Thursday, July 31, 2008

Joe Postell on the Dimness of Jim Glassman

From the Heritage Foundation blog, The Foundry, an analysis of the media strategy proposed by America's Top Propagandist (and author of Dow 36,000):
But there does seem to be some confusion about how to defend our principles in the face of violent extremism. Glassman argues that “the aim of the war of ideas is not to persuade foreign populations to adopt more favorable views of America and its policies…America’s image is not at the center of the war of ideas. Our priority is not to promote our brand but to help destroy theirs.” In other words, our public diplomacy must intellectually critique violent extremism, but cannot defend our own way of life or our principles.

If our public diplomacy were to move in this direction, it would be a positive but insufficient development. There are, quite simply, two objectives to public diplomacy: to defend through rational argument the moral legitimacy of our principles, and to undermine the principles of our opponents. One cannot be achieved without the other.
Along the same lines, Kim Andrew Elliott quotes Jeffrey Asjes pointing out Glassman's intellectual incoherence:
Even James "War of Ideas" Glassman does not like the term "war of ideas." "On Friday at the New America Foundation, the Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, James Glassman, spoke about America’s strategy in the so called ‘war of ideas’. ... Glassman’s speech took on an amused tone when he mentioned that he himself disliked the name ‘war of ideas’, despite his unofficial title as its ‘commander in chief’. He insisted that the name has connotations that imply a simple, two sided ‘us vs. them’ struggle. Instead, Glassman was adamant that the objective is not to get anyone to accept our own ideologies, but rather simply to have them reject ideologies that promote unprovoked violence." Jeffrey Asjes, Partnership for a Secure America, 27 July 2008.

Robert Gates on US Defense Strategy

This document lays out how the US military sees the world. least until January 20, 2009:
"Iraq and Afghanistan remain the central fronts in the struggle, but we cannot lose sight of the implications of fighting a long-term, episodic, multi-front, and multi-dimensional conflict more complex and diverse than the Cold War confrontation with communism..."

Is Obama the Democratic Reagan?

Chuck Raasch seems to think so, and wonders if Obama should run on the same question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" IMHO, Make that eight today's USA Today column:
WASHINGTON — There are obvious differences between Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, but Obama faces the same fundamental question Reagan did in 1980: Amidst a sour economy, energy woes, an unpopular president and a crisis in the Middle East, is the new guy up for the job?

Reagan didn't answer the question until late in '80, when in two debates he stood at least equal in many Americans' minds to the unpopular Jimmy Carter. Democrats had ridiculed Reagan as an actor who had crazy economic theories and would be an unsteady finger on the nuclear button. This very week in 1980, the then-Moonbeam Gov. Jerry Brown of California said Reagan offered nothing more than "hokum and snake oil." The New York Times magazine said of Reagan: "Not only does he often oversimplify the issues, he actually seems to believe his oversimplifications."

But Reagan's "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" became the defining question of 1980, and he beat Carter in a landslide.

Poem of the Day

While in college, someone I know and I saw this poem by Philip Larkin posted on the refrigerator at the then-home of novelist Diane Johnson. I was shocked, believing that Larkin had gotten it wrong...
This be the verse

They fuck you up, your mom and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-stylen hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can
And don't have any kids yourself.
Now, several decades later, I see that Diane Johnson and Philip Larkin had it right.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Adam Garfinkle on the Dimness of Jim Glassman

Secretary of State Colin Powell's former speechwriter takes on the author of Dow 36,000 and America's new Top Propagandist to task on Harvard's MESHNet:
But his speech itself was hardly a model of effective public diplomacy, exhibiting not just one, but five cardinal sins of how not to make a serious policy speech.

First, it’s narcissistic: Glassman begins by talking not about ideas or missions or his office or the policy of the President, but about himself. This is a turn-off. Second, the speech breaks frame by calling attention to the fact that it’s a speech, not a from-the-heart statement of purpose. There’s a huge difference between saying, “I’m here today to tell you that X…” and “X…” It’s like the difference between a genuine ritual and a mere ceremony. Third, Glassman buries his lead: He doesn’t say anything interesting until he’s nearly half finished, spending too much precious fresh-attention time on kitchen-sink stuff and too little time later on explaining what’s significant about his new approach. Fourth, Glassman botches the tone: You don’t emphasize three times how serious a task public diplomacy is and then use silly Coke/Pepsi metaphors to illustrate it—metaphors that also happen to hark back to Charlotte Beers’ unapt commercial approach to the subject. There are better ways to describe a useful shift from caring about our own popularity to focusing on the U.S. role in quietly and carefully trying to influence intra-Muslim dynamics.

And fifth, Glassman makes some incautious statements. He says, for example, “Here is our desired end state: a world in which the use of violence to achieve political, religious, or social objectives is no longer considered acceptable.” You don’t need much imagination to see what Al Qaeda, Inc. can do with that one, as in (supply your own accent): “You Americans lecture Muslims about the use of violence, but you are the ones trying to jam your godless democracy, that denies the law of God himself, down the throats of Iraqis and Afghans on the points of bayonets! If you are so much against violence, then why are American tanks and bombs every day murdering Muslim women and children?” and so on and so forth. Again, there are better ways to make the point Glassman wants to make. Doing it the wrong way is known technically in the speechwriting trade as “stepping in it.”

In a course I taught for a day, one of the better students told me about this cool site for online brainstorming sessions...

Finally! A MacArthur Foundation-NEA Program I Like...

It's called RE:FRAME:
Reframe is a program of Tribeca Film Institute, and is funded by John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with additional support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The goal of Reframe is to help individual filmmakers, distributors, archives, libraries and other media owners to digitize and sell their work using the internet, and to become a one-stop location for anyone seeking these films.
The Reframe web site is in beta stage and we welcome any questions, comments, or suggestions.

The Problem
Substantial amounts of film, video and media arts remain “stuck on the shelf,” inaccessible to large segments of the public. Sometimes this is due to rights-clearance issues, but more often it is because of the high cost to convert to digital formats that would allow for broad circulation. Even media that is available for distribution can be difficult to find because it is held and catalogued in many places, and in less than ideal databases.
Reframe was conceived as a solution.

Our Partnership with Amazon
Under a unique deal with Amazon’s CreateSpace division, we are able to offer digitization at little to no cost to our partners. Once digitized, these works are made available for non-exclusive distribution through both the Amazon storefront and Reframe website at a price set by the partner. Titles may be sold via DVD-on-Demand, which forgoes the cost of large product runs and inventory storage, and Digital Download to rent or buy, which allows consumers to download films directly to a PC or to a television via TiVo.
Full disclosure--they list my film...

Obama's Prayer at the Western Wall

From Haaretz:
Obama reportedly wrote in the note: "Lord - protect my family and me. Forgive my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."
Not bad...

Eugene Robinson: Investigate Bush's Torture Policies

From today's Washington Post:
The whole thing would be laughable if it were not such a rank abomination. No government obeying the law needs a paper trail to absolve its interrogators of committing torture. Conversely, a government that produces such a paper trail has something monstrous to hide.

It is not difficult to avoid violating federal laws and international agreements that prohibit torture. Just don't torture people, period. The idea that there exists some acceptable middle ground -- a kind of "torture lite" -- is a hideous affront to this nation's honor and values. This, perhaps above all, is how George Bush should be remembered: as the president who embraced torture.

I wouldn't be surprised if, as he left office, Bush issued some sort of pardon clearing those who authorized or carried out "enhanced techniques" of interrogations from any jeopardy under U.S. law. International law is something else entirely, however, and I imagine that some of those involved in this sordid interlude might want to be careful in choosing their vacation spots. I'd avoid The Hague, for example.

Barack Obama has stood consistently against torture. John McCain, who was tortured himself as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, has denounced torture as well -- and, although he voted against restraining the CIA with the same no-exceptions policy that now applies to military interrogators, he has been forthright in saying that waterboarding is torture, and thus illegal. On Inauguration Day, whoever wins the presidency, this awful interlude will end.

