Archive for June, 2012

Deport the Innocent

June 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced, as reported in the NYT, that

hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children will be allowed to remain in the country without fear of deportation and able to work … .

Administration officials said the president used existing legal authority to make the broad policy change, which could temporarily benefit more than 800,000 young people. He did not consult with Congress, where Republicans have generally opposed measures to benefit illegal immigrants.

The policy, while not granting any permanent legal status, clears the way for young illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally and obtain driver’s licenses and many other documents they have lacked.

Later in the day, Atrios devoted a post to what he labeled Asshole Test:

I think a reasonable test of whether someone is an asshole without any hope of improvement is if you sit them down and explain that:

1) People without the legal right to live and work in this country often bring their kids here with them.

2) Those kids are often quite young when they arrive. You know, babies.

3) Such kids also are undocumented.

4) In many cases they grow up not or barely speaking the language of their home countries, depending on their age and particular circumstances.

5) Given whole lack of documentation thing, most of these kids have never been to the country that their parents came from and don’t know any of the family, if any, that are still there.

6) Upon becoming adults, their work and educational opportunities are complicated and limited.

If the person’s response is, “they’re illegal, deport them,” then you know you’ve found an asshole.

Today, in a front-page NYT article, Damien Cave provided a concrete example of the damage done.

Jeffrey Isidoro sat near the door of his fifth-grade classroom here in central Mexico, staring outside through designer glasses that, like his Nike sneakers and Nike backpack, signaled a life lived almost entirely in the United States. His parents are at home in Mexico. Jeffrey is lost.

When his teacher asked in Spanish how dolphins communicate, a boy next to him reached over to underline the right answer. When it was Jeffrey’s turn to read, his classmates laughed and shouted “en inglés, en inglés” — causing Jeffrey to blush.

“Houston is home,” Jeffrey said during recess, in English. “The houses and stuff here, it’s all a little strange. I feel, like, uncomfortable.”

Never before has Mexico seen so many American Jeffreys, Jennifers and Aidens in its classrooms. The wave of deportations in the past few years, along with tougher state laws and persistent unemployment, have all created a mass exodus of Mexican parents who are leaving with their American sons and daughters.


Critics of immigration have mostly welcomed the mass departure, but demographers and educators worry that far too many American children are being sent to schools in Mexico that are not equipped to integrate them. And because research shows that most of these children plan to return to the United States, some argue that what is Mexico’s challenge today will be an American problem tomorrow, with a new class of emerging immigrants: young adults with limited skills, troubled childhoods and the full rights of American citizenship.

“These kinds of changes are really traumatic for kids,” said Marta Tienda, a sociologist at Princeton who was born in Texas to Mexican migrant laborers. “It’s going to stick with them.”

Jeffrey’s situation is increasingly common. His father, Tomás Isidoro, 39, a carpenter, was one of the 46,486 immigrants deported in the first half of 2011 who said they had American children, according to a report by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Congress. That is eight times the half-year average for such removals from 1998 to 2007.

Mr. Isidoro, wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat in his parents’ kitchen, said he was still angry that his 25 years of work in the United States meant nothing; that being caught with a broken taillight on his vehicle and without immigration papers meant more than having two American sons — Jeffrey, 10, and his brother, Tommy Jefferson, 2, who was named after the family’s favorite president.

As for President Obama, Mr. Isidoro uttered an expletive. “There are all these drug addicts, drug dealers, people who do nothing in the United States, and you’re going to kick people like me out,” he said. “Why?”


Jeffrey, like many other children whose parents have moved them to a country they do not know, seems to be teetering between catching up to his classmates and falling further behind. His parents are struggling to find work and keep their marriage together. Jeffrey, in quieter moments, said he was just trying to endure until he could go home.

“I dream, like, I’m sleeping in the United States,” he said. “But when I wake up, I’m in Mexico.”

Obama’s policy change has come a little late. But I’ll put most of the blame for our benighted immigration policies on the Republican Party leadership, who care far more for children before they are born than after.

Categories: Law, Politics

War-Mongering Romney

June 18, 2012 Leave a comment

[Sorry. I couldn’t find an image of Romney tearing up the Constitution.]

