Some days there's news to be had, and some days all you can do is shake your head when a governor like Ed Rendell stereotypes working moms and single women all in a breath. Luckily, there are governors like David Paterson, who is really pissed about sexism in the legal profession (and in the New York State court system). And there are friends like Latoya Peterson of Racialicious who go interview kick-ass women about terrorism, public health and Star Wars so that we can tie it all together on one neat little progressive package of knowledge.
LATOYA: And here's Johnny!
MEGAN: I would never have expected that as your nickname!
LATOYA: LOL. Megan, we have a lot to cover today. The headlines seem good AND I got to talk to Lorelei about national security and terrorism. But first...
LATOYA: That seems to be going around lately. It's so textbook too — of course Napolitano must be a career woman, she has no family! I liked Campbell Brown's response.
MEGAN: I think it's a communicable disease, passed around by slapping one another's asses in the locker room.
LATOYA: Agreed. We should pass a no-locker-room-ass-slapping ordinance on Capitol Hill.
MEGAN: She is pretty awesome. But, no, it has to stop earlier! Ed Rendell didn't become a sexist late in life. He caught the bug early on! It's rotted his brain, like the syph.
LATOYA: You know, some people just can't be helped. But he should watch his back. Obama is bringing a lot of career women with him.
MEGAN: And some of them even have families and yet can totally do their jobs!!!
LATOYA: Come on Megan — you know they are all just exceptions to the rule.
MEGAN: Right. Women, being less smart and productive than men, have to give up on a family or a social life and work 19-20 hours a day just to kick ass at their jobs. If they have a family, well, they're really just superwomen. Maybe having kids makes you more productive? If you're a woman, that is.
LATOYA: Yup, because obviously, men don't have any help — they just have the aptitude. It's not like there's some kind of system cough patriarchy cough that gives them options and supports their careers working 19 and 20 hour days. But some men seem have resisted some of that conditioning. Did you see David Paterson getting all worked up that no women were nominated to the NY Court of Appeals Judge position?
MEGAN: He's so fucking hot when he's getting all angry.
"What we really wanted to do is just publicly acknowledge ... the disappointing fact that they spanned the globe and couldn't find a woman in New York state that was qualified to serve as the chief judge," he said.
LATOYA: You know, for someone who got drop kicked into the position, Paterson is kicking some ass.
MEGAN: Can you believe that the big boys of old New York politics didn't want him?
LATOYA: Oh, I have a few ideas why. But too bad suckas! Paterson is going to milk this 'till the cow is bone dry! In other news, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen thought she was being "punked" when she got a congrats call from Obama so she hung up on him. Twice.
"I thought it was one of the radio stations in South Florida playing an incredible, elaborate, terrific prank on me," Ros-Lehtinen told the newspaper. "They got Fidel Castro to go along. They've gotten Hugo Chavez and others to fall for their tricks. I said, 'Oh, no, I won't be punked."'
You know, we always talk about the toll MTV takes on the youth of America — but obviously, there is an unseen victim of reality TV shenanigans.
MEGAN: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wasn't scared of being the next Chavez on the radio, she was scared of being the next Palin, thinking she was talking to Sarkozy.
LATOYA: Hahahah — good point, I had forgotten that one.
MEGAN: Or she's just heniously insecure:
When an amused Obama called again, Ros-Lehtinen he was either “very gracious” to reach across the aisle by contacting her, or “had run out of folks to call, if you are truly calling me.”
LATOYA: Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you the GOP.
MEGAN: I mean, the top Republican woman in Congress and the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the week after a major terrorist attack AND the week Obama is announcing his team to work on foreign affairs — and she doesn't know why he would call her. Ladies, when I say things like "don't undervalue your contributions at work to people," this is what I'm talking about.
LATOYA: Word. She is not doing any favors to the cause. But now, let's chat about someone else who is rocking it out for women. As you know, Megan, I'm more social justice inclined. I only follow politics because I have to.
MEGAN: Yeah, I'm an addict.
LATOYA: So, I've been reading the terrorism reports with some interest and I had a ton of questions. Luckily, I happen to know a national security expert.
Lorelei Kelly (Washington, DC): Lorelei Kelly is a national security specialist working to educate elected leaders and the American public about security challenges revealed by 9/11. She is the Policy Director of the Real Security Initiative of the White House Project, a non-partisan organization whose mission is to increase the influence of women in media, culture and politics. [Note - she just left this gig, and is working with various military groups to draft National Security recommendations for the new administration.] Kelly's professional background includes teaching at Stanford University's Center on Conflict and Negotiation, working as Senior Associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a DC think tank, and working on bipartisan national security in Congress. She founded "Security for a New Century" a study group that supports cutting-edge knowledge on foreign policy and defense issues for Congressional members and staff. Kelly attended the Air Command and Staff College program of the US Air Force as well as programs at the National Defense University and Army War College. She co-authored, with Dr. Elizabeth Turpen, a handbook for citizens entitled "Policy Matters: Educating Congress on Peace and Security" and produced a civil-military dialogue guide entitled "A Woman's Guide to Talking About War and Peace" with Dana Eyre USAR. She blogs regularly at democracyarsenal.org and www.huffingtonpost.com
I called her up last night, and we talked about the media, national security, where we are screwing up on terrorism, and what people can actually do.
