I Did Not See That Coming

I’m starting to think that I’m either not paying attention or I make too many assumptions. A few examples from recent days:

  • Sitting at a stoplight, heading to work. I heard Rasta music coming from the car next to mine. I expected to see an Islander with long dreds and colorful, cultural garb. Instead I saw Whitey McWhiterson, bald, wearing a hockey jersey. Bobbin’ his pale head. Apparently I’m a racist. Dammit.
  • Thanksgiving. I ate the traditional plateful of deliciousness and then, when the desserts came out (typically accompanied in my head by blinding heavenly light and a chorus of angels), I forewent any sweets of any kind. I mean I didn’t so much as nibble a cookie to be polite. I don’t even know who I am anymore.
  • Sunday football, Eagles v. Patriots. The Birds scored a touchdown in like the first three minutes of the game. Given their vastly inconsistent play this season, I suppose one couldn’t rule out that it would happen. But I certainly didn’t expect it. Nor did I expect the Redskins to beat Seattle, even though everybody expects to beat Seattle.
  • Yarn. I was talking to a coworker who likes to knit, and she was telling me that she had gone to her local yarn store on Black Friday when it opened at 6am. The store has a maximum capacity of 42. But how many people could possibly occupy a yarn store at once, right? The line was around the block. I was stunned. Also, she said a sweater could take up to 15 balls of yarn to make, at a cost of maybe $150. This, to me, defeats the purpose of making one’s own clothing; now I’m all for nine-year-olds in sweat shops. I’m kidding about that last part. Sort of.
  • The Geico Caveman. I realized when I saw that pouty “I’m taking the bus, and you will not see me at the pancake social!” commercial last night that this guy reminds me of a former (short-lived) boyfriend. Huh.

I love how I qualified the relationship as short-lived, like that makes this realization less horrifying.

Bob? Is that you?

All of this revelation makes me a little scared of what I’m missing. I’m now afraid that when I see Jack tonight, he’ll tell me he’s seeing another woman. Or that Ron Paul will become the GOP nominee for president. Or that an American Idol winner will outsell the runner-up. Or that Neptune got kicked off the end of the planetary whip chain like Pluto a little while ago. What narrative will I use to remember their proper orbital order now?! (Hey, what happens now when Pluto and Neptune do their little do-si-do and switch places in the line? Is Pluto now just That Thing That Comes Between Uranus and Neptune?)

Twinkle, twinkle, little star... How I wonder what the hell is going on out there with you planets. Or non-planets. Whatever.

By the way, the Eagles lost, in the end. At least that was predictable. Phew.

Digesting Thanksgiving

I haven’t had a holiday off since 2007, so I was particularly grateful this year to be able to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I got to Sister & BIL 1’s house only 45 minutes later than I’d said I would on Wednesday afternoon. I consider anything under an hour past due to be a victory when it comes to jousting for travel space on Holiday Highway (please pay toll). And my arrival was greeted by very, very, very energetic Twin Nephs who immediately began tag-teaming me for attention from different sides of the table and sometimes the room. Oldest Neph’s new thing is to grab my head or face and direct my eyes where he wants them to go, while his twin prefers more genteel ways of getting my attention, like saying my name over and over and over and over and over and over and over. They adore me right now. I’m hoping they still do in about 50 years when I can no longer be trusted to control my bodily functions.

Twin Nephs are taking swimming lessons, so Sister 3 and I drove them to the pool where we met their mother, Sister 1, who came directly from work. BIL 1 stayed home to make dinner. Oldest Neph sort of freaked out, thinking we didn’t know where we were going (we did) and tearfully insisting, “We need to tuhn awound and ask my daddy!”, but Second Neph was chill. “Tuhn left heew,” he said.

Have I mentioned they’re a week from being four? And that I’m not sure he knows which way “left” is, but he was correct anyway?

Also, they call Chick-Fil-A “The Cow Store.” Which is that combination of adorable and hilarious that you only get at this age.

Watching their swim instructors pull them around in the water while they kicked their feet and kept their chins above water with the help of raised eyebrows was sweet and all, but the best moment came when Oldest Neph turned to Sister 1 as he sat on the side of the pool and declared that he had to go potty. Hmmmm. Five minutes left in the lesson. By the time she took him, it would be over. “Just wait a couple minutes, okay? You’re almost done.”

“But Mommy, I reewy haf to go!”

Ummm… “Just… hang on, okay?”

A minute went by.

“Mommy! I know!” said Oldest Neph with excitement. “I jus’ go in da pool!” He held out a hand like a Barker Beauty to demonstrate his intention.

“No!” said Mommy, and the two aunts.

“But Mommy, I fink iss a good idea!” And then he reached into his swim trunks to whip it out. Sister 1 flew off the bleachers while Sister 3 and I fell over laughing, which we were admonished for, but I mean come on, that’s freaking hysterical. She got to him just in time. Another half-second and there would have been a golden stream arching into the pool, and I would have peed my own pants.

Then there was dinner, with sangria. This is a problem for two reasons:

  1. I had told Sister and BIL 2 that I would be at their house by 9;
  2. when the wine starts flowing, Sister 1 gets a little too deep into her psychology training and there begins a conversation about family dynamics and inherited or internalized issues that one cannot escape from with any grace, or without Sister 1 getting offended.

Long story short, I was 90 minutes late to Sister and BIL 2’s house, where I was spending the night. Sister 2 was already in bed and unhappy with me, and I couldn’t blame her. She’s been through some stuff lately and it would have been nice if I had just gotten it together and showed up when I said I would. Sister fail. The second where it comes to her, actually, because I’m also way overdue on a gift I’m giving them that’s a bit of a project. She doesn’t want to seem pissy about how long it’s taking me to give them the gift, but she’s been waiting awhile for it because I flaked out.

Thanksgiving morning dawned with crisp air and sunshine. Jammies. Coffee. Parade from warmth of house and comfort of couch with bathroom nearby and free parking on street. Apologies to Sister 2 for being so late the night before. Quality time with Youngest Neph. At 20 months, he’s a tough nut to crack; I couldn’t get him to dance to the parade music even one time. Sister 2 cooked breakfast and we lounged around like a bunch of bums until early afternoon. By 2:00, I was off to visit my mother’s father, 93 and basically a shut-in because a freak brain stem stroke left him with a paralyzed epiglottis, so now he is fed through a tube in his stomach and has a hard time getting around.

“I haven’t eaten in two years,” he said to me during my visit. I figure most people don’t like to let him wallow, but the man lived through poverty, the Depression, five years in the Army during World War II in North Africa and London, the loss of his infant firstborn, his son’s tour in Vietnam, the breakups of two kids’ marriages, the wayyyy messed up lives of two grandchildren, my grandmother’s ten years of Alzheimer’s and then her death 11 years ago, and now he lives with my crazy aunt who talks to Saint Joseph aloud. So let him bitch that he can’t eat or drink anything.

It was a good talk, actually. We shared what we wonder to ourselves about – is there life on other planets? What do you think of the president? Do you remember this? He’s always been a student of history and I’ve inherited that curiosity, which I think is a special gift. And with my crazy aunt across the street at the neighbor’s for a midday meal he couldn’t have, I got time with him that wasn’t interrupted with stories about apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(Note to self: look out for lightning strikes.)

From there, I was off to my father’s brother and sister-in-law’s house for dinner. After the meal and dish duty, the women sat around the table gossiping musing about another relative’s new fiancée and her… um… firm ideas about life, their future, and how big her engagement ring should be. This relative has a tough history and he’s doing great now, so we’re all a little worried that he’s jumping the gun by jumping the broom, particularly with this bride-to-be. This conversation led to another, about the stupid Facebook fight that broke out a few days back, which led to a rehashing of things that weren’t at all enjoyable the first time they were hashed, but now included approximately 15 more people. Which led to another conversation, about past conflicts between an absent uncle and Sister 1, etc.

By the time I left my aunt and uncle’s house to begin the road trip home, I was full of turkey, stuffing, vegetables-in-name-only due to dousing in butter or cream sauce, and the greater understanding that all three of my sisters are dealing with some painful stuff, some of it relating to each other. Plus the residual effect of my own sister-fails (later to be talked through in a phone call), as well as the usual stuff that rolls around in my head when I visit my family. I drove home realizing that we are, right now, beginning to resemble those families who half-dread the holidays because of all the things left unsaid, the things that would have been better left as such, the undercurrents and the aches that we endure out of an attempt to be fair or forgiving or considerate of each other. That’s a hard thing to see happening when I’ve always cherished the fact that we weren’t like that. I got home after my long drive and had another glass of wine to wash down the lump in my throat.

