Several people have asked me about the Bob Woodwardkerfuffle.
(I know. The irony. Congressional leaders and the President spend two years negotiating hSeveral people have asked me about the Bob Woodward kerfuffle.
(I know. The irony. Congressional leaders and the President spend two years negotiating how to deal with the debt, can't agree on a solution, resolve to on a 2% across the board cut called "sequestration" that almost no one understands--or represents accurately if they do--and people want to talk about a 'he said/she said' moment in American politics. Let's be honest--it's a lot closer to the school yard politics than the intricate and complex workings of the federal budget).
I just finished reading Woodward's The Price of Politics, a history of this specific issue and how we got to this point. With that in mind, here are my two-bits.
The long and short of it is this: when President Obama couldn't get Congressional Republicans in 2011 to agree to raise the debt limit and enact a tax hike to cover the increased debt, his staff--specifically Jack Lew and Rob Nabors--went to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and suggested sequester as a triggering mechanism. If a deal was not worked out by a certain date (March 1, 2013), then automatic cuts would happen. Reid liked the idea so much that he bent over in his chair and put his head between his legs like he was going to vomit. Seriously. (If my sarcasm it isn't picking up, know that Reid was not a fan...)
No one thought it would fail. It was so bad that the other side will have to compromise, everyone thought. Neither Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress and the President in the White House--assumed that no one would let sequestration happen. Because the cuts were disproportionately high on defense spending, Democrats thought that Republicans would never let sequestration happen. And Republicans thought that there was no way that the President would allow such broad, across-the-board cuts happen, either.
They we're all of them deceived, if just by their own hubris.
So who is right? Woodward? Or the White House?
The simple answer is that, in a sense, both are right.
First, Woodward is correct that it was a White House, and by extension the President's, idea to propose sequestration as a trigger if no agreement was reached.
Second, if we look only at the unknowable intentions of the President instead of what he actually did, then he is also correct--he never really intended sequester to happen without some kind of agreement on the budget. In other words, he looked at the consequences of sequester, thought that it would be so bad on the Republicans that Republicans would rather agree to tax hikes than sequester, and said--"Let's do it.
If it's easier to visualize, here's how the Republican spin machine puts it...not entirely inaccurately.
If reading The Price of Politics it doesn't disabuse you of any trust you have in our elected officials ability to compromise, I don't know what will.
The Price of Politicsinexhaustibly details the negotiations over the summer of 2011 leading up to the debt crisis in early August of that year. They began long before we heard about them in the press--months in advance, in fact--and included more than a few meetings between Vice President Biden, Rep. Eric Cantor, White House staff, Senators Kyl, Reid, Baucus, and McConnell, House Minority Leader Pelosi, and, at the center of it, President Obama and Speaker Boehner.
Most of them end up looking inexperienced and unskilled in negotiation especially the President, his staff, and, to some extent, Speaker Boehner. And why? Because both sides fail to listen to the other and throughout remain entrenched in partisan dogmas that prevent them from finding compromise. Crucial negotiations and conversations repeatedly took place over the phone or after media leaks, with offers from each side repeatedly ignoring what the other had told them was an unfeasible option for them. Republicans would not settle for a bargain that did not rein in entitlement spending and Democrats would not agree to cuts to Medicare or Medicaid. Democrats would not do a deal that didn't include tax hikes and the end of the Bush tax cuts, but Republicans were unwilling to allow any new tax revenues except through tax reform.
Neither side would shift to a middle ground.
Early in the book, Woodward talks about the philosophy of the first White House Chief of Staff under President Obama, Rahm Emanuel. "F&#@ them! We have the votes." With it, Democrats shoved healthcare reform through Congress rough shod and in spite of public opinion opposing it. When Republicans took back the House, the Obama White House never really learned how to compromise, but merely seemed to think that compromise meant talking with their opponents about what the White House insisted they do. No surprise, then, that Republicans could never really find a common ground with the White House. As Republicans often complained after being given yet another proposal that ignored their needs, "How are you, the White House, supposed to know what's good for Republicans?"
Surprisingly, one of the few people who came across as the most flexible and able to make a deal was Vice President Biden. A character I have often thought of as a blowhard, gaff-prone Democratic operative often proved to be the person who could work with Republicans to find a feasible solution. Woodward often referred to him as a "McConnell whisperer" because of his relationship with the Senate Minority Leader and his ability to negotiate.
