overall sun-related cooling phase, or any combination of the above.

All I really know is that now the pines are dead. And they weren't before Wilma in 2005. They had been there for over 10,000 years.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Will Someone Tell Us--About the Marcellus???

The price of gasoline has gone up again, not so high as it was three years ago in 2008, but high enough that families are feeling the pinch, and more specifically enough so that energy companies are exploring alternative sources of fuel.

One of the potential sources is the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation that stretches from New York State down through West Virginia. The Marcellus (named after a town in western New York where the "type section" was identified) was laid down in the Devonian era, 350 million years ago.

It is a black shale deposited in deep water when North America was splitting off from a supercontinent to the east. Decomposing plant and animal life was eventually converted to "natural gas," mostly methane, trapped within its layers.

In order to extract the gas in marketable quantities energy companies use a process called fracturing, or "fracking." Certain fluids and a type of sand are pumped into drilled shafts to fracture the rock, and find their way into every nook and cranny. When the fluid is extracted, the crevices remain, help open by the sand that is introduced. Then the gas can be pumped up the surface in marketable quantities.

(Above: section of the Marcellus Shale--darker layers in upper right)

But here's the rub: the companies who are drilling for gas in the Marcellus and other formations like it are hush-hush about the fluid used in fracking. After all, they are independent companies in competition with each other, and their trade secrets are proprietary information.

There is mounting evidence, however, not just from environmental bureaucrats but from landowners whose well water has been affected, that fracking fluid is contaminating local aquifers. Worse yet, it seems that in some cases the fluid contains benzene, a known carcinogen.

(Formula for benzene C6H6. Each carbon shares two hydrogens with the one adjacent to it, in a conformation known as a "benzene ring.")
Major urban centers like New York City and Philadelphia draw their water supplies from areas underlain by the Marcellus Shale. The potential problem is so great that even the state of Texas is now considering legislation requiring energy companies to reveal the nature of the fracking liquids they are using.

There is no doubt that the Marcellus contains enough untapped energy to alleviate greatly the country's dependence on foreign oil in future years. But it is also essential to maintain and safeguard a viable source of fresh, potable water for an expanding urban population.

Even a small amount of organic hydrocarbons (like benzene) can pollute an aquifer more or less permanently. Just ask anyone who has (or had) a well anywhere near a gas station with a ruptured or abandoned underground fuel tank. It's there, you can smell it, you can taste it, but you had better not drink too much of it.

Regardless of what kind of public relations "spin" energy companies put on the situation, good water is a basic necessity of human life, moreso than cheap, or even moderately cheap energy. Poisoning the aquifers is not an acceptable price. In the meantime the world awaits that clever engineer who will find a way to frack shale using a non-toxic method, and will surely beat a path to his door.

Annual Hurricane Prognostication

Once again, at the start of hurricane season this year, we have contacted our amateur hurricane prognosticator Typhoon O'Connor, who otherwise declines to be depicted or identified, for his annual report on water temperatures, thickness of caterpillars' fuzz, directions of land tortises crossing the road (what few of them are left), and other obscure imponderables known only to old Florida hands.

“This is another a them La NiƱa years,” he says. “This year th’ hexperts is downgradin' th' number of storm we'll have, but sayin' to look out--there'll be at least one big one to make land. To me that's like saying they'll have their cake an' eat it, too. Which is it?

"But that's how it is with all them buroocrats--they gotta have it both ways. So I'll stick with the amatoors again. Shoor we're in th' middle of a drought, an' no rain means the water ain't been cooled off like it should be. But them as have dipped their dainties in the offshore waters say that ain't so---the water's actually cooler this year.

"So I say, cool yer jets. Don't get all hot an' bothered about what's gonna happen. I predict another light year with a couple of scares maybe, but we're gonna luck out.

"Cut your coconuts, lay in some tinned meat and bottle water, pay up yer insurance if ya got it, but don't give yerself a case of agita."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea...

The door of the examining room opens, and the young doctor walks in, carrying an open laptop computer. He mumbles an apology for the delay, saying he wanted to take some time to review my records. On the computer.