A clear and urgent duty of the next president will be to investigate the Bush administration's torture policy and give Americans a full accounting of what was done in our name. It's astounding that we need some kind of truth commission in the United States of America, but we do. Only when we learn the full story of what happened will we be able to confidently promise, to ourselves and to a world that looks to this country for moral leadership: Never again.

Monday, July 28, 2008

John C. Coughenour: Try Terrorists in Ordinary American Courts

I agree with this sentiment:
I have spent 27 years on the federal bench. In particular, my experience with the trial of Ahmed Ressam, the "millennium bomber," leads me to worry about Attorney General Michael Mukasey's comments last week, urging Congress to pass legislation outlining judicial procedures for reviewing Guantanamo detainees' habeas petitions. As constituted, U.S. courts are not only an adequate venue for trying terrorism suspects but are also a tremendous asset in combating terrorism. Congress risks a grave error in creating a parallel system of terrorism courts unmoored from the constitutional values that have served our country so well for so long.

I have great sympathy for those charged with protecting our national security. That is an awesome responsibility. But this is not a choice between the existential threat of terrorism and the abstractions of a 200-year-old document. The choice is better framed as: Do we want our courts to be viewed as another tool in the "war on terrorism," or do we want them to stand as a bulwark against the corrupt ideology upon which terrorism feeds?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Remembering Jim Beckwourth

The Puryear sculpture exhibition at the National Gallery of Art discussed below displayed a large mixed-media tributed to Jim Beckwourth. I Googled him, so found out that he was a legend in his own time. Here's what Wikipedia had to say:
James Pierson Beckwourth (April 6, 1798 or 1800, Frederick County, Virginia - October 29, 1866, Denver) (a.k.a. Jim Beckworth, James P. Beckwith) was born in Virginia in 1798 to Sir Jennings Beckwith, a descendant of Irish and English nobility, and an African-American mulatto woman about whom little is known.

His life is best known from the book The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth from 1856, which was rejected by early historians of the Old West as being ridiculous campfire lore, but has been rehabilitated since as not reliable in details, but a valuable source of social history. The civil rights movement discovered Beckwourth as an early afro-american pioneer and he is subsequently named a role model in children's literature and textbooks.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama's Morning Minyan

Before flying to Berlin, Obama He davened at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, apparently at a Shaharit morning service, according to Jeff Zeleny's New York Times story. The Psalm of the day was number 122:
Psalm 122

Song of Praise and Prayer for Jerusalem

A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’
2Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5For there the thrones for judgement were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
7Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.’
8For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

From Obama's Berlin Speech--on Russia

This sounds pretty good to me...
This is the moment when every nation in Europe must have the chance to choose its own tomorrow free from the shadows of yesterday. In this century, we need a strong European Union that deepens the security and prosperity of this continent, while extending a hand abroad. In this century – in this city of all cities – we must reject the Cold War mind-set of the past, and resolve to work with Russia when we can, to stand up for our values when we must, and to seek a partnership that extends across this entire continent.
I liked a lot of the talking points, it represents a clear change from Bush's "unipolarity" as well as Clinton's "end of History." For example this:
This is the moment when we must defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it. This threat is real and we cannot shrink from our responsibility to combat it. If we could create NATO to face down the Soviet Union, we can join in a new and global partnership to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York. If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.

This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.
And I really like this elegant rhetorical point:
Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

Robert Spencer on James Glassman's Dimness

Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer doesn't seem to think the author of Dow 36,000 is any more credible when it comes to the "war of ideas":
In "Winning the War of Ideas" in the New York Sun, July 23 (thanks to Ethelred), James K. Glassman, the new under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, says many positive things. He points out that our primary task is not to make foreigners love the United States -- which has been the focus of many of our "ideological" initiatives up to now. Instead, he says that "our priority is not to promote our brand but to help destroy theirs."

Great! Does that mean that he will confront the Sharia imperative and Islamic supremacism, and try to make the millions of Muslims who implicitly accept Western values make that acceptance explicit? No. He doesn't seem to have any idea of the stealth jihad at all -- that is, he doesn't seem to have any idea that jihadists might be trying to advance their agenda by means other than violent attacks. Glassman demonstrates this lack of awareness by praising Lawrence Wright's article about how Muslims are turning away from Al-Qaeda, which I discussed in detail here. Glassman seems to have no comprehension at all of the significance of one telling phrase in the Wright article: "jihad did not have to be restricted to an armed approach."

This does not bode well for his attempts to "destroy" the enemy's ideology: if he doesn't even understand it, how can he possibly expect to destroy it? For he cannot even name that ideology (which is no surprise these days), and declares: "We also should not shrink from confidently opposing poisonous ideas — even if they are rooted in a twisted interpretation of religious doctrine." That the jihadists are proceeding according to a "twisted interpretation" of Islam, rather than according to core and mainstream principles of the religion, is of course an iron and never-to-be-questioned dogma at State, but it rests upon the word of Muslim Brotherhood-linked "experts," and ignores the copious teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah, as well as of all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, about warfare against and the subjugation of infidels.

Not an auspicious beginning for a war of ideas: Glassman only dimly understands the ideas he is fighting, and can't even call them by name.
Glassman may also only dimly understand legal restrictions prohibiting US government propagandists from trying to influence domestic public opinion by placing op-eds in US newspapers, found in the Smith-Mundt act, IMHO...

Ann Coulter on John McCain

I emailed Ann c/o one of her speaking agencies to ask her about a story that I vaguely remembered her telling me about a confrontation with Jesse Jackson on cable TV about a decade ago that seemed to prefigure the famous Obama castration threat--but I never heard back...

So in the meantime, here's her response to McCain's op-ed controversy:From
Now the Times won't even publish McCain's op-ed. I wouldn't have published it either -- I've read it twice and I still can't remember what it says -- but I also wouldn't have published McCain's seven op-eds in The New York Times since 1996.

Since McCain has gone from being a Republican "maverick" who attacks Republicans and promotes liberal causes to the Republican nominee for president, he's also gone from being one of the Times' most frequent op-ed guest columnists to being an unpublishable illiterate.

I looked up McCain's oeuvre for the Times, and if you want unpublishable, that's unpublishable. In one column, McCain assailed Republicans for their lack of commitment to the environment, noting that polls -- probably the same ones showing him to be the most "electable" Republican -- indicated that "the environment is the voters' number-one concern about continued Republican leadership of Congress."

McCain concluded with this ringing peroration: "(O)ur nation's continued prosperity hinges on our ability to solve environmental problems and sustain the natural resources on which we all depend." That's good writing -- I mean assuming you're writing hack press releases for an irrelevant environmentalist think tank.

The rest of McCain's op-eds in the Times bravely took on -- I quote -- "unnecessary regulation" and "pork-barrel spending." It's that sort of courage and clear-headedness that tells me we're going to be OK this fall.

In coming out four-square against "unnecessary regulation" and "pork-barrel spending," McCain threw down the gauntlet to those who favor "unnecessary regulation" and "pork-barrel spending." Actually, I think there's a rule that says you're not being brave if there is not a single person in the world who would publicly disagree with you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My take on Obama's trip...

So far, so good... Obama's got the support of the President of Iraq and President of Afghanistan--which neutralizes criticism on these two issues from McCain and Bush. Even if he fails to bring peace to Israel and Palestine--who hasn't? McCain looks whiny and cranky by comparison.

Speaking of which, Washington's Fox TV station showed shown both an Obama and a McCain election commercial last night.

McCain has already "gone negative." Nasty, dishonest, and pathetic, IMHO (that doesn't mean it won't work). He has the nerve to blame Obama for high gas prices. I guess George Bush had nothing to do with it? This McCain ad ranks with 1992 George HW Bush TV ad--called "America can't take that risk" which attacked Bill Clinton for being from Arkansas--in downright meanness and dishonesty. How about pumping some of that Iraqi oil? No mention of that...Anyhow, this commerical is called "Pump."

On the other hand, Obama's ad was relentlessly positive (although not too memorable). I can't find it on YouTube right now, will post it if I come across it.

Obama is running as Ronald Reagan, it looks like..."Morning in America."

