Thursday, January 23, 2014

January 22-23 Public Diplomacy Review

Q. Is this [the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act] an attempt to influence or propagandize US citizens?

A. No. Our journalists must abide by legally mandated broadcasting standards and principles to present accurate and objective news and information. ... To call these efforts 'propaganda' is an affront to those journalists, many of whom work in some of the roughest spots in the world, putting themselves and their loved ones at great risk."

--From: Facts About Smith-Mundt Modernization -; image from RT


New “Musical” In Response To Russia’s Propaganda Laws - "The Sochi Olympics are just two weeks away. Russia’s homosexual propaganda laws have somewhat overshadowed the excitement of the approaching Olympics and will likely continue to be a prominent part of how we remember these Olympics.

Celebrities and public figures around the world have offered their opinion on the subject. The Broadway world has put their two cents in with this hilarious video directed by John Walton West, composed by Jason Michael Snow, and featuring a slew of big Broadway names including Jeremy Jordan, Stephanie J. Block, Michael Cerveris, Laura Benanti, Stephen Schwartz, Jonathan Groff and Michael Urie." Image from


Obama Confronts German NSA Skepticism in TV Interview But Doubts Remain - Miranda Neubaeur, "President Obama directly confronted some of the significant skepticism toward U.S. surveillance among the German public in an exclusive interview with German public broadcaster ZDF following his speech Friday. Beyond emphasizing the importance of restoring a trust in German-U.S. relations and dispelling worries about surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the interview's back-and-forth also prompted Obama to spell out the necessary balance he sees between U.S. responsibilities as a country with the most advanced capabilities and inevitable innovation in the area of digital surveillance. German reaction to the interview and the speech was muted, with many German news commentators expressing concern that Obama's vision is in effect a new world order upending established concepts of privacy, rule of law and limited surveillance.

'I have to say that the initial responses to your speech in Germany have been skeptical, guarded, all the way to disappointed, even from sources who are normally very pro- American. They expected more,' journalist Claus Kleber opened in his interview. ... In a short video from ZDF, Kleber, who has previously interviewed Presidents Bush and Clinton, said Obama came across as 'younger and more chipper' than he had expected, given reports about his aging. 'But when he comes through the door, then you see a person...with a big smile, and such charisma, cheerfulness and in a good mood,' he said, though he joked that it could have been because of Michelle Obama's birthday. Noting U.S. interest in restoring German trust, such as in the context of trade treaty discussion, Kleber said that with the interview, the White House was taking out its most effective 'public diplomacy' weapon." Image from entry, with caption: Obama tells Claus Kleber, no point in having intelligence if you're restricted to reading media reports.

Soft Power and Nosey Uncle Sam - Joe Johnson, Public Diplomacy Council: "The propriety of U.S. signals intelligence gathering was hardly on the radar screen when I was active in PD [Public Diplomacy]. But now, what foreign publics and their leaders think about it matters. ... In the heat of Snowden’s first revelations last spring and summer, public diplomacy officers had no talking points beyond defensive press guidance. The issue was too hot, and might easily leak into Washington’s hyper-politicized environment. ... People's expectations about the privacy of their electronic communications are evolving, and it's time for the State Department to engage with the broader public beyond the foreign and telecoms ministries. State provides excellent resources to its field officers on promoting English study and U.S. education. It’s time for a similar array of issue briefs and talking points on this new subject."

Max, you're a bit early - "I usually agree with Max Boot, but I think he missed the boat with his recent bit at the Weekly Standard on War Weariness. The experience since 911 has just reinforced what we learned in Somalia back in the early '90s - you can occupy and offer a path to the Western concept of freedom all you want - but if the local culture does not want it - then it isn't worth the effort. ... [Comment by: Roberts150 • a day ago] I'd like to think, in a fantasy world, what things might have ended up looking like in Syria and Libya (and, daresay, Iran?) if we had more HUMINT on the ground to sort of the 'good' rebels from the bad rebels, some SPEC-OPS support to direct in air-strikes in support of the good guys, provided lots of humanitarian assistance

to our good guys to distribute to the people in their areas and markedly improve their quality of life to win over the local population, worked such aid with local allies and Europe who are far more likely to send a package of blood aid than spill any, provided public diplomacy support to 'our guys,' etc. Considering what we have to work with over there, no, 'our guys' wouldn't usher in a republic of philosopher kings dedicated to classical western liberal notions of virtue. But how much worse could they be than Assad, Al-Qaeda, the Ayatollahs, or the Libyan chaos? And 9/11 showed us that breaking nation-states no longer guaranteed security from bolts from the blue." Image from entry