CBS’s Bob Schieffer had a chat with Mitt Romney, broadcast on Face the Nation yesterday. The snippet on Iran got a lot of attention today. Here is that portion’s text, emphasis mine:

SCHIEFFER: Let me turn to foreign policy. Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard this week, says we are reaching the time of consequence in our dealing with Iran on nuclear weapons. He says it is time for the President to go to the Congress and say, “I want you to authorize me to be able to use military force” if that becomes necessary. And he says if the President is not willing to do that, then the Congress should do it themselves. What’s your take on that?

ROMNEY: Well, I can understand the reason for his recommendation and his concern. I think he’s recognized that this president has communicated that in some respects, well, he might even be more worried about Israel taking direct military action than he is about Iran becoming nuclear. That’s the opinion of some who watch this. And so he wants the President to take action that shows that a military Iran, that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.

And I believe it’s important for us to communicate that. I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The President has that capacity now. I understand that some in the Senate for instance have written letters to the President indicating you should know that a containment strategy is unacceptable.

We cannot survive a course of action would include a nuclear Iran we must be willing to take any and all actions. All those actions must be on the table.

Scary stuff.

Of course, Romney has no beliefs. He says what he thinks will aid in his election, adding that Obama’s position is the opposite even when they agree. But really — the president is free to act militarily anywhere and any time he wants? (Not that Obama acts otherwise.) And we won’t survive if Iran gets nuclear weapons? As conservative writer Daniel Larison observed this morning,

[Romney] is telling the public plainly that he believes the United States cannot survive a containment policy directed against Iran. It is fair to conclude from this that Romney is delusional (or is pretending to be delusional) and cannot be entrusted with the responsibilities of the Presidency.

The United States survived decades of containing Soviet power. America outlasted what may have been the greatest security threat in our history partly because of a policy of containment. Iran is far weaker than any threat the USSR ever posed. If the U.S. could not survive a nuclear-armed Iran, a President Romney would be powerless to change that. On the other hand, back in the real world, if the U.S. has little to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran and is more than capable of deterring any threat from Iran, there is no reason to listen to anything Romney has to say on this subject.

Romney obviously does not believe war is a last resort, and he clearly doesn’t believe that the Congress has anything to say about attacking Iran. According to Romney, it is something that the President could do tomorrow if he believed it necessary. The Constitution is completely irrelevant to Romney, and so is the consent of the American people expressed through its representatives. No one should have any illusions about how Romney would conduct foreign policy if he is elected.

See also today’s post by Greg Sargent.

Categories: Politics, War

The Art of Fielding

June 18, 2012 Leave a comment

I wrote six days ago about finishing Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes. Next on my reading list were several massively long books, none of which I seemed willing to embark on. It’s not that I don’t want to read them. I just don’t want to devote weeks to them.

There’s Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power, which I keep mentioning as next up. Amanda Foreman’s A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War, which got such astonishingly good reviews last year. Do I really want to read 700 or 800 pages on LBJ, or the Civil War? Though the appeal of these books will lie in their great story telling and portrayal of character, even if they cover seemingly familiar ground. And then there are the Hilary Mantel novels I keep deferring, Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, now a bestseller. Three years ago I just had to read the first one. Now it has sat in my bedroom unread for two and a half.

I’ll get to them.

Don’t forget Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, as I almost did. (What would a book be these days without a colonic sub-title? This one is no different. Its sub-title? “A Novel”. Geez, what’s wrong with publishers?) It got rave reviews on its arrival last fall. For instance, by Michiko Katutani in the daily NYT and then by Gregory Cowles a few days later in the Sunday NYT. I made a mental note to myself to read it.

In late November, the NYT named it one of the ten best books of 2011. I re-read the reviews. I downloaded the free opening section, started it, decided to read the book, added it to my list. Two months later, I was still putting it off. Something about 500+ page novels. After another month, I dropped it from my list, having decided that it was probably over-rated. It can’t be that good. And did you see the comments at Amazon? Some people flat-out hated it.

Well, last week, with so many other 500+, 600+, 700+, 800+ page books awaiting me, 510 pages didn’t look so bad. I downloaded The Art of Fielding and began. Progress was slow for three days. A hundred pages in, I caught on that there were five main characters to track. (The fifth one didn’t show up for a while.) Two hundred pages in, things weren’t looking so good for any of them and I wasn’t convinced I wanted to read 500 pages of people failing. Failure may be our ultimate shared fate, but that doesn’t mean I have to read about it. The book starts with such promise for one of the characters. I didn’t anticipate getting much pleasure from his failing, if that’s what was to be. Halfway through, the relationships between the various characters acquired sufficient complexity that simple success or failure on the ball field became less pressing. I could enjoy the characters individually and in pairs and let go of rooting for them.