Jay Reiner on Bernard Weinraub's "The Accomplices"

Now playing at LA's Fountain Theatre, Bernard Weinraub's drama about Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook). Review from the Hollywood Reporter:
Even if you’re Jewish you probably haven’t heard of Peter Bergson, a man whose service to the Jews during the Holocaust rivals that of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg.

Bergson (born Hillel Kook), a committed Zionist, came to the U.S. in 1940 to help raise a Jewish army in the struggle against Hitler. As news of the Holocaust leaked out, he changed his mission to saving the remaining Jews of Europe. This meant persuading the Roosevelt administration of the urgency of acting immediately in a number of areas, particularly in assisting refugees.

The objective proved elusive, though ultimately Bergson is credited with helping save the lives of at least 200,000 Jews. The story is fascinating because it sheds light on one of the darkest chapters in American history, and this includes the reaction of the American Jewish establishment, led by Rabbi Stephen Wise.

In “The Accomplices,” Bernard Weinraub, a former political correspondent at the New York Times, tells the provocative story in a balanced but no-holds-barred manner that lets the uncomfortable facts speak for themselves. In Bergson (Steven Schub), he also has an inherently dramatic character because the man was anything but politic in the way he conducted himself. He was abrasive, headstrong and arrogant, part of the reason the Jewish establishment tried its best to silence him and even have him deported. Not only were they showing their loyalty to FDR (James Harper), they feared Bergson would alienate the president and the American people as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Russian TV Coverage of Guantanamo Hamdan Terror Trial

From Russia Today, via YouTube:

David Wyman: Include Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook) in Yad Vashem

From Haaretz (ht the Wyman Institute):
Silberklang concludes by trying to justify Yad Vashem's exclusion of Bergson from its exhibit. Yad Vashem's museum "focuses on the main points of the history of the Holocaust," whereas, he says, the Bergson Group is part of the side story of how American Jews responded to the Holocaust. In fact, the story of the Bergson Group is an integral part of the history of the American government and public's response. Operating independently of the organized American Jewish community, Bergson mobilized large numbers of prominent non-Jews and built an ecumenical coalition that made rescue a major issue in 1943. These efforts played a critical role in pressuring Roosevelt to establish the WRB. The WRB, in turn, sent Raoul Wallenberg to Budapest, financed his life-saving work, and engaged in other rescue activities that, all told, helped save more than 200,000 lives.

That is not a side story. It is an important part of the history of the Holocaust and it deserves to be acknowledged in Yad Vashem's exhibition, which already includes a number of materials about other aspects of the U.S. response to the persecution and genocide of European Jewry.

As an American, I am deeply troubled that while Yad Vashem recognizes America's failures during the Holocaust, it does not acknowledge the accomplishments of those in America, such as the Bergson Group and the WRB, who helped bring about the rescue of so many Jews from the Holocaust.

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Really enjoyed seeing this latest Adam Sandler movie...

WSJ Shocked to Report: Corruption in Kazakhstan...

So that's where crack investigative reporter Susan Schmidt went after she left the Washington Post. Here's today's story in the Wall Street Journal:
Washington wants good relations with Mr. Nazarbayev because of his country's strategic location between Russia and China and its mineral riches, which include uranium, copper and iron ore as well as oil. But maintaining cordial ties has been difficult because of the regime's authoritarian rule and poor human-rights record. The new allegations, coming from someone recently so well connected, may make the balancing act even harder.

Mr. Aliyev asserted that Mr. Nazarbayev and his advisers routinely collect money when state industries are privatized and garner commissions from virtually anyone wanting to do large-scale business in the country. "Part of this money came from the United States, some came from other companies and countries," he said.

He said Mr. Nazarbayev has used some of his money to advance the regime's interests in Washington, using crisis-management consultants. Lobbying by foreign governments, of course, isn't necessarily illegal. But Mr. Aliyev produced what he said were consultants' extensive reports to the Nazarbayev family, telling how they had covertly enlisted think tanks and former U.S. officials to improve Mr. Nazarbayev's reputation and influence the bribery probe.

Consultants tracked Mr. Nazarbayev's critics when they were in the U.S., documents in Mr. Aliyev's possession appear to show. One is the text of an email that Mr. Aliyev said a London consulting firm called Krull Corp. (UK) Ltd. provided to the Nazarbayevs.

It described the passage of a Kazakh politician and potential Nazarbayev rival through Customs at New York's JFK airport. The email included the man's flight number, type of visa and U.S. hotel. Federal border-control agents collect such information but keep it in a restricted database.

The original shareholder of Krull UK after its founding in 1996 was Mr. Mirtchev -- the man Mr. Aliyev describes as Mr. Nazarbayev's point man -- according to U.K. records. (Krull isn't related to Kroll, the large consulting and investigative firm that is a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos.)

Mr. Aliyev also displayed what appeared to be a report analyzing the cellphone records of a Washington lobbyist for the Kazakh political opposition. Mr. Aliyev said that Mr. Mirtchev provided President Nazarbayev with this report. Mr. Nazarbayev "was very much impressed when Mr. Mirtchev brought the copies of mobile and office phone" records, Mr. Aliyev said in the interviews. U.S. law prohibits unauthorized disclosure of phone records.
I looked up Transparency International's perception of corruption rankings (they are not scientific). Afghanistan is at 172, Iraq at 178. Kazakhstan is ranked 150. Not very good, but better than some recent beneficiaries of American regime change...

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Miami Herald on Agustin Blazquez's CURACAO

Frances Robles reports:
A documentary about the three ship repairmen who fled their jobs as woefully underpaid dockworkers at a Cuban joint venture in Curacao will air next week at the Palm Beach Latin Film Festival.

The film by Agustín Blázquez aired in Miami earlier this year as part of the “Covering Cuba” series at the Tower Theater. It will show Friday July 25 and Sat. July 26 at the Cuillo Center for the Arts, 201 Clematis St., in West Palm Beach. Showtime both days is 6 p.m.

Three men sued the Curacao Dry Dock company, accusing them of slave labor. They were paid $16 a month salary and $12 daily per diem, to pay off the Cuban government dock company’s debt. Read more about the case in today's paper.

Is Bush's Central Asia Policy for Sale?

Josh Foust of called our attention to this story in the Times of London about an alleged scheme to pay for access to top Bush administration officials, on behalf of toppled Kyrgyz president Askar Akayev--in exchange for donations to the Bush Presidential Library:
Stephen Payne, who claims to have raised more than $1m for the president’s Republican party in recent years, said he would arrange meetings with Dick Cheney, the vice-president, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, and other senior officials in return for a payment of $250,000 (£126,000) towards the library in Texas.

Payne, who has accompanied Bush and Cheney on several foreign trips, also said he would try to secure a meeting with the president himself.

The revelation confirms long-held suspicions that favours are being offered in return for donations to the libraries which outgoing presidents set up to house their archives and safeguard their political legacies.

Unlike campaign donations, there is no requirement to disclose the donors to the libraries, no limit on the amount that can be pledged and no restrictions on foreigners contributing.

During an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, Payne was asked to arrange meetings in Washington for an exiled former central Asian president. He outlined the cost of facilitating such access.

“The exact budget I will come up with, but it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush library,” said Payne, who sits on the US homeland security advisory council.

He said initially that the “family” of the Asian politician should make the donation. He later added that if all the money was paid to him he would make the payment to the Bush library. Publicly, it would appear to have been made in the politician’s name “unless he wants to be anonymous for some reason”.

Payne said the balance of the $750,000 would go to his own lobbying company, Worldwide Strategic Partners (WSP).
Video here from YouTube:

James Warner on John McCain

From the Herald-Mail:
McCain's bravery, as seen by one man imprisoned with him

"Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." That was retired Gen. Wesley Clark's condescending assessment of John McCain's military service. Clark's words have great weight because he was speaking as a key political/military advisor to Barack Obama.