We should be thankful every day, but it’s easy to forget, so I’m grateful for the chance to be mindful. My family is close and holidays are special – more so for me because I miss out on them half the time. I avoid second helpings and leftovers so I at least escape the guilt of gluttony, if not of the separateness that comes from not living close, not having kids, not being quite like the rest of the family. What I love about Thanksgiving (besides stuffing and green bean casserole – don’t judge me, it’s good) is that there are a lot of laughs together, even if there are some tears alone. There are few decorations and few heralds of the holiday, but there’s a lot of warmth. There is hope, and there are memories. There is the comfort of honoring the grandparents who started the whole tradition. And there is the beauty of trying to put painful things aside, for the sake of remembering that we are blessed.

The Outsiders

Alright. There may be something to this Gingrich thing.

The latest debate in the GOP presidential campaign took place in Washington, DC, the city the candidates love to hate and want to live in. And the current frontrunner in the polls demonstrated why he’s pretty crafty with this politics game. For Newt Gingrich, foreign policy might not be a pet subject. But in tonight’s CNN-hosted debate with everyone’s favorite combination of savage beast and football analogy as moderator, he pretty much held court.

(Wolf Blitzer. Savage beast/football analogy. Get it?)

I stand by my belief that when it comes to foreign policy, Santorum, Bachmann and Gingrich will always be head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd in terms of what they know and understand, and their sense of reality vs. idealism. But Gingrich toned down the condescension a little and that allowed some measuredness to shine through.

Yes, this is coming from the woman who ranted against his position on education just a short time ago. Oh, and by the way, he doesn’t have a qualm about child labor. Nine-year-olds should be able to work, he said this week. So I still think he’s a little nuts.

And lest someone tell me that I’m forgetting that Ron Paul is a member of Congress: I haven’t forgotten that. But he’s not a Republican; he’s a Libertarian and an isolationist, and because of that he will not get the GOP nomination. He makes people think and he brings up excellent points very often, and so he has a place on the stage. But he will not be running against President Obama in 2012 unless he’s a third-party candidate. Therefore, this is the extent of talk about him in this post, because last night’s debate was about foreign policy, and his responses to questions on the matter are so consistently isolationist that they don’t warrant further discussion in specificity vis-a-vis the Republican campaign. Leave everyone alone; stop wasting money on war. This is the Paul Doctrine. Agree or disagree, it’s fine. In some cases I think he’s right, but I’m not going to belabor his singular point repeatedly.

I will also exclude Rep. Michele Bachmann from this discussion, but for different reasons: she isn’t saying anything new, ever. She is not expounding on anything she’s said before. She says something general and then says President Obama is bad at everything from foreign policy to basic math, sometimes she throws out some substantial and impressive understandings of numbers and legislative process, but she never really goes anywhere with any of it. If there’s one person in this race whose presence serves no one and accomplishes nothing, I think it’s her right now. She’s lost her distinct voice.

If you’ve missed my other posts on the things she and Rep. Paul have said during this campaign, check out the Political Snark category of my blog. And forgive me; I don’t have time to do pictures and fun captions today. I’m trying to get out of Dodge, do a little border-crossing of my own.

There are hard lines for Newt Gingrich: treating terror suspects like enemy combatants (including renewing the Patriot Act in total without changes to anything) is one of them. But in this particular debate, that seemed to me to be the only true hard line he took. The rest of it was pretty nuanced. But there were two questions I found important that I don’t remember hearing Gingrich answer: one about racial profiling of terror suspects, and one about whether the US should continue to fund anti HIV/AIDS and malaria programs in Africa in light of economic struggles. I suspect I know his answer to the latter; I think he’d be in favor of continuing spending because his approach to foreign aid is a little less all-or-nothing than some other candidates (which I’ll explain later). But I really would have liked to know his answer to the racial/ethnic profiling question.

In case you’re wondering, here’s a breakdown of how the others answered that:

Rick Santorum absolutely believes in profiling. He says there is a specific group of people carrying out the majority of terror plots against the country, they are radical Islamists, and they should absolutely be targeted. He didn’t say how to avoid the lone wolf plots we’ve been told are the most likely threat from here on, and how many of those don’t fit the physical profile of a radical Muslim.

Jon Huntsman is against profiling.

Mitt Romney didn’t directly answer the question, punting instead to a point about making it easier to get through security at the airport, which I thought was a transparently limited response.

Herman Cain is for what he called “targeted identification.” For those of you paying any attention at all, that means he’s in favor of racial/ethnic profiling, but he’s not in favor of calling it racial/ethnic profiling.  I’m getting really tired of his ways of trying to sell a two-foot pool by calling it a six-foot pool. There’s no There there. He’s just dancing, like a boxer trying to avoid a technical knockout.

I don’t know anything about boxing, really, but I’m pretty sure that analogy is decent.

Here’s another example: he was asked, if Israel decided to attack Iran to prevent Iran from further developing nuclear weapons, whether he would help Israel launch its attack or support it in another way. His response was that he would first determine whether the Israelis had a credible plan for success, with clarity of purpose and mission.

Forgive me, but… no sh*t, Sherlock. The only time we don’t make sure there’s a credible plan for success and clarity of purpose and mission is for our own wars. You didn’t answer the question. Would you support Israel or not? Cain’s answer is always, “It depends.” Sometimes it doesn’t depend. The point isn’t whether Israel’s goal is clear; in a situation like that, Israel’s goal is pretty damned clear: avoid being blown off the face of the earth by a nation whose leader is avowedly committed to destroying Zionism.

I mean… duh.

Here’s a third example of chickensh*t answers from Cain: Mr. Cain, do you think the US should continue its spending on anti HIV/AIDS and malaria programs in Africa? “Well, it depends on how successful they’ve been. It might be worth it; it might not. I’d want to look at the results and then decide.”

Mr. Cain, would you like pepperoni on your pizza, or sausage? “Well, it depends. I’m not sure what mood I’ll be in. I might like pepperoni; I might not. I don’t know what I’ll have a taste for. I’d like to find that out first.” Come on. The Africa question is a no-brainer. YES. Spend the money. Africa is a huge continent filled with smaller, tribal and often fractious nations, and in modern times, disease travels the world in a day. From a humanitarian perspective, it’s the right thing to do. From a global pandemic perspective, it’s the right thing to do. From a world stability perspective, it’s the right thing to do. From a healthcare cost and pharmaceutical business perspective, it’s the right thing to do (if we’re talking capitalism). In no way is it not the right thing to do. Say yes, you unqualified disaster of a candidate. Maybe you want to spend a bit less on it in light of developments or advances in medical care indigenous to the area; fine. But don’t say “It depends.” It doesn’t.

Rick Santorum actually brilliantly summarized why you say “yes” to the effort in Africa: it was a continent on the brink, and its instability would have been a beacon for terrorists if there were no aid from stable countries. Stabilizing the area with the money spent on humanitarian aid was in the interest of national security. Santorum’s most ringing part of this argument: if you want to spend more on defense, cut the foreign aid, even aid regarded as humanitarian, to zero. You’ll spend a lot more on defense, because you will anger and imperil the world.

Cain did study for this debate. He pointed out that Iran is mountainous and those mountains may be hiding as many as 40 different nuclear sites (I don’t know where he got the number; he didn’t say). He also pointed out that if the US withdraws too quickly from Afghanistan, Iran is waiting to fill the vacuum. (This analogy may be more applicable in nations like Libya, but it’s still a fair point, in that it demonstrates that we’re better off fighting Iran’s potential power than taking a wait-and-see approach.) What he didn’t study was the name of the moderator. Called him “Blitz” instead of “Wolf,” during a pointed and indignant answer. But he corrected himself and apologized for the error. It was the funniest moment of the night. And by that I mean nothing else funny happened. But even if it had, calling Wolf Blitzer “Blitz” would have been the funniest moment of the night.

Cain’s other set of flashcards appeared to be on the issue of immigration reform (and by “immigration reform,” we mean keeping out the Mexicans, now that my people, the lazy, shiftless, thieving Irish, are off the hook). He cited a survey he didn’t name or source, that apparently says 40% of the Mexican citizens questioned believe their country is a failed state. And he said the number of people killed in Mexico last year (he didn’t specify motive) was equal to the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (he didn’t specify whether that was civilians, native military, American/allied military, or some combination thereof). Therefore, he wants to strengthen the border and enforce the laws the country already has against illegal immigration. “We don’t need new ones,” he said, and he might be right about that.

The illegal immigration discussion was surprisingly long in this debate, which featured no time limits for responses, a single moderator (the aforementioned Wolf… Or Blitz…whatever) and interpersonal conflict that, where it existed, was not the slightest bit manufactured by the moderator. This might be part of why Gingrich did so well and toned down the condescension. It left room for a broadening of perspective wherein Texas governor Rick Perry pointed out that Hamas and Hezbollah have been working in Mexico and that the Iranian government’s biggest embassy is in Venezuela. As far as Perry sees it, a discussion about illegal immigration is pointless if it doesn’t include a plan to shut down that border and keep it secure. He says he can do it in 12 months. It’s an impressive declaration from a Texas governor who hasn’t quite gotten it done yet in ten years, but I’ll allow for the fact that there are other states on that border that he can’t control.