In the end though, as Woodward puts it, never has so much effort been made for so little result. The President won in being able to put off any more negotiation until after his reelection, and we ended up with a status quo result. Federal spending and revenues were left at the same place as before and on March 1--today--automatic across the board cuts amounting to 2% of the budget will go into effect at 11:59 PM.
What are our elected officials doing about it? Jetting across the country wasting valuable time telling the American people that it's the other sides' fault. No wonder no one trusts politicians....more
if you want a great on the ground history of a common man's view of the communist movement in America in the 1920s and 1930s, start here...I couldn'tif you want a great on the ground history of a common man's view of the communist movement in America in the 1920s and 1930s, start here...I couldn't make it through it, though. Beautiful writing, but just don't have the patience at this juncture....more
Michael Lewis can tell a story like no other. Anyone who can take the financial crisis of the last few years, find a story in it that centers around sMichael Lewis can tell a story like no other. Anyone who can take the financial crisis of the last few years, find a story in it that centers around subprime mortgages and shorting the market (if you understand what that means and how to do it, you're more than a step ahead of me and about anyone else I've mentioned it to over the last couple weeks), and then make it interesting to the lay reader deserves to be read.
In many ways (if not all ways), the stock market is a giant enigma to me, which brings to mind how Winston Churchill once described Russia: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." If there is a key to the enigma, with that riddle wrapped in a mystery inside it, that is the stock market, perhaps the key is found in the self-interest of the individuals participating in the market. Not just the stock and bond traders that made up the named characters of "The Big Short," but even the home buyers and owners that took out second, third, and fourth mortgages, bought two, three, and four "investment" properties, the loan originators who sought them out and offered no interest loans, and the banks that sliced up the loans to fill tranches (there's another cryptic word for you) for trading as bonds to and between the financial houses on Wall Street.
In other words, as Gordon Gecko might say: greed. Greed of bonds traders, floor traders, home buyers, loan originators, strawberry pickers, and house cleaners. Greed by just about everyone involved, from the top all the way down to the bottom.
Lewis, known for his writing in "The Blind Side" and in "Money Ball," with "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" returns to his original stomping ground covered in "Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street." Finding the few who saw the crash coming, he pulls together a narrative about those who anticipated the crash and saw it coming. While so many were getting rich off trading subprime mortgage based bonds, a few individuals realized that the underlying assets to the housing bubble were not stable and predicted that as interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages became due, defaults would sky-rocket and the bonds' values would crash.
And then they bet against it, cashing in lucratively when the predicted defaults began.
What makes the story fascinating, of course, is the attention to the often colorful and more than slightly eccentric personalities that comprised the handful of individuals in the story. The stock market is difficult to understand for a simple reason--its workings are data driven and few pay the price to understand the numbers and analysis behind the market. In contrast, those who did, and those who got lucky, were often driven by a narrow-minded focus the data. From an neurologist turned hedge fund manager diagnosed with Aspergers in the midst of the story to a couple of young college grads who all but lucked into it, to a loud mouthed malcontent who made a habit of sticking it to the big wigs on Wall Street who lost investors money to the crisis, the "The Big Short" is replete with Lewis's deft story telling.
Whether you are interested in finance or just looking for a great story, "The Big Short" is worth the time to read. I listened to it in the car, and often found myself sitting in the driveway waiting for the end of a section. More, it introduced me to concepts and interests that I'm exploring further in other books. Read in conjunction with "Too Big to Fail," which I read last year, it provides an up close look at what was going on and why our economy is dragging through the longest recession in a generation.
One last observation: one aspect that this book noted that continues to shock me no matter how many times I hear it over the last four years is how people with little or no credit history or ability managed to get so much financing. From immigrant strawberry pickers in California with $750,000 mortgages to house cleaners in Brooklyn with four and five town homes, obtuse financial incentives to originators and investors alike distorted the market in ways that were dangerous to all of us. While I look forward to other financial histories for other perspectives, Lewis seems to make clear that it wasn't so much the free market that failed, but the financial incentives that were built into it. In the end, the old adages "if it's too good to be true, it probably is" and "there's no such thing as a free lunch" seem even more relevant today than ever. Be careful when the snake oil salesman comes calling. He may not have your best interests at heart, and he may not even know it himself. ...more
Time for a segment of "A moment in obscure history." This time, we're looking at the constitutional dispute that resulted in the American Revolution.