Foreign political expert speaks to MPs on security - Dwijendra Rooplall, "Members of Parliament were yesterday in discussion with Professor Dr. Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith, an expert within the realm of political science and international relations, who has served extensively within the field of academia as a senior vice president, dean and professor at several universities in the US. He is currently the President of the Fort Valley State University. The professor is a native Guyanese with U.S Citizenship.

His visit was facilitated by the United States through its Ambassador to Guyana, D. Brent Hardt. The Ambassador in addressing the gathering of MPs said that the US brought Dr. Griffith as 'part of a Public Diplomacy speakers’ tour and to engage a wide range of audiences on issues of concern to our bilateral agenda." Griffith image from entry

NCIV Announces Name Change to Global Ties U.S [.]- Press Release, PRLog: The National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) announced today that it is changing its name to Global Ties U.S. The change is effective immediately. 'The new name represents many exciting and positive changes we are undertaking that build on a strong 50-year foundation of working to make international exchange programs more effective.' remarked Global Ties U.S. Board Chair Kyle Moyer. 'The new name Global Ties U.S. better speaks to the ultimate outcome we seek to achieve in building a more peaceful and prosperous world by strengthening ties between individuals and nations through international exchange programs.' Founded in 1961, Global Ties U.S. and its member organizations have served as private sector partners to the U.S. Department of State’s prestigious International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). World leaders, ranging from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Mexico’s last president Felipe Calderón, developed close ties to the United States through their experience as IVLP participants. With an impressive alumni roster of more than 350 current and former heads of state worldwide, the IVLP and members of the Global Ties network have played a role in shaping U.S. international relations for decades. 'We live in a time in history where individuals play an unprecedented role in shaping both domestic and international affairs,' remarked Global Ties U.S. President Jennifer Clinton. 'Our new name and identity will help us and our 100+ member organizations highlight the important role international exchange programs play as cost-effective public diplomacy tools that support U.S. national security, foreign policy priorities, and economic growth. For more information visit"

The Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. - W. Lewis Amselem, The DiploMad 2.0:

"[Comment by: F January 22, 2014 at 12:30 PM] ... I arrived in Africa in 1970 and found a lot of our public diplomacy programming taken over by civil rights themes. This played well in socialist Tanzania, whose president (Nyerere) had welcomed several fugitives from American justice, but I had personal reservations about how meaningful our message was to our long-term bilateral relations and ultimately decided it felt like pandering. That, of course, didn't stop us from doing it and the momentum only built, eventually culminating in the nomination of America's first Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian (Pat Derian) by Jimmah Carter. While I recognize the value to our nation of the civil rights movement, I remain convinced it is not the most meaningful message America has for Africa. It still feels like pandering." Image from DiploMad profile

Free David Satter - The Editors, National Review: "The Russian government told David Satter, an accomplished historical journalist and a National Review contributor, that he had become an 'undesirable' presence in the country, and barred him from entering. Satter was trying to return to Moscow, where he’d been living and working for Radio Free Europe, from Ukraine, where he’d been covering the protests against Kiev’s Putin-friendly government.‎ The Russian foreign ministry says Satter was refused entry because he’d overstayed a visa when in Moscow — a visa the Russians had refused to renew on time, and an infraction for which he had already paid the penalty.

In any case, the foreign ministry had approved a new visa for Satter before reneging on it and informing him that 'competent organs' had decided not to allow him back into the country. The U.S. State Department has publicly complained to its counterparts in Moscow and forced the Russians to come up with the above cover story. But real pressure should be brought to bear. Journalists such as Satter do very important work, both in drawing attention to abuses in Russia today and in revealing the darker side of the country’s history (from the Soviet era and today’s neo-Soviet one), which is precisely why Russia’s 'competent organs' would rather not be disturbed by them." Via TP on Facebook. Image from entry

U.S. Embassy in Ukraine beats Voice of America in fast news and social media popularity - "When it comes to posting news online and social media popularity, even a U.S. embassy abroad can beat the badly managed Voice of America (VOA) these days, even on breaking news with important U.S. foreign policy implications. U.S. Embassy in Kyiv was first in posting online Sunday’s White House statement on Ukraine by National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. The statement urged all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation which has become very violent.

