To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Thursday, January 6, 2022

'A Problem From Hell:' US AID Director Samantha Power's Whiney Self-Pardoning January 6 Cliches


U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Samantha Power claimed her agency’s work is “harder today than it was before” the January 6 Capitol riots on the anniversary of the event.

Power characterized the Capitol riots as an attack on democracy and claimed that the lesson of the event was that “democracy must be defended,” according to a letter obtained by Breitbart News.

“A violent mob, consumed by lies and incited by peddlers of conspiracy theories, breached our nation’s Capitol in an attempt to overturn the will of the people and prevent a transfer of power that is a hallmark of our democracy,” Power wrote.

Power said those involved in the riots did “grievous harm” to “confidence in the strength of American democracy.” She further claimed the event caused damage to the country’s global standing among other nations and the “importance of nonviolent political transitions.”

She emphasized the impact January 6 had on America’s global standing once more, claiming, “We have since seen autocrats wield the events of January 6 to diminish America’s leadership and delegitimize our efforts to support global democracy.”

As head of USAID, Power is one of America’s representatives on the world stage. Her duties include monitoring the United States’ response to “conflict and humanitarian crises; and democratic backsliding.”

Power is a longtime diplomat who previously represented America internationally while serving as U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations during the Obama-Biden administration.

Powers’ views on January 6 mirror her former boss, former President Barack Obama. Obama claimed, “our democracy is at greater risk today than it was back then,” on the event’s anniversary.

Power similarly alleged that the events of January 6 made her job at USAID more challenging than it would otherwise be.

“There is no question that our work at USAID to promote democratic processes and ideals is harder today than it was before the insurrection,” she wrote.

Power described democracy as an “ongoing journey,” then posited that the United States’ “divisions and setbacks” are good reasons for the country to address alleged domestic threats to democracy.

Our own nation’s divisions and setbacks should encourage us to both confront the urgent threats to democracy at home and to approach others on the journey with humility. But we should never doubt the virtue of our pursuit.

She commended Congress for certifying the 2020 election results following the breach of the Capitol. Power concluded her letter by claiming the lesson January 6 teaches us is “that democracy must be defended.”

Saturday, December 25, 2021

On A Silent Retreat Along The Hudson, A Skeptic Quietly Looks For 'The Present Possibility of God'

 


Here’s a Christmas story for the quietly faithful. From the WSJ, December, 1998: Quiet, Please.

"An acre of woods or seashore is not necessary to meet God." So notes the Jesuit writer William Barry, pointing out that it was in the cosmopolitan tumult of 16th-century Paris, and not in some pastoral setting, that St. Ignatius of Loyola gave spiritual instruction to the men who helped him found the Society of Jesus. 

But standing on the grounds of the Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck, N.Y., I can't help thinking that, for the average spiritually challenged person, a little solitary contact with nature might be a good thing. Located 90 miles north of New York City, the center sits on a promontory at one of the Hudson River's most majestic points. By day, the river sparkles with late autumn sunlight. At night the landscape is wrapped in absolute darkness. 

Apparently mine isn't the only soul that finds such a setting propitious. Around the country, men and women who hope to feel "the present possibility of God," as the theologians put it, are seeking out places like Linwood, drawn as much by the relief from urban stress as by the regimens of silence that are often imposed. "Sanctuaries: A Guide to Lodgings in Monasteries, Abbeys and Retreats" lists more than 1,200 retreat centers in the U.S. 

Although most religious traditions value contemplation, it is generally the Roman Catholic religious orders that run such retreats. Linwood -- once a home of Jacob Rupert Schalk, a brewery magnate -- became the property of the Sisters of Ursula in 1963. Founded in France in 1606, the Sisters of Ursula, like their Jesuit brethren, try to fuse contemplative withdrawal with worldly engagement. 

The nuns at Linwood have not taken lifelong vows of silence, but they do follow the precepts of Ignatian Spirituality, which commend periods of silence as a means of achieving the mystical recognition that God is in all things. Some of the nuns function as "spiritual directors" to visitors. In the course of a year, more than a 1,000 retreaters from all walks of life come to stay at Linwood, many spending their vacation time there. 

According to the Christian mystical tradition, silence is not just a pause between words but a medium that allows one to feel God "principally stirring and working," as the great Jesuit scholar William Johnston has written. There is a common misconception that silence is the means through which the contemplative achieves a oneness with God. In fact, the point of silence is to allow one to recognize that the oneness already exists, and that feelings of loneliness and despair are unfounded. 

