Education, Finances, Dreams, And A Map–Best Sunday Newspaper Article Required a Kleenex

If you want to feel good about America, the current college generation, and why we can applaud curious minds with lofty goals read the following 2-minute article. Might grab that Kleenex beforehand. Each year, The New York Times invites essayists to forward their work to the newspaper after they’ve submitted their thoughts on money, work, social class, and related matters as part of their college applications. At their best, they inspire a kind of empathy, even if money is not on your mind all that often. While reading the paper in the glorious sunshine Sunday this was the article that made the day warmer, brighter, and better.

Another Reason To Feel Good About America

Let us meet Griffin Ayson, from Los Angeles.…..”Travel costs may prove too great a financial strain for my parents, but my world map and ingenuity are free.”

“The room was stuffy, cramped and packed with teenagers. I was about to embark on a new adventure — my first job. I made sure I brought everything listed on the required materials list: Social Security card, passport, student ID, work permit.

As I waited for the human resources personnel to call my name, I gingerly opened my passport. A glance at the photo taken when I was 12 brought a big smile to my face: Chubby cheeks. Bowl cut hair. Forced smile. My jolly mood quickly faded when I read the expiration date: 03 Jan 2022. As I flipped through, each page was blank. My heart felt empty.

I tried to shake off the sadness dominating my thoughts. I should not have been bothered by my empty passport or its pending expiration date. But I was. It was a painful reminder that I had never left the country, not once in my entire life.

I remained quiet even as my mom repeatedly asked how my job orientation went. My replies were a mere yes or no. But when we got home, I held up my passport and finally dared to ask her. She looked at me and responded: “I’m sorry, but we can’t afford it. Airfares alone for a family of five would cost an arm and a leg.” Her quavering voice said it all. I walked away, empty. My passport was for “just in case,” not “when.”

When I spend time with Grandma, I am greeted by her cabinet full of cherished souvenirs. Some mark her 90 years on earth, others Grandpa’s travels as a merchant marine. Admiring the elephant tusk from India, brass plates from Morocco and hand-carved Last Supper wall hanging from Italy, I often wondered what it was like to travel the world just like Grandpa did.

Today, I catch myself looking back at those visits at Grandma’s and realizing I don’t need to leave my beloved city — Los Angeles — to experience the world. I satisfy my wanderlust by feasting on hearty, delicious global cuisines here in my neighborhood. Couscous from Morocco. Vindaloo from India. Gelato from Italy. Each is a small marker of my city’s diverse population and the perspectives and experiences surrounding me.

The first and last thing I see from my bed is my vast world map from Ikea, occupying almost an entire wall. This map has been my constant travel companion since I was little. Beginning with Dad’s stories about his business travels early in his career, this map has taken me to the countries he toured and locals he befriended from Belgium to South Korea to Indonesia.

Through Google Earth’s lens, I’m able to transport myself to any far-flung places without leaving the comfort of my bedroom. I have explored the Philippines, where my mother was born and raised. Her accounts of her upbringing fascinated me growing up, the tropical climate a drastic change from L.A.’s dry, sunny summers. When I showed her the schools she attended, the church where she and her family worshiped every Sunday, and the empty land where her house once stood, she was delighted. I was, too.

I don’t need to set foot in an airport to know every country, city and capital in the world. The knowledge I amassed, from the map in my bedroom to virtual tours, has taught me that not traveling outside my birth country will not define who I am. I pull what I can from my surroundings, whether wandering my neighborhood or following the virtual tour of the Louvre’s Petite Galerie exhibition of founding myths. And there are dozens of UNESCO sites still to see.

I am a globe-trotter. Travel costs may prove too great a financial strain for my parents, but my world map and ingenuity are free. So while my passport pages are empty, my limitless adventures are being vividly stamped in my mind forever.”

Yeah, I told you to get a tissue.

Perpetually Litigious WILL Takes Loss At Supreme Court Over Biden’s Student Relief Program

It goes without saying that there are many smiles around Wisconsin following the news that the Supreme Court rejected a request from a conservative advocacy operation in the Badger State aimed at thwarting President Biden’s student loan debt relief program.  Since the request was flawed in its conception it comes as little surprise that conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied the emergency application to block the program. The challenge to the plan came from the Brown County Taxpayers Association. 