If Gen. Clark had been talking about me, his remarks might be true. After all, I rode in a fighter plane and got shot down over North Vietnam. In no way do Clark's words apply to McCain. I know, because I was a firsthand witness to his singular leadership and courage. In the years I spent as a POW in North Vietnam, I saw McCain inspire and lead under trying circumstances that Gen. Clark has not the imagination to understand.

As for the role of a president, I was fortunate enough to serve as a domestic policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Seeing him in action, and seeing John McCain in action, I know they are equals in character, ability and political courage.
I met John McCain in a POW camp in Vietnam. He told me his father and grandfather read history every evening. Since our release, I have done the same. From my study of history I know what we need in a leader.

Great leaders have an undefinable quality: Call it charisma. Young Winston Churchill once wrote to his mother, "We are all worms, but I am a glowworm." And so it proved. John McCain, too, is a "glowworm." You cannot help but notice him.
Gen. George C. Marshall, Army chief of staff during World War II, said, "The first thing a leader needs is courage." Churchill had courage. As a cavalry officer in the British army, Churchill left garrison duty to go where the action was. During his army career he was several times under hostile fire and conducted two daring and famous rescues. The second rescue came when he was a war correspondent covering the Boer War in 1899. It led to his capture as a prisoner of war. He escaped and after several adventures reached safety in Portuguese Mozambique. The story made him a world-wide hero and helped get him elected to Parliament.

When he became Prime Minister in World War II, all looked bleak. After the surrender of France there were some who thought that Britain could not carry on alone and should negotiate a peace with Hitler. But Churchill would not quit. He fought on until, as he said, "In God's good time, the new world comes to the rescue of the old."

McCain, like Churchill, has courage. McCain, like Churchill, stood strong when all looked bleak. My friend, Col. Jack Van Loan, was in a cell from which he could see several senior Communist officers, along with an interpreter and men with a stretcher, enter McCain's cell. He knew that John was immobilized by his wounds. He heard them offer McCain early release and heard John answer that he would go home when we all go home.

He heard the voices of the officers rising until they were shouting angrily at McCain and threatening him. This was followed by a stream of obscenities from McCain and the rapid exit of the senior officers. John told them never again to try to get him to accept early release. He was defiant at a time that he was physically helpless, unable even to crawl on his own.

In the spring of 1971, I personally witnessed John McCain's courage. After the attempted rescue of POWs at the camp at Son Tay, in November of 1970, almost all Americans were moved to Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." The communists felt so threatened by the raid that, for the first time, they concentrated us in large cells, with as many as 60 men to a cell.

One of the first things we did was to institute regular religious services in our cells. On Jan. 1, 1971, we were told that all religious activity was forbidden. This led to a long series of increasingly hostile confrontations that someone has labeled "the Church Riots." I was in a cell next to McCain's. In early March, the four senior men in his cell were removed and for some time we lost contact with them. Then the four senior men in my cell were removed, and we lost contact with them, also. The confrontations rapidly escalated. On the evening of March 18 there was a confrontation that almost descended to guards shooting mutinous POWs. The communists were now afraid of losing control.

My recollection is that John McCain was now the senior man in his cell. In any case, I know that he was deeply involved with what followed. The senior men in our two cells kept us under tight control, but carefully staged demonstrations of our anger over the religious ban and the removal of our cell mates. On March 19, St. Joseph's Day, the day after the dangerous confrontation, I remember the men in McCain's room singing, at the top of their lungs, first "the Battle Hymn of the Republic," then "Onward Christian Soldiers." This was not merely courage, but exquisite leadership to get men to show open defiance when it was clear that there would be retaliation. The only question was in what form and how harsh that retaliation would be. Remember that all of these men had been tortured and knew to what lengths the enemy was willing to go to maintain control.

Courage alone, however, is not sufficient. A great leader also needs greatness of spirit. Again, I turn to Churchill, who never held a grudge and was prepared to be gracious and magnanimous toward a defeated foe. When McCain led church services, he prayed for the enemy who had tortured him. I have observed Ronald Reagan in the White House and I have observed McCain in the Hanoi Hilton. I have seen that McCain, like Churchill, like Reagan, has courage, prudence, and magnanimity. That is why he is qualified to be president, even if he hadn't ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.

James H. Warner is a retired attorney. He was a policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan from 1985 until 1989. He was a Marine officer in Vietnam and was held as a POW, in North Vietnam, for five and a half years.

WALL-E and Me

What can I say, I watched this a week ago with someone I know and haven't stopped thinking about it...It's great! On one level, it's a satire of the Bush administration. On another a religious parable ("Eve" behaves quite a bit like Kali, Indian goddess of creation and destruction; the garbage dump WALL-E inhabits resembles the Old Testament's Gehenna; the Axiom space station/cruise ship is someone's idea of heaven or Disneyworld Orlando); the parable is one of redemption and second chances--the "directive" appears to be: "Choose Life!"

Lots of in-jokes remind one of The Twilight Zone, Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz, Alien (Sigourney Weaver provides one of the voices), et al. And don't forget the Disney legacy--anyone out there remember Victory Through Air Power? Hello, Dolly! is just the tip of the iceberg.

Way to go, Pixar!

Here's a trailer from YouTube:

Here's a different YouTube promo:

Jacqueline Trescott on US Postal Service's New Issue: Black Film History Stamps

From yesterday's Washington Post:
The earliest poster is of "Sport," the story of a woman who moves to that naughty New York after her husband goes to prison for a crime he didn't commit. The stars were Edward R. Abrams and Elizabeth Boyer. The silent movie was based on a novel by poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and was made by the Reol Motion Picture Corp., a white-owned company.

"Sport" was only one of hundreds of films made about black subjects in the early years of cinema. The films were entertainment but also had a purpose. "Between 1912 and 1929, these movies were made exclusively by independents, some black and some white. They offered sharply different portrayals of blacks than you would find in Hollywood films of the time. They were lawyers, cowboys. If there were African American characters in the Hollywood films, they were secondary and servile," says Gerald R. Butters Jr., dean of general education at Aurora University in Illinois, who has written on film history.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Martin Puryear at the National Gallery of Art

After seeing treasures from the Bactrian Horde and other artworks on tour from Afghanistan at the National Gallery of Art, someone I know and I took a look at the Martin Puryear retrospective on display in the main building of the National Gallery of Art (highly recommended by my sculpture teacher, Nick Xhikhu). First exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2007, the show presents an interesting collection of wooden sculptures--some massive, some small--reminding views of redemption, second chances, aspiration, uplift, negritude, and endurance. If you are in DC this summer, it is well worth a visit. (However, I wish the museum director had not moved all the European art into the basement. IMHO, one can enjoy both European art and Martin Puryear at the same time.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

How Many Flags Does Al Gore Need?

I've become a fan of photographer Bruce Guthrie's Washington, DC digital photo library,, since meeting him the other day at the National Press Club. When he mentioned that he was at Al Gore's rally, I took a look at his pictures--and found this one. Personally, I wish all politicians would stop using the US Flag as decoration, it seems disrespectful. Instead, have one flag on stage, and put up bunting like in old Hollywood movies to show your patriotism.

For the record, I counted seven flags behind Al Gore in this picture...although there may be an eighth one, partially obscured. IMHO, It looks worse than a Bush event...

ETS Fails British Test

Last year, for some inexplicable reason (maybe graft?), the British government "contracted out" educational testing to an American NGO, the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Now, in the first test of Britain's new Sats (sic) exam system--ETS has failed, according to reports from the BBC, which indicate a major scandal on the way:
Hundreds of thousands of secondary school pupils in England are set to finish the school year without receiving their Sats results.

The latest figures for the delayed tests taken by 14-year-olds show that 29% of English results, due by 8 July, are still not ready for publication.

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove is calling for an interim report next week from inquiry head Lord Sutherland.
Head teachers have warned of record levels of appeals over marking.

This year's Sats test results for primary and secondary pupils have become embroiled in missed deadlines, lost papers and allegations over the quality of marking.

The reports of delays with the secondary results has prompted the Conservatives to call for an immediate report from the independent inquiry, claiming that "confidence in the government's handling of our exam system is collapsing".

