This summer about 400 foreign exchange students from countries including China, Nigeria and the Ukraine came to our country on a summer cultural exchange work visa program. They wanted to practice their English, earn some money and learn more about what life is like in the United States.
What happened to them should be a national embarrassment. The students were put to work in a Pennsylvania plant that packages and ships Hershey's chocolates.
Right now, I have news on the television, with Facebook open, Twitter tweeting, Pandora playing, my cell phone going off with text message alerts, my emails open and I am writing.
On Sept. 12, the eight current Republican candidates for the presidency in 2012 staged yet another debate of this election season. The debate was hosted by CNN, moderated by Wolf Blitzer and sponsored, appropriately enough, by the Tea Party Express.
The show opened with the usual remarks about how our nation is in trouble and how we can do better in the future. Absent from any comments were an acknowledgement of Republican responsibility for the problem.
Also absent from the debate were any new ideas. The candidates seem to be engaged in a race to the bottom in their desire to privatize everything, cut spending and deregulate business. Though many comments drew applause, actual good ideas were few and far between.
There were entertaining moments. In one exchange early on, Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry sparred over who had said the most disparaging thing about Social Security. Each accused the other of calling it "illegal" or a "Ponzi scheme" (spoiler alert – they both did).
It'll be interesting watching two rich men explain to a dying middle class how putting their children's future in the hands of Wall Street makes any sense.
Also conspicuously absent at the debate was truth. Gov. Perry repeated the oft-heard lie that the 2007 stimulus package created no jobs; this line has been thoroughly debunked already and earned him a(nother) "Pants on Fire" rating from Politifact.org.
Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn), no stranger to falsehoods herself, claimed the president's health care law "stole" $500 billion out of Medicare, a statement Politifact.org rated Mostly False.
It was a rough crowd for some. On the subject of illegal immigration, Perry got some boos for making the entirely reasonable suggestion that immigrants should be given a chance to become citizens and taxpayers, while Bachmann was quick to exploit audience sentiment by saying taxpayers shouldn't pay for people here illegally.
But I'm not going to give a play-by-play of the debate here; instead here are my reactions to the candidates based last night's debate and their previous words.
She was the early front-runner, mostly because she's been telegraphing her candidacy since the last election, but as the limelights have been trained on her, her star has been fading fast. Bachmann has a record of gaffes, verbal missteps and outright lies a mile long. She may get the guano-crazy extremist vote, but that's not the road to electoral victory. She says she's "committed to repealing Obamacare." She's been shouting this for two years, so if you didn't know it by now, you never will.
Claims to have the answer to our unemployment problem, but it's just more of the same. Cut taxes and deregulate business. Also, he's a billionaire who made his fortune running a company that specialized in buying out smaller businesses and outsourcing American jobs to overseas locations. He's spent a good part of his life being part of the unemployment problem. How much credibility does a guy like that really have in the jobs arena?
He's running. Again. Well, fifth time's the charm, I suppose. He's supposed to be the idea guy, but he hasn't had any new ideas since 1994. Every time he talks, we get the same tired old cut taxes, deregulate business and privatize everything nonsense that got us in this mess in the first place. He seems blissfully unaware of economics as well. In one especially bizarre line, he said he wants to "shrink government to fit income, not raise income to try to catch up with government." Wait, what? So he's okay with the current wealth disparity in America? The middle class isn't poor enough already? Wake me when he drops out again or marries Mrs. Gingrich number four.
The smiling, amiable, folksy governor of Texas may be the least trustworthy person in the race so far. He'd love to run on his jobs record, but the facts are most of the jobs that have been created in Texas during his "leadership" are minimum wage or lower, dead end jobs with no benefits and no hope of upward mobility. We've also learned recently that Texas firefighters laboring to contain wildfires sweeping his state have been forced to pay for their own equipment. If he's elected, will our troops have to buy their own bullets?
His strength has always been national security. Paul commented that the reason Al Qaeda attacked us on Sept. 11 was to draw us into a war and so they could attack us on their terms. "We're there, occupying their land," he said, "and if we think we can do that and not have retaliation, we're kidding ourselves." He's right, of course, and drew applause when he suggested that if another country did that to us we wouldn't tolerate it. He drew boos later on for telling the truth about our Middle-East foreign policy, however. He gets kudos from me for honesty.
For me, the defining moment of the Cain run will always be when he told a Tea Party crowd he would veto any bill longer than three pages. This was lampooned masterfully by Jon Steward on the Daily Show ("I'm Herman Cain, and I do not like to read!"), and rightly so. He's supposed to be a businessman; how can it be he's never read or written a business plan? Before moving to Omaha, I worked at a small local branch of a regional lumber company. I remember watching my boss labor for weeks over his annual plan, which typically ran 12 to 15 pages. And that was for a shop that employed just 12 people. Either Cain was playing to the audience, or he just doesn't understand how these things work. A lousy businessman will make a lousy president. We should have learned that from George W. Bush.
I have to give him credit for trying. He's been working really hard to get attention, and it's kind of worked. He comes across as reasonable, soft-spoken and entirely likable. Unfortunately, being the lone adult in the room with this crowd isn't likely to win him many votes. Extremism appears to be the order of the day in the modern Republican party. He got in a couple of good jabs at opponents Perry and Romney, commenting about the latter that "we could spend all night talking about where Mitt's been on the issues," but failed to win the audience. Good luck, Jon. You're going to need it.
We didn't hear much from him after the opening remarks. I'm not sure why, but it seemed like the moderator was ignoring him. Given the chance to comment on national security, he repeated the Bush-era line that Al Qaeda attacked us because they hate our civilization. Actually, we were attacked because bin Laden saw our presence in Saudi Arabia as an affront to Islam. Repeating the discredited propaganda that got us into the war won't help us end it.
In the end, these debates are less about getting to know the candidates than they are about the candidates getting exposure, building their party credentials and demonstrating their adherence to current political orthodoxy.
Flag lapel pins were on display as usual, though about half of the candidates did not wear them. This was a refreshing change over the last election, when it seemed everyone was trying to "out-patriot" each other with such trinkets. And though the majority of them were clearly trying to appeal to the crowd, there were a few standout moments of candidates going against the prevailing sentiment.
To be honest, I don't like any of the Republican candidates, and I'm not really excited about President Obama's re-election campaign either. This country needs real leadership and political courage, not seasonal campaigning, demagoguery and fear-mongering. The election is 13 months away. I hope things change in the next year.
Does anybody still really like the song "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke?
Calandra Holloway was shaking. Nervous wasn't a sensation she experienced often in her 23 years. She was used to being the confident sweet-hearted girl that everybody loved.
The corporate heads of Borders recently announced they're filing for bankruptcy and all their stores will be closing.
We watched each other warily, an invisible curtain of earth power dividing us, the woman and me. She was a real beauty - six feet tall and dressed in floor-length green silk, a thick mass of red hair, piercing green eyes, skin like polished copper, as poised as royalty - as perfect as any woman had a right to be. If she'd been human I'd have been in trouble.