As I made my own plans for Linwood, I thought that -- at the simplest level -- four or five days in retreat would be a break from the stress of a turbulent period in my life. But I also hoped for the kind of transformative experience that would reassure me that there was in fact A Plan and that God had included me in it. Abstractly, I believed in God, but it had been a long time since I could say I had felt his Presence. 

On the train I fretted over whether I'd find the experience of silence liberating or oppressive. I had read stories about people who had sought out the quiet of a monastic retreat only to flee, unnerved by the intensity of the introspection. 

Once I settled into the routine, however -- hours of solitary walking, reading and exercising punctuated by basic meals and an hour a day in conference with my spiritual director -- silence seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Although there were plenty of people around, I found myself not really interested in conversation, except (once) to find out who won the D'Amato-Schumer Senate race. Hardly a hair shirt, the verbal deprivation and solitude seemed almost luxurious. 

Sitting alone in the library one night, I seemed to sense the point "where something in the silence takes over and becomes active on its own," to borrow a phrase from the cleric Morton Kelsey. Touched by a feeling of surpassing contentment, I came about as close to a "still point" as I have ever come. The silence made the air lighter, more oxygenated -- clearer, even as it had become more richly textured. Silence really wasn't the absence of media, I began to sense. It was a medium unto itself, flooded with messages of subtle power. 

Not that the regime of silence was all sweetness and light. The bliss of night-time library visits competed with alternating states of anger and frustration on my daily walks. Anger, in part, at living in a media culture that so readily marginalized anything to do with the sacred, a culture ready to drown authentic spiritual striving in an ocean of irony. (I could just hear my friends groaning as I talked to them about this piece.) Frustration over the fact that, no matter how hard I tried to convert the feeling of contentment into a transfiguring spiritual dividend, I couldn't. Listening to the honkings of the geese in the bogs below, I began to wonder whether I was being mocked. 

Gradually, though, a new insight took hold, arriving from where I do not know. Although the Bible often presents spiritual transformation in dramatic terms -- the burning bush, the blinding light -- in fact for most people it does not come in blows. Spiritual apprehension is rather a subtle and incremental thing, in which an awareness of God develops slowly and deepens over time. 

I had entered the retreat with the hope of being bowled over. It was only after I realized how unrealistic this expectation was that I began to feel the nonepiphany epiphany that made the trip worthwhile. Although the "present possibility of God" remained for me only that -- a possibility -- there was nevertheless a fortifying certainty of heart. No blinding light but a foundation to build on. 

After five days, breaking the silence was a bit of a let-down, although it did offer me a chance to explore another kind of mystery. On my first night at Linwood, one of the groundskeepers had urged me to try to get a look at an albino deer that they had started seeing a few months before, around the time that Sister Rosemary McNamara, an albino herself, had arrived from North Carolina. I thought the story was just a hazing ritual, but this didn't stop me from patrolling the grounds after dinner, squinting into the dark, looking for the unicorn, so to speak. 

Ending my silence, I couldn't help asking Sister Rosemary about the deer. "That would be my cousin, Belva," she said, smiling. "The name is Russian -- for white." As elating as it was to confirm the existence of this creature, the words that followed left a deeper impression. 

I confided to her that I was worried that everything I had sensed that week was going to fade as soon as I left. She sat across the lunch table, the afternoon sun turning her into a pillar of blazing light. "You can either let this experience change your life, or you can say it was all a delusion," she said quite directly. "It's up to you." 

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Captive Mind: Is Alice Still In 'Wonderland' Or Is She In The White House?

 


Joe Biden campaigned on restoring the Soul of America, borrowing the title of a book by his friend & presidential historian Jon Meacham. The slogan, dripping in virtue and moral righteousness, implicitly promised he and his administration would be guided by the transparency and honesty that Donald Trump, often referred to as the nation’s “Liar in Chief,” so egregiously lacked. 

 

But as we have seen all too vividly recently, the president and his enablers are spectacular liars. They attempted to spin the debacle in Afghanizatan into “an extradordinary success,” to declare that the southern border with Mexico is “closed” even though 2 million migrants have poured over it this year and snipped that the supply chain crisis merely means that the well-to-do will have to be a little more patient about when their Stairmasters will arrive. In this administration White House press spokeswoman Jen Psaki is the penultimate gaslighter; she raises falsehood, obfuscation and concealment to an art form that is practically occult. 