As for failure, I got to see plenty of that during this past weekend’s US Open golf championship, a subject better left for another post. I’ll just say that my plan on Saturday was to watch the third round, with the final round and Father’s Day activities to fill my day Sunday. However, as Saturday’s golf became its own tale of failure, I found myself shutting the TV in favor of the book, whose last 260 pages I completed over the course of the day.

The book has its weaknesses, perhaps by design. The non-principal characters are barely developed. One of the five principals is thinly developed. At least one relationship I found unconvincing. But no matter. It’s an enchanting story.

Categories: Books

Abolish Tenure

June 14, 2012 Leave a comment

[Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine, 8/16/09]

What? Abolish tenure? Am I — long-tenured professor and one-time university administrator — really saying that?

Well, no. Not regarding academic tenure. I’m thinking of a completely different category of tenure: the tenure the New York Times bestows on its columnists.

Growing up, I knew something was wrong. I would read one Arthur Krock column after another and never figure out why he kept filling space. Then there was Flora Lewis. And now? Yes, once again, it’s time to complain about David Brooks. (See here and here and here and here and here.) What’s with that guy anyway? He’s so totally full of you-know-what.

Two days ago, in his now-famous The Follower Problem, Brooks offered his latest take on what’s wrong with the rest of us. Only by reading it in its entirety can you properly appreciate how dickish Brooks is. Here’s a sample (emphasis mine).

The old adversary culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass adversarial cynicism. The common assumption is that elites are always hiding something. Public servants are in it for themselves. Those people at the top are nowhere near as smart or as wonderful as pure and all-knowing Me.

You end up with movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties that try to dispense with authority altogether. They reject hierarchies and leaders because they don’t believe in the concepts. The whole world should be like the Internet — a disbursed semianarchy in which authority is suspect and each individual is king.

Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following. Democratic followership is also built on a series of paradoxes: that we are all created equal but that we also elevate those who are extraordinary; that we choose our leaders but also have to defer to them and trust their discretion; that we’re proud individuals but only really thrive as a group, organized and led by just authority.

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

In his memoir, “At Ease,” Eisenhower delivered the following advice: “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.” Ike slowly mastered the art of leadership by becoming a superb apprentice.

To have good leaders you have to have good followers — able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it. Those skills are required for good monument building, too.

Good god!

I am so so grateful for our leaders. Where do I begin? Let’s see. There was LBJ. He sent thousands to Vietnam to die in order to look strong. And Nixon. He said he would bring them home, but sent more, and bombed the crap out of Hanoi for no good reason on the eve of a peace agreement. Should I go on? Well, let’s jump ahead a few decades. Bush led us into war on lies so he could one-up his father. Obama kills selected lucky duckies — US citizens aren’t exempt — in countries we’re not at war with because, well, I suppose because he’s extraordinary and we trust his discretion. Oh, and what about all those leaders of financial institutions who destroyed the economy? Extraordinary as well.

I must have an attitude problem. Good thing Brooks is on the case.

Without naming names, Brooks’ neighbor down the NYT hallway, Paul Krugman, slipped in a comment today. Writing a blog post about a Bloomberg article with the title “Hungary Lauds Hitler Ally Horthy As Orban Fails To Stop Hatred,” Krugman concludes: “But remember, the big problem is that the public isn’t showing enough deference to the elite.”

Does the NYT have a tenure review process? If not they certainly should. If so, time to set it in motion. And when they’re done with Brooks, they can turn to Tom “suck-on-this” Friedman.

I’ll give Radley Balko the last word:

Those of us who question authority do so not because we’re vain or think we’re better than everyone else. On the contrary. We question authority because we recognize that human beings, ourselves included, are flawed. And we’ll always be flawed. Which means that we will build flawed institutions and produce flawed leaders. We question authority because we recognize that not only is authority (another word for power) inherently corrupting, but also because we recognize the perverse values, priorities, and notions of merit upon which authority is generally granted.