He is a nice young man, with a young family, a local boy made good. This isn't really his practice, though. It's actually owned by a business which runs several clinics, and he works for them.

He continues to look at his laptop computer, as he reviews the results of my latest routine tests. "Uh-huh, uh-huh," he mutters to himself, in a standard physician-like manner.

Finally he looks up from the computer and asks me, "Now, if you come here, because you are having a heart attack, do you want us to revive you?

"I beg your pardon," I wasn't sure that I understood him. Why would he be asking something like that?

"Well, you know. Would you want us to shock you with an electric defribillator?"

"Paddles?" I ask. "Hell, yes! Why would anybody say no to that?"

"Well, some people, say they're 75 or older, take into consideration the quality of life after defribillation, and specify 'no resuscitation.'"

I will apply dietic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice. --Oath of Hippocrates

"Then this is something you need to ask me again when I'm 75." I'm reasonable healthy, and nowhere near 75. Clickety-click, he enters some unseen information into his laptop computer. The "examination" is now over.

Then my famous paranoia kicks in. In the first place I don't like the idea of having all my health records online and in someone's computer. I know that those records are available to everyone in that office.

What I may see or hear in the course of treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep myself holding such things shameful to be spoken about. --Oath of Hippocrates

And realistically they are also available to every enterprising snoop who wants to see them, be it the town gossip, a potential employer, or an insurance company.

And in the second place, how many people are being asked about this "no resuscitation" notation? Is this part of the current administration's initiative to get everyone's medical records online in order to economize on paperwork?

And with the obvious need to cut costs in Medicare and Medicaid is this part of another initiative to reduce expenses once an individual reaches a certain age? And what is that age--40, 50, 60?

So what can or should we do about it? If you are 40 or over, the best thing to do is to start eating and exercising sensibly, to get and stay with the best doctor you can find and plan on having enough money to pay him (or her). We seem to have turned our health system over to for-profit businesses.

Chances are that "your" physician is making decisions about your health based not on his inner intuition and experience, but on dictates and guidelines handed down to him by a faceless bean-counter in a faraway office.

Americans may yet find a way out of our current medical morass, but by all indications things are going to get much, much, worse before they get better. When I get these kinds of paranoid feelings I have never been wrong, never, not even once.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rick Scott and the Gordian Knot

Key West, like the rest of Florida and most of the US, is faced with a large number of mortgage foreclosures and unsold properties due to the bursting of the real estate bubble and related problems.

So the legislature of that state of fun and sun has come up with a unique solution: override any and all local zoning laws regulating use of residential properties as transient rental units.

This bill will allow investors to turn previous residential properties into mini hotels, and presumably will correct Florida's glut of unsold and foreclosed units.

Before you jump on the property rights bandwagon, consider that Key
West is an island roughly one by four miles, located over a hundred miles from the mainland, that they need adequate housing for middle and working class families, and that a great percentage of their housing stock is already designated for transient use.

UPDATE: 'House bill 883 - dealing with transient rental regulations - was amended in the House Economic Affairs Committee to specifically grandfather in all local ordinances and regulations adopted prior to June 1, 2011. After being amended, the committee approved the bill on a 7-3 vote.'
This action, if reported correctly, will take the pressure off local communities for a while, but make no mistake: there is so much short-range money to be made here, that this bill will come back in another form.

Herewith some of the commentary from locals on the impending changes:

A bill that's winding its way through the state Legislature would end Florida Keys governments' authority to regulate transient rentals, allowing property owners to rent their homes by the day, week,...

Talk with the people that will be adversely affected by this ruling. The ones now renting the small apartments in town and barely making enough to get by, but love Key West too much to leave. We're talking Conchs and non-Conchs. The ones doing the $10-$15 an hour jobs. They're worried about their "homes" being turned into transient rentals and they'll be forced to leave. Some people will say who cares about them, or if they need more money get a better job, or maybe why don't they start their own business. They're in the economic situation that best suits them at this time in their lives and don't have all those options. Folks when these people leave if you thought the service in this town was bad before, you ain't seen nothin yet.

