Monday, December 31, 2007

Good Bye 2007

*22 American soldiers killed in Iraq in December 2007.

Over all, politically, 2007 wasn't that great of a year. Iraq is quieter since the surge except for the families of the soldiers who are still being killed (including one on the last day of 2007). If you love someone who died, it probably doesn't help much to know that "deaths are down". And, still, no one can seem to articulate what our end goal is in Iraq or how we'll know when we've "won". We do know that when its over, we'll be left with an enormous, and enormously expensive embassy, larger than the freakin' Vatican!

We know that while the president vetoed the SCHIP bill, which would have given millions of additional American children healthcare on the grounds that we "couldn't afford" such generosity, we handed out cases of American dollars in Iraq (along with cases of American weapons) to just about anyone who came along. We "lost" enough unaccounted for billions of dollars in Iraq to pay for SCHIP.

We know that while Iraq is quieter, Afghanistan is deteriorating (you know, Afghanistan, the original home of Osama Bin Laden, the perpetrator of 911!)

We know that Pakistan, a country that definitely has WMD, is now in turmoil after the assassination of Benizir Bhutto.

We know one good thing -our intelligence agencies decided they wouldn't take the hit again for starting a war on bad information and released a National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran had ended its efforts to build nuclear weapons some years ago. This was probably in the nick of time to stop us from bombing Iran as Vice-president Cheney and some of the well-known neocons are on record as wanting to do.

Another good thing - President Bush and Condoleezza Rice have decided to put their efforts (finally) into trying to negotiate a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If they pull it off, there would be at least one check mark on the positive side of the Bush legacy.

Even if that happens, I think the conclusion that history will come to is that the Bushies went over to the smoldering powder keg that was the Middle East and set a match to it. Now, I'm just praying that we can all get through the next year until these people are gone and rational leaders take over our foreign policy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

pant suits

Robin Givhan, the Washington Post's fashion maven, wrote her column today about Hillary Clinton and her pant suits. She questioned Hillary's motives for wearing pants. (Was she trying to subtly "get us used to a female commander in chief?") She questioned Hillary's penchant for mixing and matching, saying that Hillary lived in the "grown up land of Garanimals". She questioned the style of her pant suits ("does Hillary even have hips?). She questioned her color choices ("Hillary, the human color wheel").

Ah, it was all very east coast elite and cuttingly humorous. It made me try to remember the last time I wore a skirt or dress. In 2004, unemployed, I bought a "power suit" for going to interviews. I thought it would make me look more professional and hireable. Let's just say the suit didn't suit me and the day I got another job, it disappeared into the back of the closet, never to be seen again.

I can't even remember when I wore a skirt prior to that. I'm 61. I've been through all the fashions. When I was in high school, we wore "wrap-around" skirts. What a stupid style that was. It was hard to carry books when you were also trying to hold down a skirt that flew open in the slightest breeze. (Of course, back then we had no choice about skirts and dresses because we weren't allowed to wear pants to school).

In the late 60's and early 70's, I wore mini-skirts. Thankfully, I was slender then although, fools for fashion that we females always are, even those who weren't insisted on being part of the in-crowd. Heavy girls with large thighs just looked sad and foolish in skirts six inches above the knee. I worked as a waitress in a bar and a secretary in an office then. Lowering a drink tray to a table or filing a folder in a bottom drawer in a mini-skirt were equally perilous endeavors. Oh, how carefully you had to lower yourself straight down instead of bending over for fear of showing your underwear. When you sat in a chair, you were always conscious of the need to keep your legs clenched tightly together. All in all, a pretty uncomfortable time.

After mini-skirts came midi-skirts. Midi-skirts looked beautiful on tall, slender, long-legged women but they lost something in the translation when the wearer was 5 feet tall and um, more stocky than slender by now. I was lucky to survive the midi-skirt era. My hems got caught in my high heels (speaking of a fashion statement that should be banished forever) and, more than once, sent me tumbling to the ground. I almost caused a wreck when my skirt bottom wrapped itself in a death grip around my gas pedal. I was glad to see that particular era fade away.

By then, pant suits were acceptable in work places and everywhere else. Gratefully, I filled my closet with them and never looked back.

Hillary is about my age. I expect she went through the same fashion transitions that I did and emerged on the same side of comfort and convenience. Can you imagine how uncomfortable she would be sitting on a stage with seven men at a debate, more concerned with desperately trying to keep her skirt down and her thighs together than framing an answer to a foreign policy question? Or walking down the freezing streets of New Hampshire knocking on doors with bare legs. Or frantically holding on to her skirt in a stiff wind during a photo op in Des Moines? And I'm sure that when you are constantly on the campaign trail, "coordinated" outfits are simply a matter of practicality.