People like David Brooks think people rise to positions of power and status because they’re better, wiser, or otherwise more meritorious than the rest of us—they’re “Great Men” touched by the hand of God. (But only if we get out of their way!) He thinks people achieve political power because they exemplify the best in us. We “bad followers” recognize that they usually embody the worst. We don’t buy the idea that people who have the power to tell other people what to do are inherently worth obeying simply because they’ve managed to get themselves into a position where they get to tell other people what to do. In fact, we think there’s good reason to believe the institutions that confer telling-people-what-to-do authority grant that authority to all the wrong people, and for all the wrong reasons.

Individualism is of course worth embracing and championing for its own sake. But celebrating and promoting individualism is as much about recognizing, fearing, and guarding against the corruption of power as it is about preserving the right to do your own thing. When a flawed individual (and that would be all of us) makes mistakes, he affects only himself and the people who associate with him. When a flawed political leader (and that would be all of them) makes mistakes, we’re all affected, whether we chose to associate with that leader or not. And the more we conform, follow, and entrust our political leaders with power, the more susceptible and vulnerable we are to their flaws and mistakes.

Categories: Journalism, Stupidity

Bill Burger

June 13, 2012 Leave a comment

[Katie Sweeney]

I pointed out two nights ago that the US Open golf championship is being held this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, prompting articles in magazines, newspapers, and websites about the club’s history. For this I am grateful, as I might otherwise not have learned about the Bill Burger, a version of which will now be the centerpiece of our Father’s Day menu.

Al Saracevic explains the Bill Burger story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

A gross injustice has been perpetrated on the attendees of the U.S. Open, and it’s of the culinary kind.

The problem? You can’t get a real Bill Burger this week at the Olympic Club.

For decades, famished golfers have stopped at a small, nondescript shack between the 9th and 10th holes at Olympic to devour what quite possibly could be the greatest burger known to mankind. It not only tastes great, but it looks funny, too.

You see, back in 1950, a guy named Bill Parrish opened a small burger stand outside the boundaries of Olympic, but close enough for golfers to run over and buy a burger or dog between holes. To save money, Bill decided to cut his burgers in half and serve them on hot dog rolls. That way he didn’t have to waste money on buying two kinds of buns.

The result is legendary. You can hold it one hand and wolf it down in no time. And did I mention it tastes fabulous? If you’ve ever played the famous Lake Course, you know what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t golfed the Lake Course, you won’t have the chance to eat the real thing this weekend because Bill’s shack is closed. The USGA is handling all the food concessions, and the little place could never handle the crush.

To make matters worse, the food folks at the Open are serving faux Bill Burgers at some of their big concession locations. Despite their best intentions, it’s a poor substitute.

Megan Diaz was out on the course Wednesday and tried one of the faux-burgers.

“Talk about a letdown,” said Diaz, following up with the universal game-show sound effect, “Waa-waa-waaa.”

Just another excuse to find your way out to Olympic after the Open leaves town.

You will better appreciate the Bill Burger if you go to Katie Sweeney’s slide show of a year ago (hat tip: Geoff Shackelford) to view its eleven captioned photos, including the one at the top. Her version of the story parallels Saracevic’s:

There are many famous burgers out there: the juicy Lucy, the Shake Shack burger, the In-N-Out Burger. But until recently, I had never heard of the Bill Burger. Famous in the golf world — it’s found at San Francisco’s Olympic Club — the Bill is a burger that’s shaped like a hot dog and served in a hot dog bun. Read on to learn more about this all-American delicacy!

The Bill Burger was created in the 1950s by Bill Parish. He opened a trailer outside of the Olympic Club and served golfers hot dogs and hamburgers. Since he didn’t want to pay for two different kinds of buns, he made a burger in the shape of a hot dog, and served it in a hot dog bun. The burgers became so popular among the golfers that the Olympic Club invited Bill inside to set up shop along the course.

Nowadays, Bill’s daughter is in charge of making the burgers. They have a special mold that shapes the ground beef into skinny rectangular patties. Each patty is a quarter pound of beef.

We will be watching the golf on Sunday, and having our Father’s Day barbecue. What better way to take in the action than to accompany it with Bill Burgers (or our best approximation of them)? We could use one of those molds.