More in the Telegraph (UK):
Yesterday Mick Brookes, the General Secretary of the Association of Head Teachers, said: "I have had a steady flow of emails from colleagues reporting problems. One person is saying that half of his English Sats are marked wrongly, mostly in the adding up of the scores. Scores are being calculated incorrectly.

"I have also heard from a head in Cornwall, who says that his papers are at a school in Kent, because ETS has not managed to pick them up."
My suggestion to Prime Minister Gordon Brown: Cancel the ETS contract, and return to the traditional British system of examinations...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Move Over, C-Span...

Or at least BookTV. Google has a series of YouTube videos featuring authors who spoke at Google HQ--they call itAuthors@Google. They also have PolicyTalks@Google. Finally, there's Candidates@Google:Remember, Brian Lamb, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

New US Holocaust Museum Display Features Bergson Group

For some reason, I didn't see anything about this in the Washington Post today--but Etgar Lefkovits' story made the Jerusalem Post:
The exhibition was unveiled less than a month after Yad Vashem rebuffed a petition signed by 100 Israeli political and cultural leaders from across the political spectrum to include an exhibit about the group in Israel's Holocaust Museum as well.

The new exhibit, which is located in a section of the museum devoted to rescue, is in a display titled "American Rescue Efforts: The War Refugee Board" near another display about the famous Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

The new display states that US congressmen and Jewish organizations began openly criticizing the State Department for its inaction, and that the Bergson Group, which was known as the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, organized a campaign for the creation of a US government rescue agency to help save the Jews of Europe.

The exhibit then offers a brief summary of the work of the War Refugee Board and states how it helped save lives.

"This was a totally neglected issue which was not on their agenda," said Rabbi Benyamin Kamenetzky, 85, founder and longtime head of the South Shore Yeshiva in Long Island and one of the few surviving participants of a historic march by 400 Orthodox rabbis in Washington that the group organized during the Holocaust to protest the US government's inaction to save the Jews of Europe.

"It took a lot of effort and influence to have it exhibited," he said. The new exhibit was also welcomed by the prominent American Holocaust Institute, which had lobbied the US Holocaust Museum, and more recently Yad Vashem, to include an exhibition about the Bergson Group in their museums.

"The US Holocaust Museum has officially recognized that the Bergson Group's rallies, newspaper ads, and congressional lobbying played a significant role in the process leading to the creation of the War Refugee Board," said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. "We urge other Holocaust museums and institutions around the world to take note of the US Holocaust Museum's important step and likewise update their own exhibits."
Didn't see anything about this on the US Holocaust Museum website, either...

Bruce Guthrie's Washington Photo Album

At a National Press Club Book & Author talk by Al Felzenberg to promote The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, I ran into photographer Bruce Guthrie, who took this picture. As a personal hobby, he maintains an online digital photo library with thousands of pictures of Washington, DC events and celebrities. "I've never taken a dime for a photograph," Guthrie told me. IMHO, Guthrie's pictures are as good, or better, than those taken by professionals...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I've been wrong before, but scuttlebutt around DC was that former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson endorsed Obama--and "betrayed" the Clintons--in exchange for serious consideration as Vice Presidential running-mate. Calculation: He should secure the Hispanic vote safely in the (D) column; he has legislative experience as a congressman; executive experience as a governor and cabinet officer (Secretary of Energy); and international experience as UN ambassador during the Clinton Administration. Oh, and he's run for President, too...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Bastille Day!

From RTE (Irish Television):
The Taoiseach is in Paris today attending Bastille Day celebrations at the invitation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

All EU leaders are attending the event to mark the French presidency of the EU.

The event commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison and the start of the French revolution of 1789.

The Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées are decorated with French and European flags.

Despite some opposition to the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland on the grounds of the EU's developing military capabilities, the Taoiseach said it was entirely appropriate that he attend today's parade, which is the national day celebration of a close neighbour.

Mr Cowen also pointed out that Irish and French troops are serving together on an EU mission in Chad, and that Ireland remains fully engaged in the EU's security and defence policy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the guest of honour at the festivities with two units of UN blue helmets leading off the march.
Visitors can see a key to the Bastille at Mt. Vernon, presented to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Anne Radice is Back...

Imagine my surprise on reading an interview with Anne Radice in the Wall Street Journal the other morning, to learn that she has been the head of the federal government's Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) since 2005. I interviewed her a decade ago, while she was receiving telephone threats and being run out of town on a rail for turning down a couple of grants at the National Endowment for the Arts--and for talking to critics of the agency, such as yours truly. I had no idea she even lived in Washington, which for a low-profile bureaucrat, is a sure sign that she has been doing a good job...

A belated welcome back to Washington, Anne.

Michigan Hezbollah Supporter Pleads Guilty to Death Threats Against Jewish Blogger

Michigan blogger Debbie Schlussel is worried that her tormentor may get off lightly, following a plea bargain over death threats:
Oh, and don't look for this to get the coverage in the mainstream media that federal indictments of two men--who sent more benign e-mails to an extremist Hezbo Muslim Imam--got. The feds charged those men were charged with felonies, and it was all over Detroit and national mainstream media.

A note about the plea agreement: Not that it would justify a thing, but Mohamad Fouad Abdallah never wrote in his death and rape threat e-mails why he was sending them or that they were in reference to a specific post I wrote. The plea agreement claims it was something I wrote about "two Arab men," but clearly, he was responding to what I wrote about the Hezbollah supporters and agents here in the greater Detroitistan area.

Mr. Abdallah stands to serve a year in prison and pay a $30,000 fine (the maximum is $100,000). I need your help in getting this Hezbollah sympathizer and death/rape threat purveyor sentenced to that year. Even though it is the minimum sentence, according to federal sentencing guidelines, you never know what judges will do.


This case is before Federal Judge Marianne O. Battani, one of the brightest minds not only on the federal bench for the Eastern District of Michigan, but among jurists nationally. A Clinton appointee, she is a no-nonsense judge. I hope you will write her--it has to be via snail mail--and ask her to sentence Mohamad Fouad Abdallah to the year in federal prison that he deserves. Write her, referencing United States of America v. Mohamad Fouad Abdallah, Case Number 2:08-cr-20223 (and please copy me) at:

The Honorable Marianne O. Battani
United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Michigan
Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse
231 W. Lafayette Blvd, Room 277
Detroit, MI 48226

Mohamad Fouad Abdallah is the third of four Muslims who've sent death, rape, and torture threats to me, who has been prosecuted. Robert Mustaq John pleaded guilty, last summer (and was sentenced to several months in prison) and Wasil Burki was indicted (he is in Pakistan). Only Lola Elzein-Merhi (a Shi'ite Lebanese woman in Dearbornistan Heights)--who admitted to FBI Special Agent Mike Glennon--that she sent me these six scary death, rape, and torture threats remains to face the music.

Thankfully, I had two very good FBI agents--Mike Glennon and Mike Fitzgerald--pursuing these cases. I was lucky.

Gerald Steinberg: Israel Needs Defense Against NGOs...

Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Gerald Steinberg calls upon Israel's Foreign Ministry to recognize anti-Israel NGOs such as Human Rights Watch are part of an international campaign to demonize the Jewish State:
For many years, the rhetoric of human rights has been one of the most effective weapons used against Israel. The strategy is simple - Israel is attacked, responds, and is instantly condemned for "war crimes," "apartheid" and "collective punishment." As a result, one would have thought that the Israeli government would have long ago launched a counter-offensive to expose and defeat such campaigns, led by powerful non-governmental organizations and amplified in the UN and the press.

But despite repeated defeats on this propaganda battlefield, the government, and the Foreign Ministry in particular, have failed to understand the danger or invest significantly in effective responses. For many years, the Foreign Ministry declared: "We only deal with governments, and not with non-government organizations (NGOs)." This may have been logical, but in practice, it meant that the intense bombardment from powerful organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and local NGOs such as B'Tselem, Adalah, Machsom Watch, and many more went unanswered. The officials of these groups used their resources to set the media agenda, invent (or distort) the terms of international law, falsify facts, and violate the universality of human rights....