STime for a segment of "A moment in obscure history." This time, we're looking at the constitutional dispute that resulted in the American Revolution.
Since sometime in 2009, the Tea Party movement has lead a revival of interest in the US Constitution. Senator Mike Lee summed up why the increased interest of late during the release of his new book, "The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Government": many of our problems today stem from when the "federal government started ignoring those Constitutional boundaries about what Congress is supposed to be doing."
Suddenly, propelled by Glenn Beck, books like The 5000 Year Leap , a right-wing conservative's guide to the making of the federal constitution, "leaped" to the Amazon best seller list (it's now listed at 2,615 overall and the top 100 under "Politics"). While it provides only a simple, somewhat white-washed, and superficial vision of the US Constitution, no amount of increased attention in our federal constitution is too little.
"Where does the Constitution," goes the rallying cry, "give the President and Congress the authority for the laws they are passing?"
Neither the revival, however, nor questioning the constitutionality of the federal laws, is unique in history. In fact, it was a dispute over the constitutionality of a central government's actions that lead to another major event in our country's history: the American Revolution.
"The fruit of half a century of research and reflection, Greene's masterly book restores legal pluralism and constitutional controversy to their proper place among the causes, course, and consequences of the American Revolution." - David Armitage, Harvard University In his short, and dense, review of the century and a half leading up to the American Revolution, "The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution," Jack P. Greene postulates and examines that evidence that the American revolution did not erupt purely as a simple dispute over "taxation without representation," but rather that such rallying cries emerged after decades of disagreement on who justly had the right to legislate for the American colonies
"Whether the king-in-Parliament, the ultimate source of statute law in Great Britain, could legislate for British colonies overseas was the ostensible question in dispute, but many other related and even deeper legal issues involving the nature of the constitution of the empire and the location of sovereignty within the empire emerged from and were thoroughly canvassed during the debate."
(From Constitutional Origins, p. 1)
It was only after the conflicting opinions of metropolitan Britain and that of the colonists failed to be reconciled that open warfare broke out in 1775, and it was why the decision to broach the topic of and ultimately pursue independence from Great Britain was so cautiously and tentatively pursued. The colonists considered themselves British subjects, citizens, not vassals and secession was not a choice they relished.
They saw themselves as part and partial of the British Empire. Indeed, as one Virginia lawyer at the time phrased it, they might be "subordinate to the Authority of Parliament," but only "in Degree" and "not absolutely so." (p.78). As free men and
"As free-born Britons, the colonists assumed, they could not be subjected to any but what Bland referred to as "a constitutional Subordination" to the parent state."
(From Constitutional Origins p. 78)
The nature of this "constitutional Subordination" was such that the colonists readily accepted the authority of Parliament in certain areas, but balked at the idea of taxation, seeing it as beyond Parliament's authority. "Indeed, considerable evidence suggests that the colonists' strong initial impulse was to exclude Parliament from all jurisdiction over the domestic affairs of the colonies." (p.79) Like our modern idea of the federal government, the states concern themselves with their domestic activities while the federal government's most basic responsibility is national security.
Interestingly, from a historical perspective, we start to see the first signs of federalism in the disputes between the colonies and the home country.
"[s]o long as Parliament confined its regulations to "restrictions on navigation, commerce, or other external regulations," they reasoned, the '"legislatures of the colonies" would be "left entire"and "the internal government, powers of taxing for its support, and exemption from being taxed without consent, and [all] other immunities which legally belong[ed] to the subjects of each colony agreeable to their own particular constitutions" would thereby, according to the "general principles of the British constitution," remain "secure and untouched.""
Sound familiar? If you hear the foreshadowing of the federalism that would be later inscribed into the US Constitution, there's a reason. It was rooted in the relationship between Great Britain and its far-flung colonies.
If, during the last couple years, you've found yourself at all more interested in the federal constitution and the limitations it places on the federal government, I urge you to look at the role constitutions, and constitutional disputes, played in leading to our own American constitution.