Categories: Food

The Hare with Amber Eyes, 2

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Three weeks ago I wrote about Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss, which I had just begun, quoting the publisher’s description:

In the 1870s, Charles Ephrussi assembled a collection of 360 Japanese ivory carvings known as netsuke, some comical and some erotic, none of them larger than a matchbox. The scion of a rich, respected banking family that “burned like a comet” in Parisian and Viennese society, Ephrussi was an early supporter of the impressionists; Marcel Proust was briefly his secretary and used him as the model for the aesthete and lover Swann in Remembrance of Things Past.

The Holocaust swept Ephrussi and his glorious, cosmopolitan family into oblivion, and almost the only thing that would remain of their vast empire was the netsuke collection, smuggled out of their Vienna palace (now occupied by Hitler’s theorist on the “Jewish question”) in the pocket of a loyal maid, Anna—one carving a day for a year.

In this grand story, the renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal, the fifth generation to inherit the collection, traces the story of a remarkable family and a tumultuous century. At once sweeping and intimate, A Hare with Amber Eyes is a deeply personal meditation on art, history, and family, as elegant and precise as the netsuke themselves.

I kept finding reasons to interrupt my reading of The Hare in favor of other books: Thad Ziolkowski’s new novel Wichita, his older memoir On a Wave, John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay collection Pulphead, and finally, Gillian Flynn’s new thriller Gone Girl.

My last excuse for interrupting my reading of The Hare was that things weren’t looking too good for the Vienna branch of de Waal’s wealthy and assimilated forebears, as the twentieth century began and world wars loomed. Time to take a break and steel myself before proceeding with the inevitable pain.

On finishing Gone Girl Saturday morning, I returned to The Hare and soon discovered that de Waal’s account of his family’s Vienna years is riveting. What a story! By evening, I had finished the book’s final 200 pages.

[Spoiler alert: read no further if you want to enjoy the book without having some of the family history spelled out.]

There’s the author’s great-grandfather Viktor, the artistic member of the family who is forced to take over the Ephrussi banking interests when his older brother dies; Viktor’s younger wife Emmy, their daughters Elisabeth (the author’s grandmother) and Gisela, the son Iggie, and the much younger son Rudolf. Elisabeth is an astonishing character, leaving the pampered life of the extremely wealthy behind to get a doctorate in law and write poetry, carrying on a correspondence over several years with the great poet Rilke, moving to France, Switzerland, marrying a Dutchman (not Jewish), eventually settling together in England and becoming Anglicans. Gisela marries a Spaniard and moves to Spain. Iggie walks away from the family bank to pursue his interest in clothing design, an interest developed during the kids’ nightly visits to their mother during her pre-dinner dressing ritual. He moves to Paris, New York, and Hollywood, only to discover he isn’t sufficiently talented and continuing on to Tokyo, where he becomes a successful businessman.

Meanwhile, Viktor and Emmy find themselves trapped in Vienna with Rudolf in 1938. de Waal’s account of the Anschluss is sobering, as Hitler absorbs Austria into the Reich and Jews are immediately attacked. There’s the violence, which Viktor, Emmy, and Rudolf avoid, and there’s the law, under which they are relieved of the bank and the house, allowed to live in tiny quarters in the back end while the rest is used as offices. Their property is carefully itemized and removed. Rudolf finds safe passage to Arkansas, where he becomes a US citizen, like Iggie, and serves in the US military during the war, also like Iggie.

Viktor and Emmy head to the family country estate in Czechoslovakia, just in time to find the Nazis moving in there too. That’s when Elisabeth comes to the rescue, traveling everywhere and assembling paperwork to get her father out to England, but too late for her mother, who commits suicide.

The netsukes? We know they got out somehow, since the book opens with them in Iggie’s possession in Tokyo. But they aren’t mentioned during the Nazi cataloguing of the family belongings in Vienna. Only later do we find out how they stayed in the family, a surprise I’ll say no more about.

We learn little about the next generation. Edmund’s father Viktor becomes an Anglican clergyman. There’s a hint that the family’s Jewish roots survive in some small way: on his mother Elisabeth’s death, Viktor recites the Kaddish. In the penultimate chapter, Edmund flies to Odessa to close the circle, visiting the sites where the great Ephrussi family fortune was established.

This closes a circle for me too, since I began reading The Hare immediately after finishing Charles King’s Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, a major theme of which was the growth and dissolution of Odessa’s Jewish community. And, of course, I have my own roots in that community, it being the one-time home of my grandmother and her family. (See my post on the Odessa book.)

