Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Meridian gastrodiplomacy

I was over yesterday at the exquisite Meridian International Center to talk PD shop with its director Ambassador Stuart Holliday. As I noted my gastrodiplomacy work, Ambassador Holliday mentioned an interesting gastrodiplomacy program that Meridian conducted. Meridian hosted chefs connected to a few various embassies in DC to come cook their local fare in programs open to the community. The chefs highlighted the national produce and ingredients and how it connects to the country, as well as how the cuisine connects to the culture. The program went on for almost two years. He mentioned how the Chinese Embassy brought over five chefs to cook different regional cuisines.

Meridian’s Director of Public Programs Heather Haines further mentioned that the Meridian gastrodiplomacy exploits even ended up on the reality show Top Chef. The Top Chef show was filmed at Meridian, with Top Chef contestants drawing different country cuisines to prepare at Meridian for tastings for various diplomats, dignitaries and guests.

All great gastrodiplomacy work.   Maybe I can make Meridian the host of the first DC Gastrodiplomacy Conference....

Not even the best PD

can (TY JB for being my typo catcher) fix Israel's image without a change in policies. Nice to see someone else get this. Nice piece by Gary Wexler in the Forward:
Yet, as strange as it may sound coming from a marketer with an advertising background, who has represented hundreds of Jewish organizations worldwide, I have arrived at the conclusion that the solution will not be found in branding, marketing, public relations or the writings of political pundits. The problem is that all their concepts, strategies, words and legitimate defenses – no matter how powerful and clever – are not going to elevate Israel’s plummeting image. Hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors and the Israeli government have been poured into this effort, yet the situation only worsens every month. I am as much to blame as anyone for being a supporter of these actions.

It has become clear that the world doesn’t care about Israel’s wines, its Bauhaus architecture, its fashion, its alluring women, its sexy gay men, its beaches, its ballet or its hummus. The world, its media and its university campuses are riveted upon Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as well as the state of its democracy.

No, the answer to Israel’s image problems does not depend upon the marketing. It depends first upon the policies.

Something is proving wrong with several of the ingredients in Israel as a product. The policies – whether we argue they are right or wrong internally – are spoiling the taste for the world consumer as well as for many in a new generation of young Jews, even those who have been on Birthright. This is not a left- or a right-wing opinion. It is a fact. No matter how Israel markets or defends itself in the media, the policies seep into the equation and kill the success of the image.

Do I have the answer for how to fix the policies, or even which policies need fixing? No. But I’m not a politician. I’m an adman and a marketer. And I can tell you, from my years creating ads for products from Coca Cola to Apple Computer, if people keep reading about some bad ingredients in the ketchup, very few people will buy the bottle, no matter how much money and creativity you pack into the marketing. No amount of branding, slogans, viral ideas or clever engagement is going to lead towards the success that supporters of Israel need.

What I can say is that Israel, and those who love her, need to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and uncover the deeper problems, the ones that cannot be fixed with a better logo. The loss of “Israeli” hummus might not seem detrimental right now. But that scene on Venice Beach might be a sign of things to come, when it’s more than just the producers of hummus who refuse to identify with Israel.
My own two shekels is that I heard a common refrain from Israel supporters that Israel and Israeli advocacy orgs do poor public diplomacy.  This simply isn't true.  Israeli public diplomacy is actually quite good.  Israel is quick to adopt new platforms and find alternative ways of conducting public and cultural diplomacy.  But it doesn't really matter.  It is all advocacy to get around bad policies that don't jibe with the emotional, irrational side that really matters.  Israel spends a tremendous amount of money trying to explain and advocate around issues rather than assess its failed policies.  The Palestinians might not have nearly as much invested in public diplomacy, but they have a hell of a lot more soft power than Israel simply because they win the emotional argument.  What Bernays got, which Israel still hasn't, is that the rational explanations cannot overcome the emotional reaction that much of the world has to bad Israeli policies of settlement construction and continued occupation.  But because Israel (among many others) doesn't listen to the critique but simply puts its fingers in its ears and continues advocating, it really gets nowhere.

Taiwan's NMA TV on the hurricane hype

I love NMA for just this reason

Monday, August 29, 2011


My favorite Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner was fired for his provocative piece "The Awful Necessary Truth About Palestinian Terror Attacks" following the recent attacks:
But if, on the other hand, we were to say very forthrightly what many of us believe and the rest of us suspect – that the Palestinians, like every nation living under hostile rule, have the right to fight back, that their terrorism, especially in the face of a rejectionist Israeli government, is justified – what effect would that have? A powerful one, I think, because the truth is powerful. If those who oppose the occupation acknowledged publicly that it justifies Palestinian terrorism, then those who support the occupation would have to explain why it doesn’t. And that’s not easy for a nation that sanctifies the right to self-defense; a nation that elected Irgun leader Menachem Begin and Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir as prime minister.