As WSJ columnist Dan Henninger noted two weeks back we may have reached a tipping point in the way Americans conceive reality, citing the ways in which Team Biden has propelled us to this pass. “Ms. Psaki's skill at reordering reality for Mr. Biden is mesmerizing," Henninger wrote, "and I say without irony that she will be seen as an important figure in the transformation from believing what is real to believing what we're told is real .” 


A few days later the National Review’s Charlie Cooke satirized the Psaki style in exactly the right literary idiom, placing her “in dialogue,” as the post modernists would have it, with the hallucinogenic fiction created by Lewis Carroll. “Rumor has it that Alice (from Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) is preparing to apply for a job in the White House press office,” Cooke noted. “If I had a world of my own,” Cooke quotes Alice as saying, perhaps lifting a line from the job interview notes she had prepared, “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what it is, it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” 


Cooke explained that Alice was certainly in the right place at the right time to apply for the “For having ­offered himself up as the savior of the American way, President Biden now finds himself in something of a pickle.” 


The jobs reports are lackluster. The border is a mess. Gas prices are sky high. Our supply chains are broken. Inflation, which was supposed to be “transitory,” looks more persistent by the day. Americans remain stranded in Afghanistan. China’s testing space nukes. COVID is not only still with us; it’s making its way into the Good States. And, despite its having been given a jolly, catchy name — the “Build Back Better agenda” — all the public seems to know about the president’s gargantuan spending plan is that it will cost trillions upon trillions of dollars. 

Down the rabbit hole, though, everything is still peachy. 


Indeed, insofar as America has any problems to speak of, they’re held to be either nonexistent, inconsequential, or somehow your fault. You may think you watched in horror a few months ago as a generational debacle unfolded in Kabul, but what you actually saw was “the largest US airlift in history.” Hurrah! 


You may believe that the southern border has been in a perpetual state of crisis from the moment Biden took office, but this is merely the sort of quotidian “circumstance” that could have happened under any president and is only happening now due to the inexplicable vagaries of climate change. How unfair! 


On first glance, you might think it more than a little startling that the Chinese Communist Party has managed to contrive a cache of hypersonic nuclear weapons that, if deployed correctly, would zip right past our defenses, but what you’re for some reason missing is that when it comes to the prospect of a nuclear apocalypse, “stiff competition” between nations is “welcome.” Natch. 

That inflation you’re worried about? It’s not going to happen, says the president. Or, at least, if it does happen, it’ll be because the government wasn’t permitted to spend enough of your cash. And anyhow, when you really think about it, inflation is a pretty “high-class problem” to have, isn’t it? In that sense, it’s a little like ­supply-chain disruptions, which you might well believe have the potential to seriously inconvenience you, but which, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirms, are ­really just the positive byproducts of Biden’s having “successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession.” 


Asked today about the potential impact that this successful economic guidance might have on the delivery of consumer products going forward, White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained that we don’t really need a functioning market anyhow. No one, she sniffed, should shed any tears at “the tragedy of the treadmill that’s delayed.” 


Bothered by this approach? There’s no need to be. Instead, relax into what the Washington Post’s Micheline Maynard submits should be your “new, more realistic expectations” for the future. “American consumers,” Maynard points out, have been “pampered and catered to for decades,” to such an extent that their first reaction to deteriorating economic conditions may well be to engage in an unacceptable and “spoiled” “whine” rather than to simply “make adjustments” so that the president’s feelings might be spared. 


Oh, and while you’re at it, you might take a moment to appreciate the sheer ingenuity of the alchemy by which this administration has managed to transmute $3.5 trillion into $0 through good intentions alone. Previous generations — the ones that sat around worrying about treadmills delayed in transit, no doubt — had to face hard questions, such as how best to raise the money they wanted to spend on public services. Our generation, by a striking piece of luck, can just insist those choices away with incantations. What a trick! 


It’s so devilishly clever, in fact — and so terribly simple to boot — that one can’t help but wonder why it hadn’t been thought of until now. 


All one must do to achieve the effect is respond to any criticisms whatsoever with an emphatic, “No, you absolute rotter, that isn’t happening at all; and if it is happening, it’s not too bad, ­really; and if it is bad, it won’t be bad for long; and if it is bad for long, well, that’ll be your fault.” 