By the way, the book I read prior to Odessa was The Caucasus: An Introduction, written by Thomas de Waal. I wrote about it here. Well, what do you know? Thomas makes a cameo appearance in The Hare, joining Edmund in Odessa as regional expert, guide, and translator. What’s their connection? They’re brothers. I should have figured that one out sooner. Quite a family. And quite a book.

Categories: Books

War and Executive Power

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

War as a tool to consolidate executive power is an old theme. Still, I was taken by surprise by a couple of passages I read yesterday in Gordon Wood’s review of four books on the War of 1812 and James Madison in the current New York Review of Books. (One of the four, George Daughan’s 1812: The Navy’s War, is featured above.) Somehow, there’s never-ending novelty in the news that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Reviewing the historical background to the US’s declaration of war on Britain, Wood explains (emphasis mine) that

Both Democratic-Republican presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and their Republican colleagues in Congress had strenuously sought to prevent any augmentation of the country’s military establishment. In January 1812 the Republicans in Congress actually voted down any increase in the size of the navy that was to fight the war they voted for six months later. The Republican Party feared military establishments and war-making because these were the means by which governments had traditionally enhanced executive power at the expense of liberty. Indeed, the Republicans seemed to believe that America’s military posed a greater threat to the United States than it did to Great Britain. Armies and navies, declared John Taylor of Caroline, the conscience of the Republican Party, “only serve to excite wars, squander money, and extend corruption.” Even a strong navy, warned a Republican congressman from Philadelphia, might become “a powerful engine in the hands of an ambitious Executive.”

Later in the review, Wood analyzes President Madison’s war record, concluding (emphasis mine again):

The burning of Washington and other defeats, the many misjudgments, the poor appointments, and the bureaucratic snafus all reveal that the War of 1812 was not Madison’s finest hour. He may have been at times a very successful practical politician, but he was not a decider. He was a legislator, not a natural executive; he was someone who sought to persuade, not command. Believing devoutly in republican principles, he was ill at ease in exercising executive authority. He was, as Henry Clay privately admitted, “wholly unfit for the storms of war.”

But in one important respect President Madison redeemed himself. Throughout all the administrative confusion, throughout all the military failures, throughout all the treasonous actions of the Federalists, Madison remained calm in the conviction that in a republic strong executive leadership—the leadership of a Napoleon or a Hamilton—could only endanger the principles for which the war was fought. Unlike the Federalists who during the Quasi-War with France in 1798 had passed the harsh Alien and Sedition Acts to suppress the opposition, President Madison, as one admirer noted, had withstood both a powerful foreign enemy and widespread domestic opposition “without one trial for treason, or even one prosecution for libel.” No subsequent American president has ever been able to constrain the growth of executive power in wartime as much as he did.

Of course, it helps if the president actually has an interest in constraining the growth of executive power. We know Bush didn’t, and now we know that Obama doesn’t. I won’t go on about that again. I’ll just quote the opening from this piece put out yesterday by

Let’s go back to school for a minute. Remember learning that the United States had three separate branches of government and a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful?

Congress could make laws; the president could veto them and propose other laws; Congress could override the president’s veto, control the purse strings and had the sole power to declare war while the president served as commander-in-chief; members of the Supreme Court – nominated by the president and approved by the Senate — could declare a law unconstitutional.

This fragmentation of power was seen at the time the Constitution was drafted as the best way to guard against tyranny and protect liberty.

It’s worth pondering what is left of this system in the post 9/11 world where President Obama has embraced and further enlarged the radical assertion of executive authority handed to him by the Bush Administration.

Has there been any serious attempt by Congress to check rapidly expanding presidential power? No. However bent the Republicans might be on denying President Obama any domestic accomplishments, Congress has largely closed ranks behind a “let the executive branch do it” national security agenda.

Categories: History, Law, War

Ty Cobb at Olympic

June 11, 2012 Leave a comment

The US Open golf championship is being held this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, prompting articles in magazines, newspapers, and websites about the club’s history and the four previous US Opens that it has hosted. Each of these Opens is famous as the occasion of an upset, each worthy of a lengthy re-telling. That’s not the purpose of this post, but let me at least review briefly.