“But while I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us, I don’t want them to use it, I don’t want to see Israelis killed, and as an Israeli, I would do whatever was necessary to stop a Palestinian, oppressed or not, from killing one of my countrymen. (I also think Palestinian terrorism backfires, it turns people away from them and generates sympathy for Israel and the occupation, so I’m against terrorism on a practical level, too, but that’s besides the point.)

“The possibility that Israel’s enemies could use my or anybody else’s justification of terror for their campaign is a daunting one; I wouldn’t like to see this column quoted on a pro-Hamas website, and I realize it could happen.

“Still, I don’t think Hamas and their allies need any more encouragement, so whatever encouragement they might take from me or any other liberal Zionist is coals to Newcastle. What’s needed very badly, however, is for Israelis to realize that the occupation is hurting the Palestinians terribly, that it’s driving them to try to kill us, that we are compelling them to engage in terrorism, that the blood of Israeli victims is ultimately on our hands, and that it’s up to us to stop provoking our own people’s murder by ending the occupation.

“And so long as we who oppose the occupation keep pretending that the Palestinians don’t have the right to resist it, we tacitly encourage Israelis to go on blindly killing and dying in defense of an unholy cause. And by tacitly encouraging Israelis in their blindness, I think we endanger their lives and ours, their country and ours, much more than if we told the truth and got quoted on Hamas websites.”
His article caused an uproar in Israel and the piece was removed.  He penned an apology, but it wasn't enough.  So the Jpost sacked him.

Writing in the online mag +972, Dimi Reider does a great job addressing the column and the Jpost:
Larry’s main thesis – that Palestinian terrorism is bound to Israeli military violence – is about as old as the state, if not older; even Moshe Dayan has said as much. I strongly disagree with the phrasing – I myself wouldn’t use “right” or “justified” anywhere near violence against civilians, be it Palestinians killing Israelis, Soviet Partisans killing German civilians, Algiers guerrila blowing up cafes, or Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin blowing up Arab marketplaces. Still, the dismissal, despite offers to retract and apologise, is an outrage that dwarfs any conceivable damage caused by Larry’s text. Unfortunate phrasing of an unpleasant argument on a third-party forum cannot be a reason for the dismissal of a veteran columnist; but obviously, for the Jerusalem Post it was more than enough of an excuse.
Larry’s dismissal is made all the more obscene by virtue of the light it sheds on the egregious double-standard that once-professional publication now employs in regard to conservative versus liberal opinion; I say that as someone who fondly remembers the fairly conservative op-ed editor of my own time at the Post soliciting op-ed pieces he openly disagreed with. Larry worries his post might end up on some Hamas website. This is yet to occur, and even if it does take place, it’s doubtful it would influence the decision of any young Palestinian whether to become a terrorist or not. By contrast, the writings of Jerusalem Post deputy-editor Caroline Glick were cited in the manic manifesto of Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik in justification of the bloodbath he executed earlier this summer; unlike Derfner, Glick has yet to be shown the door.
Moreover, right after the Norway carnage the Jerusalem Post published an outlandish editorial suggesting the calculated, murderous rampage of a self-confessed xenophobe was an opportunity for Norway to revisit its immigration policy. The editorial was so beyond the pale the Post only put it up on the website with a disclaimer, and sparked such an outrage in Norway the newspaper had to spend another editorial on an apology; to my knowledge, all of those responsible for this serialised farce kept their jobs. Not so for Derfner.
He was the last lefty at the paper, now my former stomping grounds are just a right-wing rag.  Sad.  

Leading from behind the scenes

David Remnick has a great piece on Obama, Libya and leadership.  He begins with the introduction of the notion of "leading from behind, " which first appeared in a New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza
Lizza wrote. “One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as ‘leading from behind.’ ” He concluded:

That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength.

Leading from behind. You could almost hear the speed-dials revving at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. The phrase ricocheted from one Murdoch-owned editorial page and television studio to the next; Obama was daily pilloried as a timorous pretender who, out of a misbegotten sense of liberal guilt, unearned self-regard, and downright unpatriotic acceptance of fading national glory, had handed over the steering wheel of global leadership to the Élysée Palace. We were, as Mitt Romney put it, “following the French into Libya.” The President was “dithering,” Sarah Palin declared. John McCain wanted boots on the ground. Michele Bachmann, the G.O.P.’s arch-isolationist, said, “I would not have gone in,” while Newt Gingrich declared, “This is about as badly run as any foreign operation we’ve seen in our lifetime.” John Bolton, George W. Bush’s U.N. Ambassador, was sure that Obama had “set himself up for massive strategic disaster.” Rick Perry, for his part, shot an elephant in his pajamas.