It's a great read, if a bit scholarly, and evidence that whether a law is constitutional is not a new question, but actually may be at the very root of the American experiment and its origins in the American revolution. The American revolution was not, nor is it today, an obscure moment in history, but rooted in obscure legal disputes between the colonies and mother country, long predating the Stamp Acts and the Boston Massacre. It began as a constitutional dispute between the central government in London and the British colonies in America.
Understanding why the colonist went to war, how they got there, and the legal battles that preceded the battlefields can be useful in understanding why the Founders drafted what they did--into the Declaration of Independence and into the federal constitution--and what those words mean to us now, even in the midst of our own constitutional disputes.
Pick up The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution by Jack P. Greene from Cambridge University Press, 2011.
(h/t Patrick Charles, who introduced the book to me)...more
The great thing about reading Edmund Morris is two-fold: he presents extremely thorough research with a enjoyable reading style that makes one feel liThe great thing about reading Edmund Morris is two-fold: he presents extremely thorough research with a enjoyable reading style that makes one feel like they are reading fiction. As a friend put it, it’s like reading a novel, not a biography. It doesn’t hurt that Theodore Roosevelt lived a life that makes easy picking for any biographer. The first in Edmund Morris’ three part biography of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt lived a life full to the brim. Born sickly, he had overcome physical ailments and “built courage by ‘sheer dint of practicing fearlessness.’” Indeed, his life reads in a crescendo that leaves other men wanting: Published author at 18, of “The Naval War of 1812,” a classic that would go on to find a place in the textbooks for both US and British naval academies. Married at 22, father and widower at 25, husband again at 28. Acclaimed historian and New York Assemblyman at 25. North Dakota ranchman at 26 Candidate for New York City Mayor at 27 Civil Service Commissioner of the United States at 30 Police Commissioner of New York City at 36 Assistant Secretary of the Navy at 38 (and author of the plan that defeated the Spanish in Manila under Admiral Dewey) Colonel of the First U.S. Cavalry, the “Rough Riders” and a war hero at 39 (yes, he left a near cabinet level position to ride in the cavalry) Governor of New York two weeks short of his 40th birthday Vice President at 42… And that’s just in the first book. Making his living as a working writer, Roosevelt read over 20,000 books and writing fifteen of his own, not to mention speaking French and German, developing and maintaining relationships with numerous leaders in fields scientific, intellectual, and philosophical. His mind was a steel trap and his life steam engine, gaining speed and momentum. He was a man who was a lifelong learner, knew no bounds to his interests or abilities, and never stopped trying to reach further. Although born to priviledge, Theodore took nothing for granted, and he took every advantage he could to work, read, exercise, challenge himself, and expand his reach. It’s an example that inspires me, and it’s one we could all use. In a day where people talk a lot and actually do less, Roosevelt reminds us of the power of action, of doing, and that it is those who do that make a difference. If you’re looking for a readable biography of one of our most colorful presidents, before he was president, pick up Edmund Morris’ “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”...more
In the closing months of World War II, twenty-four serviceman and WACs climbed aboard a military transport plane for a day of sightseeing over a recenIn the closing months of World War II, twenty-four serviceman and WACs climbed aboard a military transport plane for a day of sightseeing over a recently discovered "hidden valley" deep in the interior of Dutch New Guinea. Surrounded by high, jungle covered mountains and far from civilization, the valley was home to natives undiscovered by western civilization, war-like tribesman rumored to be cannibals.
As the flight approached the valley--called "Shangri-la" after James Hilton's best-selling novel Lost Horizons--things went horribly wrong for the pleasure tour, and the plane crashed, killing all but three of the passengers. What followed was a tale of survival and heroism as the survivors trekked from the mountainside crash site, hidden beneath the jungle canopy, to find help.
Mitchell Zuckoff's tale about the survival and rescue of Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker from the untracked New Guinea jungle is a fascinating adventure in one of the last unmapped places on the planet. At a time when the world was at war, aviators and soldiers made a daring plan to retrieve them.