Then, having handily dispatched one’s enemies, one can simply move on to the next objection, which, yes, might be based on things that people are actually seeing, but which is equally ill-founded, for reasons that will be decided upon by Twitter within the next few days. 


Alice, she says, is able to believe “six impossible things before breakfast.” Looks as if she’ll get the job. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

First It Was Christmas. Then It Was Free Speech. Now the Grinch Wants To Steal Halloween!


From Breitbart NewsADL Warns: Avoid Culturally Insensitive, Gender-conforming Halloween Costumes  

The increasingly partisan Anti-Defamation League (ADL) interjected itself into the annual Halloween debate this week when the organization advised parents to avoid Halloween costumes that are culturally insensitive and perpetuate gender norms. 

“Halloween is a week away and you and your family might be brainstorming costume ideas,” the ADL tweeted on Sunday. “Check out our resource for reminders about how and why to avoid cultural appropriation, cultural stereotypes, and costumes that perpetuate gender norms.” 

According to the ADL, parents should not let their children indulge in their desired costume if it appropriates from any culture, most especially Native American. If the child asks to dress up as Pocahontas, the ADL advised that parents use it as a teaching opportunity to enlighten their child’s mind to the rich cultural heritage of Native Americans. 

Before Halloween, be proactive by addressing these issues in advance and use it as an educational opportunity to discuss stereotypes, bias and cultural appropriation. Many children and families don’t realize that their costume choices are potentially hurtful or offensive. For example, a child who may be interested in Native American stories and history wants to dress up as a Native American person. Consider it an opportunity to talk with them about how Native American dress is not a costume. Instead, it is an essential part of identity, unique to each different tribe with their own customs and ways of dress. 

Help children understand that Halloween costumes are only fun or funny when they don’t hurt or make fun of other people or spread stereotypes. 

Beyond mere costumes that incorporate sombreros, hachimakis, or dashikis, the ADL also cautioned against costumes that offend people of lower economic status, such as “hobos,” “bums” or “rednecks.” 

Of course, none of those offenses compare to the horrific social crime of perpetuating “restrictive social norms around gender and sexual orientation.” 

While costumes targeted to boys place heavy emphasis on superheroes and action figures, choices like these convey the message that boys should be scary and gruesome. Many children are attracted to traditional gendered costumes, think girls who love princesses or boys who are obsessed with action heroes. When that is the case, it is best not to reinforce that these are the only appropriate options available. Engage in conversations with young people about gender stereotypes and discuss messages that companies send through marketing and advertising. 

Many Halloween costumes perpetuate gender stereotypes and exclude those who don’t conform to traditional gender norms, especially those who are transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming. Be mindful that you may have students who feel excluded and marginalized by the overly gendered way Halloween costumes are marketed. 

Addressing teachers whose gender non-conforming students might feel ashamed in the presence of such gender-specific costumes, the ADL suggested schools tell the students that “there aren’t boy’s and girl’s costumes.”  



 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Day One In The Long War: Twenty Years After, 9/11 Feels Like Long Ago---And Only Yesterday

 


From NewsweekAs Citizen & Reporter: A 9/11 Memoir 

Tens of thousands of stunned, dust-covered office workers surged over the Brooklyn Bridge toward me, the devastated skyline at their backs. It was midmorning, September 11, 2001. The second World Trade Center tower had collapsed 20 minutes before; New York’s two tallest buildings reduced to rubble. I had heard on the radio that as many as six other planes had been hijacked. This later proved untrue. But at that moment, no one knew what might come next.
The impact of the second plane had rattled the windows of my Brooklyn Heights apartment so violently I had thought they might break. I’d rushed to my roof to see the towers first burn, then fall. The falling steel and shards of glass glinted in the glorious late-summer sun as a low volcanic roar swept across the water.
“You’re going the wrong way,” someone shouted. I kept walking, unable to say why. On the bridge were people of every race, ethnicity and social class, but they all wore the same look of terror. A wailing torrent of emergency vehicles set off dust swirls racing to the scene. The closer I got to Manhattan, the darker and smokier it became. As I walked closer, I had to pull my T shirt up over my mouth to breathe. I kept on going, as if the burning hole in the skyline was sucking me into itself.