Congratulations Floridians! Another helpful bill from the GOP and Rick "I take the fifth" Scott. Another step toward the destruction of any middle class in Monroe County. These people claim they want Government out of our lives and stand for local rule, but they are passing a law that will prevent local communities from doing what they want in terms of zoning and regulation. Surely our State Capital knows what is best for the people living in Monroe County. If Obama's administration had passed this at the Federal Level, people would be screaming for States Rights and against Mandates. I guess it is OK to stick Government into my life when it is Scott and his band of merry thieves writing the laws. The only people who think this would be good are speculators and people who own multiple homes. They bought these homes fully aware of the rules, but that will not stop them from babbling about property rights. No one wants to live next to a transient rental home. No one.

One day, two days, one week, two weeks and no transient license required? Hmmm....who is going to regulate the occupancy taxes? Or the required rental agreements. We just had a spring breaker DIE in a rental property. I wonder just how many kids were renting that unit and if any were of legal drinking age. Word on the street says there is more to that story. I can see the lawyers like vultures waiting for their next prey if this bill passes. I also smell lawsuits - how many more injured or dead tourists does Key West want? Do you want to live in the neighborhood where every day different people come and go as they want, partying all hours of the day, wrecking your property values in the process? Say hello Key West to more crime and problems than you can imagine!

The realtors will be happy about this, but the quality of life in the Keys; such as it is, will be even lower. It will be a rental free for all. No wonder the Keys is losing population. You'll be living next to a place being rented out by the latest Keys real estate genius who thinks he'll be a millionaire because he bought a house here.

We must be proactive and be sure Saunders and other
representatives KNOW that this must be stopped. It will really ruin our neighborhoods and will take away rentals from local workers. It will harm the legitimate, legal lodging facilities. And it will take away from the tax base. This is a losing proposition at every angle.

Sounds like another of Slick Ricks favors for his business supporters. take away a good regulation that helps the neighborhoods live in piece and quiet for some greedy MF to make a quick buck. If this does pass then the neighbors will have to be vigilant about calling the police when there is too much noise and making sure the laws regarding noise are enforced. One thing one might also consider if this bill passes and someone ends ups with people renting next to their home and causing loss of piece and quiet after hours is to get some speakers and place outside or in your windows and blare some very loud music starting at about 8am when those partiers are trying to sleep during the day. Rick Scott is going to destroy our state and make it so only the very wealthy have a say in the way things are.

I don't like short term transient rentals; I live next to one and the noise, arg. It is annoying to the residents who live here year round ( now it is quiet; thank god spring breakers are gone-college kids). Residential neighborhoods are quiet and peaceful, we don't want some rowdy people move in for a couple of days or a week and disrupt everything by partying all hours of the night and have no consideration for others. I would not want to end Florida Keys governments' authority to regulate transient rentals, allowing property owners to rent homes, condos town houses for the day or two or a week. JUST SAY NO! to the bill that would allow this.

Those of us who are paying our own way and purchased property with the expectation of living in a residential neighborhood have no sympathy for the ones whining about how they need to destroy our neighborhoods so that they can make a buck. And, obviously, if they intend to rent their property short term, they will not even be around to share the hardship this would create.

Just wondering if any of you people who support this have ever lived next door to a transient rental home and had your kids waken up almost every night by people partying from morning to night. My guess is of course not. Property Right always seem to end when the advocate is impacted. How about if I put a pig farm next door to your house? It might help if you take some time to think about your neighbors and those of us trying to raise families in this town. Wanting your kids to be able to sleep does not make you a "gotminer!". I hope Karma visits on those of you who are nasty and you end up with your neighbor illegally renting. Lets see how fast you change your tune.

Modern day Libertarians, Teabaggers, and just plain conservatives tend to forget that zoning was originally a middle-class intitiative, aimed at protecting neighborhood values. There is a place for hotel type units, just as there is a place for machine shops and pig farms. On a one by four mile island strict zoning makes sense. This "cure" is very likely to kill the patient.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

George Friedman: What Happened to the American Declaration of War?