But what about the best and brightest? Isn’t America losing potential when it ships off the immigrants who could really do something in the country? For Gingrich and Romney, the answer is yes; both men want a program that would give special visas to immigrants who are highly skilled or entrepreneurial, particularly if they are educated here.  For Gingrich, every immigrant who gets a graduate degree in math, science or engineering should be granted a visa that lets them stay… but he wouldn’t make them legal citizens.

Ditto, those who have been here for a long time and have become productive members of American society. This is where Gingrich differed most drastically from his fellow candidates and from the alleged Republican base. He doesn’t want to deport illegal immigrants who have been here for 25 years (that was his referenced number), who have done nothing wrong in that time except come into the country illegally, and who have families here. I think one of his most powerful and stand-alone moments was when he said, “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the Party For the Family is going to adopt an immigration policy that destroys families that have been here for 25 years. And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying, ‘Let’s create a policy that doesn’t legalize them, but doesn’t divide the families.'”

The weak point of Gingrich’s argument is that he draws a line between recent illegal immigrants and those who have been here a while. It’s hard to figure out where that line is, or who defines what a family is (Elian Gonzales, anyone?) And as the other candidates argued, anything perceived as amnesty is a magnet that is going to bring people in the back door instead of encouraging them to go the legal route. Gingrich doesn’t believe his suggestion amounts to amnesty. The others aren’t sure.

The debate over Iran may have been just as diverse as that of Mexico and the border. Rick Perry is standing by his insistence that the US find a way to shut down the Iranian Central Bank. I wish he would explain how the US could have any right or ability to do that, and what it really would mean, and how he developed this argument. I’m not saying he’s wrong; I’m just saying nobody knows what he’s talking about when he says that. He also wants the option of imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, an Iranian ally, so that Iran gets the message that the US is serious about shutting down Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The original question was actually about whether any sanctions could stop Iran, in light of the fact that the US hasn’t bought oil (which helps fund their nuclear program) directly from that nation in more than 30 years, and targeted sanctions have been in place for more than half that time. In other words; it’s not necessarily our money that’s helping them, so why would sanctions work against them? New Gingrich believes that on the world market, the oil produced in Iran could be replaced if the US opened up more of its own oil fields. The cost of oil, he says, would collapse in short order. But a CNN fact check after the debate demonstrated that Iran manufactures about half the oil that the US does in a year, so the US would have to increase oil production by 50% to replace Iranian oil on the world market (and there was no discussion about whether the prices would be different given who’s selling it).

But Gingrich’s larger point in Iran was this: what’s needed is a strategy to defeat and replace the regime using minimal force; a strategy to contain radical Islam; and a plan to beat Iran without going to war and without them getting nukes, rather than a struggle to take them down once one or both of those things have happened. He would not bomb Iran unless it was a last resort and it was guaranteed to take out the regime, because anything short of doing that would only create a more dangerous climate.

Mitt Romney thinks sanctions are the way to go: harsh ones (they’re already pretty tough). He added that Ahmadinejad should be targeted for violating what he called the “genocide convention.” He was struggling here, so I’m not sure that convention actually happened, but we took his point. And he noted that the sanctions he wants would raise gas prices, but would be worth it. I think that’s the take-away from Romney here, since the rest of his answer wasn’t very strong.

But here’s where he gained strength: he told Rick Perry that a no-fly zone over Syria would be pointless. Why? Syria has 5,000 tanks on the ground. They’re not bombing their own people. A no-fly wouldn’t matter. What’s needed to deal with Syria (and remove the force of its support for Iran) is sanctions and covert operations, support for the rebels trying to overthrow the Assad regime, insurance of a future for the country after Assad, and increased pressure on the regime, like what’s already coming out of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

This was probably Romney’s best moment in what was otherwise a fairly flat debate for him.

But this is also where Jon Huntsman shined. He waited patiently for his turn and then made a solid, immutable point: sanctions against Iran will not work, because the Chinese and the Russians aren’t going to play along, and they’re the ones strengthening Iran. North Korea has a nuclear weapon; nobody touches them. Libya gave theirs up in exchange for friendship with the world; look where that got them. The national interest is not well-served by jumping into alliances we don’t fully understand.

Well, crap. Forget everything everybody else said.

And yes, they did talk about the failure of the supercommittee and what that means for defense. Or what it allegedly means (see my previous post). Romney seems squarely in the camp of the DoD, believing the triggered cuts will damage defense. He cited programs for war vehicles and materiel that would be cut. See the letter from Sen. Tom Coburn that I linked to in my previous post… or here if you don’t want to invest the time in reading the other thing… to find out why he’s pandering when he says this.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich made yet another nuanced stand. “I helped found the Military Reform Caucus in 1981 because it’s clear there are things you can do that are less expensive” than the current projected budget. He says if it takes 15 years to build weapons while Apple changes its entire scheme in nine months, something’s wrong. “We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan in three years and eight months, because we thought we were serious.” He pitched to opening up federal lands to create revenue and jobs, and saving $500 billion by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of the federal government. In other words, the price of defense is indeed very likely too high, and it wouldn’t hurt to cut it if we step outside the lines of current thinking.

Here’s another way Gingrich is okay with coloring outside the lines: Social Security. It appears he’s done some research into Cain’s suggestion that the US model its plan after Chile. In a nutshell, you’re encouraged to save. If you don’t have as much savings as the federal government would have given you in Social Security in that time, then the government gives you the difference. According to him, Chile didn’t spend a dime on the plan, because everybody saved as much as, or more than, Social Security would have provided. This would obviously only work for those who begin paying into the system now, and it would require a total change in thinking for the whole country about the program. But it’s outside the lines. And for an old guy who can’t stop talking about the 80s, it’s a surprisingly modern approach.

To close, Donner Blitzen asked the candidates to quickly state what national security threat is not getting enough attention. Santorum said militant socialists and radical Islamists banding together in Central and South America. Romney agreed. Perry and Huntsman said China, which gives Perry a note of credibility since Huntsman was most recently the ambassador to China. Cain said he was a ballistics analyst and a computer scientist in years past (what the hell?) and nobody’s talking enough about cyberattacks.

In case you’re wondering, Bachmann agreed with everybody and Ron Paul said he’s most worried about the US’s own overreaction. Surprise.

In yet another substantive debate, I think Gingrich justified his spot at the top of the polls. Nobody hurt themselves. Santorum might have bought himself a little help in a campaign that’s got single digits. I think Romney had a weak night. And the band plays on. Many more debates to come. If they’re like this one, we’ll be well-served.

Read the full transcript here.


How Much Is This Keychain?

Well, that was a big timesuck.

Congress’s supercommittee has failed to figure out how to reduce the national deficit. Not only did they fail to reach their actual goal, which I think was $1.2 trillion when all the dust settled… they didn’t even come up with a consolation prize. I don’t actually think that was allowed in the rules, because it basically would have guaranteed a consolation prize and we all would have been left holding a Capitol keychain and nothing else.

Now we don’t even get the keychain.

Wait, I forgot – a few days ago, President Obama issued an executive order that put an end to swag for federal agencies because it’s silly to spend so much money on pens and mugs to give out at event tents. So we wouldn’t have gotten the keychains either way. Stop asking for a keychain. Jeez.

This committee of 12 was charged with doing what the entire Congress couldn’t, apparently because the rest of the Congress figured these folks would probably be nicer to each other or at least more traceable and accountable. If the supercommittee failed to meet its deadline with its goal, painful across-the-board cuts would kick in in 2013, giving Congress only 13 months to accomplish something most of them will want to do: change the triggered cuts. But President Obama has already said several times that, at least until January of that year, he will veto any bill that rescinds Congress’s obligation to adhere to its own trigger rules.

Back in July, I posted a very angry but still entirely rational rant against Congress. I’m told several members read it. Or none of them did. I don’t remember. But now, at the risk of not being angry enough (and aside from just being really tired of this whole national nightmare), I’m willing to allow for the possibility that there is a real, abiding, deep philosophical divide about what would be best for the country. There are those who really truly believe that having the very wealthy pay more in taxes would be bad for the country. There are those who really truly believe that cutting spending without finding new revenue would be bad for the country. And neither one of them wants to take the chance on compromising and being wrong in a time so dire.

Can’t blame them, really. I wouldn’t want to take that gamble, either.

So basically… we’re screwed.

But hold on. What of these across-the-board cuts they were supposed to be so scared of to begin with? Let’s take, for example, the cuts to the Defense Department’s budget. I learned in the last two days that the triggered cuts come from projected spending over the course of the next ten years. That means nothing gets cut from the DoD’s current $520 billion budget. No. Rather, if Congress finds a way around that triggered cut for the Pentagon, the spending increases by 23% over the next ten years.

If the cuts do go through, the Pentagon’s spending increases by 16% instead.


So… we’re still spending a lot more in the future. Just not as much more.

That information came from freshman Republican Rep. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the one who wrote a budget plan earlier this year that got a lot of talk. Tea Party darling Rand Paul, who basically said, “Hey. The Pentagon is not going to suffer, here.”