It was not news reporting by the embassy per se since U.S. diplomatic posts are not in the news business. They are engaged in traditional diplomacy vis-a-vis foreign governments, but in this case also in public diplomacy vis-a-vis foreign publics and foreign media. This was an exercise by U.S. diplomats in public diplomacy — an attempt to get the word out quickly to the Ukrainians and to Ukrainian and international media. It worked in terms of both speed and social media outreach. U.S. Embassy in Kyiv had an advantage on speed in its online posting since it was no doubt consulted by the NSC on drafting the statement. It may have even initiated it. The fact remains that the embassy posted it online right away, in both English and Ukrainian. In this sense, it did a far better job than also U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America. The embassy also took advantage of social media better than the White House, not to mention VOA." Image from entry

BBG In The Media: Recent Media Highlights - "Throughout the world, media write about our exceptional coverage, world class journalists, and cutting edge networks. [In the entry] you will find links to articles about the BBG and its networks, as well as citations of our journalists." Via

1/19/14 Afghanistan Overview - "United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy Since 1948, the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy (ACPD) has been charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform and influence foreign publics and to increase the understanding of, and support for, these same activities. The ACPD conducts research and symposiums that provide honest assessments and informed discourse on public diplomacy efforts across government."

Soap operas and Sesame Street: examples for the Australia Network? - Ashlee Betteridge, "Aid and ‘promoting Australia’s interests’ are now intended to go hand in hand, with the integration of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Could television be an area where development and diplomacy harmonise? Broadcast media has increasingly provided a creative platform for spreading development messaging far and wide, even in low literacy contexts. And donors have been jumping on board, moving beyond purchasing advertising spots to creating their own programming. Meanwhile, the television station that we subsidise and beam across the region is copping flak for stumbling on its public diplomacy mission. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has recently criticised the Australia Network, questioning whether it is effectively promoting Australia’s interests overseas. She also critiqued it in her 2012 Devpolicy speech. While some of this criticism is due to allegations of bungled tendering under Labor (and the coverage in The Australian has the usual whiff of anti-ABC sentiment), this could be the signal that an overhaul is on the horizon. ... It’s not just shows for grown-ups that have been used to drive home development messages. USAID has supported the export of Sesame Street since 2004, creating localised versions in developing countries in the name of early childhood education, development and public diplomacy. The Sesame Workshop is the implementing partner for the project. ... As much as many of us have furrowed our brows at the AusAID-DFAT integration, perhaps it will offer a chance for some creative rethinking of policy and approaches in both the aid and diplomacy worlds to create new efficiencies, benefits and opportunities. An overhaul of the Australia Network could be one such chance."

Comment: Abbott sells G20 Summit to world leaders in Davos: When prime minister Tony Abbott delivers his speech outlining 'Australia's Vision for the G20' at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, he will have the attention of some of the world’s economic and political elite - Susan Harris Rimmer, "So why has Abbott chosen Davos for the big reveal? If the G20 is viewed as 'a big hot tub party' for world leaders, what does that make Davos? In one sense, it underlines his 'Australia is open for business' public diplomacy narrative, and it lets

him get to 33 world leaders at once, global media editors and more than 1000 business leaders." Image from entry, with caption: PM Tony Abbott is in Davos.

Tony Blair’s instincts on Iraq were right —- and Syria proves it: Unlike citizens who attempt to arrest him, the former PM grasps the perils of inaction in a post-9/11 world - Matthew d'Ancona, The errors of strategy in Iraq were manifold. For its part, the Blair government did too little to focus Bush’s eyes on post-war reconstruction, with consequences that are still grotesquely evident. The public diplomacy associated with the war also depended to an absurd extent upon weapons of mass destruction — never likely to be found in a neat pile in the desert — and too little upon the horrors of Saddam’s regime and the prospective benefits to Iraq, the region and the world of his departure.