MEGAN: Other than put their heads in the sand or use people's fears to increase the power and invasiveness of the state's security apparatus?
LATOYA: LOL — exactly. Some people seem to have noticed that move isn't working so well. So check this out — according to Lorelei, there has been no debate on the military budget since 1985. It is difficult to define, people don't want to talk about it, and it is not auditable" — we essentially can't measure what we are getting for what we are spending. Currently, the defense budget is 700 billion, the DoD just asked for 500 million more, and war spending is not counted in this budget.
MEGAN: Well, and part of the problem is that there is no public debate on the military budget, and much of it remains utterly classified as though knowing what we spend on porta-potties in Iraq will help the terrorists win. At best, we get a big number that no one really listens to and no explanation of what it was spent on.
LATOYA: Exactly. And when I talked about government graft earlier in the year, I pointed out how there are defense contractors who are not performing the services they are paid for and yet they can phone a friend and start bidding on contracts again.
MEGAN: And not just bidding, either. Winning. I mean, bidding is for companies that aren't well-connected enough to the Administration to finagle no-bid contracts for themselves.
LATOYA: That's true too! And the worst part is that what we are doing isn't working. Lorelei told me, "Generals coming back from Iraq that say maybe 20% of the problems there have military solutions. All the rest of the problems are about rule of law, girl's education, ideological alternatives, governments that work." She also broke down a big failure in counter terrorism measures that explains why we are wasting so much money:
"It's like spending 9 billion dollars on missile defense (which has never worked). This year, we spent 9 billion - the number is over 130 billion since it started in the 80s. But we don't secure docks and ports, we only apply maybe 400 million to that, and we only inspect 6 to 7% of ports." Lorelei mentions that most terrorists are able to move freely between ports, mainly because of their lack of oversight. And if terrorists were to try to move questionable materials, the port system is the safest as the security is so lacking. "The biggest thing is that our government loans out inspectors to areas that need the help - but since we haven't funded the program, transnational shipping is vulnerable. We have to be there with alternatives at every level."
MEGAN: We need to stop calling it "missile defense" and go back to calling it "star wars" because that was much more effective at conveying to people the fact that it was incredibly expensive and a cool idea that we don't have the capacity to do.
LATOYA: Good point. From now on, we will always refer to it as Star Wars for the purposes of Crappy Hour.
MEGAN: Also, let us point out that where we are citing part of it in Eastern Europe is also causing a large part of our diplomatic problems with Russia. So we are citing a Star Wars site in order to protect our European allies from getting nuked by a pissed off Russia, thus pissing off Russia and tempting them to aim their nukes at our allies in Western Europe.
LATOYA: Lorelei also points out that a friend on the ground (in Afghanistan) told her that a tarp set up in Afghanistan could defeat a 2 million dollar plane. She said "We are fighting this battle with the wrong tools. Whenever terrorist attacks have been foiled, it's come from Scotland Yard, Interpol, or the FBI. It's really local police work. This stuff is preventive work."
MEGAN: And that's not even to mention the need to actively cooperate with the Russians to secure nuclear materials to keep them out of the hands of terrorists eager to use a suitcase nuke or dirty bomb, which could then be snuck in through one of our ill-secured ports.
LATOYA: Oh right - speaking of Europe and Russia, Lorelei made a good point on how the nature of warfare as changed:
"The threats used to come from strong states. Now they come from weak states. The paradigm has been turned on its head. Pakistan is far more dangerous than N. Korea - with N. Korea, we can talk in a way that we know. There's one guy who you know is in charge and who exercises control. Pakistan doesn't have any centralized power - [a threat] could come from anywhere."
MEGAN: As India just found out.
LATOYA: Yeah, and how do you fight that? They are trying to talk to the government and Pakistani government is like "Yo - we don't know!"
MEGAN: Well, the parts of the Pakistan government willing and enabled to talk that was, indeed, not involved that is.
LATOYA: Yeah, that's a problem too. And before I forget, remember that article Anna sent through on the WMDs on Tuesday?
MEGAN: I mean, with all the pirates from Somalia running around trying to hijack cruise ships and stealing oil tankers and shit... Failed and weak states are seeming way more dangerous than Russia. You mean the one where we're about to get it? Yeah, how could I forget.
LATOYA: Well, the first thing Lorelei said when I sent her the link was:
"These kinds of reports are easily oversensationalized. It's really important not to lump all of these things together. Chemicals are very different from nuclear, which are very different from biological. Biological terrorism by pandemic disease can either be natural (an accident) or man introduced. The best response to a biological attack is the hospital staff in your era. The problem is there is never enough - enough communication between labs and hospital teams, enough beds, enough doctors, enough of anything."