The loan relief plan, which has strong merits for being set in motion, and is set to begin taking effect this weekend, could cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers.  The plan cancels $10,000 in debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per household, and $20,000 for those who received Pell grants for low-income families.  The taxpayer group was ginned up and aided by the continually discontented Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a group that has never met an idea of social value it did not oppose. They had already suffered a defeat when a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit, saying the group lacked legal standing to stall Biden’s effort.

Legal minds and policy analysts have stood by the research contained in the now rather famous memo from the Department of Education, which was partly written by Toby Merrill.  He was helpful in creating the Predatory Student Lending program, aimed at cracking down on ruthless lending practices on low-income borrowers. It was his draft of a key legal analysis arguing that President Biden has the authority to cancel student loan debt through executive action that has so riled and energized the ones who now aim to stop the needed program.

“Congress has granted the Secretary a more specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs in the Higher Education Act (HEA) itself.” The legal analysis in the memo pointed to a key provision that gives the President, via the Secretary of Education, broad authority to “compromise, waive, or release” a borrower’s obligation on federal student loan debt. It should be noted that many student loan borrower advocacy organizations and members of Congress have cited this analysis to support their argument that Biden should cancel student loan debt using executive action.

Tonight, we can be glad that WILL was bounced by a conservative justice, but knowing the zeal that the perpetually litigious-minded thrive on we know more such battles are in the offing.  I am, however, confident that the law is on the side of Biden and the former students in this land.

British Conservatives Provide Lesson For U.S. Republicans, Is GOP Listening?

British Prime Minister Liz Truss proved her skill set was not up to the job the nation required, her political acumen was (as one British daily newspaper continually noted) akin to a head of lettuce, and her economic plans dreadfully hatched. It was then her political party did what any normal one would do. They stood up and called her out. They demanded accountability and then her resignation.

It was indeed a messy affair for the Conservative Party. Only 44 days into her time at 10 Downing Street Truss is packing her bags for any place that will not so embarrass her, the party, or most importantly, the country. But before Truss gets too far out that famous door the world has known as a seat of power, let us consider the one thing she did show the world, and in so doing allow her time in office not to be a total waste.

She proved that a political party could do the correct and proper thing by acknowledging a great error was made and that it needs to be cleaned up. When conservatives publicly rebuked her trickle-down tax cuts for the rich they did two things.

First, with some egg on their own faces they admitted by their actions, they had been so easily sold on a flashy tax cut scheme that had them swooning like a school kid over a first kiss.  So they cast their ballots for Truss as their new PM, but just as quickly the financial markets repudiated Truss’ plans and so the party had to recalibrate.  They tried to calm the water, right the ship, and keep the captain on the bridge.

But, secondly, when the complete meltdown with Truss became overwhelmingly obvious the Conservative Party did what any self-interested organization should do.  It went into self-protection mode.  Even the bottom feeders of the party knew what had to be done.  Liz Truss had to leave the office.  And as soon as possible.

Conservative Republicans in the United States should take note of what the Tories have done for their future needs.  Donald Trump has been a continuing weight on the GOP, slashed actual conservative values that have long been associated with the party, and placed his cult personality ahead of sound policy that any party requires for credibility. 

When the GOP had the chance not once but twice (!) to remove Trump from office, knowing they had an actual conservative (Mike Pence) who knew how to use the levers of government to mightily impact policy, senators opted instead to be cowardly. The Republican Party was saddled with Trump through some twisted dynamics among the electorate in 2016, but the mature ones in the party should have been working more diligently for the off-ramp. Due to sheer fear and lack of resolve the GOP has doubled down on holding closer to Trump.  Even concerning the most extraordinary absurdity as the Big Lie over the 2020 Election, which is now repeated ad nauseum.

With the necessity of removing Truss, though awkward at times among Tories, the world was shown that no matter what some might hope for, there comes a time when lettuce must simply be tossed out. For all the bruises that Truss suffered, and most were self-injuries, she did serve a role in alerting us all about the role of a political party.

First, be smart when casting a ballot for a candidate.  Always seek brains and skills over puff and dim-witted ideas.  Secondly, if a serious mistake was made and the elected one proves to be both equally embarrassing and without substance make the swift decision to remove the stain and move on.

After all, any nation requires nothing less.

