Mike Kueber's Blog

June 28, 2011

Great presidents and continuing legal education

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the good fortune of hearing presidential historian Douglas Brinkley give a talk on great presidents in America’s history.  I’m not sure how his talk qualified as continuing legal education for lawyers, but the state bar has almost unlimited power on that issue and it is very unlikely that anyone will complain.

Brinkley is a famous historian who is often interviewed on national news programs because he has the ability to present information in an interesting way, and his talk to at the annual meeting didn’t disappoint.  The talk was informal, and I suspect Brinkley could give it in his sleep.  His principal insights were:

  1. Although the talk was about presidents, Brinkley started with a non-president – Charles Thompson – who was a relatively unknown politician who did yeomen’s work in forming our union, but then was shut-out of a role in the newly-formed United States because he was too progressive for his time – i.e., he favored the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women.
  2. George Washington’s signal achievement was to give up power after two terms.
  3. Thomas Jefferson saw that the Mississippi River was the spine of America and that religion has no place in a democracy.
  4. James Polk was successful because he established clear objectives (resolving the border issues with Mexico and Canada) and knew that wars of choice must be ended quickly.
  5. Lincoln’s challenges make the challenges faced by any other president seem highly manageable.
  6. Teddy Roosevelt created and led the conservation movement even though the public wasn’t demanding it.
  7. Franklin Roosevelt created the feeling that the federal government could solve all our problems.
  8. Harry Truman was horribly unpopular because he was too direct in trying to achieve his objectives, but his stock in history has skyrocketed.
  9. Dwight Eisenhower was an under-rated president who showed that America could be fiscally conservative and still do great things – e.g., NASA, interstate highways, and St. Lawrence Seaway.
  10. John Kennedy implemented things that worked (Peace Corp and SEALS/Green Beret), whereas his successor Lyndon Johnson spent too much money on things that didn’t work.
  11. Gerald Ford did a great job of extricating America from two problems – Nixon and Vietnam.
  12. Jimmy Carter brought morality to Washington.
  13. Ronald Reagan went with his gut and told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
  14. Bill Clinton was relatively successful, but never did anything big and will always be remembered for the sex scandal.
  15. George H.W. Bush will be upgraded by historians because of his brilliant handling of foreign policy.
  16. Barack Obama is disposed to placate, not lead.  He acts like the only adult in the room, but doesn’t lead.  His greatest accomplishment will be getting elected.

Brinkley skipped over Bush-43, but someone during the Q&A asked if it was likely that Bush-43 would be upgraded by historians.  Brinkley did not think so because Bush-43 would be forever stained by the economic collapse at the end of his second term.  It’s ironic that Bush’s economic collapse not only resulted in the historic election of Barack Obama, but also may have fated Obama to the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

In my opinion, Brinkley skipping Bush-43 was bad enough, but skipping Richard Nixon, too, is unforgivable, especially when he found time to mention Jimmy Carter.  I will keep that in mind when reading Brinkley in the future.

May 5, 2011

Getting carried away – lessons learned about Obama from the killing of Osama

Maureen Dowd of the NY Times wrote a column yesterday titled Cool Hand Barack.”  In the column, she compared Barack Obama not only to Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” but also to Al Pacino in “The Godfather.”  That’s fine; poetic license is fine.  But then Maureen attempted to distinguish between Obama and his milquetoast predecessor, Jimmy Carter:

  • But now the president has shown he can lead straight-on and that, unlike Jimmy Carter, he knows how to order up that all-important backup helicopter. He has said that those who call him a wimp are mistaken, that there is often muscular purpose beneath his diffident surface.”

That’s not fine; that is not poetic license or mere hyperbole.  I don’t think anyone in a position to know has indicated that Obama had anything to do with the back-up choppers. 

Maureen’s bald misstatement reminds me of Senator Kyl’s statement that 90% of the work of Planned Parenthood involves abortion and his follow-up comment that the statement was not intended to be factual.  Perhaps Maureen expected her readers to realize that she was merely attempting to prove her point. 