1955: One of the greatest upsets in sporting history. Jack Fleck, a muni pro, ties Ben Hogan in regulation, beating him the next day in a playoff. Hogan was never the same. Fleck, still alive, has been in the press a lot the last couple of weeks.

1966: I remember this one. Not exactly an upset when Billy Casper wins, except for the fact that Arnold Palmer led by 7 with nine holes to go. Casper tied him, both finishing 7 strokes ahead of third place Jack Nicklaus, with Casper beating Palmer in the playoff the next day.

1987: Sigh. I remember this one too. My hero, Tom Watson, entered the last round a stroke ahead of Scott Simpson, but Simpson putted like crazy to edge Watson by a stroke, with Ballesteros, Crenshaw, and Langer another 4 strokes back. It was Father’s Day, I was at Gail’s brother’s apartment watching with Gail, Jessica, her brother, and her father. Joel was there also, sort of, a week away from entering the world. I couldn’t get them to understand that we were watching history. They were too busy talking about everything but golf.

1998: I can’t forget this one, not because of what we watched, but because we didn’t. We were in South Dakota on the occasion of Gail’s father’s 60th high school reunion. The reunion was in Groton on Saturday of Open weekend. We were staying with her dad’s sister-in-law in Claremont. He was with Gail’s cousin in Britton. (See if you can find these places on a map.) We all drove down to Groton for the reunion, returned to Claremont for a bit, during which I caught the end of the third round, then drove all the way back to Groton and on west to Aberdeen for the festive dinner. Sunday was one of the crazier days of our lives, as we drove all over eastern South Dakota and even a bit of Minnesota in search of Gail’s cousin’s son’s baseball tournament. When we finally got there, in some park on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, the food available for sale was gone. No lunch. After the games, we had dinner at a gas station-restaurant-store just off the interstate, Gail’s other cousin having made the drive up from I-don’t-remember-where so we could all be together. I was going crazy. I just wanted to get to our hotel and see the end of the golf. But this was a huge family reunion, so that wasn’t about to happen. And I didn’t yet have a smart phone to keep up with the action.

So, anyway, we got to our downtown Sioux Falls hotel, went up to our rooms (Gail and me in one, Joel and grandpa in another), and the golf was still on. We got to see Payne Stewart’s crushing loss to Lee Janzen. Having led by 3 going into the round, with a 5-stroke gap over Janzen, Stewart would lose by a stroke. (A year later, Stewart would famously defeat Phil Mickelson by 1 with a dramatic putt on 18 at Pinehurst. This is the tournament where Mickelson stood ready at any point to fly home for the birth of his and Amy’s first child, who ended up waiting until the next day to show up. We were in New York that day, celebrating Father’s Day with my father. Another missed last round, except for that putt, which Joel and I saw on tv at the club where we were eating dinner.)

It turned out to be a lovely evening. After the golf, Gail and I walked around downtown, got a sense of the city, then returned for dessert in our hotel restaurant with the guys. And the next day, we drove across the state to Rapid City, with many fascinating stops along the way, such as Mitchell’s Corn Palace, the crossing of the Missouri, Badlands National Park, Wall Drug, and, just for scenic effect, the scariest weather I ever saw for the final 30 miles or so along I-90 into Rapid City, with tornadoes in the distance.

I’m straying. The theme of the US Open review: Olympic, where golfing dreams go to die. A course with a painful history. What famous golfer will lose by a stroke or in a playoff this year after having victory in his hands?

Ty Cobb is in the post’s title. Let’s find out why.

The AP’s Antonio Gonzalez had a piece Friday (hat tip: Geoff Shackelford) on The Olympic Club’s history beyond the Opens. He explains at the beginning:

Next week’s U.S. Open host has conquered far more than golf’s greatest.

Little black books buried in the archives of The Olympic Club reveal a place that groomed gold medalists and heavyweight champions, whipped writer Mark Twain into shape and whose members teased Ty Cobb so much after he lost to a 12-year-old that the baseball great rarely returned.

Farther down, we get the Cobb story. It’s short, lacking in detail, but too good to pass up:

Cobb, a hot-tempered and aggressive slugger who received the most votes on the original Hall of Fame ballot, played 12-year-old Bob Rosburg in the first club championship in 1939. Although Cobb had retired from baseball more than a decade earlier, his competitiveness never cooled.