Six months later, as Libyans rejoice at the prospect of a world without an unhinged despot, many of Obama’s critics still view a President who rid the world of Osama bin Laden (something that George Bush failed to do) and helped bring down Muammar Qaddafi (something that Ronald Reagan failed to do) as supinely selling out American power. Yet the Administration’s policies—a more apt description, admittedly, would have been “leading from behind the scenes”—were tailored to limiting circumstances. 
When I saw this, light bulbs began to illuminate in my head.  "Leading from behind the scenes" is essentially "consensual hegemony," a concept introduced by the Italian socialist writer and philosopher Antonio Gramsci.

Gramsci’s conception of hegemony posits that leadership can be exercised without coercion or force, but rather through co-option or cooperation. According to Sean Burges, consensual hegemony entails: "an oblique application of pressure or the advance creation of conditions that would make a future policy appear a self-interested move by other countries."  Burges applied the concept to Brazil and its use of constructing a South American region distinct from Latin America, with Brazil at the heart.  Meanwhile, Brazil did this more on a global scale with its work in the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA) (the Axis of Austral).

Anyway, back to the task at hand.  Obama's "leading from behind the scenes" is a great example of applying consensual hegemony as a form of soft power to obtain the desired policy outcome.  But as Remnick points out, results for such policies run afoul when dealing with an American opposition that cares nothing for nuance:
With what results? There are no sure outcomes in foreign policy, only a calculation of consequences, guided by an appraisal of national interests and values. The trouble with so much of the conservative critique of Obama’s foreign policy is that it cares less about outcomes than about the assertion of America’s power and the affirmation of its glory. In the case of Libya, Obama led from a place of no glory, and, in the eyes of his critics, no results could ever vindicate such a strategy. Yet a calculated modesty can augment a nation’s true influence. Obama would not be the first statesman to realize that it can be easier to win if you don’t need to trumpet your victory.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The life of a starving academic

So limbo was grating on me and I started approaching thinktanks abroad to do public diplomacy research. The good news: I have gracious offers to be a visiting fellow in India, Armenia, Ghana and Croatia. The bad news: no one actually wants to pay me for my research. Thanks everyone, but a desk in an office or the offer of housing does not make me a research fellow, it makes me an intern. But there are some more promising prospects for gainful research employment in Brazil, Turkey and Norway, and hopefully something will come through.

Politics and Football

"Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it's important."
-Eugene McCarthy

The Coming Revolt of the Guards

"The rebellions, so far, have been contained.  The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history.  With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent for a troublesome minority.  It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased.

There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, leeways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries.  There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media-- none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.

One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth.  The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled.  These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of the leftovers in a very wealthy country."
-Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Saturday, August 27, 2011

PD lesson numero uno

"You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."
-John Viscount Morley

Cyrenaica; Libgypt

Fouad Ajami had a great piece earlier in the week about Libya, one that is worth posting even a few days late:
After years of fear and submission, the people had gone out in an assertion of their dignity. When it truly mattered, the foreign mercenaries, guns and killers for hire could not sustain the despot's power. To no great surprise they were not willing to die for the man in his fortified bunker. Nor would the Libyans come to his rescue. He had once described himself as a leader without a country. He had declared an open war on Libya's very own identity and past. He ruled six million people with a hallucinatory work, his "Green Book," a document, he said, which contained all the answers to the problems of human governance.

Libya was a wealthy country, blessed with abundant oil, but the despot turned it into one of Africa's poorest populations. He robbed them of freedom and of economic initiative. The country was turned into a cruel tyranny, and what wealth existed was the prerogative of the man at the helm and his children. Retail trade was decimated. Meaningful work was denied the Libyans.

Four decades of a nation's life were squandered by this regime, the narcissism of the ruler all the more galling against the background of a sullen and humiliated population. Fear governed and paralyzed the land, the "revolutionary committees" of the despot had the run of the place. Always with Gadhafi, the buffoonery and the personal depravity—the outrageous costumes, the tent he carried with him to distant capitals, the rantings in international forums, the phalanx of female bodyguards in a conservative Muslim society, and the four "voluptuous" Ukrainian nurses who travelled with him everywhere—went hand in hand with official terror against dissidents who dared question his despotism.
But sadly the downfall of the Gaddafi regime is the death of the dream of Isratine.  Yes, a one-state solution thought up by Brother Leader to satisfy all by combining Israel and Palestine.  I can remember sitting at the coffee shop at Hotel Balima, facing the Moroccan Parliament.  I was sipping milky sweet cafe (made so wonderful because the milk was first frothed then the shot pulled in) and reading in the International Herald Tribune about the Arab League Plan just announced at the Arab League Summit.  The paper described the hysterical laughter of the Jordanian diplomats when the Libyan diplomats stopped the departing delegates to demand why Gaddafi's proposal had not been debated with the same earnestness.  Isratine, please.  I also remember the follow up letters years later when Gaddafi tried to reintroduce his plan.  Someone wrote back and said, sure you go first: Libgypt.