Part of what was driving me was what Sebastian Junger has called an “amoral sense of awe” in the face of destruction, although after a few years as a young war correspondent in South Asia, I’d thought I’d gotten over this necessary journalistic evil. But as I passed police headquarters just over the bridge, I realized there was something else at work. New York is a big city, but for me, part of a family that has had four generations of New York City cops, it was a town, in distress as never before, and I was a townie. And so, for that day at least, “the ways of my people” eclipsed my reportorial instincts. I became a first responder, looking for some way, any way, to help.



At 10:45 that morning, City Hall Park was dusted with four inches of ash. Clouds of smoke and dust choked the streets off lower Broadway. A couple of loud “BA-BOOMS” shook the air—exploding ordnance in the arsenal that the U.S. Secret Service kept in its World Trade Center bunker, I learned later. As I stood dumbstruck across from the Woolworth Building on Broadway, a maniacal, motley-clad man in his 30s came out of the clouds. Pushing a cart loaded with bottles of drinking water, he looked like an extra from the film “Mad Max.” He had pulled a red T shirt over his face, completely obscuring it, and was wearing a pair of outsized aviator glasses. I asked him where the Red Cross was and where volunteers should report. “Just pick up some water and give it out,” he shouted, handing me some water bottles and a paper facemask. “God bless you, sir,” he said over his shoulder as he disappeared into the smoke. “God bless you.”

Then another man, this one in late middle age, staggered out of the clouds, wheezing badly. Wearing a smudged brown suit, he was carrying a preposterous, bulging brown leather briefcase. Grabbing him beneath the arms, I walked him two blocks up Broadway to an oxygen station. The man said he was a senior manager for FEMA. “I dove behind a truck,” he gasped. “That’s the only reason I’m alive. There were people behind me, but I don’t think they made it. There was seven feet of debris on the street.” Nearby, regrouping cops were so covered in dust you could hardly tell their uniforms were blue. Along with battered helmets, they were wearing the proverbial “thousand-yard stare.” They had been among the first at the scene, hit hard by cascading concrete and steel. One, who couldn’t have been more than 22, had been blinded by the debris.
I joined up with several nurses and doctors, some in scrubs, and headed over to a triage center at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The side streets there were even darker, the air even more noxious. As we double-timed it, a Fire Department paramedic supervisor walking with us took a quick survey. “What skills do we have? Who can do what?” he asked our group. “Who’s a doctor? Nurse? RN? NP? Paramedic? EMT?” First Aid and CPR, I volunteered, sheepishly, skills learned long before as a Central Park ranger.
We passed the Federal Reserve Bank, home to a few billion dollars in U.S. gold reserves. There, the acrid fog was so thick we literally bumped into a phalanx of guards with assault weapons at the ready. The adrenaline level was very high all around.
The chief of the New York Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services briefed us at the terminal. Ours would be a standard triage with three zones: green for minor injuries, yellow for the next level and red for really serious cases. “There will be no freelancing,” the EMS commander ordered. “If you don’t know something, ask.” As we raced to assemble blood-pressure cuffs and blood-plasma trolleys, a couple of thirsty firemen used their emergency crowbars to try to open a couple of soda machines standing against a wall. They dented the machines but could not open them. Someone just brought down two of the world’s biggest buildings and somehow these soda machines were impregnable.

I was assigned to keep patients hydrated, to help wash out eyes and to keep track of names. “Got any Scotch?” asked one shaken elderly man when I handed him a cup of water. Almost everyone we treated spoke of ducking or diving into doorways to avoid debris and choking dust. Few had serious injuries; people either got away from the towers or they got killed. But the screams of the few in the red zone were chilling. Around 12:30 p.m., I heard two EMTs whispering to each other, not realizing I was in earshot. “We lost a lot of guys,” one said out of the side of his mouth. “They set up the command center right at the base of the South Tower and a lot of our guys got hit when the second plane went in.”
“How many we talking about?” his colleague asked, blank-faced. “How many unaccounted for?”
“Don’t know,” the first one said, grimacing. “But we’re talking whole companies, whole squads. Rescue One. Ladder Three. Ladder Four. A whole bunch of chiefs. Some companies, they can’t find anyone.”
In a corner, talking to a minister, a Russian woman in her early 20s was hysterical. Her younger sister, a very recent immigrant who had been working in the South Tower was missing. “I just feel like going there and digging, digging, digging with my bare hands to find her,” the woman sobbed, clawing the air.
Hardly anyone came in after 2:30. I decided to walk to another triage center, where I would make inquiries about the Russian woman’s younger sister. It was actually quite easy to get around. With a face mask and blue surgical gloves, no one stopped me.

