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Change We Can Believe In, XXIX

March 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Presidential Assassinations With No Judicial Review

I have used this series several times to make the point that President Obama, rather than reversing the Bush-Cheney administration’s assault on the rule of law, has continued and codified it, turning the illegal into the bipartisan norm. Last Monday, on behalf of Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder took the next step down this now well trodden road. In his NYT coverage, Charlie Savage wrote that Holder

asserted on Monday that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States and if capturing them alive is not feasible.

“Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack,” Mr. Holder said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school. “In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.”

While Mr. Holder is not the first administration official to address the targeted killing of citizens — the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, did so last month at Yale Law School, for example — it was notable for the nation’s top law enforcement official to declare that it is constitutional for the government to kill citizens without any judicial review under certain circumstances. Mr. Holder’s remarks about the targeted killing of United States citizens were a centerpiece of a speech describing legal principles behind the Obama administration’s counterterrorism policies.

It’s worth keeping in mind one thing Holder did not do, which was to make public the memo that David Barron and Martin Lederman, as members of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, prepared to justify the White House decision to kill US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen last September by a drone strike. As Scott Horton concludes in his analysis of Holder’s speech, “If America is truly sticking to her laws and values, then she should have no difficulty exposing her policies to public scrutiny.” And administration officials have yet to provide any explanation for the assassination two weeks later of al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman.

As for the use of the word ‘assassination’, Holder objected, arguing that such operations “are not, and the use of that loaded term is misplaced. Assassinations are unlawful killings. Here, for the reasons I have given, the U.S. government’s use of lethal force in self defense against a leader of al Qaeda or an associated force who presents an imminent threat of violent attack would not be unlawful—and therefore would not violate the Executive Order banning assassination or criminal statutes.” Turning to Horton again for analysis, we learn that

Holder was referring specifically to Executive Order 13222, issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, which says, “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” But as with so much U.S. national-security legislation, this order turns out to be far less than meets the eye. Simplified, the present law of EO 13222 could be summarized this way: “No one shall be assassinated—unless the president authorizes it, in which case we will refrain from calling it an assassination.”

I could go on, but it’s too discouraging. See instead the lead editorial in today’s NYT.

See also digby’s post yesterday, in a different context, on Obama and civil liberties. I’ll end with an excerpt:

I think you have to take [Obama] at his word and accept that what he’s done in this realm in the past three years was done because he believes they are “what works.” The problem is that “what works” doesn’t always comport with our values and our beliefs. (And none of this is to say that any of it necessarily “works” either, simply that the government obviously believes it does.)

That’s one of the reasons we have a constitution and a set of ideals to guide us. Solely depending on “what works” naturally leads to authoritarianism … After the policies of this first term, making respect for civil liberties and a lasting humane national security policy part of his legacy is going to be a very tough row to hoe because they reflect values of such transcendent importance. “What works” is very often the opposite of the values we supposedly hold dear — you either believe in them or you don’t. And for the last three years, it’s been the latter.

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Categories: Law, Politics

Grand Forks Olive Garden

March 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The mystery of Olive Garden is a recurring topic here at Ron’s View. I wrote about it most recently just before Christmas, discussing a WSJ article about the efforts by national casual-dining chains to upgrade their offerings while maintaining their appeal to a broad demographic. Olive Garden was the primary example, with their president explaining that they “don’t use the word authentic” to describe the Olive Garden experience, preferring “Italian inspired.” I expressed my concern at the end that I was “trapped between demographic groups, condemned never to find my proper home.”

Our last Olive Garden outing was in mid-July, when I solved the problem of how to choose from three OG classics — lasagna, fettucini alfredo, and chicken parmigiana, by having them all, thanks to a menu special called the Tour of Italy. I commented at the time that “putting quality aside for a moment, it’s way too much. And an absurd mix. No side vegetable for one. What was I thinking? How did Gail allow me to do it, and then follow suit?” But I did enjoy the separate items.

Which brings me to last Wednesday’s now-viral review of Olive Garden by Marilyn Hagerty in North Dakota’s Grand Forks Herald. When I saw a link to it on Facebook, via one of Gail’s cousin’s sons (who has inside knowledge as an OG waitstaff veteran), I instantly clicked on it. In these parts, one doesn’t expect to see a review of Olive Garden or its peers, so I was curious to see what a restaurant reviewer would make of it.

I thought Ms. Hagerty did a good job of explaining its appeal. Here’s a sample.

After a lengthy wait for Olive Garden to open in Grand Forks, the lines were long in February. The novelty is slowly wearing off, but the steady following attests the warm welcome.

My first visit to Olive Garden was during midafternoon, so I could be sure to get in. After a late breakfast, I figured a late lunch would be fashionable.

The place is impressive. It’s fashioned in Tuscan farmhouse style with a welcoming entryway. There is seating for those who are waiting.

[snip]

At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.

She first brought me the familiar Olive Garden salad bowl with crisp greens, peppers, onion rings and yes — several black olives. Along with it came a plate with two long, warm breadsticks.

The chicken Alfredo ($10.95) was warm and comforting on a cold day. The portion was generous. My server was ready with Parmesan cheese.