Biryani Diplomacy

Calls from Shahzeb Shaikha in Pakistan's Daily Times for gastrodiplomacy in the form of "Biryani Diplomacy"!  Luv it!:
It is time to break away from the stiffness — dry cleaned designer jackets, gold and silver cufflinks, sparkling jewelry and air-conditioned drawing rooms. Pakistan and India should go back to their roots, and their leaders and diplomats should roll up their sleeves, loosen their ties and take their fellow counterparts to the local biryani joint.

New dialogue between the South Asian rivals calls for a new form of diplomacy, where top officials can go out, eat familiar cuisines and sit between the very people whose fate they are negotiating. This would give them a feel of how welcoming and hospitable one neighbour can be to another. It would also remind the bureaucrats and top politicians of the daily struggle of the ordinary workers who cook and clean and serve them their lunch, working hard for their livelihoods. If US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev can sit between regular Americans in a local hamburger joint in Virginia, surely Prime Ministers Singh and Gilani can catch a bite at Student Biryani or Biryani Centre. Away from the lavish chandeliers of the Secretariat and the aiwans, Pakistanis could show their Indian counterparts that the biryani on the other side of the border is worth timely and regular visits. They could catch a spicy bird — chicken tikka — in the evening on another visit.
The purpose is to remove this air of hostility and murkiness of past wars. Let both sides learn that the struggle to balance power in South Asia has kept two potential trading partners distant for 64 years. No Coke or Pepsi, only sweet lassi or sugarcane (ganna) juice for drinks. Our ability to speak common languages should further cultural exchange — like trips to Mohenjo-Daro and the Red Fort in return for the Taj Mahal and Akshardham. Both countries should initiate a student exchange programme and promote joint educational ties. Combining efforts in science and technological advancement could help Pakistan attract some of the international acclaim India has earned.

If our North American counterparts visit, we should introduce them to Mr Burger. Let us show them that ours can out-taste the Big Macs and Whoppers of Macdonald’s and Burger King. In this light, I also suggest the ‘Cuisine Corps’, a government-funded group of paid volunteers, made up of students, adults and cooks, who go on a one-year mission abroad to immerse and live with the local population, cook Pakistani dishes and feed the hungry. Missions should extend from Central America to the deserts of Africa and poverty-stricken neighbourhoods of the Middle East and South Asia. We could also have a similar programme within Pakistan.

These measures are symbols of soft power. The positive projection of Pakistani people and culture can win us praise, attract tourists and improve our image. The richness of our culture, clothing, food, music and language are national treasures we can offer in the face of our current problems. Such an initiative should cater to those whom we serve. Sitting between common Pakistanis, PM Gilani can reassure them that he too is of the people and working for the people. President Asif Ali Zardari could also follow suit. Once in a while, he should roll up his sleeves, take a lunch break and head to a local biryani joint.

The point is for leaders to better their public outreach and improve their standing with the public. They know well that in a year and a half they have to go back to the polls and ask the same people for votes. Pakistani politicians have always fallen short of selling themselves in a legitimate manner. The voters must be able to relate to them. They must be able to say, “Hmm, Yousaf Raza Gilani is someone I can go out and have a biryani with. He is likeable.” For India-Pakistan relations, guns, missiles and soldiers are out — cardamom, garam masala and sajji are in.
Kudos to Shaikha for the biryani diplomacy, the only problem is that the notions are at the diplomatic level and not for public diplomacy consumption.

Having traveled to Pakistan, and having written about the cosmopolitan side of Pakistan, I can appreciate the Pakistani desire to offer a more nuanced picture of the country. Unfortunately, the nation brand is currently pretty toxic and no repackaging is going to fix it. Rather than trying to start with a major rebranding, starting small and focusing on issues like culinary diplomacy is much smarter. Gastrodiplomacy and the promotion of Pakistani food would be a positive first step to showcasing another side of Pakistan. The richness of Pakistani cuisine would be a positive introduction to the culture of Pakistan to many places that currently have negative perceptions.  

Friday, August 26, 2011

African solutions to African problems

African solutions to African problems, right?  The slogan that often proves hollow when push-comes-to-shove on the continent.  Case in point related to the famine in the Horn of Africa, and how only 4 African states out of 54 on the continent came to the AU summit in Addis to deal with the famine.