Cobb lost 7 and 6. Rosburg later won the PGA Championship in 1959. And while popular lore is that Cobb resigned in furor, the club has no record that he gave up his membership. Rosburg told Golf Digest in 2010 that Cobb was gracious in defeat but “guys at the club rode him unmercifully for losing to a child. He disappeared and didn’t come back to Olympic for years.”

“He was just so embarrassed,” Olympic general chairman Stephen Meeker said of Cobb, recalling the story.

Another painful Olympic loss.

Gonzalez’s summary of Cobb’s baseball greatness is incomplete, to say the least. A study of Cobb’s stats, here, might help, for those who need help. Check out the career .366 batting average, or the 4189 hits. There’s good reason he was an inaugural Hall of Famer. As for Rosburg (“Rossy”), he had a distinguished golfing career, becoming even more widely known during his decades as a roving commentator on ABC’s golf broadcasts.

Categories: Golf

Gone Girl, 2

June 10, 2012 Leave a comment

When I wrote about Gillian Flynn’s new thriller Gone Girl last Monday, I hadn’t started reading it. In fact, it wasn’t even available yet, the next day being its publication date. But before bedtime on Monday, I was able to download it to my Kindle, and I began reading it right away.

Tuesday night, I was wondering if I had made a wise reading choice. This probably stems from my over-attachment to the model of a thriller in which there is a sympathetic hero, someone we learn to like, flaws and all. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, who may in fact have no flaws. Martin Walker’s French police chief Bruno, whom I would love to drop in on and have dinner with some time.

The focus of Gone Girl is a husband and wife in a small Mississippi River town north of St. Louis. The wife disappears; the husband becomes a suspect. That’s not giving much away. The chapters alternate in viewpoint between the two, and alternate in time as well, covering the years before the disappearance and the weeks after. I had been inspired to read the book by Janet Maslin’s NYT review a week earlier, from which I knew it didn’t fit the Reacher-Bruno model. I had figured that would be okay, but the problem was, I wasn’t finding either character a particularly good companion. Did I really want to read a whole book about them?

Slowly I began to realize that Flynn had far more up her sleeve. Halfway through, I was on to something special. The book was transforming into a brilliant, dark comedy. Let’s see. What did Maslin say? That Gone Girl “is wily, mercurial, subtly layered and populated by characters so well imagined that they’re hard to part with.” Yes, exactly. The book is great fun.


Categories: Books

Righteousness and Goodness

June 10, 2012 1 comment

[Mr. Fish cartoon at]

I know, I’ve been pushing this drone theme a lot lately (here and here and here). Maybe I should move on. But really. We have a president who insists it’s okay to shoot missiles at people in countries we’re not at war with just because they’re hanging out in the wrong places. It’s even okay to shoot missiles at people in countries we’re not at war with who are US teenagers with no known history of doing anything wrong. That seems worth calling attention to again and again and again.

Mind you, our use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen is still a government secret, even as Obama administration officials talk about it when doing so suits their purpose of projecting an image of resolve and success in the war against al-Qaeda.

Today we find Representative Peter King (from Long Island, and head of the House’s Committee on Homeland Security), in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, explaining that “I can’t officially acknowledge that we have a drone program.” Yet, he goes on to justify their use:

I wish we could all live in a world where we could hold hands and love each other. The fact is, that’s not reality. We have an enemy that wants to kill us. I live in New York. I lost over 150 constituents on 9/11, and if we can save the next 150 by killing al Qaeda terrorists with drones then kill them.

We have to assume that there’s always going to be an increase in weapons. This has been the history of mankind. That’s why we have to make sure our defense budget is not weakened and that we stay ahead of the enemy.

There’s evil people in the world. Drones aren’t evil, people are evil. We are a force of good and we are using those drones to carry out the policy of righteousness and goodness.

What has it come to when one of the most extreme right-wing, Muslim-hating members of Congress so strongly supports Obama’s undeclared drone war? What would King — an ardent supporter of the IRA — have said if the UK used drones a few years back in Belfast neighborhoods where IRA provisionals were known to congregate?

There’s something to be said for democratic processes and the constitution. I prefer the rule of law to a president empowered, in the name of righteousness and goodness, to judge who’s naughty and who’s nice.

Categories: Law, Politics, War