I have never reblogged outside material, but I thought that Friedman's article made eminent sense.

"This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR"

In my book “The Next Decade,” I spend a good deal of time considering the relation of the American Empire to the American Republic and the threat the empire poses to the republic. If there is a single point where these matters converge, it is in the constitutional requirement that Congress approve wars through a declaration of war and in the abandonment of this requirement since World War II. This is the point where the burdens and interests of the United States as a global empire collide with the principles and rights of the United States as a republic.
World War II was the last war the United States fought with a formal declaration of war. The wars fought since have had congressional approval, both in the sense that resolutions were passed and that Congress appropriated funds, but the Constitution is explicit in requiring a formal declaration. It does so for two reasons, I think. The first is to prevent the president from taking the country to war without the consent of the governed, as represented by Congress. Second, by providing for a specific path to war, it provides the president power and legitimacy he would not have without that declaration; it both restrains the president and empowers him. Not only does it make his position as commander in chief unassailable by authorizing military action, it creates shared responsibility for war. A declaration of war informs the public of the burdens they will have to bear by leaving no doubt that Congress has decided on a new order — war — with how each member of Congress voted made known to the public.
Almost all Americans have heard Franklin Roosevelt’s speech to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941: “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan … I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
It was a moment of majesty and sobriety, and with Congress’ affirmation, represented the unquestioned will of the republic. There was no going back, and there was no question that the burden would be borne. True, the Japanese had attacked the United States, making getting the declaration easier. But that’s what the founders intended: Going to war should be difficult; once at war, the commander in chief’s authority should be unquestionable.
Forgoing the Declaration
It is odd, therefore, that presidents who need that authorization badly should forgo pursuing it. Not doing so has led to seriously failed presidencies: Harry Truman in Korea, unable to seek another term; Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, also unable to seek a new term; George W. Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq, completing his terms but enormously unpopular. There was more to this than undeclared wars, but that the legitimacy of each war was questioned and became a contentious political issue certainly is rooted in the failure to follow constitutional pathways.
In understanding how war and constitutional norms became separated, we must begin with the first major undeclared war in American history (the Civil War was not a foreign war), Korea. When North Korea invaded South Korea, Truman took recourse to the new U.N. Security Council. He wanted international sanction for the war and was able to get it because the Soviet representatives happened to be boycotting the Security Council over other issues at the time.
Truman’s view was that U.N. sanction for the war superseded the requirement for a declaration of war in two ways. First, it was not a war in the strict sense, he argued, but a “police action” under the U.N. Charter. Second, the U.N. Charter constituted a treaty, therefore implicitly binding the United States to go to war if the United Nations so ordered. Whether Congress’ authorization to join the United Nations both obligated the United States to wage war at U.N. behest, obviating the need for declarations of war because Congress had already authorized police actions, is an interesting question. Whatever the answer, Truman set a precedent that wars could be waged without congressional declarations of war and that other actions — from treaties to resolutions to budgetary authorizations — mooted declarations of war.
If this was the founding precedent, the deepest argument for the irrelevancy of the declaration of war is to be found in nuclear weapons. Starting in the 1950s, paralleling the Korean War, was the increasing risk of nuclear war. It was understood that if nuclear war occurred, either through an attack by the Soviets or a first strike by the United States, time and secrecy made a prior declaration of war by Congress impossible. In the expected scenario of a Soviet first strike, there would be only minutes for the president to authorize counterstrikes and no time for constitutional niceties. In that sense, it was argued fairly persuasively that the Constitution had become irrelevant to the military realities facing the republic.
Nuclear war was seen as the most realistic war-fighting scenario, with all other forms of war trivial in comparison. Just as nuclear weapons came to be called “strategic weapons” with other weapons of war occupying a lesser space, nuclear war became identical with war in general. If that was so, then constitutional procedures that could not be applied to nuclear war were simply no longer relevant.
