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Powers That Be

And when to curtail them

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Presidential historian Robert Dallek is probably best known as the author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. It is to Kennedy, who was sworn into office 50 years ago this month, that Dallek traces a significant expansion of presidential power in this country (“Power and the Presidency” ). The turning point, he says, “was the Cuban missile crisis, when we came closer than any other time during the cold war to a hot war and to a nuclear exchange.” During those fateful 13 days, “Kennedy set up what was known as the ExComm, the executive committee. He did consult with some people in Congress, but they didn’t make policy. It was essentially done by the president himself, with the advice of these advisers.” Since that time, says Dallek, the power to make war and peace has been “very much in the hands of the executive.” Dallek sees his article as “a cautionary tale. We’re not going to want to eliminate executive power or even inhibit the president to too great an extent. But by the same token, we need to pay attention.”

John Morthland first wrote about wild hogs for Texas Monthly more than a decade ago after hearing stories about cowboys who roped the wily creatures for fun. “But at that time,” he says, “the invasion was fairly recent. Now, it’s happening on a huge scale everywhere. They are now in 39 states and four Canadian provinces.” Morthland’s article about the animals (“A Plague of Pigs”) raises the question of how to deal with an animal that does a surprising amount of harm. He emphasizes “the need to keep this population contained. People who live in the suburbs think, ‘Well, this is somebody else’s problem. This is never going to affect me.’ But it does. The pigs have moved into the suburbs. They have moved into city parks. So it’s really everybody’s problem.”

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About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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