Know what else is interesting? A letter written by Republican Senator Tom Colburn of Oklahoma to Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who head up a national commission on fiscal responsibility and reform. The letter was dated May 18, 2010, and cited several points taken from the Pentagon Inspector General’s recent report about how the Pentagon spends its money. Among the facts:

  • The Pentagon’s “internal controls,” meant to track spending, are not operational
  • The Pentagon regularly employs the use of “unsupported” numbers to balance its books
  • The Pentagon does not know how much money the Treasury has in the DoD accounts
  • The Pentagon does not know when it overspends an appropriation

Holy– what?! It doesn’t know when it overspends an appropriation? This “budget” we speak of is basically what Congress says the DoD can spend, and the DoD just says, “Thank you!” and wanders off spending whatever the hell it wants anyway?

Seriously. You can read Coburn’s letter citing these Pentagon Inspector General’s findings here. The above facts are on page five.

The Pentagon knows how much it costs to build an F-22 or a tank or a naval carrier, and it knows what it pays soldiers and officers, so that stuff is covered. But it doesn’t know to whom it owes money or how much it owes. And clearly it doesn’t much care. And also it apparently may or may not be stealing money from the federal government because who really needs Congressional appropriations anyway? So this “budget cut” for the Defense Department might be as completely meaningless – and inconsequential to the Defense Department – as its alleged budget that it apparently doesn’t even pay attention to.

Can I be the Defense Department? Christmas is coming and the union is about to take a big quarterly chunk out of my paycheck for health insurance.

Now, by no means am I saying that this failure to cut the federal deficit and spending is no big deal. It is a big deal. It just doesn’t seem to affect the Defense Department, even though they’ll shout from the rooftops that it hurts like hell. And it actually might be a good thing for President Obama. Stay with me.

There are plenty of pundits who believe that the president, and the Democrats, will get a big boost from this failure of the supercommittee. Since the president still has the ultimate bully pulpit, he can tell the country that the Republicans just care so much more about their own bank accounts than they do about the country that they hung everybody else out to dry so that the 1% (or actually, as President Obama noted in a post-failure address on TV last night, 2%) could keep their vacation houses in the Hamptons. And he can do it while he’s campaigning for reelection. There are 12 months between now and the presidential election, which coincides with the congressional election. And the president doesn’t have much to campaign on domestically. The administration has actually accomplished a lot that they don’t brag about much, but most of it was in the previous Congress, which was controlled by Democrats. Now, the economy is stalled, unemployment is holding very steady at around 9% nationally, and the president has a campaign problem. So being able to blame the failure to cut the deficit and spending on Republicans might be a favor. I’m not saying for sure that it was planned. I’m just saying it might be good news, in the end, for the president.

I know. Sucks, doesn’t it?

So here we are, with a belly full of frustrated cynicism, a stack of bills on the table and not even a keychain to show for our troubles. We could say it’s up to us to throw the bums out come November, but most of us figure that just lets new bums in. We don’t know how to fix the problem either, so it’s not like “regular folks” could do the job better. Not really. But maybe if we remember that it doesn’t cost nearly as much to defend our country as we think it does, we’ll be willing to pay the price when the chips are down, and we’ll elect real leaders who will pay it, too.

Mother-Daughter Dances

My mother and I have had a fight over something on Facebook.

I know.

Alright, so here’s what happened: Sister 3 posted a picture of a television in the fitting room at Nordstrom. I, being the oldest and longest gainfully employed sister, commented: “What the h are you doing in a Nordstrom? I’ve had a job for 19 years, I still can’t go into a Nordstrom.” A cousin and an aunt piled on, chiding my college-aged sister even though we all knew she wasn’t actually shopping at Nordstrom, which she clarified when she said her friend was trying on a dress. I stopped teasing her because I know she gets a little sensitive about being the youngest and having been given more than the older kids got when we were her age by virtue of the fact that my parents had finally reached a comfortable financial standing and there were must-haves that didn’t exist when I was a kid. But my cousin sort of kept poking at her, which happens when you’re part of a big Irish family.

And then… my mother commented.

Her side’s German.

You need to know something about my mother and Facebook: wherever this woman goes, conversations die. People are just commenting along, having a good time, being blithely humorous or perhaps vaguely inappropriate and then BOOM. My mother takes a joke literally and ruins it, or decides to argue a point, or gets defensive about something that isn’t about her, but makes her feel targeted nonetheless (comments or jokes about brunettes, Germans, Catholics, short people, etc). She gets kinda hostile. It makes people uncomfortable. Like, I’ve gotten phone calls. “Did I make your mom mad?”

Or sometimes she tries to be funny. My mother really isn’t very funny. The Germans are not a funny people, commonly. But you can’t point that out to her because she gets all snippy about how eeevverybody likes the Irish better. She resents it.

Anyway, the point is, she comments on Facebook and everything grinds to a halt.

Most of the time I don’t comment after my mother because she’ll take anything I say as either an argument or an attempted public upstaging. Neither of which it would be, because I learned somewhere around 17 years ago not to do anything that could even seem like that. But that’s how she takes it anyway, so I usually debate: If I don’t reply, will she feel ignored? If I do, will she get mad? I wind up typing something out, re-reading it, thinking about it, trying to find words in it to which she might take offense, re-writing it, repeating this process twice and then just skipping it altogether. Phone conversations are carefully considered, too, but it’s a little easier that way because there’s the benefit of inflection, redirection and distraction. The down side is that it’s instantaneous; there’s less time for editing.

I’m not kidding; this is how I talk to my mother.

On my sister’s Facebook page, under the picture from the Nordstrom fitting room, after I’d made my comment and my aunt and cousin had followed, my mother posted a snarky sentence, passive-agressively reprimanding her sister-in-law and myself. Lest you think I might be oversensitive, I offer as proof the fact that my aunt texted me: “Did you see what your mother said on FB?” But could I say anything back? Nooooo. And neither could my aunt. My 47-year-old aunt.

This is the problem with parents being on Facebook. Aside from the fact that you constantly have to edit yourself because “my mother is going to see this,” they have so much power to just jab at you, poke you, infer meaning where it is not implied, and yes, reprimand you publicly. They can do all that plenty in the confines of a home filled with maybe 30 people at a holiday gathering and you might be able to respond, but in black and white on the internet, you can’t say anything back without creating even more of an awkward situation in front of whoever is reading it.

Social networking should not, by and large, be a mother-daughter meeting ground. It winds up just another forum for judgment and awkwardness. Oh, moms, don’t deny it. Moms judge kids on everything they say, particularly in a public forum. Moms are ashamed or embarrassed when kids of any age say something moms don’t like. It’s just a reflex or something. Moms judge, and they check up. I’m pretty sure that’s the whole purpose of mothers “friending” their children.

Or is that just my mom?

And it’s not like you can not friend your parents when you learn that they’re on Facebook. They’re going to request your friendship, and you have to accept. You can’t not accept. And if they don’t request your friendship, they’re clearly waiting for you to request theirs, because now you know they’re on Facebook and if you don’t request their friendship they’ll take it as yet another way that you never call and you never write.

And you sure as hell can’t defriend them unless you’re just shutting down the whole operation.

I wanted to defriend my mother when we had this run-in. Her snarky comment bothered me– enough that I felt I needed to address it rather than let it go as I normally do. So rather than reply to her in front of everybody, I sent her a private message telling her I was concerned and didn’t feel that the reprimand was necessary, since sisters just tease sisters as part of the deal.

I got a nasty reply.

I tried again, respectfully. And got another nasty reply.

A wise person might leave it alone at this point, but I was hurt by her approach and wanted to make that point. Still respectfully. (So many drafts.)

The reply was less nasty but largely dismissive. And then I let it go. It’s been years since my mother and I had a real argument like this one because I mostly just let things go, and I’m sure she’d say the same. Thanks to Facebook, we have a new platform on which to dance around each other.

And I still don’t know what a college kid is doing trying on a dress at Nordstrom, but whatever. I have seriously bought one item of clothing at a Nordstrom, it was a black dress, it was way too expensive but it looked good and I told myself that it I just wore it to every party, event, funeral and wedding for five years, it would pay for itself.

I’m four years in.

It’s Happening.

I fear I have become one of those old-lady shoppers who can’t figure out where to find what she’s looking for and can’t pretend otherwise.

In Target, no less. Target, this place that was once my mecca, my Land of Pleasant Discount Living. My dominion. My fiefdom. My home-away-from-home.

I’m not even kidding. If you think about it, you could move into a Target and live there. You would not have to leave, so long as it was the Target that has the groceries in it.

Okay, so I went to Target Friday to get gifts for little people. Like Twin Nephs, who turn four at the end of the month, and my friends’ kids, who temporarily live in Australia and therefore things have to be shipped to them like two weeks before any occasion exists. Their son’s birthday is December 1st, and then there’s Christmas, and then their daughter’s birthday is January 2nd, and I’m the honorary aunt who’s known these kids since they were born, and so I had better not drop the dateline-crossing ball. And I’m probably already late.