Yet none of this was a 'war crime': it was an early, imperfect attempt to address an emerging geopolitical landscape in which rogue states, religious extremism, proliferating terrorist groups and the trade in WMD were combining in new and frightening ways. But those who see — or claim to see — Blair as a latter-day Eichmann, Goering or Bormann have a deeper psychological purpose, which is to use the word 'Iraq' as a shorthand for Western blunders . ... This narrative is as far from the truth as it is adhesive. It is psychologically so much easier to embrace this version of events than to confront the complex strategic dilemmas of the 21st century. Blair was right to encourage ... consider[ing] the plight of Syria. The so-called Geneva II talks on that country’s future open today in Montreux against the backdrop of a newly published and truly horrific report by three international lawyers logging the 'systematic torture and killing of detained persons' in Bashar Assad’s Syria, including the death of around 11,000." Image from entry, with caption: Legacy: Tony Blair is anxiously awaiting the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war

Ufone and British Council Partner to provide a scholarship programme - "Ufone, an Etisalat Group company, has partnered with British Council for a scholarship programme with prizes worth Rs.5 Million; Rs.1 million each will be given to five lucky winners.

Any student who has taken the IELTS through British Council and aims to take admission in a university is eligible for participation. ... One winner will receive Rs.1 million for each cycle and this process will repeat five times for different test dates[.] ... Syeda GulZehra, Marketing Manager – Examsat British Council, said, ‘The British Council encourages students aiming towards excellence and we put in an extra effort to help them through scholarships and other opportunities. By partnering with Ufone, which is also a youth-focused brand, we aim to provide scholarships while engaging them through their favourite platform – their phones.’ About Ufone: Ufone the leader in innovation is an Etisalat Group Company with its presence in all the major cities of Pakistan along with a comprehensive coverage across all major towns, villages and tehsil headquarters of the country. The company employs more than 3,850 people and operates with a network of more than 380 franchises and 23 company-owned customer service centers along with a distribution network of 150,000 outlets nationwide. About British Council: British Council is the UK’s international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations and is represented in 100 countries worldwide. We are a major channel for the UK’s public diplomacy in Pakistan – putting Pakistani people in touch with people in the UK.“ Image from entry

Japan ready to host Syria confidence-building talks - "Japan is ready to host confidence-building talks between members of Syria's rival camps if peace efforts launched this week bear fruit, a senior diplomat said Wednesday. ... 'We would not invite Syrian officials, but promising young leaders from both sides, so that they can understand each other, and maybe they can resolve some misunderstanding,' said Mizushima, deputy director of the Japanese foreign ministry's public diplomacy division."

Palestinian 'incitement': Israel’s usual last resort - Akiva Eldar, "European diplomats ... and ... foreign correspondents stationed in Israel ... know that when government representatives are hard-pressed to resolve the contradiction between support for a two-state solution and the wave of construction in the territories, they ... turn to propaganda.

This propaganda, or 'public diplomacy,' as it’s euphemistically called in Israel, is the weapon of the occupier who wishes to convince the public that he, not the oppressed, is the real victim." Image from entry, with caption: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu converses with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Ashdod, Jan. 16, 2013

Hasbara: A new approach to America - "Across the decades, Israel has tried many forms of public diplomacy, official, quasi and non. For the last few decades, results have been abysmal. Israel has an image problem. Also, a reality problem."

Turkish soap operas total $150 million in exports: Turkish series entered Ukraine, Pakistan, Russia and China for the first time in 2013 - "Turkish television series exports were worth more than $150 million last year, with more than 70 programs watched in over 54 countries, including South America, according to the Prime Ministry Public Diplomacy Coordination (KDK).

Exported productions include the popular series: 'Muhtesem Yuzyıl', 'Fatmagul’un Sucu Ne', 'Adını Feriha Koydum' and 'Ask-i Memnu,” and set new export records for Turkish television programs in 2013. The most watched was the finale of 'Gumus', which was seen by 84 million people across the Middle East. The export price of an episode of the more popular Turkish shows used to vary between $35 and $50 but now the price per episode has risen to between $500 and $200,000, according to figures. Turkish series entered Ukraine, Pakistan, Russia and China for the first time in 2013." Image from entry

