My Teacher

February 20, 2013

He was unassumingly regal in bearing and he was a  small man, humble and self effacing.

He was icon to many, unique in countless ways and despite his protestations was thrust into the limelight. He was at the same time an every man, happiest in the back of the room or lost in a crowd. If you didn’t know him, he was almost invisible. If you were fortunate enough to be in his sphere, his very presence was the silent thunder of greatness and dignity.

There are the legions of students- those who spent years with him and will tell you they were better for it. There are others, more unfortunate souls who knew him only in passing.

He was a man who appreciated the discoveries and wonders of science but more than that, he was a man who celebrated and whose life revolved around the morality of real human connection and the human condition.

He was a deeply religious man but he never wore his religion on his sleeve. Imposing his beliefs on others was an idea that was abhorrent to him.  Like all moral men, his intimate relationships remained private.

He would tolerate no hate or bigotry and at the same time he demanded equal morality and ethical behavior from all.

He served his community in ways seen and unseen with never failing devotion and conviction.

He never spoke ill of others (save the times a goal wasn’t scored despite a missed golden opportunity or in the case of an obviously blind umpire) and would not stay in the presence of those who freely maligned others or engaged in gossip.

He was a good- no, a great- father, though he never thought so. He believed his work, commitments and obligations shortchanged his family. Of course, he never really saw the impact he had on others. It was the totality of his life, the way he lived his life which inspired his family, students and others. As far he was concerned, there was always room for improvement and more to do.

He could be profoundly absent minded and clueless, which frustrated those who marveled at his insight and attention to nuance. He surrounded himself with like minded persons and others of the eyebrow raising variety. To the casual observer it seems all they shared in common was the same bespoke tailors, Rumpled and Sons.

His small troupe of colleagues, friends really, seemed to have a language all their own, a kind of shorthand which referenced ideas and individuals by referring to their work. “Remember what so and so said? No, not the January Journal but  the November issue!” That seemingly contrived method of communication seemed  to deliberately exclude and frustrate  just about everyone else. The strategy proved highly effective.

Every now and then after spending time together, he and I would have occasion to walk to the train station together to head our separate ways. Sometimes we’d continue an ongoing conversation and other times I’d just listen. Years later he would say the best times were when I asked lots of questions. I once noted how silly some of those questions were at the time but my teacher just laughed.

He had the highest expectations from all, each according to his ability.

A most memorable lesson, discussed and refined over the years was a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.

Mostly, he loved his family. Family legend has him once absentmindedly asking, “Do you think they know?”

Despite his stature and earnest, simple and moving eloquence, both silent and spoken,  his most profound lessons were taught by example. There just weren’t enough of them.

That’s the way it is with teachers.

Unscheduled Interruption

January 9, 2013

Posting will resume on or about January 18, 2013

The Hierarchy of Sports

January 9, 2013

Via US News

The life of an illegal immigrant is not an easy one. There is the matter of the day to day- work, taking care of family and in the case of younger illegals (the vast majority of them) simply growing up. Then there is the underbelly- the exploitation many illegals have to live with, the challenges they face in procuring necessary documents in this increasingly document- and computerized- society. 

While the media tends to focus on the criminal element (Jose Q Public going to work day and day out won’t sell newspapers), the vast majority of illegals are honest, law abiding and hard working  seeking no more than than a better life for themselves and their children.

There are many Americans who believe that is liberal spewed hogwash but it is the truth- and it has nothing to do with politics.

Imagine you lived in an environment in which it was virtually impossible to support your family. Imagine your parents, grandparents and other close relatives lived in poverty with no hope of escape. Imagine that environment was filled with corrupt politicians and bureaucrats or criminal gangs. Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to change that reality? Isn’t that what generations of immigrants- legal and otherwise- have done?

Since when has offering the teeming masses an opportunity for a better life, become a political football? How have we become a nation which turns it’s back on ‘wretched refuse’?

Yes, we are a nation of laws- but we are also meant to be a merciful nation. We can find a way to accommodate those who have circumvented the legal and appropriate ways to apply for immigrant status. They may have to wait for those legal applicants to move to the front of the line (where they belong) pay back taxes and so on.

This nation has been enriched by immigrants since her inception, believing in and following the American dream. Shortchanging those law abiding illegal immigrants will hurt them, to be sure- but it will us as a nation, even more.