Sometimes, things are just a matter of commonsense and have no complex psychological undercurrents. I suspect Robin Givhan simply used her column as an excuse to make fun of Hillary by showing off her own form of snide sophistication.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Presidential politics

This is my favorite time for watching television, reading newspapers, monitoring blogs. I follow presidential politics the way the most radical fans follow the Colts. I watch every debate on both sides. I go to all the candidates' web pages. I read their position papers. I view their ads. This is the only time I wish I lived in Iowa or New Hampshire. I envy those who get to see all the presidential hopefuls up close and personal.

Unfortunately, in Indiana the closest we normally come to presidential pols is when their planes fly overhead on their way to somewhere else. In Indiana, you have to go to YouTube to see candidate's ads. By the time, our primary comes around, our vote will be moot. The rest of the country will have already decided who the nominees are. Not that it really matters. It's highly unlikely that we won't vote for the Republican, no matter who that turns out to be.

For what it's worth, here is my take on the candidates:

Republicans

Front-runner (so far) Rudy Giuliani - Rudy's claim to fame is 9/11 but what is his record regarding that fateful day? He put his security headquarters in the World Trade Center, against the advice of all the experts, because it was within walking distance of the Governor's Mansion. He also had an apartment installed, which we now know, is one of the places he met his then mistress, now wife. He ignored safety officials' urgent requests to provide police and fire departments radios with compatible frequencies so that on 9/11, they couldn't communicate with one another. He put forth the name of Bernard Kerik to be the first head of Homeland Security, the same Bernie Kerik he'd been told had ties to the mob and the very same Bernie Kerik who is now under indictment on numerous felonies. He was one of the original 9/11 commission members but was asked to resign when he didn't attend any of the meetings because he was too busy making high dollar speeches about his expertise in handling terrorism.

Mike Huckabee (perhaps the new front-runner by now) - Huckabee is the most witty and amiable-seeming of the Republicans. My own biggest concern about Huckabee is the same thing that probably makes him popular with evangelical Republicans and that is his religiosity. He has stated that his religion informs who he is and it is why he doesn't believe in evolution and thought that AIDS victims should be quarantined (presumably on some deserted island much as we used to do to lepers). I don't want America to become a Christian theocracy. Huckabee has that same self-deprecating sense of humor that Bill Clinton has (what is it about politicians from Hope, Arkansas?) but he is better than Clinton was at sticking the shiv into his opponents' backs so subtly that they barely know they've suffered a mortal wound until the blood flows, such as his shrugging refusal to say whether he believes Romney is a Christian.

Mitt Romney - we shall see if the media believes "flip-flopping" is a fatal flaw the way they did when they used it against John Kerry last time. Mitt Romney strikes me as a plastic man who can mold his beliefs into whatever he thinks the voters want to hear.

John McCain - probably has the most integrity of any of the higher ranking Republicans. Of course, he's changed his stands on a few issues but I'm probably more tolerant of pandering than most people. Politicians have a certain constituency they have to please to gain the nomination and if they refuse to ever bend on even the smallest issues, then they are Ron Paul. That might be an admirable place to be but it means you've given up the idea of winning.

Fred Thompson - still has an outside chance if he kicks it into gear but it doesn't appear that he's interested in giving this race 110 percent, the level of commitment Americans expect from their candidates. We say we have contempt for the politician who'll go anywhere and say anything for a dollar or a vote but we really don't mean it.

Ron Paul - I doubt any but his most loyal supporters would really approve of his hard-line Libertarian views if he really had a chance of winning but good for him for sticking to his principles and shedding some light on a completely different way of looking at issues. He is actually closer to what Republicans used to say they believed in than some of the front-runners - fiscal responsibility, state's rights, no nation building, etc.

Tom Tancredo - only has one issue, immigration, about which he's a fire-breather.

Duncan Hunter - I've watched all the debates and I can't think of anything that distinguishes Duncan Hunter from the rest of the pack.

Over all, the Republicans are pro-war, pro-nukes, pro-torture, pro-Guantanamo, pro-bombing Iran, pro-depriving American children of healthcare. This is the most testosterone-driven field I ever recall. At every debate, I expect them to collectively lower their britches to prove who has the largest testicles.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton - my first choice. Mainly because I see her as the candidate who "took a lickin' and kept on tickin'" She's experienced and level-headed and has the benefit of Bill Clinton's advice. The 90's were great for me. I'd happily return to the years of budgets in surplus and an effective military. It wasn't that Clinton refused to use the military but he put in place leadership that knew what they were doing, such a General Wesley Clark in Bosnia where we went with a real coalition and accomplished our mission with no loss of life. Hillary is a moderate who has worked with Republicans in the Senate to get things done.

Barack Obama - the media's sweetheart. If good press gets you the nomination, Barack is in. My concern is that he isn't tough enough to take on the Republican machine. He says he doesn't want to be the president of "blue state America or red state America but the United States of America". Does he think the Clinton's didn't come to Washington wanting the same thing? Why does he think that didn't happen? It was because "red state America" had no intention of letting it happen. I doubt if they'd agree to hold hands and sing Kumbaya with Obama either.