Why Xi Is Going to Sochi: Xi’s attendance at the Sochi Olympics is meant to offer support to Russia as Moscow faces critiques over human rights - Shannon Tiezzi, "Xi Jinping is planning to attend the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia on February 7. The official announcement, made by China’s Foreign Ministry, noted that this would be the ‘first time for the Chinese President to attend such a major international sports event held by a foreign country.’ So if a Chinese president has never before attended the Olympics (except, of course, for the 2008 games in Beijing), why choose now? One theory is that China is becoming increasingly involved in the sort of public diplomacy that the Olympics represent. Huang Yaling, secretary-general of the China Sport Science Society, told Xinhua that 'President Xi’s attendance shows to the world China’s belief in promoting the development of the Olympics and China’s aspiration for a peaceful and beautiful world. 'Image-building is definitely a factor.

Still, it’s interesting that Xi would use the Winter Olympics to make this point. By their own admission, China has little interest in the winter sports that will be on display in Sochi. ... In an earlier article for The Diplomat, Mu Chunshan noted that China and Russia have been stepping up their cooperation both bilaterally and on the international stage. Xi obviously hopes to maintain this momentum, and his trip to Sochi is even more a sign of support for Russia than a sign of support for the Olympics." Image from entry

Philippines: How can the world be kept engaged after Typhoon Haiyan disappears from the news? - Stanislav Saling, PD News–CPD Blog, USC Center on Public Diplomacy: "To heal, the Philippines will need continued support from the international community in the form of funding and expertise. ... First, the government – which has the biggest stake in this – could create a specialized communications office producing high-quality multimedia content and broadcast cuts."

The African Frontier in Humanitarian and Development Work : Senem Cevik, PD News–CPD Blog, USC Center on Public Diplomacy: "Turkey has been enjoying significant recognition of its soft power in Africa through humanitarian aid and development work. However, Turkey’s African initiative is fairly new and therefore requires an effective long–term strategy. A future commitment in the region is necessary in order to sustain the soft power effect."

Home is Where the Heart Is... - "Being stationed away from Pejambon [see], my diplomat friends and I at the Office of the Special Staff for International Affairs of the President constantly look forward to the opportunity for contacts with our colleagues 'back home'. For work, we’re always in touch with Kemluers [see], but the truth is that we sometimes crave for non-substantial interactions. The chit chats, carefree bantering, and inconsequential discussions of life, both as diplomats and civil servants, which most often take place at the glorious Kantin Panas. Like any social animal, we crave the notion of being part of (to borrow ASEAN’s term) a caring and sharing community. So, the arrival of new editions of QuAs magazine is always eagerly anticipated. Over the years, Kemlu [Indonesia] has released numerous publications: journals, analyses, bulletins, and magazines. But most of these have been public diplomacy approaches, aimed at informing the general public of our foreign policy efforts and achievements.

QuAs is slightly different, focusing mainly on the challenges Kemlu faces in our strive for internal reform. As such, QuAs is very much a publication about Kemlu, by Kemluers, and for Kemluers." Image from entry, with caption: Sade and his QuAs

Asia Studies Program - kvswinifredouis: "Anki is definitely an important section of this method for learning Japanese through anime. If you have any type of concerns regarding where and exactly how to make use of khoa hoc tieng nhat, you can contact us at our website. What you need to do is watch anime in Japanese, with Japanese Subtitles Go as slowly as you needAt first you'll need to halt repeatedly at virtually every presentation. You will encounter a lot of new terms. Search them up and enter them into Anki. Anki is spread consistency application (wise flashcards that know how effectively you know what you are learning and what's the optimal period for repeating it (ranging from one minute to over annually) on the basis of the brain’s learning habits. This guide considers the introduction, use and modification of the ideal story within global politics. From the "war on terror" after the 9/11 assaults to the recent usage of 'Obamacare,' politicians have noticed the potential of stories to swing values. Laura Roselle is a visiting professor with the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. She and her coauthors also explore public diplomacy in terms of social networking and the ability of individual citizens to figure plans and steps. The book is part of a string edited by Ken Rogerson, a Duke lecturer in public areas policy."

Counter Narcotics Advisor - "CPI is a government contractor that provides the U.S. Department of State access to specialized law enforcement, corrections, security, customs/border patrol, and Rule of Law expertise for international peacekeeping missions. The Counternarcotics Advisor will aid INL by advising and mentoring the Liberian Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) in its efforts to develop into a legitimate law enforcement and counternarcotics force in Liberia.

