Monday, March 31, 2014

International Leadership (Blair's Lessons, part X)

From Tony Blair's autobiography, an observation that would benefit our current President.
America’s burden is that it wants to be loved, but knows it can’t be. Love is given to nations with which we sympathize; nations that are victims of tragedy, opposition or even poor governance. Powerful nations aren’t loved. They can be admired by their friends, respected by neutrals; they have to be feared by their enemies. 
This is especially so of a nation like America that is not only powerful, but aspires to lead. The leadership will be resented, sometimes actively opposed. It will also, however, be expected. 
* * * 
But America is great for a reason. It is looked up to, despite all the criticism, for a reason. There is a nobility in the American character that has been developed over the centuries, derived no doubt from the frontier spirit, from the waves of migration that form the stock, from the circumstances of independence, from the civil war, from a myriad of historical facts and coincidences But it is there. 
That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values: freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work. But it is, most of all, that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. It is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifices. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played. Of course the ideal is not always met—that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

Also in this series:
Reforming Political Parties (Blair's Lessons, part I)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

ACA: A Definition

Affordable Care Act (pron. O-bama-kare) (n.): Sacrament of the Democratic Party of the United States of America shrouded in secrecy and legal jargon. As best as can be determined, it is a free gift, not earned, containing at its core nature existentially chimeric characteristics by which the fundamental essence of taxation is present alongside the fundamental essence of regulation, with both parts being coeternal and coequal, yet not two but one, neither confusing one with the other nor ranking the other over the one, each being subservient to the other in legal challenge, begotten not written, adopted not read, a mystery that can only be understood upon its acceptance. It’s sisyphean elements are demonstrated in that although having full power to effect health transformation, it has at present only been revealed in limited form and thus appears to be not affordable, not caring, and not an enforced act. Faithful adherents live in anticipation of its full parousia and hold that executive mandates, imputed to the elect, confer empowerment to see what is yet unseen and understand what is not yet understood. Syn: utopia, 42, Pedro (vote for), unimmanetized eschaton, Godot

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An Honorable Enemy

We’ve all heard the story of the kind-hearted stranger, or angel in disguise, stepping in to help someone and then disappearing, never to be heard from again. But sometimes, those stories have even more incredible turns.

Take, for instance, the events that transpired over the skies of Europe on December 20, 1943. Early that morning, a fleet of nearly five hundred bomber planes departed a foggy England, targeting an aircraft factory in the German city of Bremen. After dropping their bombs, the planes turned for home. However, one B-17, which had been fighting engine trouble the entire way, started to fall behind. One of its four engines had gone out entirely, and an anti-aircraft shell had blown a large hole in it’s nose. This was its crew, and pilot Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown’s, first bombing run.

As it fell farther behind, the B-17 became a prime target for the hovering German fighters. Eight fighters attacked, and Brown started to improvise with evasive maneuvers. Making himself as small a target as possible, he began playing chicken with the fighters. The plane’s guns, however, had frozen at the high altitude and could not return fire. One fighter got behind Brown and killed the tail gunner. A waist gunner was severely wounded. Half the rudder was shot away, and one whole rear stabilizer was entirely shot off. A fuel tank had its cap blown off, but somehow did not explode. Then, in the middle of a turn, the bomber’s oxygen supply failed, the crew fell unconscious, and the plane dove to the earth.

Miraculously, Brown awoke as the oxygen supply revived due to the lower altitude. More miraculously, he was able to pull the plane out of its dive. The German fighters were gone, but the bomber was still over enemy territory. The plane’s navigator charted a course back to England, but between them and the sea was the “Atlantic Wall” - one of the strongest German defenses in Europe.

Just at that moment, the worst possible thing happened. A solitary German fighter flew behind the bomber. However, instead of taking advantage of such an easy target, it flew up alongside the bomber. Brown was scared stiff--and kept pretending it wasn't there. But the German anti-aircraft, seeing the enemy bomber escorted by one of their own, held their fire. Once over the North Sea, the German pilot saluted and flew away. Brown and his crew landed safely a few hours later. Their plane was in shambles. Brown later said that looking at his plane after they landed was more frightening than anything that had happened in the air.

