|From The Editor
It is a story from my mother's days in Paris during World War II. The Germans were checking papers at the subway exit, effectively trapping those who got off the train.
Barrel-chested and hard-drinking, Oncle George was in the resistance but was also part of the Paris underworld, and was of great interest to the Germans. He got off at that station.
With only one way out, he jumped onto the tracks and ran down the tunnel, getting to the next station in time.
Since I heard that story as a kid, I have believed random checks for papers are a Gestapo tactic.
In a democratic society, people are entitled to walk along without having to show identity papers. That is a central right of a free people.
But not in our nation.
A former bull rider from Mexico does contracting work once in a while on my dad's old farm. He called a couple months ago because immigration agents had descended on the Oceanside barrio where he lives and picked up one of his crew members.
He described the scene to me. A big group of ICE agents parked their white trucks in the neighborhood and spread out, asking anyone they came across for their ID.
The news quickly spread and residents stayed indoors. But the young crewman was caught, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Over lunch recently, I told that story to a friend who works for the Justice Department. He reacted, "They're still doing that!"
Like me, he had not heard of an immigration raid in a long, long time.
Decades ago, it was the INS in the Justice Department that enforced immigration laws and now it is ICE in Homeland Security. And raids were common.
INS agents would go to California DMV offices, for example, and guard the exits, trapping those inside. At their leisure, agents could then interrogate Latinos as they stood in line to register their cars or get a license.
Or, and I reported on this, the light green INS vans somehow materialized when Latin moms were planning to protest for better healthcare in front of the L.A. Board of Supervisors. The moms stayed away.
That was when Mike Antonovich was on the board and the former head of Wienserchnitzel was the INS district director.
But even then, when my beat was immigration and raids were common, I never heard of agents simply descending en masse on a barrio neighborhood and asking anyone they ran across for papers.
So it is amazing to me that under a black Democratic president, a black attorney general and a black head of homeland security -- who would normally, and legitimately, be sensitive to the issue of stops based on race -- that under that array of institutional black power, immigration raids have not only been revived, but have been molded into a broad and crude weapon that includes raiding brown neighborhoods.
The offense to civil liberties is compounded by the offense to political strategy.
I was walking to work last week and looked into a news box to see an L.A. Times headline, "Latinos, angry with Obama, may sit out midterm vote, hurting Democrats."
"No kidding," I muttered to myself, or something real close to that.
The minority vote is the Democrats' ace in the hole, and especially, given their numbers, the Latino vote. No competent politician could possibly miss what happened in California when the state flopped four years ago to a majority minority electorate.
Democrats romped through that election and Republicans in California have not had a chance at anything close to a legislative majority since then.
Albeit more slowly, the same demographic shift is happening in other states. Lucky for the Democrats, you would think, and indeed so did the pundits.
But that talk is all gone.
And for one main reason. Because Obama's stance on immigration has been draconian.
And the thing is: his folks had to know it, there is no way they could not understand that draconian immigration enforcement would turn off Latin voters. The policy was supposed to forestall a Republican challenge on the border issue, taking an issue away from the party that appeals primarily to whites.
But that was a lost cause. And instead, he gave away a demographic edge that could have saved the Democratic prospects from the current wave of radicalization in the pale vote.
I voted for Obama twice, and the health care law, flawed as it may be, is a great, popular, belated step towards a decent society. But I have had a hard time opening up my wallet this time around, and I think there are an awful lot of folks like me.
The most powerful politicians in the world today are Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.
Angela Merkel comes in a lame third, and the president of the United States isn't even on the map.
This is not a slam on President Obama. It's just how it is.
Chinese scholar Orville Schell, in an alarming story in the Oct. 23 New York Review of Books, described how China deliberately insulted former President Jimmy Carter on his recent trip to China.
Schell, our pre-eminent scholar of things Chinese, accompanied Carter and saw it with his own eyes. Carter, the most moderate of men, was so offended from the deliberate insults that he wanted to call off the rest of the trip and come home.
But Jimmy didn't do it because he's a good guy, and he knew the harm he could have done by acting like a human being.
Schell quoted Xi as saying - though not directly to Carter: "One part of the now-longstanding Chinese leadership critique of Western-style democracy is that it is prone to paralysis and gridlock and ultimately governmental weakness."
Can we deny it?
Look at Congress today. Look at it for the past six years.