National Affairs:

In the controversy over illegal immigration that has roiled our politics for decades, the image of “living in the shadows” has been invoked by all sides. For immigrant advocates, “the shadows” are where the undocumented are harassed by overzealous law-enforcement officers and exploited by unscrupulous landlords and employers. For many other Americans, “living in the shadows” conjures vaguely sinister intruders using public services to which they are not entitled and preying on law-abiding Americans through illicit activities and crime.

Yet regardless of one’s views on the issue, this imagery is profoundly misleading. It helps to perpetuate the myths and exaggerations that have made our immigration debate so fruitless. Undocumented immigrants are hardly mere victims of economic or political forces beyond their control. But neither are they dangerous criminals or public charges lurking on the fringes of our society. Rather, they are responsible agents who have made difficult choices in a complicated and risky environment — an environment for which all Americans bear some blame.

These choices produce both beneficial and negative consequences for the nation and for the immigrants themselves. And our policies must contend with both sets of effects. If we are to find our way to a solution, we must examine the genuine predicament of the millions of illegal immigrants in our midst without ignoring the legitimate concerns millions of Americans have about their presence.

If we succeeded in removing the hyperbole and stereotypes from the immigration debate, our politics might open itself to a balanced approach to the problem: legalization for as many undocumented immigrants as possible, but citizenship for none of them. Under this proposal, illegal immigrants who so desired could become “permanent non-citizen residents” with no option of ever naturalizing.

Such a policy would do much to address the predicament faced by the undocumented while at the same time respecting and addressing the concerns of those Americans who have long demanded that illegals be penalized for breaking the law. It would respond to the challenge of illegal immigration in its genuine complexity and ambiguity. And only when we acknowledge that complexity, looking beyond the simple caricatures that too often shape the immigration debate, can we see our way to a plausible policy solution.

SHEDDING LIGHT ON “LIFE IN THE SHADOWS”

The first step in clarifying our debate is to move beyond some familiar distortions about just who illegal immigrants are, how they live, and how and why they got here. Based on a variety of surveys and estimates, we actually have a decent understanding of the illegal-immigrant population in America. The latest figures compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center indicate that there are more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, a number that includes more than one million children under the age of 18. Overall, the undocumented represent approximately 4% of the nation’s population, 5% of its labor force, and 28% of its foreign-born population.

These numbers understate things somewhat, for the simple reason that the undocumented often live with relatives who are here legally. Some illegals have spouses who are either legal immigrants or citizens. Still more numerous are the 4.5 million native-born (and therefore citizen) children under 18 with at least one illegal parent. As a result, the total number of individuals living in households with at least one illegal immigrant exceeds 15 million, representing about 6% of the population.

The classic image of illegal immigrants entering our country is one of silhouetted figures sneaking across the Mexican border. About half of the undocumented arrived this way; less noted, however, is that the remainder initially came legally — typically on work or tourist visas — but then overstayed their allotted residency periods. While there are sizable contingents of illegals from Asia, Europe, Africa, and Canada, almost 60% are from Mexico, and about 20% more are from Central and South America or the Caribbean. Therefore, about 80% of illegal immigrants are Latinos.

Today’s figure of roughly 11 million illegals living in the U.S. is actually lower than the record high of 12 million in 2007. This decline reflects decreased inflows since the Great Recession of 2008, though there does not appear to have been much, if any, increase in the number of illegals voluntarily returning home in recent years. This lower number is also the result of steadily tightening border enforcement, including increased deportations initiated by the Bush administration and now sustained by the Obama administration.

Because of these developments, the undocumented population is now generally believed to have stabilized at this lower number. And one result of this stabilization is an increase in the length of time the average illegal immigrant has resided in the United States. In 2011, Pew estimated that more than three-fifths of adult illegals had been living in the United States for at least ten years. More than a fifth had lived here between five and nine years. And only 15% had been here less than five years. By contrast, in 2000, Pew reported that 44% of adult undocumented immigrants had been living in the United States for at least ten years and about one-third for less than five years.

However long they have been here, the undocumented are strikingly young. Pew reports that the median age of undocumented adults is 36.2, compared to 46.1 for legal-immigrant adults and 46.5 for native-born American adults. These numbers reflect the fact that the many risks associated with illegal status — travel through dangerous terrain, larcenous smugglers, unscrupulous employers — are more easily negotiated by the young, and particularly by young men. This is one reason why men significantly outnumber women among the illegal-immigrant population: Of the undocumented immigrants over the age of 18 currently residing in the U.S., there are approximately 5.8 million males, compared to 4.2 million females.