Soon I was moving up the bottom of Broadway, passing Arturo Di Modica’s charging bull sculpture, which looked odd in the ashen desolation. Overhead, a few skyscrapers were on fire, burning debris sailing downward. Street-level was equally apocalyptic. Ambulances, fire trucks and police cars were scattered around, many crushed, without glass. A few of the fire trucks had their noses stuck in the debris with their backsides raised in the air. Some overturned cars were still burning, flames licking out of windshields and passenger windows. The sirens on some of the police and fire cars were still squealing, though in that weird sonic environment, the smoke muffled everything, as if it all was happening underwater.
Without the towers as markers, I was feeling lost. As it turned out, I was on the corner of Liberty Street and West Street: right at Ground Zero itself. There was only about 100 feet visibility. Occasionally the wind would shift. Then, eerily, like an iceberg breaking through the mist, the towers’ jagged facade would emerge. The break in the smoke would also allow a glimpse of rescuers on rubble, which was still burning in some spots. There was no sense of the scale of the devastation, which would only become apparent in coming days. Then the wind would shift again and the whiteout would resume.
Firemen were sitting on piles of wreckage, legs spread apart like uncomprehending 5-year-olds. Others had taken refuge in a darkened grocery store, sitting dazed and hollow-eyed in the dark. Rescue vehicles churned up muck as if it were snow in a blizzard. Huge padlocks had been placed on expensive, now evacuated, co-op buildings to secure them from looters. Around the marina at the World Financial Center, exhausted firemen sat in chairs usually reserved for cocktail-sipping bankers and brokers checking out the boats.
Finding it difficult to get to the other triage center, I made my way back to Ground Zero. More of the jagged facade of the collapsed towers was visible from this new angle, as was the burning hulk of 7 World Trade Center, flames roaring sideways out of that 50-story building before curling toward the blackened sky. The fire here now officially out of control, and fire supervisors were trying to clear the area before the now-inevitable collapse. “Get out of here! Go now!” one ordered.
Drifting over to a staging area along the West Side Highway, I found myself in a sea of firemen and rescue cops. Some were readying to go in, keeping the anxiety and stress at bay with jokes and verbal jabs, the air thick with New York accents. Others who had been there all day were cooling off, their overalls rolled down.
In the past seeing these kind of guys had prompted an awkward self-consciousness, my townie side being something that I often found difficult to acknowledge, especially in Manhattan’s snootier social and professional circles. But that day I felt nothing but pride both to be among them and to be one of them. I thought about the workings of fate: what if I had become a cop? By now I might be a captain or an inspector. I might be standing there formulating orders. Or I might be buried somewhere down the street, along with the first responders under my command.


On the far lip of the restricted zone, a young cop stood looking into the chaos. “I’m not supposed to be down here,” he explained, admitting he had left his assigned post further uptown. His dusty face was creased with sweat, and he stabbed his cell phone for what must have been the thousandth time that day. “But my brother’s a firemen and my mother just called me and said he might still be in there.”
In a bar on my way home, people were cringing and yelping as a TV news anchor announced that 7 World Trade Center, burning all day, was about to come down. Outside the street was on the edge of anarchy, as the building collapsed and its roaring cloud of smoke and dust chased panicking onlookers further uptown. “Everything will be back to normal in a couple of days, don’t worry,” a doorman at the Tribeca Grand Hotel reassured tourists, convincing no one.
With the Brooklyn Bridge now closed, and no trains running, I had to limp, sore-footed, across the Manhattan Bridge. The sunset sky was a beautiful aquamarine, streaked with red and purple. But the familiar skyline was now gouged, in a way that was almost human. It was as if somebody had had his nose ripped from his face or his teeth smashed from his mouth. A blood-orange sun sank into a black cloud of soot. Later that night, I looked into the mirror and saw a guy standing there with the same thousand-yard stare I’d seen all day long on the cops and firemen and medics I’d been with. I would wear that expression for more than a week.
* All photographs by William McGowan

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Tony Blinken, Afghanistan's Collapse And The Sorrows Of Beltway Credentialism

Wow! What a difference a year-and-a-half can make! Biden To Nominate Antony Blinken For Secretary Of StateNPR November 23, 2020. Blinken was going to “repair relationships between Washington and foreign governments and allies that have been strained under President Trump's 'America First" policy?! And serve as a confirmable alternative to Susan Rice, she of the Benghazi disaster in 2012?! And boost morale at the State Department that had been left "beleaguered" by the prior administration!? 