British PM Liz Truss Shouldn’t Buy Green Bananas For 10 Downing Street, Her Hours Are Numbered

I am never sure what wine to drink, red or white, when watching an impending governmental crash. But when it comes to British Prime Minister Liz Truss it might be best to drink coffee so as to be most alert and not miss any of the drama, especially knowing there is going to be a political casualty. When folks wonder why I have such disdain over Truss the answer can be found in her trickle-down tax cuts for the rich malarky that was so easily sold to the bottom feeders of the British Conservative Party. They lapped up her sludge and swallowed with greedy smiles. The financial markets, however, had the final say on her ludicrous plan. The Labor Party, however, will have the last laugh.

Today the mess jelled even harder into a political crisis. (Is it any wonder I go to bed with the BBC news and wake up to the BBC, too?)

Liz Truss’s beleaguered government appeared at risk of collapse on Wednesday as Suella Braverman launched a stinging attack on the prime minister after being forced to resign as home secretary.

Braverman’s dramatic departure, coming just five days after Truss sacked her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, risks the prime minister experiencing the sort of mass exodus of ministers that forced Boris Johnson to quit.

Amid chaotic scenes in the Commons, it was reported that Wendy Morton, the chief whip, and her deputy, Craig Whittaker, were both reported to have left the government. However, after hours of confusion Downing Street released a statement saying the two “remain in post”.

In a move first revealed by the Guardian, Braverman announced she was stepping down over the misuse of her personal email, although furious allies on the Conservative right suspect she was forced out by Truss and her new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt.

Standing Up To Russia Too Big A Task For Modern Republican Party

The United States must continue to lead as a superpower.

History shows that weakness and cowardly behavior are not as wise a path in international affairs as resolve and firmness.  It is a lesson that should not need to be pondered long or tested periodically.  But, alas, here we go again, thanks to some of the ‘leaders’ in the Republican Party.

Playing to the foolish inward-looking elements of his party, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a loud and dangerous signal to the nation that should the GOP win the majority status, he and his fellow party colleagues will likely oppose more aid to stop Russian aggression against the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  This move would be a dreadful stain on our country and a damaging blow to international alliances such as NATO. It would also run counter to the moral high ground and bipartisan regard Congress proved with their unity in authorizing billions of dollars in both U.S. military and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine and stop Russian President Putin.

It was simply bewildering to witness some of the comments made by very conservative members of the Republican Party regarding the fate of Ukraine as the tensions mounted in Eastern Europe.  The flippant and woefully short-sighted comments from the likes of Tucker Carlson on FOX News show what the Trump base was watching and listening to well before Russian troops amassed in huge numbers to charge into Ukraine.  

“I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

It was downright pathetic when those comments continued after Russia invaded its neighbor. We sadly need to recall the type of comments that found their way to headlines from the likes of former Republican Congressman Madison Hawthorn.

“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Perhaps most shocking of all, as it underscores how unprepared and uninformed one of the GOP senate nominees is about international policy comes this stunning statement from J. D. Vance.

“I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”

Siding with Putin and against Ukraine was always disgusting and will find scorn from those who write history and analyze what character lapses led to such outrageous positions to be held and articulated. It is not uncommon, sadly, for some of the modern elements of the GOP, and especially within the Trump base, to lean into and at times openly embrace authoritarianism while kicking at democracy.   

From a purely political aspect, it is most telling how removed the current GOP is from that place it once called a home base.  Ronald Reagan and those in his administration who knew the power of democracy along with the stench of communism would hurl upon those in the Republican Party who now are weak-kneed at stopping Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.

Reagan knew that power plays among nations do not come cheaply.  His massive arms buildup and military stands did cause, in part, the demise of the Soviet Union as their economy could not truly respond in kind.  I am certain as an American, and not a politico as I write this post, that Reagan would have championed and strongly advocated the authorization, thus far, of upward of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine from our nation.

The international consequences of Russia prevailing in this war of aggression must not be in any way marginalized.  The barbaric actions of Russian troops clearly demonstrate that there is no international agreement that Putin can be counted on to respect. That conduct must not be allowed to stand, be accepted, or be normalized.  China is watching.  Putin has made clear that destroying Ukraine is, for him, as has been widely reported for months an existential, goal.  Again, China is watching.

History proves unless force is met with equal determination a soulless tyrant will not cease pushing forward.  We need only note that Putin’s war and success in Crimea did not quell the appetite within the Kremlin.