The kids don’t live in Australia alone, by the way. Their parents are with them.

Anyway. I went to Target, which I used to go to at least twice a week but I’ve cut back because I admitted I had a problem and also because I moved to a different part of the city and now the closest Target is 4.5 miles and eight congested stoplight intersections away from me instead of one two-stop signs mile. But this time I was at a third Target because it was right next to the Babies R Us I had to go to for my co-worker’s shower gift. (Don’t get me started on Babies R Us. I hate them.)

I had come in need of several items but with a list for only those which were meant for Twin Nephs’ birthday. Sister 1 had sent a set of suggestions for items available at Target retailers nationwide. Allegedly. Maybe it was the disorientation of being in an unfamiliar Target, the aisles and end-caps of which I did not know by heart. Maybe it was that their selection of children’s accoutrements was smaller than that at My Target. Whatever it was, I found myself staring vapidly at shelves. Staring…scanning… looking down at the Wish List… scanning… scanning and mu– oh my God I’m muttering aloud to myself. “Is that…? No. That’s not it, that’s not what it says here. Hmm, it’s so similar. No. That’s not what the picture looked like online….”

If I had a pair of glasses to crinkle my eyebrows over, I’d be exactly like my grandmother at this point. I knew it. And yet I could not stop. I scanned the game shelves at least four times, making quadruply sure that the game I was looking for wasn’t there. And then it occurred to me, Oh, maybe it’s one of those electronic games. They might be somewhere else… and I was wandering slowly with my cart down an aisle. I found something that looked like a listed item and peered at it. “Is that–?” I let my mouth remain slightly open and checked the list. I checked the game. Twice. “Yes! That’s it. Wait…” Checked the list again. “Yep!” Score one for squinting, mouth-gaping and verbalized musing.

Then I was looking for some sort of “paint center” on the list. It wasn’t in the toys section. It wasn’t in the kids’ arty section. So I went to the regular arty section (by way of housewares and virtue of disorientation) and it seemed that was the most likely spot, but here again… no paint center. Yet, I stood and scanned for so long that people were starting to look at me funny. Finally, consulting the Wish List, I saw that Sister 1 had given permission for any kind of arty thing, not just that paint center, and I found something else I thought would go over quite well, so I grabbed it, read the box carefully to make sure it contained everything it needed and I wasn’t going to gift a nephew with an art easel and no utensils, and moved along.

Twenty minutes later, having found the Aussie residents’ gifts and at least ten other things I needed but hadn’t written down, I happened upon an aisle full of brightly colored arty things.

What the…? There’s another section for this? I turned down the aisle, looking once more for that paint center, until, halfway down, I realized… this was the aisle I’d stood in for ages before. I’d just entered it from the opposite end.

It wasn’t even a long aisle.

Oh, save me from myself.

I got turned around in the store no fewer than four times trying to find my way from the girls’ department to pet care, or from the toys to the books and music section, my nose pointed toward the department signs hanging from the ceiling at all times. I did manage to get to the checkout without need of breadcrumbs, and I did remember how the debit card swiper worked. Of course I remembered how the device that takes my money works. And I was quite pleased with myself that I’d written nothing down that wasn’t a gift idea for a four-year-old, but I came  home with everything I needed.

Maybe there’s hope for the old girl yet.

Perhaps It Was Inevitable

I have a confession to make.

I kind of really like the Harry Potter movies.

(I just typed that with a scrunched-up face and one eye closed.)

When the Harry Potter hullabaloo started, I rolled my eyes. I continued rolling my eyes as J.K. Rowling wrote seven books out longhand in a cafe somewhere until she had amassed a fortune that could buy her her own Hogwart’s Castle. (NaNoWriMo peeps – you hate her, don’t you?) I rolled them while children and adults my own age and older sat up all night with a flashlight and a fake witch hat, plowing through the latest release in the series.

I rolled my eyes through the movie releases, too, by the way. And every time speculation popped up: “What will happen to Hermione? Will Dumbledore die? Is Snape in league with Voldemort?” I thought, Kids, I understand. I think it’s great that they’re reading. The adults though… the adults need to get a life.

Anyway, I never read the books.

Okay, fine, I read the first one, like seven years after it came out, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and I was looking for an entertaining escape that maybe didn’t involve the parsing of interpersonal relationships in adulthood. And I did enjoy it. But I never cared to read the second book. So… meh.

But now that these danged movies are on television all the live-long day, well, I’ve gotten a little bit sucked in. Just a little.

I haven’t seen any of the films all the way through yet. But that’s mostly because they’re on when I’m busy and ready to walk out the door. But I can already tell, oh, with that sense of say-it-isn’t-so, that it’s going to become a new holiday classic series. Like The Wizard of Oz and Home Alone (and its sequels) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (which I also resisted valiantly), it’s destined to show up in those months of the year when I love curling up on my cozy couch with red wine or a cup of hot tea and a blanket and just indulging in childlike imagination and wonder.

But I’m super-picky about imagination. Which seems sort of counter-productive to the imaginative process. I don’t like sci-fi; in all my life, the only sci-fi films I’ve ever liked were the original Star Wars movies: Episodes IV, V and VI, which came out long before Episodes I, II and III ever did. I love those old Star Wars movies. Terrible acting, marginal special effects, groan-worthy dialogue and all. Love them. But that’s it. Not “Alien.” Not “Predator.” Not that awful amalgam of the two. Not “Star Trek” (TV or film incarnations) or anything involving robots or computer war games. Leaves me cold. Not interested.

And I’d never read a fantasy book, stuff about faeries (that’s how it has to be spelled, apparently, in fantasy-land) and elves and whatever… I’d never read those. Yet, give me some celluloid of munchkins and a green witch and some flying monkeys and talking lions and tin men, et al, and I’m sold.

Actually, I’ve never liked the flying monkeys. They scared me when I was a kid and to this day my least favorite scene in “The Wizard of Oz” is when the Wicked Witch is sending her minions out to get Dorothy’s friends.

But you take my point.

And Harry Potter looks to be my newest “comfort film” series. I’ve always allowed for the fantastic cast: Michael Gambon, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman (on whom I have the bizzarest of crushes), Maggie Smith (who reminds me of a lifelong friend of my family), Helena Bonham Carter… ridiculously good and wholeheartedly “in” on the game. But what I’m learning is that, aside from my growing love of British accents, I also love the colors, the richness of the visuals, the grandness of the cinematography, the fact that I can watch giant spiders run across the screen at Hermione and Harry and that redheaded kid whose name I can’t remember and I totally believe it.

I can’t actually watch the spiders. I hate spiders. Giant spiders, most of all.

But I kind of really like the rest of it. I love that I can retreat from reality and get absorbed in a fun, magical place where I can believe that anything is possible.

Ugh. I just threw up in my mouth.

Then again, I have very diverse taste. I mean, I’m writing this post while lounging on my couch, having  just switched from a Piers Morgan interview of Gen. Colin Powell to an episode of “Sex and the City.” So maybe it’s okay that I can go from Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” to “American Horror Story.” One night I caught myself flipping between a PBS presentation of “La Boheme” and a football game.

And I have a very special place in my heart for movies that make me feel safe and happy and cozy, and particularly movies that show up around Thanksgiving and Christmas. And so it seems I am going to be sucked into the Vortex of Voldemort, the Black Hole of Hagrid, the Grandeur of Gryffindor… the Pull of Potter.

I’m just a muggle, after all. Powerless to resist.

Beyond the Sea

People, I know this is my second political debate post in four days. That’s because it was the second GOP presidential debate in four days. I will get back to my non-political, non-stomach turning (depending on your taste) wit and Everywoman humor soon, I promise, but for now… it’s another installation of Thesinglecell’s Guide To Not (Further) Screwing Up the Country: Foreign Policy Edition.

As if I have any authority to publish a Guide for that.

This debate, televised (at least 2/3 of it) by CBS News, was all about the actions of a Commander-In-Chief. The focus: foreign policy. The mood: gentle and respectful, if not entirely agreeable – keeping with the Ghost of Reagan’s apparently renewed admonishment about speaking ill of fellow Republicans. But if you watched, you saw what might have been the most telling and educational debate thus far.

When you have three people who are or were in Congress (Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum), you have three people who automatically know far, far more about foreign policy than non-politicians and current or former governors. The wild card here was Jon Huntsman, ambassador three times over and American-Abroad once more than that. Still, when it came down to knowing what they were talking about, the candidates of Capitol Hill held the night.

The current top tier

Herman Cain is polling highest despite a very ugly week, so he got the first question: What would you do to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power? I thought his “first thing” was interesting: to assist the opposition in Iran (meaning the Iranian people) to overthrow the Ahmadinejad regime. It’s not necessarily wrong – I can see a sense to it, though what do I know? – and he didn’t say why he’d do it first, so our reasons may not match. (Mine is that it might be less messy to encourage a “democratic” overthrow of a despised leader than for the US to just take him out and suffer the wrath of a faction of extremists.) The second thing he said he’d do is develop the US’s own energy strategy. Iran uses oil as a weapon, he says.