...Now, as the UN and the anti-Israel NGO network prepare for the Durban Review Conference to be held in Geneva in April 2009, the Foreign Ministry has left the minimalist NGO desk empty. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has denounced the anti-Semitism of the UN's Durban process, and announced that Israel will not participate if this continues. But the Israeli diplomatic corps was surprised when the Preparatory Committee for this review conference accredited the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign. European members of the committee simply waved them through, and no Israeli official was aware of the process.

The damage from this black hole in the Israeli diplomatic universe goes far beyond the Durban process. Some of the NGOs promoting the demonization campaigns get more then half their annual budgets from European governments, under the misleading headlines of "partnerships for peace" or projects claiming to promote democracy and Palestinian development. Additional funds come from the Ford Foundation and from often well-intentioned Jewish donors to the New Israeli Fund based in the US, Britain and Canada. In every discussion with the ambassadors, heads of state and foreign ministers, as well as NIF members, Israeli officials should make the case for a halt in this funding of demonization.

Officials from the United States government, while generally less prone to repeat the mantras of human rights rhetoric and the false factual claims directed against Israel, are not immune. As NGO Monitor's detailed analysis show, the State Department's annual human rights reports often copy NGO claims without bothering to check their accuracy or the underlying bias. And recently, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice condemned Israel for barring candidates for a Fulbright fellowship from traveling from Gaza to Jerusalem for interviews. (Rice failed to mention the [Palestinian] attack on the Fulbright convoy that killed three Americans 2003, after which video interviews were initiated.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Senator Fulbright & Senator Helms, Together At Last...

Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed. MountainRunner points out that the two politically opposed former Chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on at least one thing--elimination of US propaganda by USIA (now run by the Broadcasting Board of Governors):
It should be noted that Senator Helms succeeded where the equally, if not more, legendary Senator Fulbright (D-AR, and as I just learned a fraternity brother of this blogger) failed. The 1972 Amendment to Smith-Mundt was, in fact, the best Senator Fulbright could do in his attempt to abolish USIA. According to Nick Cull, he demanded that Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty “should be given an opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” But they escaped with the creation of the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor to the Broadcasting Board of Governors. According to contemporary news accounts, votes he brought to the floor as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee were losing and losing not on merit but on personality. He had lost support, an especially bad situation for a Chairman. The New York Times would remark on the “eclipse of Senator Fulbright and the weakening of the Foreign Relations Committee” and wonder if the Senator would support the pending Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty when he couldn’t count on the support of the Administration or of his own committee. Soon after he remarked that he would not even bring something up for a vote because he knew it wouldn’t pass.

While he lost the battle and his next election, he won the war against USIA as he adjusted perceptions of USIA and Smith-Mundt, the Act he never fully supported. His conflict with USIA was openly reported in the papers and explored by Nick Cull in his forthcoming book on the history of USIA, as well as by Stacey Cone in her 2005 “Pulling the Plug on America's Propaganda: Sen. J.W. Fulbright's Leadership of the Antipropaganda Movement, 1943-74” in the journal Journalism History.

It’s also noteworthy, for the detail oriented reader, that the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy has no authority by law over the Fulbright scholarship board. (Nor does it have any authority on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, but that’s another story and one that is conceptually foreign to modern Americans.)
Interestingly, I met both Senator Fulbright and Senator Helms, and was impressed by both of them--charming and intelligent. And I agree with them (of course, I'm biased, since I received a Fulbright myself...).

Google's Twitter Election Map

Learned about this at the Press Club yesterday, too...

Five Killed in Mongolian Democracy Riots

Registan's Josh Foust comments on news reports from Ulan Bator:
Mongolia saw some violence after a group of apparently drunk activists disputed the election and ransacked the headquarters of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party and an adjacent art gallery. In response, the government banned alcohol sales as Prime Minister Sanjaagiin Bayar urged calm.

The election almost certainly wasn’t fraudulent, at least according to international observers, who reported no irregularities. Rather, most analysts seem to be chalking this up to simmering tensions over corruption, economic stagnation, and disputes over mining rights. Curiously, one of the instigators of the violence was Democratic Union leader Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the former Prime Minister, and one-time bosom-buddy of democracy-loving George W. Bush for his decision to send troops to Iraq in 2005.

This isn’t the first time the MPRP has run into electoral protests at the hands of the DU: in 2006, when the MPRP swept back into power and displaced Elbegdorj, Ulan Bator also saw a massive wave of protests. Sore losers, or legitimate victims of electioneering? In all likelihood, it is probably a mixture of both.

A beautiful gallery of the riot’s aftermath, including the incongruous image of Mongolians recording the damage on their cellphones, is available the New York Times’ website.
New York Times story here. Amy Chua wrote about this sort of thing in her book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability

Ann Althouse on Today's New York Times Art Review

From Ann Althouse's blog:
Apparently, the NYT has not heard of some of the less-frequently-invoked American freedoms: the freedom to ignore propaganda, the freedom to avert your eyes from artists who scream for attention, the freedom to shop without genuflecting at sanctimonious criticism of your country, and the freedom to loathe hideous art. (emphasis Althouse)

Now, the journalist who wrote this piece, Damien Cave, did spend "18 months on and off" reporting from Iraq, and he is "stunned by the war’s lack of impact on people’s lives or thoughts." I'm not sure why his personal experience belongs in this article. He seems to be offering it as a basis of authority for his promotion of this exhibit which aims to goad Floridian shoppers to agonize about the war. I'd say it reveals that Cave's field of expertise is not art.

The most powerful efforts tackle the tension between the American democratic ideal and its practice. The Map Office, a design studio in New York, produced three unequivocal images. One poster shows democracy as a green goo spread across a pristine landscape; another reads, “kiss the fist of democracy.” A third says, “Democracy is the Helvetica of Politics,” reflecting its ubiquity, openness and adulteration, the artists said.

The most powerful efforts? Look at the slide show at the link. These are the most embarrassingly unsophisticated pictures in the bunch.

A paradox is embedded in this round of cynicism and self-doubt...

Why, then, are we so depressed?...

In many cases the results feel more like heartbreak than like anger...

Democracy often seems to grow uglier with age.

But amid the happy, escapist shoppers at the Aventura mall, these thoughts felt as out of place as Rockwell’s proud posters. The sprawling darkness of Mr. Kuitca’s remake of “Freedom of Fear,” with the original tucked in the corner, seemed far more apt.

You've got to be kidding me. This is the New York Times, not the student newspaper at Florida International University?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Just learned about, which compares traffic on websites, at a seminar today held at the National Press Club library, from audience member Josh Kaufman, at an event hosted by librarian Beth Shankle. You can enter any URL, and compare it to two others...

Also learned about, which as the man sitting next to me explained, is made for "pack journalism." And EC2 (and here at Amazon) cloud computing, used to put together sites like the New York Times archives' TimesMachine.

You can find links to all the sites we learned about at the Press Club's site.

Rebuild the World Trade Center!

Writing in City Journal, Nicole Gelinas argues for a change of plan in NYC for a memorial to 9/11. Instead of a new building and lugubrious visitor attractions-- rebuild the Twin Towers according to the proposed Twin Towers II plan, advocated by WTC 2011 (ht LGF):
On 9/11, al-Qaida murdered 2,974 people and destroyed two iconic office towers that dominated New York’s skyline, another lone office tower nearby, and some smaller support buildings. We can’t recover stolen lives. But what would it take to make New York physically whole again, while paying tribute to 9/11’s history and victims? One obvious answer is to build two iconic office towers that dominate New York’s skyline once again, surrounded by some smaller buildings. Notice that the one project that has achieved completion after 9/11—Silverstein’s Seven World Trade Center, the lone office tower near the main site—did so partly because Silverstein realized that al-Qaida’s attack wasn’t a mandate to reinvent the obvious. He simply built a more elegant tower to succeed what al-Qaida had destroyed, modernized for the twenty-first century in terms of safety and aesthetics and placed in a superior setting.