The age and gender profiles of the undocumented translate into a large cohort of young, unattached males — with no spouses, partners, or children, at least in this country. According to Pew, nearly half of illegal-immigrant men are “unpartnered adults without children,” while fewer than one-fifth of illegal-immigrant women are. Such patterns account for the recurrent image of undocumented immigrants as single males noisily crowding into run-down apartments or hanging out on street corners looking for work and getting into trouble.

On the other hand, their youth and fertility mean that illegal immigrants are frequently young parents. They are actually much more likely to live in a household with a spouse (or partner) and at least one child than are legal immigrants and native-born adults. Pew estimates that 45% of undocumented immigrants live in such situations, compared with 34% of legal immigrants and 21% of native-born Americans. Consequently, while illegals represent about 4% of the U.S. adult population, their children account for 8% of newborns. These numbers point to the challenges that illegal immigration poses for schools, hospitals, and other service providers. Anxiety about these challenges has translated into charges that the undocumented are here primarily to sponge off the nation.

But while concerns about illegals’ reliance on social programs may be warranted (as discussed below), most undocumented immigrants are not here looking for “freebies.” Overwhelmingly, they migrate in pursuit of work. This is particularly true for undocumented males: Among all men in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64, illegal immigrants are the most likely to be working. In 2009, for example, 93% of undocumented men participated in the labor force, compared to 86% of legal-immigrant men and 81% of native-born men. Yet the opposite pattern is evident among women. In 2009, 58% of undocumented women were in the labor force, compared to 66% of legal-immigrant women and 72% of native-born women. So while a majority of undocumented women do work, more of them remain at home — presumably to care for their children — than do other women in America.

However hard undocumented immigrants work, their professional prospects are limited by their low skill and education levels. Almost half have not completed high school, and nearly a third have less than a ninth-grade education. Pew notes that 22% of U.S. residents between the ages of 25 and 64 with less than a high-school education are undocumented immigrants.

Their incomes are commensurately meager. Even though undocumented-immigrant households contain, on average, more workers than do households composed of native-born Americans, the former’s median annual income in 2007 was $36,000, compared to the latter’s $50,000. And while legal-immigrant households have experienced significant income gains over time, illegal-immigrant households have not. Moreover, the latter’s poverty rates are also disproportionately high: About one-third of the children of undocumented immigrants are poor, compared to about a fifth of the children of native-born parents.

Little of this comes as news to most Americans, who are not surprised to hear that illegals are concentrated in jobs that are unpleasant, unsafe, or low-paying — and sometimes all of the above. For example, as of 2008, illegal immigrants were 21% of parking-lot attendants, 25% of farm workers, 27% of maids and housekeepers, 28% of dishwashers, 37% of drywallers, and 40% of brick masons. By industry, again as of 2008, the undocumented were 10% of workers in leisure and hospitality, 14% in construction, 20% in dry cleaning and laundry, 23% in private household employment, and 28% in landscaping. In addition to what these data tell us about living standards among the undocumented, they highlight a particularly difficult aspect of the nation’s illegal-immigration challenge: Important sectors of the U.S. economy have become dependent on undocumented workers.

These are sectors where workers are often vulnerable to exploitation by small businessmen, many of them fellow immigrants. In such jobs, wages are meager and benefits are often non-existent. So it’s not surprising that, as of 2008, three-fifths of undocumented adults lacked health insurance, compared to 24% of legal-immigrant adults and 14% of native-born adults. Yet it is too easy to overlook the corollary of this statistic: that two-fifths, or 40%, of illegals do have health insurance. “Life in the shadows” is not uniformly dark.

Similarly, the Pew Hispanic Center reports that, as of 2008, “[o]nly 35 percent of unauthorized immigrant households [were] homeowners, half the rate of US-born households” (emphasis added). Pew goes on to note that, among undocumented immigrants who have lived here for a decade or more, “only 45 percent own their own homes” (again, emphasis added).