There was a third thing, but, like Gov. Rick Perry last time, I’ve forgotten it.

It wasn’t a bad answer, just a superficial one. After watching all these debates and reading a lot about this campaign, I have not once been swayed from my feeling that Herman Cain never thought he’d get this far. Americans love a good civil uprising, so he can’t go wrong supporting a people’s revolution. But apart from ruling out military action, he didn’t say how he would do it or whether it would be any more, or different, from the current administration. He also didn’t say how he would develop energy independence. Granted, most candidates don’t dole out specifics, but I really don’t think Herman Cain has any idea how to do anything when it comes to global leadership.

Still, after all that analysis, perhaps the most ballsy declaration of the campaign thus far came from Mitt Romney a moment later: “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If the country elects me, we won’t.”

Whoa. That is a call-out. A big one. I don’t know where he’s going to go with it, but that is the first bona fide scare tactic of the campaign, and I have a feeling it’s going to show up again.

Newt Gingrich (with whom we know I have a love-hate relationship, if we’re playing the home version of our game) got specific: maximize covert operations. Use a strategy closely akin to Reagan’s policy with the USSR to break the regime. Take out scientists and break up systems, all in secret, “all totally deniable.” Well… maybe a little less deniable now that he’s said this is what he’d do if he were president. Damned YouTube. Damned worldwide web.

By the way, Rick Perry’s approach was economical: shut down the Iranian Central Bank with sanctions so tough that they force Iran’s hand. Though there was lots of talk of further sanctions on Iran, Perry was the only one who said this.

"Yeah! Nukes! Woot!"

The thing about Iran that most people on the stage understood is that everything in the Middle East and Arab world is tied together. If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Israel is staring into the face of an epic nightmare in a Members Only jacket. And Israel probably won’t flinch. Syria, India and Pakistan are all but locked and loaded with everything pointing toward the Holy Land. Iran with a nuke is a firestarter, and it’s hard to put out a nuclear warhead. The only guy out in the cold on this is, not surprisingly, Ron Paul, who can just be summed up as an isolationist and we can move on from discussing any of his foreign policy dogma any further in this post.

But when it comes to Pakistan, the newly convivial GOP candidates don’t reach consensus. Herman Cain says we don’t know if Pakistan is our friend or not; they’re not clear. (He’s big on clarity.)  He would demand that his Security Council find out what commitments the nation is willing to make in order to keep us on its Friends List.  He talked about a recent interview in which Afghan president Hamid Karzai told Pakistan that, if the US goes cold on Pakistan, the Afghans would support Pakistan instead of the US. He said we need a regional strategy in the Middle East so that the outcomes will be beneficial for all the allies.

I’ve finally boiled down my problem with Herman Cain: I could be him. I could say all the stuff he’s saying (except the stuff about sexual harassment of women, as I prefer to harass men).  And  you don’t want me being president of a book club, let alone the country. Other oversimplified answers to complex situations:

-Q: How do you know when to overrule generals?
Cain: make sure you surround yourself with the right people. I can assess the call when I     have the cabinet and joint chiefs together. You know if you need to overrule when you         consider all facts and ask for alternatives. The Commander-in-Chief makes judgment call     based on facts.

-Q (from National Journal’s website): C0nsidering what is happening in the Arab Spring, how can you make it work for us and not against us?
Cain: You have to look at Libya, Egypt, Yemen and all the revolutions going on and see how administration has mishandled them. They have gotten totally out of hand.

(Not only is this overly broad; I’m not even sure what it means. The American administration has mishanded someone else’s revolution? All three of those revolutions were eventually successful, and the US managed its support on a multilateral level with no casualties to American soldiers. And what’s out of hand, exactly? The rebellions themselves? They were violent. They were brutal. I’m not dismissing the horrors by any means, but that’s what rebellions are like, and if the US had gotten any more involved it would have been fingerprinted with blood rather than ink. The only thing I can think of is the very real question of who will be in charge now in each of those places. Fair question, I’ll grant, but if that’s the point, make the point.)

And I don’t think Cain is saying the simple stuff to preserve the almighty soundbite. I think it’s because he lacks depth as a candidate. If you ever want to apply a test to the depth of Cain’s responses, try this: if he’s talking like you’re an idiot for not having already known the answer to the question, like this is all incredibly obvious… he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If the folks who back him don’t see that soon, the Party is going to upset them next summer when it nominates someone else no matter what the polls say. And if the Party does pick Cain, well… that’s going to be a landslide victory for President Obama.

Too general about the generals

Let’s move on to questions about Afghanistan. Here, I fault Gov. Rick Perry for the same problem as Mr. Cain: generalities that prove he doesn’t have the depth he needs to discuss the topic. Example: “the mission must be completed… the timetable (for withdrawal) is irresponsible… we’re discussing the combat on the ground with commanders in the field and making progress, but we have to train Afghan security forces so that they can protect their own country. ” That was almost the entirety of his answer to whether the American effort on the ground was working.

He didn’t say a thing there that we haven’t been hearing for at least five years.

Bachmann knows her numbers

And then the Capitol Gang weighed in and took the rest of the kids’ lunch money. Had to see it coming, really: what governor or ex-governor or pizza CEO is going to have a grasp on this stuff? Foreign policy, believe it or not, is where Rep. Michele Bachmann shines. She’s on the House Intelligence Committee and it shows: she gives out numbers and explains why she thinks a 40,000-troop surge would have been better than the 30,000 the US sent to Afghanistan (it would have allowed the US to go into both the south and the east at the same time, instead of focusing on the south). Her attempted populism and her struggle to regain ground come through eventually, but she’s at her most confident when she’s talking solid facts, and she understands those facts and their implications, not just in Afghanistan, but in the Middle East and North Africa.

Rick Santorum has a good deal of foreign policy experience from his time in the Senate.  His biggest points last night may not have played well to the base, but he was right about them: Pakistan has to be a friend to the US, by which he means, Psst… be nice to Pakistan. They have nukes. If we piss them off, they start a fight. Gov. Perry wants to start his administration with zero dollars going to any foreign country until they make their case that they deserve it. That’s a cute parental allowance approach, but Santorum pointed out the flaw right away: If Pakistan starts getting money from someone else, the other benefactor gains the upper hand over the US, and that creates, by default, a more dangerous situation for the US. Santorum’s prescription: Get through the quagmire with Pakistan the same way we had to get through it with Saudi Arabia after 9/11.

That’s a slam dunk answer, not because it’s populist, but because it’s realistic. And it’s the same one Bachmann had.

In debates, we often look for the applause lines, the lines that get the audience to cheer. But in this debate, there was one particular statement that froze everyone solid and silent for a second, which, in politics and live television, is an eternity. It was the sound of Newt Gingrich answering a question from CBS’s Scott Pelley: “Mr. Speaker, how do you make peace in Pakistan without negotiating with the Taliban?”

The answer?

(Beat.) “I don’t think you do.”

It was a stunning, and amazingly frank, response that I give the former speaker credit for. Which might only be because I agree with him. That’s typically the circumstance under which I give people credit for things.

Even Scott Pelley was taken aback when Gingrich said it, and so had to take about half a second to recover before beginning to clarify with a second question, which Gingrich interrupted. “I think this is so much bigger and deeper a problem than we’ve talked about as a country that we– we don’t have a clue how hard this is gonna be.” He meant “we” as a country, not just the folks on the stage. He meant “we” as in the Pentagon and the administration and Congress and US allies. He went on to explain that the Taliban and other terrorists have sanctuary in Pakistan. It’s a safe haven. And until the US figures out a way to end that (presumably while understanding the points Santorum and Bachmann made about friendship), it’s never going to stop.

Hear him out on Pakistan

Holy crap. He’s, um… he’s probably not wrong. Pakistan really kind of sucks. And we kind of have to be nice to them.

Two candidates tried to at least see the bets laid by the Capitol Gang on foreign policy: Gov. Rick Perry, who talked about his experience commanding 20,000 National Guard members in Texas on the border with Mexico (a point I read as desperate), and Jon Huntsman, whose experience overseas in political and business capacities earn him more stars than the governors (his experiences are valid and he couches them in the context of worldy reality vs. ignorant idealism, but none of his answers were significant enough politically to earn him major points). He did get a China trade question in this debate: see his answer to same in the last debate.

One other thing I’d like to mention: the candidates’ position on torture.

  • Cain – against torture, considers waterboarding to be enhanced interrogation
  • Paul – waterboarding is torture; torture is illegal in American and international law, not to mention immoral and impractical… and un-American.
  • Huntsman – this country has values and a name brand in the world. “We dimish our standing and our values of liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets when we torture. Waterboarding is torture.”
  • Bachmann – willing to use waterboarding, says the president is allowing the ACLU to run the CIA.