Charleston Chew

I had a great time last week down in Charleston with my little brother Harry.  I went down south with him to help him move in ahead of his senior year at College of Charleston.  First off, College of Charleston has a gorgeous campus, full of hanging Spanish moss, old timey lampposts and antebellum charm.
Tuesday we spent wandering around campus.  Harry works as a campus tour guide, so he gave me quite a comprehensive tour.  As we popped into different buildings, I was also impressed by his rapport with his professors.  The plus of attending a small school in full force.  Harry is also superinvolved in campus life, serving as president of the Jewish Student Union as well as the aforementioned campus tour biz.  After touring campus and Harry getting a chance to stop in on various places, we made our way to Folly Beach just a lil outside Charleston.  Harry marveled that just a week prior he had been on the Pacific down in Peru.  We went grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly (luv it, feel like I am driving Ms. Daisy), and made shakshouka for dinner.  After dinner, we went to a hipster bar called the Tattooed Moose.  We drank PBR cans and pitched pennies in a fun game called Sapo as a good band rocked out with some good ol gritty rock.

Wednesday we went back-to-school shopping and had a housewarming potluck at Harry's casa.  We later won a trivia night at a bar/restaurant called the Kickin' Chicken.  After buckets of PBRs (yes, being back in collegelandia, I drank a lot of PBR), Harry and I climbed up to the roof of a building on campus and enjoyed the night sky.

Thursday I got the pub crawl tour of Charleston.  Harry took me out to walk around every nook and cranny he had discovered in the regal city.  He took me down back alleys and past palatial old southern homes in the crown jewel of the south.  As the rains came in, we wandered through the Battery.  We ducked into a bar called the Blind Tiger where Harry had a gift certificate that my sis and I bought for him for his 21st.  We killed that over $2.50 Newcastles and made our way on.  We continued our crawl at the Kicken Chicken for a shot of rumpleminz courtesy of our trivia.

We made our way back to Harry's place and on for some fancy Southern cuisine at Hominy Grill.  I had a Fried Green Tomato ALT (avocado substituted for the B) with ancho chile lime mayo; Harry had the southern fried chicken; we split the deep fried cheese grits, which were immaculate.  Think crust fried outside with cheesy soft grits under the surface.  We washed dinner down with a drink that combined cheerwine (southern cherry coke), gin and vermouth.  For dessert, we split a piece of rich buttermilk pie (kinda like a pumpkin pie with vanillay-custardy taste rather than pumpkin) with homemade whip cream on top.

We continued on to a bar called Closed for Business, where we drank espresso stouts until the evening browned out.

Friday reminded me that I am not in college anymore.

I was supposed to fly out friday night, but storms in Baltimore had my flight delayed 3 hours and Southwest offered to switch free of charge so I bagged the flight and decided to head out on Saturday.  Harry swung back to the airport and grabbed me.  We headed back and grabbed some gullah food (you can check the links about gullah communities and their food, it is quite fascinating, basically an African-American community that preserved distinct West African cultures and traditions).  The food was best described as similar to soul food.  I had some stewed okra, red rice and yams; Harry had a succulent fried pork chop.  I started pondering the notions of promoting soul food as American gastrodiplomacy, I will hit on that later.

With our extra day, Saturday morning Harry and I walked up to the beautiful cantilevered Ravenell Bridge

I made it out later that evening back to DC.  It was a great week that let me see my brother in his element.  It was a lot of fun to see him running around in his own world, and I got a brief peak into it.  He had visited me at Brandeis, in Houston, in Argentina, and in LA, so he had seen my world many times; this was the first time I got to see his world.  It was a great bit of brother bonding.  Too bad I will have to don my blue coat and face off against that grey.

The Irene Conspiracy

Provision shopping for Irene makes me think that the supermarkets are in cahoots with the weather center.

And I can't get the "Come on Irene" to the tune of Eileen out of my noggin.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Qatar's muscles

Interesting article about tiny Qatar flexing some muscles with Libya by training the Libyan rebels.  A bit different than their usual niche of conflict resolution, but perhaps this is part of a conflict resolution+ pd strategy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Herbivore Power!

Salon has a good piece on discussing being a veg with carnivores.

On costal quakes

From an article by Gawker on Californians being insufferable post-DC quake:
Listen, we know the average Californian was born amid a thundering 7.5 magnitude quake and popped out directly into a mudslide. We've all read tales of how the bright pioneers of San Francisco bathe their young in tsunamis and kill mountain lions for sport (and yet would shrivel and die if the temperature fell below 65.)

But can we wimpy East Coasters just have our moment of absolutely shitting ourselves in fear as our non-earthquake-proofed buildings wobble and creak around us? Can we crawl around on our carpets to survey the paltry damage—look, a book fell off a shelf! That could have given someone a serious goose-egg!—without some Californian standing smugly in the doorframe like they learned in grade school, chewing on a PowerBar from the earthquake preparedness kit they carry around in a Lakers fanny pack at all times?