These data are doubly revealing. At one level, they indicate a degree of material well-being that would not be anticipated from the household-income figures cited above. But they also suggest, once again, that the undocumented have not exactly been cowering in the shadows. Rather, these immigrants have taken major steps toward entering the American mainstream, like buying homes. They have been encouraged to do so by an assortment of public policies, including the Internal Revenue Service’s move to supply illegal immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers in lieu of Social Security numbers, which has allowed undocumented workers to secure mortgages. To be sure, these immigrants relied heavily on sub-prime loans, and their home-ownership rates are undoubtedly lower today than they were before the housing bust. But the tendency to regard the undocumented as victims leads organizations like Pew — as well as much of the American public — to focus on the gap between them and the rest of us, consequently overlooking the advances made by illegal immigrants.

Similarly, illegal immigrants have been joining labor unions and participating in demonstrations, including highly visible and angry street protests in 2006 against proposed punitive legislation in Congress. Meanwhile, their undocumented children have been educated in public schools, with many preparing for higher education and loudly demanding in-state tuition at public universities. Such young people have also been visibly advocating passage of the DREAM Act, which would provide illegal immigrants who came here as minors a path to citizenship.

To be sure, none of this means that illegal immigrants live at ease in America. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that, in 2010, 84% of undocumented Latinos worried “some” or “a lot” that a family member, a close friend, or they themselves could be deported. Only 35% of the polled illegals said they were “satisfied with the way things are going in this country today.” This sentiment tracked with the response among Hispanics generally, which was 36%.

Yet what should surprise us about these numbers is not how low they are but how high they are — higher, in fact, than the 25% of all Americans who expressed satisfaction with the direction of the country. As Pew emphasizes, ever since this question was first asked in 2003, “Hispanics have nearly always been more positive than non-Hispanics about the direction of the country.”

Similarly, after years of vituperative debates over immigration and record-high deportation rates, overwhelming majorities of undocumented immigrants still say there is more opportunity in this country than where they came from. In 2010, 79% of undocumented Hispanics told Pew that “the opportunity to get ahead is better in the United States.”…

Read it all.

The GOP seems to have squandered away it’s traditional strong suits- national security and foreign relations. For a party which has been ravaged by what many consider extremist elements to ideas which now seem tired and out of step,  the Republicans are seeking an anchor, something which might tether their fractious party, together.

In a rapidly changing world, foreign policy might be the glue the party needs. Richard Nixon ended the war in Vietnam and opened up China, Ronald Reagan stared down Gorbachev in Helsinki and at the Berlin Wall. Republican administrations oversaw the reunification of Europe and united the nation after 9/11.

And then came the wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan and the global war on terror.

There were successes and their were failures but mostly, we became tentative which only exacerbated failures. What is clear is the 21st century cannot be understood through the lenses of the 20th century.

The GOP needs to reestablish their credibility. The voters have established that as a fact, not as an opinion. While the party has a long way to go, starting fresh with foreign policy is a good first step.

Foreign Affairs:

Needed: Less Fox, More Foxes

This past fall was not kind to U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. It became increasingly clear that Afghan security forces were not going to be ready for the 2014 transition. The New York Times highlighted the administration’s failure to persuade the Iraqi government to allow a residual U.S. force to stay in the country, leaving Baghdad ever more at the mercy of Tehran. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought publicly over how to respond to Iran’s advancing nuclear program. The administration’s much-touted “pivot” to the Pacific seemed like more talk than action, as the United States passively watched tensions rise between China and Japan. And then, the administration tripped over itself repeatedly in trying to explain the fiasco in Benghazi, Libya.

Yet despite all this, Obama not only won the election in November but was more trusted by the public than Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, on foreign policy and national security issues. The Pew Research Center’s last preelection poll, for example, found that more voters trusted Obama than Romney on foreign affairs, by 50 percent to 42 percent, and CBS/New York Times and NBC/Wall Street Journal surveys showed similar figures. Tracking polls suggested that the foreign policy debate helped halt whatever momentum Romney had.

This was all a big change from the past. Republicans had previously possessed a decades-long advantage on foreign policy. Exit polls have shown that voters consistently trusted Republican presidential candidates over Democratic ones on foreign policy from the Vietnam era until 2012. So Obama’s edge cannot be chalked up simply to incumbency. And if this exception becomes a trend, it will pose a serious problem for the Republican Party, significantly altering the political landscape. Foreign policy is rarely the decisive issue in presidential campaigns, but it does matter: even voters who profess not to care about the rest of the world need to feel comfortable that their candidate can be the next commander in chief. A candidate’s command of foreign policy acts as a proxy for assessing broader leadership abilities. As of right now, far too many Republicans flunk that test.