New York could take a similar approach with the rest of the site. New twin towers wouldn’t be the old ones; nobody can pretend that 9/11 never happened. They’d offer modern, sleek designs, as Seven World Trade Center does, and they’d be built to private-sector specifications. They’d need twenty-first-century, post-9/11 safety upgrades. The site would also need an appropriate memorial and well-designed public spaces.

It may not be too late to take this commonsense approach to rebuilding, which was never the puzzle the world’s great architects have made it out to be. For a truly breathtaking example of what New York could achieve at Ground Zero, take a look at what the late Herb Belton, an architect who worked on the original twin towers, and structural engineer Ken Gardner have proposed. Gardner, working first with Belton and then on his own since Belton died in 2005, has come up with twin towers that do far more than recreate the originals. “Using the original blueprints, [we’ve] re-engineered the design to recapture the Towers’ greatness, while diligently addressing their flaws,” Gardner says. “As a result, the design incorporates robust security, construction economy, and the greenest technology. The retail space is inviting, the commercial space is exceptional, and the outdoor spaces are a pedestrian-friendly oasis.” Gardner, always flexible, surely wouldn’t mind tweaks to his proposed towers so that they pay homage to the old ones without coming too close to replicating them. He also proposes that state officials allow residential condos in one of the new towers, as in the successful Time Warner Center, another set of twin towers uptown.
Rebuilding what your enemies destroy is War Propaganda 101--it's what the British did after the Nazis flattened the Houses of Parliament...and the Pentagon did after 9/11. The dithering and unseemly fighting over the money surrounding the World Trade Center project sends a very bad signal of weakness and disarray to America's adversaries. The empty lot is a victory for Terrorists. Putting something else there would be a victory for Al Qaeda ("Look Mom, we blew it up."). It signals fear...

IMHO, Rebuilding the Twin Towers is the way to show Osama Bin Laden: "Yes We Can!"

Monday, July 07, 2008

Are Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Executives Breaking US Law?

(Jeffrey Gedmin) (Daniel Kimmage)

I think they are...

The law in question is the domestic dissemination prohibition of the Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (Public Law 402), the Smith-Mundt Act. It bans the broacaster from spreading propaganda aimed at US citizens. However, in the last few weeks, op-eds by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty executives, clearly designed to propagandize American readers, have appeared in both the Washington Post--RFE/RL chief Jeffrey Gedmin's column headlined "Reporting Among Gangsters"--and the New York Times--Daniel Kimmage's op-ed "Fight Terror With YouTube" (no, not an Onion parody).

It's not that the articles are misguided, dishonest, and misleading--it is that their publication violates both the spirit and the letter of the Smith-Mundt Act. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty should not be propagandizing readers of the Washington Post and New York Times.
Except as provided in section 1461 of this title and this section, no funds authorized to be appropriated to the United States Information Agency shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States....

Bukharian Jews Have Made It in NYC

Recent immigrants from Uzbekistan have done so well in New York City that they are building mansions big enough to annoy their neighbors, who complained to the New York Times:
Nowhere has their love of big homes been on more opulent display than in a section of Forest Hills known as Cord Meyer, an upper middle class neighborhood long cherished by its residents for its tranquillity and architectural charm.

There, Bukharians have been tearing down the neighborhood’s sedate Tudor, Georgian and Cape Cod-style homes, paving over lawns and erecting white-brick edifices that borrow from old Europe, with sweeping balustrades, stone lions bracketing regal double doorways, chateau-style dormers and pitched roofs, Romanesque and Greek columns and ornate wrought-iron balconies accented with gold leaf that glints in the sun.

But while the Bukharians’ arrival has been a boon for the area’s residential construction industry, it has been a bane for some neighbors. These residents have complained about the Bukharian tendency to build boldly and big, saying that the new houses are destroying their neighborhoods.

“There is a lot of history in the Cord Meyer area and a lot of historical houses that have a specific aesthetic character in that community,” said Melinda R. Katz, a city councilwoman whose district includes Forest Hills. “A lot of the houses that are going up there are just simply too big relative to the other houses that are there and have been there for generations. They are out of character.”

The Bukharians contend that they are being misunderstood.

Cliff Burtt, Australian Sculptor

I have been attending life drawing sessions recently, and watched one of the regulars do some marvellous small mixed-media panel paintings with incredible dexterity and speed. He introduced himself, gave me some tips to improve my drawings, and over lunch told me about studying sculpture in Italy. He mentioned he had some big works on display in Australia. So I googled Cliff Burtt, and found out that he is indeed a well-known Australian sculptor well as a good teacher.

David Ehrenstein & Rush Limbaugh, Together At Last...

Two journalists from different stages in my life turned up connected to each other in Zev Chafets' New York Times Magazine cover story yesterday:
So far Limbaugh’s tactic has been to frame his attacks on Obama in the words of liberals themselves. Among the musical parodies, which he writes with the comedian Paul Shanklin, in his arsenal is “Barack the Magic Negro,” sung to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” by a dead-on Al Sharpton impersonator. The song was met by indignation when he first played it in March — until Limbaugh revealed that the title and the idea of Obama as a redemptive black man à la Sidney Poitier — came from an op-ed piece written by a black commentator, David Ehrenstein, in The Los Angeles Times.
Interestingly, Chafets wrote that Rush is both a Francophile and an admirer of Christopher Hitchens (see below)...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Christopher Hitchens: Waterboarding is Torture

Outspoken supporter of the Iraq war Christopher Hitchens makes clear his opposition to waterboarding in Vanity Fair, after personally experiencing it. He concluded: "I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: 'If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.' Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture:"
You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of "drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.
Maybe congressional committees looking into this issue might offer to "waterboard" pro-administration witnesses who claim "waterboarding" is not torture--if they decline, Congress might ask them, on the public record, why they are not willing to go through what Christopher Hitchens endured...

William Deresiewicz: Why Ivy-Leaguers Are Such Dopes

Noting that George W. Bush graduated from Yale (and John Kerry from Harvard), William Deresiewicz--formerly of the Yale English faculty--explains in the American Scholar why Ivy League colleges produce lousy leaders for America, why, in his words, "The disadvantage of an elite education is that it’s given us the elite we have, and the elite we’re going to have:"
The political implications don’t stop there. An elite education not only ushers you into the upper classes; it trains you for the life you will lead once you get there. I didn’t understand this until I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students’ experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously. Extensions are available for the asking; threats to deduct credit for missed classes are rarely, if ever, carried out. In other words, students at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. My friend once got a D in a class in which she’d been running an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.

That may be an extreme example, but it is unthinkable at an elite school. Just as unthinkably, she had no one to appeal to. Students at places like Cleveland State, unlike those at places like Yale, don’t have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down. They get their education wholesale, from an indifferent bureaucracy; it’s not handed to them in individually wrapped packages by smiling clerks. There are few, if any, opportunities for the kind of contacts I saw my students get routinely—classes with visiting power brokers, dinners with foreign dignitaries. There are also few, if any, of the kind of special funds that, at places like Yale, are available in profusion: travel stipends, research fellowships, performance grants. Each year, my department at Yale awards dozens of cash prizes for everything from freshman essays to senior projects. This year, those awards came to more than $90,000—in just one department.

Students at places like Cleveland State also don’t get A-’s just for doing the work. There’s been a lot of handwringing lately over grade inflation, and it is a scandal, but the most scandalous thing about it is how uneven it’s been. Forty years ago, the average GPA at both public and private universities was about 2.6, still close to the traditional B-/C+ curve. Since then, it’s gone up everywhere, but not by anything like the same amount. The average gpa at public universities is now about 3.0, a B; at private universities it’s about 3.3, just short of a B+. And at most Ivy League schools, it’s closer to 3.4. But there are always students who don’t do the work, or who are taking a class far outside their field (for fun or to fulfill a requirement), or who aren’t up to standard to begin with (athletes, legacies). At a school like Yale, students who come to class and work hard expect nothing less than an A-. And most of the time, they get it.