As I ate, I noticed the vases and planters with permanent flower displays on the ledges. There are several dining areas with arched doorways. And there is a fireplace that adds warmth to the decor.

[snip]

All in all, it is the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks. It attracts visitors from out of town as well as people who live here.

Well, you can imagine the wave of snark attacks that ensued, prompting a second wave of spirited defenses. Ms. Hagerty is now a celebrity, and an admirable one at that. It turns out that she retired in the 1970s, is 85 years old, but still writes five columns a week. Thursday, The Village Voice included an interview with her. Yesterday, she appeared on CBS This Morning: Saturday with co-hosts Rebecca Jarvis and James Brown.

Hagerty’s own Grand Forks Herald had a piece Friday on her new-found fame, with follow-up coverage yesterday by publisher, Mike Jacobs. Trying to make sense of why the review elicited such a response, Jacobs concluded that

Marilyn’s modesty stood in sharp contrast to pretension that characterizes lots of critical writing in the United States, not just restaurant reviews. Her “aw shucks” attitude helped, too. So did her age.

Probably, so did her home town, a small city in a state that much of America has ridiculed — until oil made us rich and good government made us famous.

So, it was a kind of perfect storm.

Marilyn went viral, and her fame reflects on the Herald and Grand Forks.

We’re hoping to extend this by sending Marilyn to New York. Haven’t all of us always wondered what it would be like to dine at one of Gotham’s toniest restaurants?

Marilyn’s going to tell us.

There was a time when Gail’s brother lived in the small (really small, on the order of 200 people) town of Grygla in northwest Minnesota, 90 miles east-northeast from Grand Forks. In the summer of 1986, we visited him and his family, flying into Grand Forks, where they picked us up. I have to say, if I lived in Grygla, or any of the hundreds of other small towns in a 90-mile radius, I would find it pretty darn cool to have an Olive Garden open up within reach. A day trip to the city for shopping, a movie, and an Olive Garden dinner — that would be real special. I would spend my days dreaming about that Tour of Italy.

Categories: Journalism, Restaurants

Barter Books and More

March 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The video above tells the story of a British World War II poster with the message “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I happened to see a link to it yesterday morning on Andrew Sullivan’s blog. I rarely click on Sullivan’s video links, but something about this one caught my eye, and I’m glad it did. For, poster story aside, I was charmed by the views of the bookshop, Barter Books, where the poster was found in a box. See for yourself, starting at around 1:15 and continuing to the end. The bookshop is located in part of an 1887 railway station in Alnwick, north of Newcastle on the way to Edinburgh. One can learn more about the shop and station here and in the subsequent links.

I feel more than a little awkward about admiring the shop while confining most of my book purchases to Amazon. This is an on-going problem for us when we visit Nantucket, which has two wonderful bookstore that I have written about before, Mitchell’s Book Corner and Nantucket Bookworks. I was pleased to read three days ago that the two are likely to survive as part of a partnership that will run them jointly as “full-service, year-round bookstores,” thanks to the Schmidt Family Foundation. This is an extraordinary commitment for such a small community. Wendy Schmidt is quoted as saying, “I truly believe that collaboration rather than competition is the best course for the island’s bookstores. Mitchell’s Book Corner and Bookworks will each retain their own unique personalities, but by functioning cooperatively we’ll be able to strengthen both entities and offer even more for the island’s readers.” I do lots of reading when we’re there, but on my Kindle. This year we’ll make a point of buying books from both stores.

Meanwhile, in looking at the Barter Books website, I was led to The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World, a slideshow with brief descriptions. Most of the featured stores are in Europe, with two in China, one in Japan, one in Taiwan, one in Mexico, two in South America, and two in the US (LA and Ojai). I wish I knew about Bart’s Books when we were in Ojai a few summers ago.

Categories: Architecture, Books

Neighborhood Eagle

March 11, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s not entirely news that there are eagles from time to time in our neighborhood, but when I see one, I still get excited. Three Junes ago, I wrote in passing about an eagle sighting on the north end of Foster Island. Today, at the same location, I saw the juvenile pictured above.

We are fortunate to live close to Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum, a city park managed by the University of Washington as part of the larger entity, UW Botanical Gardens. (The UWBG is directed by my friend Sarah Reichard whose book The Conscientious Gardener was the subject of a post of mine last June.) Foster Island is its northernmost portion, as you can see on the map below, on which north is to the right. Our house is on the map too, making it a short walk to the island.

You’ll also see the island’s one drawback, the fact that State Route 520 happens to run across it. A pedestrian tunnel provides access to Foster Island’s north end, with the highway well hidden visually, but not aurally. On weekends such as this one, when SR-520 is closed to traffic because of maintenance work or construction, a walk across the island is mandatory.

Once through the tunnel, it’s a straight walk of about 200 yards north to a clearing on the edge of the island, on the shoreline of Union Bay, with an outlook across Lake Washington to the east, the Montlake Cut (an artificial waterway with a drawbridge) dividing the north and south sides of Seattle to the west, the university to the northwest, and the Laurelhurst neighborhood to the northeast. The northernmost tall tree on the east side of the clearing is the eagle hangout. I zoomed in below.

Not the best photos. Sorry.

Categories: Birds, House