The LDEA is charged with combating illicit drug activity within the country, and it must be effective to ensure a stable transition as UNMIL hands over security responsibility to the GOL. LDEA will require mentorship and advice to revamp the organization from the ground up. The Counternarcotics Advisor will assist the LDEA to develop the structure, processes, and administrative requirements for a credible national-level counternarcotics organization. ... Required Qualifications: ... Public information/Public diplomacy." Image from, with caption: Obama’s DEA raids a medical pot dispensary, as Obama rejects legalizing marijuana


Badge for Educators and Students: U.S. Department of State, Smithsonian Institution, and National Park Service Launch the "Diplomacy in Action" Free Webinar with Digital Badge for Educators and Students - Media Note, Office of the Spokesperson, Department of State: The U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms (DRR) will unveil a new digital learning resource, the Diplomat digital badge, in a free online conference on February 12, 2014. Conference participants will learn about diplomacy by exploring digitized objects, important places, and primary sources from the U.S. Department of State (10:00 a.m. ET), the National Park Service (1:00 p.m. ET), and the Smithsonian Institution (4:00 p.m. ET) and will engage in a live, online question and answer session with conference presenters. Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver opening and closing remarks via video at 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET respectively. The Diplomat badge was created by the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Park Service in collaboration with the American Library Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Council for Social Studies, and National Council for Literacy Education. The group is part of the Inter-Agency Initiative on Learning, formed in 2012, to bring government agencies with museum collections together with educational organizations to create tools that bring history to life digitally for teachers, students, and the public and enhance learning.

The Syria peace conference: Diplomacy still the best option: though the talks that begin Wednesday face long odds, they at least offer a chance at a solution - Editorial, A strategy of toppling Assad at all costs could have unintended consequences, including a chaotic struggle for control of the country and, potentially, the empowerment of groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

Though far from guaranteed to succeed, the search for a political solution remains the better alternative. Image from entry, with caption: Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Geneva International Airport ahead of International peace talks.

On Syria, Obama administration is leading to failure - Editorial, Washington Post: The Geneva 2 conference will fail and the atrocities will continue.

Exclusive: Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad regime - Mick Krever and Schams Elwazer, CNN: A team of internationally renowned war crimes prosecutors and forensic experts has found "direct evidence" of "systematic torture and killing" by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the lawyers on the team say in a new report.

Their report, based on thousands of photographs of dead bodies of alleged detainees killed in Syrian government custody, would stand up in an international criminal tribunal, the group says. Image from article

An Obama Foreign Policy IQ Test: Should the U.S. keep 10,000 or zero troops in Afghanistan? - Review and Outlook, Wall Street Journal: America has kept far more than 10,000 troops in Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea for decades. No one considers them "another Vietnam." An open-ended military presence signals a commitment that will reassure Afghans, send a message of resolve to the Taliban, and avoid a terrorist comeback that wastes 12 years of sacrifice.

U.S. taxpayers pour billions of dollars down the drain in Afghanistan: Problems highlight withdrawal pains for mission - Phillip Swarts, Washington Times: Since the beginning of combat operations in 2002, the U.S. has spent close to $100 billion on aid to help rebuild the war-torn nation. But funding has long been plagued by shoddy construction, corruption and poor oversight of contractors. The situation is expected to get worse. As U.S. personnel withdraw from the country, fewer people will oversee the problems and fix the existing issues, raising the specter that taxpayers could pay billions of dollars for half-finished buildings that sit unused and don’t benefit the Afghanistan people.

Fighting Extremism on a Broader Level - Room for Debate, New York Times: The peace conference on Syria is off to a rocky start. Compounding the crisis is the growing presence of ISIS, a Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria that has gained momentum in Iraq. Meanwhile violence against women in Afghanistan, where suicide attacks also continuehas hit record levels. Instead of constantly attempting to put out fires following every disaster, what can world leaders do to fight extremism on a more permanent, global level?