In short, the way students are treated in college trains them for the social position they will occupy once they get out. At schools like Cleveland State, they’re being trained for positions somewhere in the middle of the class system, in the depths of one bureaucracy or another. They’re being conditioned for lives with few second chances, no extensions, little support, narrow opportunity—lives of subordination, supervision, and control, lives of deadlines, not guidelines. At places like Yale, of course, it’s the reverse. The elite like to think of themselves as belonging to a meritocracy, but that’s true only up to a point. Getting through the gate is very difficult, but once you’re in, there’s almost nothing you can do to get kicked out. Not the most abject academic failure, not the most heinous act of plagiarism, not even threatening a fellow student with bodily harm—I’ve heard of all three—will get you expelled. The feeling is that, by gosh, it just wouldn’t be fair—in other words, the self-protectiveness of the old-boy network, even if it now includes girls. Elite schools nurture excellence, but they also nurture what a former Yale graduate student I know calls “entitled mediocrity.” A is the mark of excellence; A- is the mark of entitled mediocrity. It’s another one of those metaphors, not so much a grade as a promise. It means, don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. You may not be all that good, but you’re good enough.

Here, too, college reflects the way things work in the adult world (unless it’s the other way around). For the elite, there’s always another extension—a bailout, a pardon, a stint in rehab—always plenty of contacts and special stipends—the country club, the conference, the year-end bonus, the dividend. If Al Gore and John Kerry represent one of the characteristic products of an elite education, George W. Bush represents another. It’s no coincidence that our current president, the apotheosis of entitled mediocrity, went to Yale. Entitled mediocrity is indeed the operating principle of his administration, but as Enron and WorldCom and the other scandals of the dot-com meltdown demonstrated, it’s also the operating principle of corporate America. The fat salaries paid to underperforming CEOs are an adult version of the A-. Anyone who remembers the injured sanctimony with which Kenneth Lay greeted the notion that he should be held accountable for his actions will understand the mentality in question—the belief that once you’re in the club, you’ve got a God-given right to stay in the club. But you don’t need to remember Ken Lay, because the whole dynamic played out again last year in the case of Scooter Libby, another Yale man...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Where's the Outrage?

About the recent death of accused cop-killer Ronnie White while in custody at Prince George's County jail (he was found strangled to death in his cell). The case is receiving surprisingly little attention in Washington, DC. The Washington Post has downplayed an obvious lynching parallel highlighted by protesters who appeared recently on TV:
Elliott's group argues White's death was a breakdown of due process for White, his family and, by extension, his alleged victim, Sgt. Robert Findley. The group argues all were denied the rights guaranteed by our justice system, among them White's right to face his accuser and defend himself.

"Because what happened here is a lynching. It was a lynching, there's no question about that," said coalition member Rodney Green. "They may as well have pulled him out, castrated him, hang him up on that pole and burned him."
Given the Bush administration record in Guantanamo and elsewhere, is it any wonder that local prison guards now seem to feel they can get away with murder?

Colbert King Compares Frederick Douglass and Barack Obama

In today's Washington Post:
Although generations apart, Douglass and Obama have common characteristics.

Both are of mixed race. Like Douglass, Obama grew up without the steadying hand of a father.

Both men sought life's fortunes far from their places of birth. And in their speeches on independence and patriotism, both cited the courage and wisdom of the men who sought total separation of the colonies from the crown.

Obama's speech, "The America We Love," lauded the men of Lexington and Concord who launched the American Revolution. Obama also agreed with Douglass on the significance of the founding documents and the idea of liberty as a God-given right worth dying for.

But while Douglass noted his estrangement from America's experiment with democracy, Obama claimed America as his own and the Fourth of July as a time to rejoice.

His remarks showed how his context for viewing America differs sharply from Douglass's.

The putative Democratic presidential nominee spoke of always taking his "deep and abiding love for this country as a given." He said patriotism starts for him as a "gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories."

Obama said that as he got older, that instinct, "that America is the greatest country on earth -- would survive my growing awareness of our nation's imperfections."

Racial strife, poverty and the political corruption revealed by Watergate, Obama said, were outweighed by the "joys of American life and culture, its vitality and its freedom."

Patriotism, he said, is "more than loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people"; it is loyalty to American ideals and their proven capacity to inspire a better world.

Perhaps the most sobering aspect of Obama's speech on the eve of the nation's birthday was his need to defend his patriotism at all.

It makes you wonder how Independence Day orators 150 years from now will look back upon this Fourth of July...

The Wall Street Journal on the Death of Jesse Helms, 86

From the Wall Street Journal editorial:
Since he had to go sometime, Jesse Helms would have liked the idea of dying on July 4. The main cause of his life was defending liberty, especially against Soviet Communism, and so we wouldn't be surprised if he held out to make it to the early hours of our national holiday before dying yesterday at age 86.

Helms was best known as the five-term North Carolina Senator who drove liberals crazy before his retirement in 2002. But his most important role in history arguably took place in 1976, when he and political ally Tom Ellis helped to resurrect Ronald Reagan's fading run for President.

In late March of that year, they pushed the Gipper to make foreign policy more of an issue, including opposition to the return of the Panama Canal, helping Reagan upset President Gerald Ford in the North Carolina primary. Reagan's own advisers had all but given up after a series of primary defeats, but Helms and Mr. Ellis rescued the campaign. The upset nearly propelled Reagan to the nomination in 1976, but, more important, it set Reagan up to be the front-runner in 1980 after Ford lost to Jimmy Carter.

As a Senator, Helms was a forceful anti-Communist, resisting Nixon's detente of the 1970s and promoting U.S. support for dissidents behind the Iron Curtain and freedom fighters in Central America. In one episode in 1985, a 22-year-old Ukrainian sailor in the Soviet merchant marine jumped ship near New Orleans and tried to defect. In a shameful moment, the Reagan Administration returned him to Soviet control days before a U.S.-Soviet summit. Helms took up Miroslav Medvid's cause, and the Ukrainian became a priest after the fall of the Soviet empire. On a visit to the Senator's office 16 years later, Father Medvid credited Helms's public agitation with saving him from KGB retribution.

As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Helms also tried to reform the United Nations and other multinational bodies, to the extent that is possible. His purpose was to hold those institutions accountable to their own professed principles, which made him unpopular with elites but served U.S. interests. In 2000, he became the first Senator to address the Security Council. His tenacity on this score is missed in today's Senate, all the more so given the blind eye to corruption at both the U.N. and World Bank.

Helms was a conservative populist, and his campaigns were not above demagoguery. He was a protectionist, reflecting the textile interests in his state. He sometimes abused the Senate's advice and consent power against Presidential nominees – a habit the left has now adopted. His critics have a point that he sometimes exploited racial tensions in the post-1960s South, but Helms himself was no racist and his famous TV spot opposing racial preferences in employment in 1990 barely ran in North Carolina.

Like the political shift across the South and West in the last decades of the 20th century, Helms's political rise was a reaction to the collapse of liberal governance. He sought to reassert traditional American values, and above all to defend U.S. freedom against Soviet tyranny. Like Reagan, he saw more clearly than liberals the moral dimension of the Cold War. Like Reagan, he was a hero of that war.
I met Senator Helms while working on the National Endowment for the Arts issue. I found him to be not only polite and intelligent, but more memorably, someone who could work with Democrats and liberals to get things done quietly, without needing to take any credit. I remember one amendment to punish the NEA that that Senator Helms persuaded Senator Robert Byrd to sponsor--it passed overwhelmingly without much fuss. When arts groups tried to get a Minneapolis reporter fired for reporting on an outrageous performance art event at the Walker Center, he came to her defense, enlisting the support of Senator Paul Wellstone. The reporter kept her job...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ann Coulter on John McCain

The irony is, the only people McCain can count on to vote for him are the very Republicans he despises -- at least those of us who can get drunk enough on Election Day to pull the lever for him. In fact, we should organize parties around the country where Republicans can get drunk so they can vote for McCain. We can pass out clothespins with his name as a reminder and slogan-festooned vomit bags. The East Coast parties can post the number of drinks necessary for the task to help the West Coast parties. For more information, go to