I cannot understand how some people in the nation might see inflation and high energy prices in the offing as a reason to withdraw from our obligations as a superpower.  If left up to Fox News viewers much of the federal government would wither on the vine.  But we know from reading history that when lethargy is allowed to take hold, and isolationist policies are pursued there is never an ending that brings anyone pleasure.  Other than for the aggressor.

Wisconsin Assembly Candidate Adam Steen Demeaned Campaign Volunteers, A Lack Of Common Decency

Candidates across the nation who have staunchly supported Donald Trump, and those he then rewarded with an endorsement have all followed the same path.  Making headlines that no reasonably sound or serious-minded candidate would ever desire. As an example, we likely had our fill of news stories about Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz.  Even if not living in those states where they are seeking office, we are hopeful of not needing to hear their names anytime soon following Election Day.

In Wisconsin, however, we have a Trump-backed write-in candidate for a state assembly seat who is garnering the type of headlines that no one wishes to be made with only a few weeks left in the campaign.  Further troubling is how a group of voters is being so easily played and then so disparaged after showing political support. It does not matter what party or which candidate is central to this story as the bottom line is what occurred is just plain wrong.

Leaked phone call recordings allegedly show a write-in candidate for the state Legislature from Racine County, Adam Steen, making misogynistic comments, calling some of his own supporters “stupid,” openly considering breaking election law for a stunt, and agreeing with a statement that his own volunteers “are legitimately barbaric.”

It is not so much that a phone call was taped or that it was released, as that is just the rugged world of politics in which we live.  What I find unsettling about this story, is how cheaply held political support is for Steen.  Though I have never been a candidate for any office I am most certain of my respect for, and humility toward those who would support me and volunteer on my behalf. I cannot fathom mocking those who provide political support!

Steen is in a three-way race to represent Wisconsin Assembly District 63 against the incumbent, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and Democrat Joel Jacobsen. On Election Night this one will be fun to watch just for the theatrics that has taken place since the primary when Vos won with 260 votes.  But that should not detract us from feeling unsettled about the lack of value that supporters and political volunteers are now feeling.

Whenever he talks about Donald Trump in public and with reporters, Steen speaks highly about how important the former president’s endorsement has been to generating support for the Steen campaign. But according to WisconsinRightNow’s reporting of the recordings, Steen said voters are “stupid” to have been swayed to support him solely because of the Trump endorsement.

A journalist can report, and a blogger can opine and offer perspective about the role Trump plays in Republican circles or the control he has over a wide swath of the GOP base.  Reporters can show the states where Trump has endorsed candidates and bloggers can make a case for why democracy demands higher standards with party nominations.  But a candidate themself should never, ever belittle, demean, or devalue citizens who show support and offer to volunteer for a campaign.  To do so is seriously shallow. 

Over the decades I have walked countless miles knocking on doors and making a case for the person pictured in the political brochure that I offer to the stranger on their front steps. I have known the candidates and was fully aware of their genuine gratitude for the hours of volunteer efforts. Therefore, I cannot unravel the mindset of Steen who would toss aside the hours spent, the efforts made, or the trust that was given from a volunteer to one seeking office. 

We can all disagree about public policy and the best way to move our state forward, but I suspect we all agree that common decency is something that once traded away is never able to be recovered.  The story about Adam Steen is not about partisanship, but rather what we truly should not want in our politics.

“Dead Woman Walking?” Powerful Headline About British PM Liz Truss Makes For That ‘Told You So’ Moment

Politico London Playbook writes the stunning opening for the week ahead, and this continuing story has me wide awake very late at night, or is this now early in the morning? Liz Truss rode a harmful and shady tax cut ploy to 10 Downing Street, a matter I have noted with great dismay from the days when she first started to weave her smarmy attempt at power. She played the Conservative Party with what they wanted to hear, as opposed to what they needed to know. Big difference between the two. On this side of the pond, we are witnessing her downfall as being swift and sweet. Her style of politics stinks no matter from where it comes. The question is what will the backers of Rishi Sunak do in the hours to come? He continues to have my strong support, as he has had from the day Boris Johnson was ejected from power.

DEAD WOMAN WALKING? As Liz Truss wakes up this morning she’ll wonder whether this week in Downing Street could be her last. With her authority shot and her premiership unraveling at a speed that is astonishing even by the standards of modern British politics, many now believe it is a matter of time before she is forced out — as she faces a critical 72 hours.