This gets me off on a bit of a tangent: Herman Cain wants to keep Gitmo open and allow the use of all enhanced interrogation (ended by Pres. Obama in an executive order). Santorum and Perry agree, though Perry made a point to say he’s against torture. Okay, I gotta jump in, here… what exactly is the problem with the Obama administration’s way of handling terrorists? Osama bin Laden: dead. Ayman Al-Zawahiri: dead. Anwar Al-Awlaki: dead. I’m sorry, is something not working?

It was good to see a debate focusing entirely on foreign policy. It was good to see those who lack depth exposed. You might have noticed I didn’t mention Mitt Romney much; he handled himself perfectly fine in this debate, and I didn’t end up feeling uncomfortable with the idea of him at the helm of a global superpower, but he didn’t shine. If you afford me nothing else, afford me this: nobody wants to elect a president who doesn’t know what he or she is doing in the world. If you can prove me wrong on that, then you can prove to me why Herman Cain should still be on top in the next round of polls.

Read the full transcript here (remember to click through to Part 2 – this debate was segmented for broadcast)

Now On My Bookshelf: Hiroshima In the Morning – Rahna Reiko Rizzuto


The American Educational Standard: Up For Debate

Yes. There was another debate. This time hosted by CNBC on the campus of  in Rochester, Michigan. And I’m doing this post a little differently, because… well, frankly, I feel like it. I’m going to mostly just rant about one particular topic they discussed, and the reaction thereto, which made me wonder if I was having a stroke and just hallucinating what they said. Turns out… nope.

This debate focused almost entirely on the economy, and when I say almost entirely, I mean there was only one question that wasn’t about the economy. It was the question Herman Cain got about sexual harassment allegations. The moderator tried desperately (and pathetically) to link it to economic subjects by talking about CEOs and character, but the question was still about scandal. Cain responded that the American people deserve better than someone who gets tried in the court of public opinion on (he says) false allegations.

The audience booed when he got the question and cheered raucously when he answered it. As usual, the crowd really got fired up a lot in this event. I have to remember that they’re going to be oriented to the right of political medians since they’re attending a GOP debate, so maybe they’re just more likely to cheer for things like Newt Gingrich basically telling an entire generation of Americans (while standing on a college campus) that they’re a bunch of bums who expect too much from their education.


"Oh, you academic elite, you just don't get it."

Fine, I’ll be more specific: about 2/3 of the way through the debate, the candidates got a question on the burden of student loan debt. Among the answers: suggestions that maybe everyone should just go to college online instead of at institutions with actual brick-and-mortar buildings. Sure. Who needs the formative social and intellectual experience of college? Just do it over the web, alone, in your basement. Like porn.

Ron Paul, not surprisingly, began ranting about the Fed creating a bubble, audit the Fed, now the government holds a bunch of debt for an education system that isn’t working and is spitting out kids who can’t get jobs. On its face, that’s hard to argue against. But here’s where it started going to the zoo: Paul said he wants to get rid of the department of education and give tax credits to students if you have to. So the moderator asked how kids are supposed to pay for school if they can’t get government-backed student loans, and Paul said, “The way you pay for cell phones and computers!”

"Cell phones and computers! Ahh, that was a good one!"

Um… what?

I think what he was trying to say is that the market principles of supply and demand will eventually lower the price of tuition, but it’s a totally unequal comparison that left him looking absolutely clueless about how much it costs to go to college. As usual with Paul, I think there were thoughts in his head that had to go unexpressed due to time constraints, and he couldn’t congeal a coherent response, leaving viewers to take their own cognitive leaps.

"I crack myself up! They bought it! Can you believe it?!"

And then we proceeded to the next zoo exhibit when Newt Gingrich curmudgeonly blurted that these little rat bastards are just going to have to work for it. He cited the Johnson administration’s investment in student loan programs that eventually ballooned, he said, to allow kids to go to school longer because they don’t see the cost; take fewer hours per semester; and tolerate absurd rises in tuition. (“Absurd” is one of Gingrich’s favorite words.) Then he used the College of the Ozarks as an example of what he wants: a school you can’t apply to unless you need student aid, but which has no student aid. Students have to work 20 hours a week during the class year and 40 hours a week during the summer to pay for school, and most of them graduate with no debt. And then he said this:

“It will be a culture shock for the students of America to learn we actually expect them to go to class, study, get out quickly, charge as little as possible, and emerge debt-free by doing the right things for four years.”

The crowd went wild.

And my head exploded.

I don’t even know where to start with this. Does anyone even know a graduate of the College of the Ozarks? But I suppose I’ll start with the ways in which I think they might be right: I agree that tuition goes up absurdly from year to year at most schools. I agree that the federal loan system isn’t really working very well, creating insurmountable debt for students and for the government. And I agree that maybe more tax credits for parents or students paying tuition costs would help.

And that’s about where my agreement ends.

I did not hear anyone talk about how to actually get costs at colleges and universities down while still offering students the best possible competitive education, with highly qualified teachers and well-developed curricula that implements up-to-date resources. That is what is necessary to continue the education of America, which, by the way, is what leads to American business and manufacturing success… which leads to a better economy. Sure, back when American business and manufacturing were booming, a lot of people didn’t go to college, and there are people who didn’t go to college who have succeeded in business astronomically well (Bill Gates comes to mind). But it’s the exception, not the rule, in a changed world and a global marketplace. And in a time when we are hammering away on the American education system and the need for higher learning so that we can be successful as individuals and as a nation, it sort of tweaked me off to hear Newt Gingrich say that college kids just expect to ride through school without a care.

Does he know a college kid?

I worked before college. I babysat as a kid and had a job by the time I was 15. I worked when I was in college, 1995 – 1999. I worked a lot. And my school, my freshman year, cost $16,000 in tuition alone. By my senior year, it was $19,000. That’s incredibly good for a private, small, liberal arts college that has consistently been ranked among the best buys in education by US News and World Report from years before I started all the way through the present day. My four-year scholarship paid $8,000 a year. I was the oldest child and my parents saved for their entire married lives to send me (and my sisters) to college. My school turned out to be the second-least expensive of the four daughters. And I still had a student loan. It wasn’t a big one, but it was there.

Frehsman year I made $50 a week from the school for working on campus, unlimited hours that weren’t tracked; I just worked until the job was done. Spring of sophomore year, I was working without pay in an internship for at least 20 hours a week. By junior year, I was working those hours or more (sometimes 30) with pay, for $7.50 an hour, in the industry in which I wanted to work upon graduation. By senior year, I was working up to 38 hours a week. But I wasn’t paying my tuition or my room and board, because I wasn’t making a salary that was livable. I was just trying to save money so I could be independent when I graduated, get a place and not move back home. I was paying for my car insurance and my gas, and some incidentals here and there, but I was not a wasteful kid. My guy friends bought my beer. My money went to a car and an apartment when I graduated, and health insurance until my employer’s program kicked in. My paychecks through college got me to graduation. My $25,000 salary when I graduated kept me paying my bills and eating. That’s what I worked 20-38 hours a week (sometimes with two jobs) to build up.

And not everyone can work 20 hours a week. Some kids aren’t blessed with the same gifts. They have to study harder, spend more time on things. And by the way, Mr. Speaker: if you want them to work 20 hours a week for pay while they’re in school, you’re leaving them no time to get internships that might give them entry into their field of study.

This is all a bunch of shouting at the rain, because Paul and Gingrich won’t get the nomination. I’m angry about their responses because they reflect what, judging by crowd reaction, is apparently a larger sentiment: you damned kids and your “intellectual endeavors.” Come down off your high horse and stop whining about how much it costs to get the education we’re telling you is essential to your escape from poverty.

I get that some kids don’t appreciate what they have, and some kids don’t realize that maybe they can afford the time to bear some of the financial burden of college. But to call out an entire segment of the American population – the ones who will take care of you when you’re really old, by the way – is just ignorant, careless and a lot of other words I won’t use because they’re blue. I’ve said since I was 19 that my generation will be the first not do to as well as or better than its parents. The generation after mine is in a world of hurt, too. They want something better, and Gingrich made it sound like the problem with the American higher education system is the students. And the crowd seemed to agree.

I’ve been saying for months that I might do a post on debate audiences. I intended it to be funny. But every time they cheer rampantly for things like this, I can’t fathom understanding them enough to do it. To be honest, the way debate crowds cheer for things I find completely objectionable really scares me. It seems fairly obvious that these people are voting with their voices and will probably vote with levers or paper ballots on election day. I have to hope they’re just excited to be there, and that their exuberance is the product of a strange kind of Orwellian group-think that takes over. Because if this many people all over the country really think that a candidate for president should not be questioned about sexual harassment allegations, that college students are lazy golddiggers, that gay people don’t deserve rights and protection from violence at the hands of their own military brethren, that might always makes right, that only white Christian straight Americans deserve food and healthcare and affordable roofs over their heads, that companies always matter more than individuals because that’s where the money is… I don’t understand what we’re doing anymore.