MEGAN: Well, that's totally not depressing at all, and about what we said about it the other day, too.
LATOYA: By the way, Lorelei also gave me a link we can use to check your state's preparedness for a biological or chemical attack. They rank all the state heathcare systems. In short: We're screwed. But back to the cashflow — according to Lorelei ""A lot of the Homeland Security money went to "hardening" security. What they call it in government is the better mousetrap." We build these things instead of upgrading our work on TB, AIDS, and Malaria which become pandemics that can spread and cause nationwide chaos.
MEGAN: Yeah, we are pretty much just completely fucked. If I hadn't already driven through Kansas, I would say I was gonna move to Kansas to be safe, but I have, so I don't wanna.
LATOYA: Oh I know. When I worked on the Hill, I thought about moving every time we had a terror drill. If something happened, we would be so screwed. And we aren't VIPs!
MEGAN: I sort of disagree, in that we need to be able to watch and chew gum at the same time as a government. As you pointed out earlier, there are major infrastructure flaws that need fixing and those cost money. Thing is, AIDS, malaria and TB are all the purview of Health and Human Services which, luckily, didn't end up at DHS when it was formed (run, FEMA, run away!!). We need to be funding both.
LATOYA: They are — but they also dovetail into terrorism, as in, what's easiest to spread? Again, we're dropping tons of cash on Star Wars, while the terrorists are bombing cars, hijacking planes, and running up on people with machine guns. I think it's time to reevaluate.
MEGAN: AIDS are malaria are, technically, kind of hard to spread. Are they going to breed infected mosquitoes, smuggle them in and release them? Run around pricking everyone in NY with dirty needles?
LATOYA: Again, depends. But like Lo said, they are all different things. Chemical/Biological/Nuclear all have to be evaluated and dealt with separately. But your point I think goes back to evaluating risk. What poses the greatest risk to the citizenry?
MEGAN: True, but I think conflating AIDS funding with terrorism funding hits on one of my pet Washington peeves, which is how people try to tie their pet issue to the thing most likely to generate funding rather than arguing its merits.
LATOYA: No, I agree the tying funds to something unrelated is an annoying Washington tic. But these things are related.
MEGAN: I don't deny the public health crisis, or the need to spend more money on prevention and research on major diseases, but malaria is of virtually no risk to the U.S. population.
LATOYA: Umm...you sure? I just got my health insurance back.
MEGAN: Yeah, I'm sure.
LATOYA: Before then, if there was an outbreak of anything, I might die. I can't remember my last vaccinations.
MEGAN: There are few vaccinations you need as a grown-up other than a tetanus booster, Hep and a flu shot. I, at least, am too old for Gardisil, so there you go.
LATOYA: But then again, I come from a state where a kid died from a tooth abscess, just because of a lack of dental care, so maybe I'm just paranoid like that.
MEGAN: That was so sad! I remember that case. It's such an argument for expanding SCHIP coverage.
LATOYA: It actually did. They named the new dental bus thing we have after that kid, and it lead to Maryland increasing what dentists are paid with Medicaid so more dentists will accept poor patients. So while I would love to think we're immune to things like Malaria, TB, and other things we thought we cured, you never really know. Like TB — we're okay, and the rate is dropping in the US but there is some disturbing news about TB along the border and drug resistant strains in Latin America. Lorelei mentioned ""We're so stuck [in an old way of thinking] - the first thing we do is build a wall." (See Mexico). "There is a mentality that you can contain threats in today's world. And we have to realize we can't - it is no longer possible."
MEGAN: Well, no one argues that we cured malaria or TB, but malaria hasn't been an issue here in a really, really long time. But, I'm all for raising Medicare reimbursement rates, expanding SCHIP coverage, increasing medical research funds, all that stuff. We just don't have to tie it to terrorism to do it, I think.
LATOYA: So we need to look at that. We may not have to tie it to terrorism, but the two agencies should work in tandem. Just like an increased TB risk may have something to do with securing our border with Mexico.
MEGAN: Drug-resistant diseases are sort of a scourge of health care, in part because so many people — particularly in the developing world where care is lacking —- don't finish their course of antibiotics, they stop taking it when they feel better or they take them when they don't need it. Of course, if we talk about drug resistant TB and securing the border, you know it will inflame prejudices when there's been exactly one case of a Mexico businessman who had it and came here and never infected anyone.
LATOYA: Very true. We also talked about the IMF/World Bank and the relationship between capitalism and democracy, but it's about that time Megan.
MEGAN: It is, but for whatever reason Breton Woods made me start singing the song "Norwegian Wood" in my head, so I will go hum that to myself while I post this.
LATOYA: And now, you made me think of Haruki Murakami. Now I just want to read instead of work.