Paradoxically, if nuclear warfare represented the highest level of warfare, there developed at the lowest level covert operations. Apart from the nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, there was an intense covert war, from back alleys in Europe to the Congo, Indochina to Latin America. Indeed, it was waged everywhere precisely because the threat of nuclear war was so terrible: Covert warfare became a prudent alternative. All of these operations had to be deniable. An attempt to assassinate a Soviet agent or raise a secret army to face a Soviet secret army could not be validated with a declaration of war. The Cold War was a series of interconnected but discrete operations, fought with secret forces whose very principle was deniability. How could declarations of war be expected in operations so small in size that had to be kept secret from Congress anyway?
There was then the need to support allies, particularly in sending advisers to train their armies. These advisers were not there to engage in combat but to advise those who did. In many cases, this became an artificial distinction: The advisers accompanied their students on missions, and some died. But this was not war in any conventional sense of the term. And therefore, the declaration of war didn’t apply.
By the time Vietnam came up, the transition from military assistance to advisers to advisers in combat to U.S. forces at war was so subtle that there was no moment to which you could point that said that we were now in a state of war where previously we weren’t. Rather than ask for a declaration of war, Johnson used an incident in the Tonkin Gulf to get a congressional resolution that he interpreted as being the equivalent of war. The problem here was that it was not clear that had he asked for a formal declaration of war he would have gotten one. Johnson didn’t take that chance.
What Johnson did was use Cold War precedents, from the Korean War, to nuclear warfare, to covert operations to the subtle distinctions of contemporary warfare in order to wage a substantial and extended war based on the Tonkin Gulf resolution — which Congress clearly didn’t see as a declaration of war — instead of asking for a formal declaration. And this represented the breakpoint. In Vietnam, the issue was not some legal or practical justification for not asking for a declaration. Rather, it was a political consideration.
Johnson did not know that he could get a declaration; the public might not be prepared to go to war. For this reason, rather than ask for a declaration, he used all the prior precedents to simply go to war without a declaration. In my view, that was the moment the declaration of war as a constitutional imperative collapsed. And in my view, so did the Johnson presidency. In hindsight, he needed a declaration badly, and if he could not get it, Vietnam would have been lost, and so may have been his presidency. Since Vietnam was lost anyway from lack of public consensus, his decision was a mistake. But it set the stage for everything that came after — war by resolution rather than by formal constitutional process.
After the war, Congress created the War Powers Act in recognition that wars might commence before congressional approval could be given. However, rather than returning to the constitutional method of the Declaration of War, which can be given after the commencement of war if necessary (consider World War II) Congress chose to bypass declarations of war in favor of resolutions allowing wars. Their reason was the same as the president’s: It was politically safer to authorize a war already under way than to invoke declarations of war.
All of this arose within the assertion that the president’s powers as commander in chief authorized him to engage in warfare without a congressional declaration of war, an idea that came in full force in the context of nuclear war and then was extended to the broader idea that all wars were at the discretion of the president. From my simple reading, the Constitution is fairly clear on the subject: Congress is given the power to declare war. At that moment, the president as commander in chief is free to prosecute the war as he thinks best. But constitutional law and the language of the Constitution seem to have diverged. It is a complex field of study, obviously.
An Increasing Tempo of Operations
All of this came just before the United States emerged as the world’s single global power — a global empire — that by definition would be waging war at an increased tempo, from Kuwait, to Haiti, to Kosovo, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, and so on in an ever-increasing number of operations. And now in Libya, we have reached the point that even resolutions are no longer needed.
It is said that there is no precedent for fighting al Qaeda, for example, because it is not a nation but a subnational group. Therefore, Bush could not reasonably have been expected to ask for a declaration of war. But there is precedent: Thomas Jefferson asked for and received a declaration of war against the Barbary pirates. This authorized Jefferson to wage war against a subnational group of pirates as if they were a nation.