End of rant. Other, semi-impartial debate observations in brief:

"Hey, everybody! I've got you all fooled!"

Herman Cain’s answer to everything is “it’s not true” or “grow the economy” or “999.” That’s all he’s got. I don’t get why he’s still polling a the top. Wake up, America. There, I said it.

Most of the candidates are isolationist when it comes to Europe’s debt crisis. They do not want the US to step in beyond the capacity it holds with the International Monetary Fund.

"How can I convince you? What do you want me to say?"

Romney had a weak answer when questioned about how Americans can be sure he’ll stand firm on his positions if he changes his mind so often to run for office. He said he’s a steady and consistent man who’s been with the same woman for 42 years, in the same church all his life. It was a personal approach to a professional problem and I’m not sure it will work.

It seems the candidates have been scolded by the ghost of Ronald Reagan (and apparently he’s a saint now), so they did much, much less fighting with each other and gave each other much more credit and leeway on positions. Very interesting change from the last two debates.

Nobody won this debate, but Rick Perry had a total mental meltdown when he was asked which departments of the federal government he would eliminate. I can’t even describe it to you, so I’ll link to it instead.

Huntsman embraced the Occupy movement by saying he wants to be president of the 99%… but he also wants to be president of the 1%. Everyone else either avoided talk of the Occupy movement or distanced themselves from the people involved (and Gingrich still thinks they’re all a bunch of bums, like college kids, who, along with the media and “academia,” have no clue about history. He said it. I swear. And once again, the crowd roared in his favor. These people realize they’re on TV, right? They’re part of the media machine at this point. They know that, right?)

Michele Bachmann says freedom isn’t free, so people who are destitute should pay something – even if it’s “$10… the cost of two Happy Meals.” I don’t know whether that example was meant as a way to quantify what $10 is or if it was a sweeping judgment on the poor.

Herman Cain said the previous Congress kept a House bill off the floor because it would have required Americans to send healthcare control back to doctors and patients. He said “Princess Nancy” kept it in committee. He was referring to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi. To call her “Princess Nancy” in the face of a growing sexual harassment scandal was incredibly stupid, let alone disrespectful.

"Ha! Did you hear that?! How is this guy standing here?"

The moderators (who sucked, by the way, and I usually don’t say that) gave Romney the lion’s share of time responding to what do do about China vis-a-vis trade, currency manipulation and the rising possibility that they will overpower the US in the world. I get that this is because he’s the likely nominee, but there’s a guy standing all the way down stage left who was the freaking ambassador to China. You wanna maybe ask him? Romney said he’d slap tariffs on China because they’re manipulating market price with their control of currency valuation. Huntsman (who laughed when the moderator told him he had 30 seconds to answer the same question) said you can toss out applause lines about slapping on tariffs, but that’s only pandering; it won’t work and in fact it will cause a trade war, because they’ll put tariffs on American goods in exchange. He said you have to continue sitting down and talking out trade options, without glamour or flash, but with productivity.

Why isn’t anybody listening to this guy? Oh, yeah, because the crowd wants blood instead of rationale.

Moderator Jim Cramer is completely obnoxious and better suited for a bad sports show than CNBC. Yelling questions at candidates is not helpful. It is entertaining, though.

Going forward: Cain’s got a lot to lose, and I think he’s on minute 13 of his 15. But nobody was particularly impressive tonight, so things might stagnate for a while until this Cain mess is over.


Moral Crime and Punishment

What are we doing?

As a society, what in the name of all that is holy are we doing?

There is a lot of anger about what’s happening at Penn State University this week. I am a lifelong Penn State fan, a loyal and devoted supporter of head coach Joe Paterno. And I think he needs to pack up his office and leave the campus right this second.

Part of the anger that’s brewing is over whether Coach Paterno should really be taking the heat that he’s taking right now. I understand that there are people who believe that he shouldn’t be fired because he didn’t break any laws. When I first heard about the sickening charges against retired coach Jerry Sandusky, I was heartbroken. When I read the 23-page grand jury report, I was outraged.

Read it. It is not easy. In fact, it’s terrible. And that is why you should read it. Because as a society, we have stopped forcing ourselves to confront and believe that which is unpleasant to us, that which is horrific. And that is why we let these things happen over and over and over.

Legally, Paterno didn’t do anything wrong. When Mike McQueary (the unnamed “undergraduate assistant” who witnessed Jerry Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in a PSU facility shower room) told Coach Paterno what he saw, the coach notified the head of the athletic department, Tim Curley.

The grand jury’s report implies that McQueary and Paterno did nothing else.


And that’s not illegal.

AD Curley took the report to Gary Schultz, a vice-president of the university in a department that oversees the athletic department. Schultz took it to the president and reported it to The Second Mile, the charity organization founded by Sandusky in 1977 to work with at-risk youth in Pennsylvania.

It is the organization from which Sandusky chose his victims; all nine that prosecutors know of… all nine children from at-risk backgrounds who may not have had the support, the family, the sense of self, let alone the age and wisdom to know what was happening to them and to refuse it or report it. Eight of them testified in accounts detailed in the grand jury’s report. The ninth is stationed overseas in the military and unavaialable for deposition or testimony, but the grand jury knows his name.

Sandusky’s first run-in with the law was apparently in 1998, when someone reported him for sexual impropriety with a child. McQueary watched him rape a boy in 2002. A janitor saw him do it again, with another boy, years later. The grand jury’s investigation began in 2008, nine years after Sandusky retired from PSU (he retained privileges at the facilities). That was also the year that a high schoool administrator called police about an incident witnessed at the school with a student who had been part of Sandusky’s Second Mile organization.

All those years. All those children who didn’t have to suffer, if someone had called the police instead of his own boss.

When called upon by the grand jury, Coach Paterno and Mike McQueary testified as to what McQueary said he saw that day in 2002. McQueary told the grand jury that he had reported the matter to Paterno and that he had also had a separate meeting with Schultz and Curley, at which Paterno was not present. He testified that he told Curley and Schultz the same thing he had told Paterno.

When Curley and Shultz testified, they told the grand jury that McQueary had told them he was “uncomfortable” with what he saw, which they say he classified as “horsing around” – nothing sexually inappropriate.

Schultz and Curley are now under indictment, charged with perjury and failure to report the crime. Their defense attorneys are arguing to have the failure to report charge dropped, because the child in question was part of the Second Mile, not a PSU program, and Sandusky was acting as a staff member for the Second Mile at the time, not on the clock with Penn State; therefore, under the law, the obligation to report the crime falls to the Second Mile. Since Curley and Schultz had notified the organization of what McQueary reported, their legal obligation was fulfilled.

Convenient, isn’t it? That a Big Ten school with a legendary football program captained by a coach who’s been there for 60+ years would not be obligated by the law to report to police that Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky raping a young boy in a Penn State facility. It’s a nice way for PSU to protect itself from scandal. At least, it was. And I think they knew it. I think Mike McQueary knew it, so he called his father, who told him to call Coach Paterno, his boss. Coach Paterno knew it, and that’s why he called his boss instead of the police. Tim Curley knew it, and that’s why he called Gary Shultz instead of the police. Gary Shultz knew it, and that’s why he called the Second Mile instead of police.

The janitor? The janitor was a troubled soul already, rocked by his memories of Korea, shaken so badly by what he witnessed that coworkers thought he might have a heart attack. He told his boss, too, because he didn’t know Sandusky’s name, and he was afraid he would lose his job if he blew the whistle. He saw Sandusky sitting in his car in the parking lot later and told his boss, “that’s him!”

His boss told him who, at the university, he could talk to about it.

That janitor is now suffering dementia, living in a nursing home, unfit to testify.

A fellow blogger (and I’ll not name her here because I don’t want people to get upset with her and go comment on her page) suggested that the problem is with the law; that if we want to hold people to a higher standard, our laws have to do so, as well. I don’t agree. The law cannot stop all that is horrible from happening. It cannot legislate morality. I think if we want to hold people to a higher standard, we have to stand up with the courage of our convictions and tell them in no uncertain terms that they were wrong. That, to hell with legalities and technicalities, what they have failed to do is the grave offense.

Who is more culpable: the man whose criminal sickness perpetuates his behavior for as long as he can get away with it… or the men who let him get away with it longer?

Nine children suffered, some of them for years. And there are likely more. Six grown men, four of them powerful, each knew about at least one of those children. Nine years went by since Mike McQueary saw Jerry Sandusky with the boy in the shower.

And the clock kept ticking.

I want Joe Paterno out of his office today. I want Mike McQueary out of his office today. I want everyone who ever knew Jerry Sandusky had done something sick and terrible to a child out of their offices, today. No Nebraska game this weekend. Go home. You’re finished here.

I am so terribly disappointed and heartbroken by this group of people I admired, this group I cheered, this group that was charged with shaping the lives of young men, who let the lives of young boys count for nothing.

The moral crime is willful ignorance. Verdict: Guilty. Every one.