Considered while the biggest foreign policy debacle in American history continues to unfold in Afghanistan, the advance notices Blinken received from Beltway insiders and the media are as breathtakingly na├»ve as Blinken himself has proven himself to be. The fact that Blinken has not resigned yet is a tribute both to his own personal cluelessness--- and to the arrogance borne of the blind credentialism that put him in a place to do so much ruinous damage to the country---especially our international partners. Blinken needs to go. 

NPR:

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Antony Blinken for the coveted secretary of state post.

 

Blinken, 58, has extensive foreign policy experience, serving as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama. 

 

A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, Blinken began his foreign policy career during the Clinton administration. He worked as Democratic staff director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008, where he worked closely with Biden. He went on to serve as then-Vice President Biden's national security adviser.

Blinken is currently managing partner at WestExec Advisors, a firm he co-founded.

 

For Biden, choosing Blinken signals a return to a more traditional foreign policy that favors strong international relationships, NPR's Michele Kelemen says.

Biden's secretary of state pick, which will require Senate confirmation, was first reported by Bloomberg News and later confirmed by NPR.

 

…If confirmed, Blinken's early work, according to The Associated Press, would be focused heavily on repairing relationships between Washington and foreign governments and allies that have been strained under President Trump's "America First" policy, in which long-held alliances have frequently been challenged.

 

Blinken will also be tasked with boosting the beleaguered State Department, an agency that has experienced substantial turnover under Trump, with many longtime diplomats and career staffers leaving.

An Office of Inspector General (OIG) report from January found that, "Workforce management issues are pervasive, affecting programs and operations domestically and overseas and across functional areas and geographic regions."

 

A hiring freeze that was ordered by Trump in 2017 and that stretched until 2018 compounded the agency's ability to maintain staffing levels, the report went on to say.

"Employees told OIG that the hiring freeze contributed to excessive workloads, and the lack of transparency about the objectives intended to be achieved by the hiring freeze caused some to be concerned about losing their jobs," the report said.

Susan Rice, the former national security adviser under Obama, was rumored to have been on the short list for the top State Department job. However, by choosing Blinken, Biden avoids what was likely to have been a Senate battle over her nomination.

Rice would have faced criticism over the handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. Under pressure that year, Rice took herself out of consideration for the secretary of state's job after Clinton resigned the post. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Tony Blinken, Elite Nepotism & The Cosmopolitan Delusions Forged In A Privileged Expat Youth

 


Tony Blinken was practically Joe Biden’s “alter ego,” wrote the Financial Times in early 2020, describing his central role in what has come to be known as America’s “return” to the world stage. The FT profile was as revelatory of Blinken’s cosmopolitan mindset, which would come a cropper in Kabul, as it was just dead wrong in its assessments of Blinken’s alleged strengths as a diplomat and leader. “The foreign affairs veteran is son and nephew of US ambassadors to European capitals,” the FT writes, “and his return to the corridors of power comes as the US tries to recover from the battering it has taken on the world stage during 4 years of Donald Trump.” 

Biden’s ‘alter ego’ Antony Blinken will try to rebuild alliances, by Demetri Sevastopulo, November 23, 2020: 

When Joe Biden enters office in January, his closest foreign policy adviser will be a guitar- playing Beatles fanatic who first started promoting American values as a high school student in Paris during the cold war. 

On Monday, the president-elect said he had chosen Antony Blinken as secretary of state, elevating a three-decade fixture in Democratic foreign policy circles, who first worked with Mr Biden in the Senate. 

A former speech writer for President Bill Clinton, Mr Blinken was national security adviser to Mr Biden when he was vice-president, before becoming deputy national security adviser to Barack Obama and deputy secretary of state. 

Mr Blinken’s return to the corridors of power will come as the US tries to recover from the battering it has taken on the world stage during four years of Donald Trump’s international isolationism

Although some of the challenges will be familiar to Mr Blinken, he will also face new dilemmas such as dealing with an even more assertive China. 

Robert Malley, the head of International Crisis Group who was Mr Blinken’s high-school classmate, said the Washington veteran had the perfect background to restore American credibility. 