You might think that I am being too picky with Maureen, but she is not alone.  Today Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne went even further in trying to create a legendary Barack Obama.  His description of Obama as a warrior (“sheer audacity”) evoked Robert E. Lee, but Dionne also noted, “It can also end in daring action tempered by prudence — for example, making sure that additional helicopters were available to our Navy SEALs.”

You will have to read Dionne’s entire column to get the full flavor of his man-love for Obama.  For now, let these closing words suffice:

  • “And anyone who doubted our willingness to project our might as we see fit will have second thoughts after the events in Abbottabad.  This single action does not ‘change everything,’ because nothing ever changes everything. Killing one man does not settle two messy wars. Obama’s political standing will ultimately rise or fall largely on the basis of domestic issues and economic circumstances. The president’s supporters will again experience bouts of frustration when his philosophical caution prevails over his bold streak in the less martial work of negotiating budgets and promoting the general welfare at home. His opponents will not suddenly embrace his priorities.  But because he ordered this attack, and because it was successful, no one will ever view Barack Obama in quite the same way again.”

I wonder what was the “sheer audacity” of the assault on Osama bin Laden.”  Surely, things could have gone wrong, as they did with President Carter, but what choice did President Obama have.  He had already waited for months for intelligence to raise the likelihood of Osama being in the compound to 60-80%.  I suppose he could have waited longer.  His only other options were (a) to bomb the hell out of the compound or (b) involve the Pakistanis.  I don’t know anyone who has argued that those were better options.

Let’s assume that President Obama did not actually plan the assault, including the back-up choppers, then please tell me how Obama was a difference-maker.

January 19, 2011

Nicole and Keith have a gestational baby by a surrogate mother

Every morning I wake up to DJs Jesse & Shotgun on Y100 radio.  In addition to playing songs, they have a segment called Lo-Down from Twang Town, during which a Nashville reporter, Jimmy Carter, briefs us on happenings in Nashville.  This morning, Carter reported that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban had a “gestational baby” a few weeks ago. 

FYI – a gestational baby is one where the embryo from a couple is placed in an unrelated woman, who carries the resulting child to term; whereas, the baby from a traditional surrogacy is the result of a woman who is artificially inseminated to become pregnant with her own biological child.

Carter noted that he had placed the Kidman/Urban information on his Facebook page, and several readers had snidely wondered whether Nicole was too lazy to carry the child herself.  DJ Shotgun noted that surrogacy-for-profit was illegal in some states, but he agreed with Carter that the reason for the surrogacy was no one’s business other than Nicole’s and Keith’s.  He suggested that it probably had something to do with Nicole’s two previous miscarriages more than 10 years ago, although Nicole had a baby with Keith in 2008.     

Based on additional research, I have learned that, although some states prohibit commercial surrogacy, Tennessee, where the baby was born, does not.  Furthermore, although Nicole’s home town of Sidney, Australia recently outlawed commercial surrogacy, the law has not yet taken effect. 

Interestingly, Australians are upset, not about the surrogacy, but the fact that Nicole and Keith called the surrogate mother a “gestational carrier,” a term they consider to be dehumanizing and demeaning to the surrogate mother.  They also are concerned that surrogacy for celebrities had become almost a modern form of wet nursing.

An article from the UK, where commercial surrogacies are illegal, mentioned the surrogacies of Kidman, Elton John, and Sarah Jessica Parker.  Shirley Zager, director of the Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy, puts the average cost of a surrogacy between $70,000 and $130,000.

I think DJ Shotgun and reporter Jimmy Carter are being too protective of Kidman/Urban.  Because surrogacy-for-hire is illegal in some states, including Kidman’s home state in Australia, then the practice is certainly morally problematic, and the couple’s fans would have a legitimate interest in knowing if the couple paid the surrogate.  Furthermore, fans of Nicole Kidman would obviously want to know if she decided against carrying her baby for non-medical reasons because this reflects on her character.