Lost in Shangri-la is one of the faster pieces of non-fiction I read in 2012, but was worth the time. Instead of contemplating the weighty and heavy issues a lot of history dwells upon, Lost in Shangri-la focuses more on the human element, profiling the participants in the crash and the rescue. Separated by some seventy years, it's hard to imagine a time when anywhere on the planet is inaccessible, let alone unmapped. It would be decades before satellites made GPS-devices possible, and even to this day the hidden valley the tour group was intending to view is accessible only by plane.
In addition to interviews with survivors, newspaper clips, and US Army records of the event, Zuckoff draws on interviews with the natives who met the survivors after their crash, many for whom it was their first contact with anyone outside of their secluded valley.
If you're looking for a unique and fascinating narrative history, Lost in Shangri-la is an interesting and fascinating read, thoroughly researched and well written. It's relatively short and I thought it was an easy read....more
To read the first in Edmund Morris' biographical series on Theodore Roosevelt ("The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt"), one might be left with the feeling tTo read the first in Edmund Morris' biographical series on Theodore Roosevelt ("The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt"), one might be left with the feeling that it was inevitable that Teddy someday become President. Individuals from his German tutor while he studied abroad to those who came into contact with him while he fought policy corruption in New York City, not to mention the men who served with him in the Spanish-American War.
With "Theodore Rex," though, we see a man who is thrust into the Presidency without the opportunity to prepare mentally, as others had through the fire and course of a national campaign.
And yet, after a first term as Governor of New York, it became apparent that those who controlled New York's political machine would not allow Roosevelt another reform minded term. His name bandied around as a candidate for Vice President, Roosevelt was flattered, but convinced that he would be useless, bored, and stagnate. To Roosevelt, a man who above all was in perpetual motion, becoming Vice-President would doom him to irrellivence and uselessness. Unlike today, when Dick Cheney and Joe Biden have exercised greater responsibility and power than any Vice President in memory, the Office of the Vice President at the turn of the 19th century wasn't "worth a bucket of spit," at least to Roosevelt. It took wounded pride to change his mind--hearing that Senator Mark Hanna and President William McKinley did not want him on the ticket, he let supporters know he that he would serve if the Convention selected him.
Little did he know how short his term as Vice President would be. In the ides of September, President McKinley was shot by an assassin and Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States.
That's almost before the book even gets started.
Morris' writing is, as in the first book in the series, novel-like. Theodore strides through his world like a giant, negotiating peace between the Japanese and Russians, supporting the secession of Panama in order to obtain a shorter path for the Panama, building and sending the Great White Fleet, ending a miners strike involving a quarter of a million workers, appointing three Supreme Court Justices, including the great dissenter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and hosting Booker T. Washington, the first time a black had been invited to dinner with a President at the White House.. Perhaps the only difference between this and the first book is that in feeling. Where the first tells was the life of an ambitious adventurer, "Theodore Rex" is the story of a man under constant scrutiny, on whom the stakes are significantly increased. At times I couldn't help but wonder if it was also the change in the type of documents that Morris is able to rely upon, utilizing more official and government documents than in "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt."
Ultimately, "Theodore Rex" is a fascinating look at one of America's most ambitious, most popular, and most effective Presidents. Coming to power at at time when American power and wealth was growing and as yet unfathomed, Roosevelt took every advantage given to him to expand American power and influence. Morris' "Theodore Rex" is entertaining, education, and compelling, especially for a Presidential biography. ...more
Ron Suskind's a good writer, but he's also in love with Barack Obama. Well, maybe not in love, but he's certainly not an objective or dispassionate obRon Suskind's a good writer, but he's also in love with Barack Obama. Well, maybe not in love, but he's certainly not an objective or dispassionate observer. Even while he's observing that Obama may not have been ready for the Presidency, he's lavishing praise on the politician.
I read as long as I could, but after a third of the book fawning over Obama without really examining what was going on, I started to tire. Barack Obama is no villain as he's been portrayed by many, but neither is he a semi-deity or Olympian hero. Further, much of the material that Suskind covers is not new, having been reported in other sources. If you've read nothing else about the last few years, it's not a bad way to become familiar with some of the major players, and it's not horrible writing. But if you're looking for in-depth analysis and reporting, there are better books out there. "Too big to fail" is a good place to start.