In addition to coming from a family with foreign policy pedigree — his father served as ambassador to Hungary and his uncle to Belgium — allies say he can put himself in the shoes of others because of his experience overseas. 

“Tony was an American in Paris — and both terms are key. He was very conscious of being an American and he believed in US values. But he also understood how US policy affects the rest of the world because he lived overseas and witnessed how others view America,” Mr Malley said. 

“At that time, the US was not particularly popular in Europe, and in France in particular. Tony navigated those two universes.” 

In a recent Intelligence Matters podcast, Mr Blinken said the US had to rebuild alliances to tackle the “democratic recession” enabled by Mr Trump that let “autocracies from Russia to China . . . exploit our difficulties”. 

Mr Blinken is a pragmatic realist who believes in US power but understands its limits. He will also have the most valuable currency in Washington — the ear of the president. He is so close to Mr Biden that some see him as his “alter ego”. 

Nick Burns, the former number three state department official who has known Mr Blinken since the Clinton administration, said his network of friends around the world is coupled with an incredible range of experience from his time in the Senate, state department, and White House. 

“He was at the table for all of the important meetings in the Obama administration for eight years and has unique insight into the full range of national security issues,” said Mr Burns. 

A soccer-playing 58-year-old, who has uploaded two of his songs on Spotify and sometimes has a guitar in the background during video calls, is widely liked for his unassuming manner and inclusive approach. 

In his high-school yearbook, the page with his photograph is inscribed with the Pink Floyd lyrics, “just another brick in the wall”, hinting at his willingness to eschew the traditional rigid hierarchy of Washington. 

A former top state department official said he was popular because he valued opinions regardless of how junior or senior the person was, and was confident enough to credit others. “It’s never about him or his ego.” 

But some say his inclusive style meant his core beliefs were sometimes hard to ascertain. “I don’t have a good read on his foreign policy thinking because he did not impose himself,” says a former Biden Senate aide. 

One former Obama administration official said he also had a tendency to hold too many meetings and punt decisions. “As the big dog, will he drive towards decisions or needle issues to death?” they asked. 

Defenders said he simply wanted to avoid rushing into bad decisions. The former Senate aide added that he was good at ending meetings on time. “When someone tried to extend a meeting with extraneous comments, he would give them a yellow card. If you did it again . . . it was a red card.” 

While some found his views opaque, others stress that he has long been clear about the importance of promoting democracy and human rights in American foreign policy. 

He advocated military action against Syria after the Assad regime used chemical weapons in 2013 — a path that Mr Obama did not follow — and applauded Mr Trump for striking Syria after the regime used sarin gas on citizens in 2017. 

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, said Mr Blinken and other Democrats created a group called the “Phoenix Initiative” to debate whether the party needed a more robust national security approach after John Kerry lost to George W Bush in the 2004 election. 

He said that when the group held debates, Mr Blinken was also a strong proponent of using US power for good and advocating for human rights. “I was very struck that he was passionate about that,” he said. 

Philip Gordon, a former Obama administration official, said that view was informed by his family history. His Polish-born stepfather Samuel Pisar survived Auschwitz and eventually wound up in the US, where he became a successful international lawyer, while other relatives entered the US as refugees. 

“That has left him believing that the US can and should do good in the world,” said Mr Gordon. “But I would pair that with the notion that he is a real pragmatist who also understands the limits of American power. He is anything but an ideologue.” 

The other former Obama official said Mr Blinken would probably take a tougher stance on human rights than the Obama White House. “Tony would be visibly tougher on Russia and more receptive to the idea of ideological competition with China, cranking up a few notches the democracy promotion and human rights dimension of foreign policy.” 

Mr McFaul said Mr Blinken was also more decisive than some believe. When he argued that Mr Biden should meet Russian opposition figures after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in 2011, “it took Tony about three seconds to say that is a really good idea”, in contrast to a much harder sell with the Obama team in 2009. 

Mr Blinken’s views on alliances and promoting democratic values fit with a growing view in Washington that the US needs to work more closely with allies to gain greater leverage to tackle China. 

One former European official, who has worked with Mr Blinken, said the fluent French speaker would be well received in Europe and would help repair the damage done over the past four years. But he said he would do so in a more low-key and more collegiate way than some predecessors. 

“He’s not a man to make the front page,” he said. “He’s not Henry Kissinger, in a good and bad way.”