Had Bush requested a declaration of war on al Qaeda on Sept. 12, 2001, I suspect it would have been granted overwhelmingly, and the public would have understood that the United States was now at war for as long as the president thought wise. The president would have been free to carry out operations as he saw fit. Roosevelt did not have to ask for special permission to invade Guadalcanal, send troops to India, or invade North Africa. In the course of fighting Japan, Germany and Italy, it was understood that he was free to wage war as he thought fit. In the same sense, a declaration of war on Sept. 12 would have freed him to fight al Qaeda wherever they were or to move to block them wherever the president saw fit.
Leaving aside the military wisdom of Afghanistan or Iraq, the legal and moral foundations would have been clear — so long as the president as commander in chief saw an action as needed to defeat al Qaeda, it could be taken. Similarly, as commander in chief, Roosevelt usurped constitutional rights for citizens in many ways, from censorship to internment camps for Japanese-Americans. Prisoners of war not adhering to the Geneva Conventions were shot by military tribunal — or without. In a state of war, different laws and expectations exist than during peace. Many of the arguments against Bush-era intrusions on privacy also could have been made against Roosevelt. But Roosevelt had a declaration of war and full authority as commander in chief during war. Bush did not. He worked in twilight between war and peace.
One of the dilemmas that could have been avoided was the massive confusion of whether the United States was engaged in hunting down a criminal conspiracy or waging war on a foreign enemy. If the former, then the goal is to punish the guilty. If the latter, then the goal is to destroy the enemy. Imagine that after Pearl Harbor, FDR had promised to hunt down every pilot who attacked Pearl Harbor and bring them to justice, rather than calling for a declaration of war against a hostile nation and all who bore arms on its behalf regardless of what they had done. The goal in war is to prevent the other side from acting, not to punish the actors.
The Importance of the Declaration
A declaration of war, I am arguing, is an essential aspect of war fighting particularly for the republic when engaged in frequent wars. It achieves a number of things. First, it holds both Congress and the president equally responsible for the decision, and does so unambiguously. Second, it affirms to the people that their lives have now changed and that they will be bearing burdens. Third, it gives the president the political and moral authority he needs to wage war on their behalf and forces everyone to share in the moral responsibility of war. And finally, by submitting it to a political process, many wars might be avoided. When we look at some of our wars after World War II it is not clear they had to be fought in the national interest, nor is it clear that the presidents would not have been better remembered if they had been restrained. A declaration of war both frees and restrains the president, as it was meant to do.
I began by talking about the American empire. I won’t make the argument on that here, but simply assert it. What is most important is that the republic not be overwhelmed in the course of pursuing imperial goals. The declaration of war is precisely the point at which imperial interests can overwhelm republican prerogatives.
There are enormous complexities here. Nuclear war has not been abolished. The United States has treaty obligations to the United Nations and other countries. Covert operations are essential, as is military assistance, both of which can lead to war. I am not making the argument that constant accommodation to reality does not have to be made. I am making the argument that the suspension of Section 8 of Article I as if it is possible to amend the Constitution with a wink and nod represents a mortal threat to the republic. If this can be done, what can’t be done?
My readers will know that I am far from squeamish about war. I have questions about Libya, for example, but I am open to the idea that it is a low-cost, politically appropriate measure. But I am not open to the possibility that quickly after the commencement of hostilities the president need not receive authority to wage war from Congress. And I am arguing that neither the Congress nor the president have the authority to substitute resolutions for declarations of war. Nor should either want to. Politically, this has too often led to disaster for presidents. Morally, committing the lives of citizens to waging war requires meticulous attention to the law and proprieties.
As our international power and interests surge, it would seem reasonable that our commitment to republican principles would surge. These commitments appear inconvenient. They are meant to be. War is a serious matter, and presidents and particularly Congresses should be inconvenienced on the road to war. Members of Congress should not be able to hide behind ambiguous resolutions only to turn on the president during difficult times, claiming that they did not mean what they voted for. A vote on a declaration of war ends that. It also prevents a president from acting as king by default. Above all, it prevents the public from pretending to be victims when their leaders take them to war. The possibility of war will concentrate the mind of a distracted public like nothing else. It turns voting into a life-or-death matter, a tonic for our adolescent body politic.