I may come back to it later, but right now, it feels repetitive. Meanwhile, life's too short to read books that duplicate what you've already read. I'm moving on to a new book tonight. ...more
I have friends who remind me, regularly, that wealth is becoming more and more concentrated among the wealthy. Further, the "not rich" are making lessI have friends who remind me, regularly, that wealth is becoming more and more concentrated among the wealthy. Further, the "not rich" are making less than they used to, relative to the wealthy. In other words, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
There is a divide growing in America, argues Charles Murray in his book "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 - 2010" but it isn't necessarily just over money. In fact, the divide may be greater because it is cultural, not just economic.
Displaying a dizzying array of statistics, studies, and research, Murray shows an America that is watching the rise of what seems, to me, to be a new ruling class, a group of elites that are well educated ("overeducated elitist snobs"), well connected, and with a set of values and interests different from much of modern America. The self-segregation is not malicious, but, largely a result of people being attracted to others like them. As a result, their children grow up with a different set of values, more educated, and in turn marry people like them, further segregating themselves.
It works both ways, though, and Murray sets up as a comparison a hypothetical city on the upper ("Belmont") and on the lower ("Fishtown") ends of the spectrum to compare them. In his analysis, people in Belmont are better educated, less likely to get divorced (if at all), more involved in their community, work longer hours, are more honest, and are more religious. On the other hand, vital statistics in all of these areas for Fishmont show a gradual falling off over the last fifty years.
Why is this problematic? One reason is that it has resulted in a culture for the upper class that is completely out of touch with most of America. They watch different movies, participate in different social activities, drink different beers, and read different books. Their interests are not the same, and yet they are a select group that sets policy and opinion, controls wealth and power, for America.
Another problem is that the degradation of values in lower class America over the last fifty years is leading to a collapse of "American civic life," something exceptional about America. At this juncture in the book, Murray, a confessed libertarian, recaps the roots and history of American civic culture and its uniqueness in the world. Neighborliness, vibrant civic engagement in solving local problems, voluntary associations, and so on. All hallmarks of America up to as recently as the 1960s, the members of lower and upper classes shared through these civic association a culture together that connected them and their values.
Further, although the elite retain some values, they have failed to lead. The elite class is as "dysfunctional in its way as the new lower class is in its way. Personally and as families, its members are successful. But they have abdictated their responsibility to set and promulgate standards." Instead, its most successful members take advantage of the perks of position without regards to the "unseemliness" of that behavior, showing something of a new "gilded age."
Prognosis? "If the case I have just made for a hollow elite is completely correct, all is lost," says Murray on page 294. The lower class is only barely able to care for itself by 2020, while the upper classes enter yet another generation separate from main stream America and further out of touch with the "real world." Insightfully, then, Murray says that "new laws and regulations steadily accrete, and America's governing regime is soon indistinguishable from that of an advanced European welfare state. The American project is dead."
Is all lost? Murray says that for things to turn around, America must see four predictions borne out: America must watch what happens in Europe (and if the turmoil of the last few months is any indication, this prediction is bearing out), science must undermine the moral underpinnings of the welfare state, it will become increasingly obvious that there is a simple, affordable way to replace the entire apparatus of the welfare state, and Americans' allegiance to the American project must be far greater that Murray's argument has acknowledged.
Could these be born out? Time will tell. In the meantime, it's a powerful argument for a retrospection of the great problems of our times and our country. ...more
Ward Connerly is a crusader, but a crusader who has picked the a battle that matters.
A black man born in the south but raised in the West, Connerly beWard Connerly is a crusader, but a crusader who has picked the a battle that matters.
A black man born in the south but raised in the West, Connerly becomes a unique figure in the fight for equal rights against racial preferences. Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences, part autobiography and part political memoir, is his telling of the events leading up to and surrounding that fight. It is a quick and accessible read, and Connerly proves to be an able storyteller, quick to turn a phrase and propound his opinion with anecdotes and colorful observations in the moment. Of the many of observations that intersperse Connerly's narrative, he often seems intent on using them to demonstrate the hypocrisy and duplicity of his opponents, especially as it regards race and preferential treatment.
Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences is a quick and accessible read. Connerly proves to be an able storyteller, quick to turn a phrase and propound his opinion with anecdotes and colorful observations in the moment. Of the many of observations that intersperses Connerly’s narrative, he often seems intent on using them to demonstrate the hypocrisy and duplicity of his opponents, especially as it regards race and preferential treatment.
To be clear, I doubt that Creating Equal will persuade you to change your ideological biases, unless, perhaps, you are either one of those rare individuals that sits on the fence or a part of the legion of the majority that tends to be uninformed on the racial preferences. For myself, I opened the book predisposed to support the American creed of equality before the law and found in Connerly's words support and reason for that belief. Connerly's logic is simple and easy to follow: while Affirmative Action was intended to correct racial injustice in American political institutions, the unintended consequence was to insert preferences against certain racial groups (for example, those of Hispanic or Asian origin) in favor of less qualified individuals who happen to belong to particular racial groups. Further, by institutionalizing such preferences in, for example, the higher education system of states like California, we are not only supporting inequality for all Americans, but racially discriminating against many. It's almost an afterthought for Connerly that such preferences tend to hurt those very racial groups that they favor more than they help.
Not surprisingly, given that Connerly is black himself and took a leading role in leading the fight to remove racial preferences, first from the California Board of Regents and later in state by state initiatives, some of the most vociferous critiques against equality came from blacks who viewed Connerly as a traitor. Connerly seemed to take relish reciting anecdotes about racial slurs twisted against him by other black. The irony never escapes him.
Connerly's mission is one born of logic and reasoning, and he never hesitates to point out that even when equality lost the fight in a state (as in Florida, which he called a death "by a thousand cuts,"), voters don't hesitate to support him when the plain language is put before them. His targets for critiques aren't limited to Democrats or racial preferences' supporters--both George and Jeb Bush (as well as Karl Rove) receive their share of his ire for their unwillingness to man up for equality in their states when the politics of their future did not support it.
Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences is short, written with Connerly's flare for the dramatic, and should be a valuable addition in the history of American political thought. What it lacks in-depth, statistics, and balance it more than makes up with a narrative that persuasively describes why all Americans should care about equality. America was founded on the idea that all men and women should be treated equal before the law. If there are failings among certain groups--especially due to race--the changes need to be made where effects can be felt: in our public schools. Setting quotas that consider race, however, does not and will not assist in bringing more disadvantaged individuals out of poverty. Rather, it just prevents Americans as a whole from experiencing equal opportunity....more
It took me a long time to begin to like Jon Meacham's portrait of Thomas Jefferson in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. As I finished it, however, IIt took me a long time to begin to like Jon Meacham's portrait of Thomas Jefferson in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. As I finished it, however, I found myself a reluctant admirer, appreciative of Meacham's style and of the biography, not to mention of the man.
Meacham is the author of two previous books on American presidents, winning the Pulitzer prize for his look at Andrew Jackson American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. With The Art of Power he delves into the life of one of the most beloved of founding fathers. As he notes in the closing pages of the epilogue, Jefferson has been evoked by more recent American presidents and political figures on both sides of the spectrum, proving to be "an inspiration for radically different understandings of government and culture." This seems to me, and Meacham endorses the idea, to be due to Jefferson's versatility in his lifetime. Rather than a idealogue bound to one philosophy, Jefferson was a pragmatic politician, and while he believed in the principles of freedom he espoused in the words he penned in the declaration, the means he chose to approach and uphold those principles changed depending on his position.
As they say, where you stand depends on where you sit and examples from Jefferson's life are plentiful.
As a member of the opposition party and vice president during the Adams Administration, Jefferson vigorously opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts as a blot on the liberty and freedom promised by the Bill of Rights. And yet, as President, he did not fully wipe out the effects of those First Amendment inhibiting laws. He allowed those punished under the law to be set free, but did not immediately return the fines that had been levied from them.
During this same time as vice president, Jefferson wrote the Kentucky resolution (James Madison wrote the Virginia resolution of the same time) in which he argued, through the proxy of the Kentucky legislature, that the Alien and Sedition were unconstitutional and that the states held the right, and the duty, to declare any acts of Congress that were not authorized by the constitution unconstitutional. It was a divisive argument from the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence, says Meacham, coming from the "voice of the man who believed secession fatal to America instead of the man who wrote about the primacy of states' rights."