So how did the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan get itself into this mess? Simply put, GOP leaders stopped being smart foxes and devolved into stupid hedgehogs. During the Cold War, the party of Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Reagan was strongly anticommunist, but these presidents took foreign policy seriously and executed their grand strategies with a healthy degree of tactical flexibility. Since 9/11, however, Republicans have known only one big thing — the “global war on terror” — and have remained stubbornly committed to a narrow militarized approach. Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, this approach has produced at least as much failure as success, leading the American public to be increasingly skeptical of the bellicosity that now defines the party’s foreign policy.

Republicans need to start taking international relations more seriously, addressing the true complexities and requirements of the issues rather than allowing the subject to be a plaything for right-wing interest groups. And if they don’t act quickly, they might cede this ground to the Democrats for the next generation.

BUILDING THE BRAND

Republican presidents from the 1950s through the early 1990s had variegated records, but they had one thing in common: they left behind favorable legacies on foreign policy. Eisenhower stabilized the rivalry with the Soviet Union, preventing it from escalating into a violent conflagration. He dramatically improved the U.S. foreign-policy-making process, strengthened domestic infrastructure, extricated the United States from the Korean War, and limited U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Nixon improved relations with the Soviet Union, opened relations with China, and extricated the United States from Vietnam. Reagan spoke truth to power by railing against the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” but when faced with a genuine negotiating partner in Mikhail Gorbachev, he did not hesitate to sign numerous treaties, reduce Cold War tensions, and cut nuclear stockpiles. George H. W. Bush adroitly seized the opportunities afforded by the end of the Cold War to expand the West’s liberal order to the world at large, as well as overseeing German reunification, rebuffing Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and locking in Mexico’s path toward economic liberalization.

Each president built his reputation as a foreign policy hawk, and none was afraid to talk tough or act forcefully when dealing with adversaries. But the key to their success was the ability to combine principled beliefs at the strategic level with prudence and flexibility at the tactical level. Eisenhower took great care to prevent small crises from distracting the United States from its main goal of containing the Soviet Union. Nixon built his political career on anticommunism but recognized the strategic advantage of opening relations with Maoist China. Reagan talked tough on terrorism, but after 241 U.S. marines were killed in a suicide attack in Beirut, he did not hesitate to draw down U.S. forces from a peripheral conflict in Lebanon. And rather than do a sack dance at the end of the Cold War, Bush 41 took care to respond tactfully and nimbly, pocketing and building on an extraordinary strategic windfall.

To be sure, they all had their foreign policy blemishes, too. But their strengths outweighed their weaknesses, especially when compared with Democratic counterparts such as Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter. Republican presidents during the Cold War skillfully combined the idealpolitik of American exceptionalism with the realpolitik necessary to navigate a world of bipolarity, nuclear deterrence, and Third World nationalism. They relied on a string of steady-handed professionals, such as John Foster Dulles, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, and Brent Scowcroft, to help manage their administrations. Indeed, so great was the legacy this era bequeathed that in 2000, exit polls showed that the public viewed the neophyte George W. Bush as stronger on foreign policy than Al Gore, the sitting vice president. Gore’s considerable experience was neutralized by public trust in the Republican foreign policy “Vulcans” advising his opponent.

…THEN SQUANDERING IT

For a brief time, it looked as though Bush 43 would be able to carry on the legacy. In the wake of 9/11, the neoconservatives in his administration supplied a clear and coherent grand strategy of using unilateral military action to destroy terrorist bases and remake the Middle East, and after quickly toppling hostile regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seemed to be working.

Over the next several years, however, the Bush administration’s strategic miscalculations became apparent. The administration focused on a mythical “axis of evil,” lumping disparate actors into a single anti-American threat. It displayed little tactical flexibility and no ability to plan for the consequences of its actions. The initial swift success in Afghanistan was marred by a failure to capture or kill al Qaeda’s senior leadership, and when the administration pivoted almost immediately to Iraq, it took its eye off the ball in South Asia and allowed a short-term victory to deteriorate into a long-term quagmire…

Read it all.

Safe Handgun

January 9, 2013

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