Brown, and the rest of his crew, survived the war. But they weren’t the only ones. So did the German pilot. His name was Franz Stigler, and he was a German ace. At the time of the incident, the only thing between him and the Knight’s Cross was shooting down one more bomber. In 1990, they tracked each other down and met for the first time.

When journalist Adam Markos contacted Brown and told him he wanted to write this story, Charlie responded: “If you really want to learn the whole story, learn about Franz Stigler first. He’s still alive. Find out how he was raised and how he became the man he was when we met over Europe. Better yet, go visit him. He and his wife are living up in Vancouver, Canada. When you have heard his story, come and visit me and I”ll tell you mine. In this story, I’m just a character--Franz Stigler is the real hero.”

Markos did just that, and wrote a book about it. More than a story about what happened over Germany that morning, A Higher Call is the story of honor in war. It’s the story of a highly skilled German ace who refused to shoot a defenseless enemy. And it’s the story of the German Air Force, torn between honorable patriotism and Nazism.

War often can bring out the worst. It can also surprise us.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Saved by a Beatle

Twice before I’ve written about the Romeike family, who left Germany and applied for asylum in the United States on the basis that Germany wouldn’t permit them to homeschool their children. This last week, the case took another turn.

But first, let’s review the family’s immigration history. The Romeike family arrived in the United States on a temporary 90 day visa and then applied for asylum with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS declined to grant the petition, and instead sent it over to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) for an administrative hearing before an immigration judge. (As a point of clarification, this judge was an administrative officer and employee of the DOJ, not a “judge” in the typically understood sense of being part of the judicial branch.) The immigration judge granted the petition, and DHS promptly appealed it to the next level of administrative review with DOJ: the Board of Immigration Appeals.

After waiting about two years due to the backlog of cases, the BIA reversed the immigration judge, denying asylum and ordering the family removed since they did not have any legal status. The family appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which affirmed the BIA and held that although homeschooling is protected under US law, denial of homeschooling by another nation does not constitute “persecution” as defined in asylum law. The family next asked the Supreme Court to review, but the high Court declined to intervene. The very next day, DHS informed the family that it would not be proceeding with enforcing the deportation order and that the family had been granted “indefinite deferred status”.

Although it’s been spun as an irony, the government’s position is actually been consistent through the entire case. It determined that the family did not qualify for asylum. It never said the family didn’t qualify for another status, and given the option, declined to push the issue of deportation. This was a classification issue, not a change of heart.

Yet there are plenty of ironies. Those who have been contrasting this family with all the other “illegals” that the Obama administration has decided to not deport are now stuck, since now the family is another instance of immigrants without documentation whom the law is not being enforced against. (Side note: the Obama administration is actually deporting record numbers of immigrants.) Likewise, those who have been condemning the administration for not enforcing the law are now praising the administration for … not enforcing the law against someone they find sympathetic.

Anyway, there’s another interesting element to all this. Contrary to the sentiment you may have heard, President Obama is not the first President to selectively enforce immigration laws. During the 1950s through 1970s, before we had a clear asylum category, Presidents used “parole” power to admit tens of thousands of Hungarian, Cuban, Chinese, Czech, and Indochinese refugees who otherwise didn’t otherwise qualify for status.

But deferred action is connected to a different incident: John Lennon, the Beatle. (No, I’m not referring to Vladimir, the Soviet revolutionary. Nor am I referring to Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s beetle. I’m referring to a member of the British rock band that first toured the United States fifty years ago.)

You see, like the Romeike’s, Lennon had overstayed his tourist visa. And his prior marijuana conviction back in England prevented him from obtaining permanent resident status. So the government initiated removal proceedings against him.

Lennon and his attorney fought the deportation, arguing (among other things) that in light of the government practice of quietly granting “deferred status” and not pursuing every immigration violation, his deportation case constituted being singled out for political purposes. Ultimately, the United Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that the marijuana conviction did not prevent Lennon from being granted status. However, it also noted that it considered the claim of selective prosecution serious. Lennon was eventually granted a permanent resident status.

Thus, deferred status was popularized, and has been an executive tool ever since. Last week's grant of deferred status to the Romeike family is just the most recent publicized instance of the President softening otherwise harsh immigration laws. The Romeikes have simply benefited from the path forged by John Lennon.
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