Ukrainian Standoff - Editorial, New York Times: The United States and the European Union have made no secret that their sympathies are with the protesters, who poured out into Independence Square after Mr. Yanukovich abruptly announced in November that he would not sign a pact aligning Ukraine more closely with the European Union. Western diplomats have visited the Maidan, and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland of the United States even handed out bread on the square in December. At this stage, however, the United States and Europe need to do more than hand out treats. They must make clear their opposition to violence, as the State Department did on Wednesday when it urged everyone to calm down, faulted the government for not engaging in serious dialogue and for approving anti-democratic laws, and criticized the extreme-right group Pravy Sektor for aggression.

An emerging market problem - David Ignatius, Washington Post: As global competitors stumble, the United States has been picking up speed. Remarkable new shale oil and gas discoveries have reduced America’s energy vulnerability and made it a relatively low-cost manufacturing nation. It was a telling example of the new mood that the Wall Street Journal titled an article “Is the U.S. the Next Hot Emerging Market?

Inside the North Korea Rumor Mill: How the two Koreas are attempting to influence the North Korea media environment - Information is arguably the most powerful weapon in any nation’s arsenal. And North and South Korea are, technically, still at war. Author and Korea historian Bruce Cumings says the two Koreas are testimony to the fact that “in war–or suspended war–truth is the first casualty.”

Russia Accuses Europe Of 'Aggressive Propaganda Of Homosexual Love' - Adam Taylor, A Russian report on the state of human rights in Europe in 2014 has accused the EU of trying  force an "aggressive propaganda of homosexual love" on other countries. The English-language version of the document, labeled an "unofficial translation" yet released today, also refers to LGBT as "queers." You can download the full report in English here. One key passage is below: [...] the European Union and its Member States consider, as one of their priorities, the dissemination of their neo-liberal values as a universal lifestyle for all other members of the international community.

This is particularly evident in their aggressive promotion of the sexual minorities' rights. Attempts have been made to enforce on other countries an alien view of homosexuality and same-sex marriages as a norm of life and some kind of a natural social phenomenon that deserves support at the state level. Such an approach encounters resistance not only in the countries upholding traditional values, but also in those countries which have always taken a liberal attitude towards queers. Suffice it to recall the protest reaction of a major part of the French society to the decision on legalization of same-sex marriages in the country. Image from entry

Russian Court Bans Book by Hitler’s Propaganda Chief - Moscow’s main court has banned as extremist a semi-autobiographical book by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, Russian prosecutors said Wednesday. The Moscow City Court said analysis by psychologists and linguists revealed that “Michael,” a novel authored by Goebbels in the late 1920s, “explains and justifies the ideology of Nazism and the national and racial superiority of some individuals over others.” The court ruled that the book presented “a distorted opinion of other religions, nationalities and social groups, contains obscene language and incites animosity and hatred between people on the basis of nationality.”

The ruling came in response to an appeal filed by the Algoritm publishing house against a district court ruling in October. The publishing house argued that the book was fictional and has cultural and historic value. Image from entry, with caption: Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels

It’s not just ancient Roman propaganda: Carthaginians really did sacrifice children - Maev Kennedy, Just as ancient Greek and Roman propagandists insisted, the Carthaginians did kill their own infant children, burying them with sacrificed animals and ritual inscriptions in special cemeteries to give thanks for favours from the gods, according to a new study. “This is something dismissed as black propaganda because in modern times people just didn’t want to believe it,” said Josephine Quinn, a lecturer in ancient history at Oxford, who is behind the study, with international colleagues, of one of the most bitterly debated questions in classical archaeology.

“But when you pull together all the evidence – archaeological, epigraphic and literary – it is overwhelming and, we believe, conclusive: they did kill their children, and on the evidence of the inscriptions, not just as an offering for future favours but fulfilling a promise that had already been made. Image from entry


“Spies get treated better than that.”

--Former NSA contractor/whistleblower Edward Snowden, on his having spent forty days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow


"Marrying a $10-an-hour man gets you nowhere, so you'd really have to marry three or four."

--Barbara Ehrenreich, the socialist feminist author, speaking humorously;  image from

"Simplify, then exaggerate."

--a facetious take on the guiding rule for columnists


"A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell

sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context? One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?" Via PR on Facebook; image from


--From Princess Sparkle Pony, "What If Gay Marriage Protesters Had Better Ways To ‘Support Traditional Gender Roles’?" Wonkette

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