John Edwards - I like a lot of John Edwards' ideas, maybe more than anyone else's. I'm a huge supporter of the working class. I like his attention to New Orleans. I like his emphasis on putting people ahead of Big Insurance, Big Banking and Big Pharma. But he's lived in Iowa for the last two years and he's currently third there and he isn't raising money like Hillary and Barack. I think his time passed him by.

Bill Richardson - best resume of the bunch. He's been a governor, an ambassador, a negotiator and effective in all those roles. In a normal presidential year, he'd have a better chance but he suffers from being in a field that contains a couple of superstars. Hard to get any attention when the they are hogging the spotlight.

Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. Smart, knowledgeable, effective senators. Same problem as Richardson. Over-shadowed by Clinton, Obama and to some extent, Edwards. This isn't a year when Americans want old, white senators.

Dennis Kucinich - The Democrats' Ron Paul. It is easy to say exactly what you think when you don't have the same goal as the others, namely, winning the nomination.

Over all, the Democrats have a deep field. If Hillary doesn't win, there isn't any of them I couldn't vote for with enthusiasm.

Comment: I wish we could get away from the Iowa caucuses having so much influence in choosing our eventual nominees. Only a relatively few Iowans participate. Iowa has almost no diversity to speak of, unlike the rest of America. It has no large cities so is unrepresentative of the urban experience. It is top-heavy with rural voters. And yet, mainly because of the media, their choice has a roaring head start for the nomination. There has to be a better way.

Iraq

*146 American troops killed since September 1, 2007

First, Iraq. The troop "surge". It has been judged by Republicans to have been a great success. And on one front, it has been a success. Violence is down. That in and of itself, is a very good thing. Only 146 of our American soldiers have been killed since September 1. I'm not sure I believe "only 146 deaths" is really a cause for joy but but it is better than some previous months.

My problem with the troop surge is that I don't understand what the point was. I know the stated reason President Bush gave. It was to "buy time" for the Iraqi government to have some "breathing room" to make political progress. And have they made political progress? Nope, not so's you'd notice. In fact, far from making use of the breathing room we gave them, the Iraqi government, en masse, has just gone on vacation - again.

Meanwhile, we are going to bring some troops home. We have to. We knew all along that we didn't have enough manpower to sustain the surge much beyond the first of the year. Still, I expect we will bring them home to great fanfare with the president proclaiming that they are able to return because of the success of the mission.

But unless what they've accomplished is a permanent change, one that can be maintained by the Iraqis themselves once our presence isn't so dominating, it may prove to have been a temporary fix.

Vice-president Cheney says that he believes that Iraq will be a self-sustaining democracy by January of 2009. He's never been right about anything before but there's a first time for everything, so maybe this will be that time. But if that's so, why is Bush trying desperately to work out an agreement with the Iraqi government that will guarantee our presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, tying the hands of the next president, who may not agree with such an arrangement?

Republicans often accuse those who have been opposed to this war of "wanting America to lose". This isn't true, at least in my case. My bottom line is that I never believed we should have gone into Iraq and even if we "win" (the definition of which changes from month to month but let's take Cheney's vision of Iraq as a "self-democracy" as victory), I don't think it was worth it. I don't think the very best possible outcome that could happen was worth the lives of almost 4,000 Americans, the health of tens of thousands of other Americans, the lives of God only knows how many Iraqis, the total destruction of a country, a trillion dollars spent that we could have put to better use, was worth it.

I thought going to Iraq was a tragic mistake on Day one and I think it is a tragic mistake on whatever day this is - no matter what happens in Iraq and even if "only" 146 Americans die in the next three months.

Sick

I don't know whether it is even worthwhile updating this blog at this point. The last time I posted was in August. That's because I was sick. I'd actually been ill quite a while before that but, it happened so gradually, I didn't realize it until I began feeling better! My first "spell" happened when I was on the road driving to the writer's conference in New York. That was in June. It was bad enough that I seriously considered turning around and coming home but I didn't. It eased off. I knew I wasn't at the top of my game but I forged on although I eventually came home a day early.

One reason I put off seeing Dr Wenrich was because the insurance at my new job hadn't kicked in yet. (Ah, health insurance - I wonder how many major decisions by Americans revolve around insurance considerations?)

My main symptom were 1) feeling as if my heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest and 2) total lack of energy. I essentially worked and slept for several months.

Finally, I was driven to the emergency room by the fear that I was having a heart attack. From there I was sent, via ambulance, to Parkview in Fort Wayne. I was in ICCU one night, and then in the regular part of the hospital for four more days while being subjected to various tests. Turned out, it had to do with digestive tract problems. They started me on new medicine. I began to feel better.

And that's really all I want to say about illness. This post is mainly to explain why I've been away so long.