GOP & Taxes

Harold Meyerson is on point with his oped: those foes of tax increases finally found a tax increase they didn't mind- one on the middle-class and working poor. 

Japan is numero uno

Interesting piece in FP today on what if Japan is really number one in the world.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Update 2 from Somaliland

This is the second update from my old roomie Danny:
Update 2

Why I’m incredibly safe here:
Hargeisa, and Somaliland in general, is small. No one knows the exact population of this soon to be country, but it is thought to hover around 2 million. Somaliland is governed by an intricate and all inclusive clan system (literally everyone is part of one, except for the Ethiopian refugees) that holds clans responsible for the acts of their constituents. Because of this communal structure, as well as the size of the Hargeisa community and the palpable desire to be recognized as an independent nation if anything were to happen to me, be it robbed, raped, or murdered, punishment would be assured, swift and severe. So I feel that I am much better off here than probably anywhere else in the developing world, and am less likely to get robbed or molested here than the school I worked at in South-Central Los Angeles.

Despite living five minutes away from my work, my organization insists on having a driver pick me up and drop me off every day. My organization takes this precaution because they are worried for my safety. Not because there is a danger of anything happening to me (the last attack on a westerner was in 2001) but because if something does happen to me, they are afraid that it will hinder Somaliland’s attempt to be recognized as an independent nation. It’s nice to know that someone is looking out for me,

So far everything is slow, because this country is very poor, and it’s Ramadan. Since its dry and hot, and no one can drink or eat during daylight hours, the pace of life is considerably slow. At an “upscale” grocery store I saw beer for sale that had an advertised 0.0 percent amount of alcohol (they take that part of Islam very seriously here) At first I laughed at the idea of buying a 0.0 beer, but I have a feeling that in a month the idea of non-alcoholic beer will become more enticing.

On Poverty:
Poverty and under-development seems to be heavily romanticized in the white west, especially poverty in the developing global South. But just for brown people, not white. When brown people are impoverished it’s quaint, noble, authentic. When white people are poor its shameful and disarming (granted this romanticism trend might falter as poverty becomes a more likely lifestyle option in the U.S.). Some argue that that’s what the novel Heart of Darkness was all about. The Europeans were raping central Africa for its ivory, a symbol of Europe trying to reclaim its lost innocence. Well if could choose between my innocence or a life free of the threat of malaria and the option of running water…I’ll take door number two. All I can say is that after a week of this shit I’m totally over it. I’m tired of having to boil water all day, and of having to wash myself with a washcloth. I’m tired of walking on an unpaved dirt road that glimmers with thousands of multi-colored discarded plastic bags, sprinkled in with a random shoe here and there. I yearn for green leafy vegetables whose consumption isn’t entangled with the prospect of life-threatening dysentery (although the death-vegetable connection is also becoming more prominent in the west).
So after a week’s worth of observation I feel like I can definitively say that poverty blows.

So USA is number 1!......... or at least in like the top 25

P.S. There is one thing that Hargeisa and Boston have in common, a dearth of street signs.


American Voices, the nonprofit that I wrote about in my piece on country music diplomacy conducted a "Hiplomacy" tour through India. American rappers, beatboxers and breakdancers got down with their Indian counterparts in Calcutta.

I Sing Ulaan Bataar

Prof. Gary Rawnsley has an interesting piece in the USC CPD blog called I Sing Beijing on cultural diplomacy and the possibly tenuous connection to a nation's soft power.

His piece reminded me about a strange story about Mongolian throat singing, a tradition that Mongolians taught to China, only to see China claim it in UNESCO as its own.

Fire and Brimstone

The DC Earthquake is further proof that G-d hates the Tea Party!

The PDC & Me

I was just accepted as a member of the Public Diplomacy Council. I think I might be its most junior member.  Quite an honor.  A big thanks to Mike McCurry for nominating me.

The killing fields shift south

Oh, South Sudan.  No sooner do you get hard fought independence, do you get down to killing each other.  This was part of the reason it took 40 years in the desert before you gained freedom.  This is also a reminder why, even though I favored the south, I never bought in to the good guy-bad guy narrative tied in the north-south divide.  Does ENOUGH raise its voice on intra-South Sudan massacres?

Monday, August 22, 2011


Cobb: “We drop into limbo.”
Arthur: “Are you serious?”
Ariadne: “Limbo?”
Arthur: “Unconstructed dream space.”
Ariadne: “Well what the hell is down there?
Arthur: “Just raw infinite subconcious, nothing is down there. Except for whatever might have been left behind by anyone sharing the dream who’s been trapped down there before. Which in our case, is you.”