Later, as president, Jefferson--the man who had trumpeted the rights of states over the act of the national legislature--acted with executive authority outside of the bounds then available to him, sending military expeditions against the Barbary states and accomplishing the Louisiana Purchase, all without Congressional approval.
[...]Jefferson was to Washington and Adams what Dwight Eisenhower was to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman: a president who reformed but essentially ratified an existing course of government.
Jefferson wasn't so interested in doggedly following the rules and norms of his ideology as he was in, for lack of a better way to put it, finding what worked and finding a way to do it. For man whose life was a study in contrasts (or hypocrisy, depending on your view), pragmatism was necessary. He drafted the Declaration of Independence, yet his earliest memory was of a slave handing him down on pillow to ride in a carriage and he never freed the slaves that he owned, even in death. He trumpeted states' rights, but expanded the scope of the federal government when the opportunity was his. He loved his family dearly, but had no qualms pursuing the married woman of another man and possibly destroying hers.
Indeed, this comes to the thesis of Meacham's book, less a biography than a portrait: "Jefferson hungered for greatness," and he welded power--usually through written word--to obtain it. A benevolent welder of what power he held, Jefferson's overriding description is that of a Renaissance man with boundless interests and whose overriding concern was the "fate of democratic republicanism in America," for to his end he worried about the return of monarchical government, an influence that Meacham found as influential on Jefferson's thinking as the Cold War was on American Presidents from Truman to George H.W. Bush.
The short-comings of Meacham's biography are few, and he does not seem interested in hiding them. Setting out to restore Jefferson's image, somewhat tarnished in recent years by revelations of his sexual relationship with Sally Hemings and acclaimed biographies of Jefferson's rivals (Hamilton, Adams, and Washington, especially) in recent years, Meacham writes with more than a little hero worship, arguing that while there have been many great presidents, none would be as interesting to spend time with as Jefferson, whose career touched on far wider a range than did his contemporary political rivals, or even of other politicians since. Indeed, he is persuasive, and it's a fascinating picture that is difficult to dismiss. Yes, Jefferson is a slave owner, a pragmatic politician, and an occasional philanderer. But he is also a man who at his heart believed in the justice and goodness of man and who to his last day would welcome the friendship of any man who would accept his hand in fellowship.
Frozen in Timeis, as its title only slightly exaggerates, an epic tale. Spanning from World War Two until the present, it is a work of non-fiction, to be sure, but no less gripping and exciting. Set in Greenland (and not the warm part, because there isn't one), Zuckoff tells the story of the rescue of downed airmen during the winter of 1942. What begins as the search-and-rescue of a missing cargo plane soon becomes a fight for survival as a B-17 involved in the search slams into a glacier, stranding its nine passengers on the ice. A second daring rescue by a Grumman Duck amphibious plane results in another crash, and the nine airmen are forced to wait the winter out in the remains of their destroyed plane.
Heroic efforts by both rescuers and rescued are the subject of Zuckoff's story. There are crevices, unstable glaciers, planes landing blind on the ice, hot wired radio equipment, frostbite, dog sled teams, hypothermia, fear of polar bears, and, always, snow. Snow, snow, and more snow. Taking place in the past and the present, Zuckoff weaves in a modern story about the efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar to find and recover the remains of the Grumman Duck lost during the rescue effort.
After reading Lost in Shangri-la last year, I was more than impressed that Zuckoff was able to raise his game. His dedication is admirable, as well. Asked by Lou Sapienza, head of North South Polar, if Jon Krakauer (the author of Into Thin Air) wouldn't be a better choice to write the book, Zuckoff replies with natural aplomb: you haven't got Krakauer; you've got me. However, it soon becomes clear that Zuckoff's confidence is as much hope as it is faith as the expedition to recover the Grumman Duck hits financial setbacks and Zuckoff puts expenses for the trip--about which he is writing a book--on his credit card and then on a second mortgage to his home.
It's an investment that pays off and in grand conclusion. A modern day treasure hunt, not for gold, but for men lost in the greatest quest--to save their fellow man--Frozen in Time is a fast and enjoyable read, full of suspense, mystery, tragedy, and victory. I can't wait to see what Zuckoff will write next. ...more