Mondays don’t get much worse than this: The PM has just marked 40 days in office but faces a degree of unrest that Theresa May and Boris Johnson took years to build, with backbenchers breaking cover to urge her to quit, letters pouring into Graham Brady’s inbox, rivals on maneuvers and a delegation of graybeards preparing to tell her the game is up.

A week? Two weeks? Until Christmas? The papers are full of speculation over just how long Truss has left in office, with some suggestions that if the markets show mercy today that could carry her through until the budget on Halloween. “It’s over, but I’m not sure when. Perhaps this week, perhaps next,” one Cabinet minister tells the FT’s Seb Payne. A Tory MP told Playbook yesterday: “Boris lasted longer than he should have because he still had some electoral appeal, and people weren’t sure who would succeed him. She doesn’t have the former — but the latter may again delay things.”

After the Sunday Times urged Truss to quit, the Telegraph leader says today that “it is debatable whether she any longer has the authority to withstand this assault.”

In the Commons: Labour leader Keir Starmer is calling on Truss to come to the Commons and answer questions about her economic plan, accusing her of being “in office but not in power.” The Labour Party could decide to seek an urgent question if she refuses.

Over in Westminster Hall: This afternoon MPs will be debating a petition for an early election which amassed over half a million signatures.

Most Pleased Daniel Silva Landed On My Bookshelves

It was one of those perfect fall weekends in Wisconsin.  I would not have changed one thing about how it played out if given the ability.  Saturday was sunny and warmish for an October day which allowed for a delightful drive to get a carload of squash from a farm market in the country.  The annual trip was made complete with apple cider donuts!  Sunday was perfection with brisk winds ushering in a damp chill which made the warmth of the oven as a Blue Hubbard baked feel like a scene from the cover of an old Saturday Evening Post.

What surrounded all the joys of the weekend, be it cups of afternoon coffee or late-night burrowing under a blanket, was the plotting and pacing of Daniel Silva as he mesmerized me with another in his Gabriel Allon series.  During the pandemic, I reached out on social media to broaden my list of authors who write about espionage and spying along with tense international dramas.  While I always have a few historical or biographical books going at any one time, I also much enjoy the John Le’ Carre type book.  It was from around the nation, and even a kindly lady in Britain, where I came to know ‘new’ authors. I thank them all for the advice, and for being kind not to over-state ‘how could you not have read’ this or that author!

While I have become very engaged with a slew of the authors (as evidenced by my bookshelves) the reading idea that most impacted me with continuous smiles and adrenalin, came from a longtime friend, George Meyer, who also added a strong suggestion. Read Daniel Silva he said, after being somewhat surprised I had not already ventured down that path.  But when you do, read the books in order.  (Being OCD there was no worry about not reading them sequentially.)  What I discovered, by the time the first half of the initial book in the series was completed, regarded how detailed the narrative continued to be concerning the place and feel of locations around the world.  I was sensing the smell of the fog or the way the cobbled steps felt underfoot.  Throw in abundant background and angst with Middle Eastern tensions and religions and I was on Amazon looking for the next several books in the order of their publication.

That was the effect Silva had on me from the start. The evolving nature of the lives of a few characters with the added depth of the past inter-relationships that played out on the pages of history is remarkable. Stepping back and just considering how he places all the people and events into a seamless narrative, but one we do not get to grasp until many of the books are under our belt, proves how epic his original plotting had to be for the series. I always am amused by the way authors plot a book, or better yet, a series. Silva is a master at the craft and one that needs to be experienced by those not having yet had the pleasure of opening one of his works.

Israeli intelligence and the workings of Mossad as it plays out against dastardly international crimes are like headlines ripped from the newspapers. Allon had his start eliminating the killers at the infamous Munich Olympics where Israeli athletes were held hostage and then killed. Leaving the service he slips into the world of being an art restorer, only to be pulled back into intelligence action by one of the most multi-dimensional characters I have found in many a book, Ari Shamron. Real life-spies can not have better stories to tell.

Since 2020 the following authors and series are ones that, after being recommended by others, made a strong impression to now take up space on my bookshelves. (This is why we have larger homes, right? Since the pandemic, James and I act as if our book budget is akin to parts of the U.S. defense appropriations…unlimited and off-budget.)

Alan Furst

Daniel Silva

David Downing…(two series)…WWI….WWII

David Liss

Olin Steinhauer

Stuart Kaminsky

Andrea Penrose

Thomas Mullen

Conn Iggulden