DF safer than DC

The IMF took down the Pharoah

Foreign Policy has a fascinating piece on how the IMF and liberalization, as well as the crony capitalism that followed in its wake, helped bring down Pharaoh Mubarak.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Somaliland update

This comes from my old roomie Danny, who is working in Somaliland.  I don't think he will mind that I have shared his travails here:

Update: Somaliland 1
First of all I have to ask the question, what the fuck am I doing here? Seriously.
So when I landed in Somaliland it wasn’t quite what I expected (not that I really expected too much). For starters my final flight landed in Berbera instead of the capitol, Hargeisa. Secondly Berbera, the hub airport of Somaliland, consists only of a clay building about the size of a doublewide trailer and a desert.
The reason why my flight was not continuing to Hargeisa wasn’t explained to me. One possible explanation is that the delay of our flight from Dubai might be the cause. Once we had boarded the flight in Dubai it became apparent that the luggage wasn’t boarded yet. This led to several individuals in the front of the plane to go into the cockpit and accost the pilot for at least 45 minutes, long after the final pieces of luggage were put into the plane. The second possible explanation is that its Ramadan, which apparently means anything goes.

When I landed in Berbera I got in an argument with a representative from the only airline company that flies to Somalia/land, Jubba Air.
He said, “you take bus to Hargeisa.”
I said, “I paid for a plane ticket to Hargeisa, I want to fly there.”
He said, “Now you take bus.”
End of argument
I was angry because I didn’t know any one in Berbera; there were no contacts there to pick me up. No contacts meant I would get hassled by government officials, which is exactly what happened. First they confiscated my passport and required me to exchange fifty U.S. dollars for the Somaliland equivalent, which is something like 4,000,000 Somaliland Shillings. In the process I was charged numerous banking fees whose purposes were poorly articulated to me (my contact later told me that all white foreigners had to go through that process. Next they wanted me to pay for a second visa just to leave Berbera, and to pay for an official police escort to Hargeisa. Fortunately I got my passport when I exchanged the dollars for the schillings, and hid behind the Jubba Air representative so that he would protect me from the government officials. I was really frightened by them. They looked at me like I was a newly discovered winning lottery ticket, and the last thing I wanted was to be left alone with them. Who knows what other surcharge fees they had in mind. Fortunately I got on a bus with the other jaded passengers and met up with my contact at the Jubba headquarters in Hargeisa.
So I’m at a place called the Red Sea Hotel. All I can say is that it could be worse. The fee was originally 20 dollars a night. I asked the manager if I could get a reduction in fees because I would be staying there for three months, and then prepared to get my haggle on. He offered me 15 dollars a night flat out, which was my goal in the first place, so I consented without argument. Literally 2 minutes later the manager told me that he had prayed to Allah, and had decided to reduce my fee to 10 dollars a night. Thanks Allah, life’s just too easy when you are this good looking.
TIA Danny, TIA.

Scattered, smothered, covered, diced diplomacy

I set out yesterday with my little brother to head down to Charleston.  We had an uneventful drive down, the 500 or so miles through Virginia and the Carolinas went pretty quick.  After arrival and unpacking in his new place, we went out for dinner at the ubiquitous Waffle House.

To celebrate our arrival to Chucktown, Harry and I feasted on Southern fare.  I had two eggs over easy, creamy grits and a buttery Texas biscuit.  He had a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit as well as a side of bacon.  We split Waffle House's famous hashbrowns, and had them scattered, smothered (cheese), covered (onions), diced (tomatoes) and peppered (jalepenos).  Of course, we had to split the eponymous waffle, and feasted on a buttermilk chocolate chip version, swimming in butter and syrup.  All washed down with the diabetic life blood of the south: sweet tea.

Oh, Waffle House, God shed his grace on thee. As Undersec for PD, I am going to shut down all American Cultural Centers and replace them with Waffle Houses. Can't think of a better form of American cultural and gastrodiplomacy; there is no better symbol of the south and of good ol' American cultural values.  Thus, I will turn America's ambassadors into short-order cooks.

In all seriousness, sometimes it seems that cultural diplomacy tries a little too hard.  Don't get me wrong, I love jazz and interpretative dance as much as any cultural diplomat, but greasy spoons and diners are such a vivid symbol of American life, and would have been a wonderful thing to have at the eatery at the Shanghai Expo ("Better hashbrowns, better life").  This all fits into my own running discussion (with myself) about doing American public diplomacy that is really drawn from the American public, not frou-frou high culture but good ol' fashioned Americana.