In a biography of Julius Caesar, Adrian Goldsworthy proposed that one reason for the fall of the Roman republic was that "most of the Roman elite preferred to let some of the major problems facing the republic to go unanswered rather than see someone else gain the credit for dealing with them."
Since President Obama was elected for the first time, the U.S. Congress has devoted itself to crippling him. Speaker of the House John Boehner declared it his primary objective. And he's managed to do it.
This has nothing to do with who is right or wrong, or who is on "the right side of history." It's about power.
The fact is that Putin - who is a bad man, a kleptocrat, a murderer, a sleaze - and Xi - vide supra - wield more pure power in the world today than does the United States.
This is due, in great part, as Xi said, to the dysfunctional U.S. Congress.
For more than 2,000 years, since the reign of Julius Caesar, the world has wondered whether it's possible to be a successful ruler and a good man - at the same time.
Goldsworthy, in his 2006 book, "Caesar: Life of a Colossus," wrote that Caesar was a great man, but not a good man.
Look at our presidents in the past 50 years.
How many of them have been good men?
Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
They were two of the weakest presidents we've ever had. Weak in the political sense - unable to get their laws passed - not weak personally.
Then look at our strong presidents - Nixon, LBJ, GW Bush.
What a bunch of creeps - no matter where they squatted on the political spectrum.
Many moons ago, I worked at a newspaper that handed out annual "merit pay raises." One year the boss gave a reporter a 3-cents an hour raise.
Think that's about right for Congress?
Oh, that's right, they grant their own pay raises. And perks.
Is it possible in today's world to be a powerful politician and a good man?
I don't know.
Just thought I'd ask.
|From The Courts
Some court rulings just demand to be read.
You doubt me?
Try resisting a ruling with this title: Victoria's Secret Direct v. U.S.
I keep telling you - reading rulings can be rewarding.
My reward for looking at this one was finding that a three-judge Federal Circuit panel was divided over the proper classification of "Bra Tops" and "Bodyshapers."
Are they bras or are they simply "other garments"?
I really wanted to know.
It turns out that they're both! They're "a combination of two garments: a camisole ... and a brassiere."
It's the kind of difficult dilemma that requires a resolution and ends up dividing the judiciary.
Favorite line from the ruling: "Ultimately, the Court of International Trade found that the Bra Top and the Bodyshaper are 'designed to provide support to the bust of the wearer' and in fact 'provide a certain degree of such support when worn.'"
Now think about the depth of discovery and the painstaking analysis required to reach that conclusion.
Live demonstrations should have helped.
In case you're wondering, the court ruled 2-1 that the things should be hit with import taxes applicable to outer garments, not brassieres.
Expect equal protection litigation on behalf of outer garments.
Travel tip: If you're going to Seattle, don't drive there or get a rental car -parking is impossible.
I think that's the lesson gleaned from a Washington Court of Appeals ruling called Johnson v. City of Seattle, in which we find the tale of a guy who got ticketed and fined three times for refusing to move two vehicles off his property.
Apparently there was no place else to park.
I bring this case to your attention in part because it's yet another tribute to good old American litigious stubbornness over four years on both sides, but also because it should provide some hope and inspiration to you lawyers out there.
The plaintiff represented himself without getting anywhere until he finally got a lawyer for his last appeal - and then he won.
There is a reason for law school.
Blame the Internet: What do a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and a West Virginia trial judge have in common?
Yep. They're both judges.
They were also both in the news last week because of sex scandals.
It's the Internet's fault. In an odd and ironic twist of fate, the Internet, which has made pornography so easy to find and enjoy, has ushered in a new age of Puritanism.
It used to be that you could be a happy pervert and still go about your job without anyone knowing or caring. Now we lose perfectly good politicians and judges just because they're a little kinky and they're not careful about sending messages.
Is this a good or a bad thing?
Beats me, but look at the news reports about these two judges.
In Pennsylvania, a Supreme Court justice got busted for, among other things, sending and receiving sexually explicit emails.
In West Virginia, a judge got busted for having sex in her chambers with the local community corrections director.
I thought that was what chambers were for, but apparently this was frowned upon.
She also, allegedly, "sent sexually explicit emails and texts to his county-issued phone and computer."
The problem is obvious: No one on the bench should have access to messaging technology.
It's for their own good and ours. We don't want to know about this stuff.