In the Loop: Shutdown? What shutdown?

Al Kamen
Columnist October 8, 2013

On Sunday night, former House speaker Newt Gingrich fired off a tweet cheering on the veterans who crashed the WWII memorial despite the shutdown that has shuttered Washington’s memorials and monuments.

“Every veteran and their family who can should visit Washington memorials and shame Capitol police into standing down. This is petty tyranny,” wrote @newtgingrich.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

First, we’re pretty sure he meant U.S. park police, not Capitol police. (And park officers eventually did let the vets visit, to “exercise their First Amendment rights,” but let’s let that one go.)

Sounds like Gingrich’s memory might be failing him: The shuttering of National Park lands is happening pretty much the way it did during the 1995 shutdown — the one in which the Georgia Republican played a rather central role. The one that, even in retrospect, he thought was a pretty dandy idea.

We referred to an op-ed Gingrich wrote in The Washington Post in 2011, when the government was on the brink of another shutdown (it was ultimately averted). In that piece, he fondly remembered the good old 1995 shutdown, trying to counter the generally accepted idea that the incident was bad for Republicans.

“We decided to stick to our principles through a very contentious and difficult period,” he wrote in 2011. “Our attempt to balance the federal budget was distorted in the news media as an effort to ruin family vacations, frustrate visitors to the nation’s capital and prevent government employees from going to work.”

So, let’s get this straight. In 1995, “ruin[ing] family vacations and frustrat[ing] visitors” was an A-okay byproduct of principle-sticking, but now it’s “petty tyranny”?

Perhaps tyranny, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

SEALed with a kiss

Let’s be honest. We’ve all been wondering for years which is quieter, a ninja warrior or a Navy SEAL.

So Walker Greentree, who will turn 7 this month and wants to be a SEAL (or maybe a ninja), wrote to Adm. William H. McRaven, the head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, to find out.

Walker, who’s from a military family, included a drawing of a trident, the Special Warfare insignia. He also wanted to know how long McRaven can hold his breath underwater.

“Thanks for writing me!” McRaven wrote back. “You did a great job drawing the Trident, it looks just like my personal coin, which I’ve sent you along with this letter. I only give this to very special kids, so I hope you like it.”

Now let’s get down to business. “To answer your questions,” McRaven wrote, “I think ninjas are probably quieter than SEALs, but we are better swimmers, and also better with guns and blowing things up. I can hold my breath for a long time, but I try not to unless I really have to.

“Remember, if you want to be a SEAL,” McRaven advised, “you must do two things: Listen to your parents and be nice to the other kids. If you do that, you can probably be a SEAL too.”

He closed, “Very respectfully, Bill McRaven.”

So there you have it. We understand McRaven often responds to correspondence — particularly from kids of service members or children of the wounded and the fallen.

Wine, dine, done

We figured back when we reported that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had nodded off during President Obama’s last State of the Union address that she had simply found the speech to be snooze-worthy.

But now we get the real story behind her SOTU nap, courtesy of our colleague Robert Barnes’s excellent profile of the justice. The sleep inducement wasn’t the president’s dulcet tones or less-than-compelling words — it was wine.

And this was no swill. It was a “very good California wine” that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had brought to a dinner held before the speech. A big dinner, a big Cabernet, well, that’s enough to make anyone drift off. (And although Kennedy, then, is somewhat responsible for her doze, he also helped her make it through without keeling over. We noticed during the president’s address that he and Justice Stephen G. Breyer had wedged the somnolent Ginsburg between them to keep her upright.)

Who knew Supreme Court justices pre-gamed the State of the Union?

Speaking same language

President Obama, citing the government shutdown, decided not to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in spectacular, sunny Bali, leaving Secretary of State John F. Kerry to fill in for him — and leaving Chinese President Xi Jinping and Obama’s best buddy, Russia’s Vladimir Putin , as the top dogs in the show.

There was, our colleague Anne Gearan reported from the scene, an awkward moment at a news briefing Monday morning between Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of the 21-nation APEC gathering.

Kerry, sporting a sunburn, took a couple of questions with Lavrov, Gearan reports, then Russia’s Interfax news agency asked a question about Iran.

The question, from an attractive blond reporter, was in Russian. Lavrov, who speaks perfect English, answered partly in Russian and partly in English.

“Does she understand English?” Kerry asked.

Yeah, she does,” Lavrov replied, according to a transcript.

Okay. Gotcha,” Kerry said.

“And French,” Lavrov added after a moment.

A startled Kerry laughed along with reporters, and shot the grinning Lavrov a glance.

“What else can you tell us, Sergei?” Kerry asked to more laughter.

Best to avoid too much sun out there.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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