Perhaps I am a populist public diplomat but in true PT Barnum style, I would try to conduct cultural diplomacy ala the country fair. As I have previously written, effective public diplomacy takes a national trait, distills it and communicates it abroad in a tangible fashion that plays on multiple senses. In this regard, nothing signifies the US of A like the county fair.  I would recommend that the US conduct a global country fair the same way that Malaysia set up Malaysian night markets in Trafalgar Square, the Meatpacking District (NYC) and the 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica, and the way I have counseled Taiwan to conduct night market diplomacy.  This also gets back to a secondary running theme of getting pd buy-in from the heartland of America, and getting Red-State America to realize that public diplomacy showcases their culture too.

This all gets back to the Edward Bernays-PT Barnum School of Public Diplomacy that I am in the process of expanding.  This particular school gets that the way you connect public diplomacy to the public is not through rational explanation but irrational, emotional connections; you don't win hearts and minds through the ears (unless it is with country music), but rather through the stomach and other sensory points.

So, in short, don't laugh too hard at my plans for public diplomacy with a side of biscuits and gravy.

Monday, August 15, 2011

South Cackalacky

Create myself down south
Impress all the women
Pretend I'm Samuel Clemens
Wear seersucker and white linens

-Tom Petty, Down South

Heading down south to the Carolinas to help my lil bro Harry move in at College of Charleston for his senior year.  Gonna have a fine ol' time carpetbagging in the Palmetto State.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's painting, Uncle Sam?

"America is a poem in our eyes"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Working backwards, as I am finding Sundays prove good for such things.  I spent some wonderful trips in the past weeks at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.  They are two museums housed in the same elaborate building, down near the Chinatown metro stop.

I visited the Smithsonian American Art Museum first, a few week back in July.  The hall opened with some wonderful paintings of that depicted various American scenes including a stunning pic called Chef's Canoe by Belmore Brown.  The image below does no justice to the beauty of the painting, with the reflection of the canoe in the glass water, and the rugged glaciers behind.

There were some other lovely paintings of prairies and other bits of Americana.  The second hall was a bit lackluster, of pictures of monuments that was just fair.  The exhibit opened up into an immaculate alter made from tin foil and gold foil
                                                           Yes, that is all aluminium foil.

Anyway the major point of the exhibit is the To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America.  The show included contemporaries of Ault including Andrew Wyeth and and Edward Hooper.  The exhibit had a lot of the Americana aesthetic that we associate with so much of the landscape of American art from the mid-20th century.

There was a stunning piece by Andrew Wyeth called "Night Hauling" with crates of lobsters pouring starlight phosphorescence back into the seas.  Le petit lobsterman is looking away in anonymity as the haunting light seeps out.  I was reminded of the night squid trawlers whose white star lights punctuated the velvet seas and skies of the Tsuguru Straits in Hakodate, Japan.

There was another eerie painting by Raphael Gleitsmann called "Bridge and Town" that is an empty polluted landscape with morbid light posts that hang like withered branches in an industrial sky of yellowed smog.

A favorite picture from the exhibit was by Ault himself called "January Fall Moon".  The painting had a 3D-like quality, with the white ridges of snow under the barn ledge giving depth.  They sky had a deep purple that even I could see.  The clouds shone down in the moonlight and cast shadows on the barn and ground that enhanced the dimensional effects.

Yet somehow I missed the stairs to the second floor of exhibition, and wandered off to work in the lovely courtyard in between the Smithsonian and Portrait Gallery.  I got sufficiently distracted enough and left.

I returned a few weeks later to the same building, but different museum and went to the Portrait Gallery.  I have always liked this museum and had a great time wandering through it.

I found a great portrait of the actor Ira Aldridge, known as the "American Othello".  Due to discrimination, the talented Aldridge was forced to ply the thespian trade in Europe.

"Go West young man, and grow up with the country."
-Horace Greely (1850)

One of my favorite periods of American history is the Antebellum era , and I loved the room that dealt with some of that period's famous figures.  There was a great description of the era:
"Americans in the Antebellum period (1840s-1860s) constantly tested their limits, both as individuals and as a society confronting the challenges of settling and conquering the vast country that lay to the new west of the original coastal states.  This ongoing confrontation between the ambitions of man and the awesome power of nature contributed to an even more romantic and radical conception of American individualism.  Yet these unfettered individuals had to deal with the practical realities of creating states and territories from western lands.  To justify western expansion, Americans evolved the idea of "Manifest Destiny" to become a continental nation.  Manifest Destiny made it easier to justify Indian removal and the annexation of southwest lands from Mexico.  But dissenting voices began to be heard, as some Americans questions whether or not the nation was losing its moral compass."
In this particular gallery, there were portraits of luminaries like John C. Fremont, Zack Taylor, Stephen F. Austin and a bust of good ol' Sam Houston.  Also a fascinating bit on Thomas Hart Benton, the US Senator from Missouri who was equally vocal in Manifest Destiny and yet keeping slavery out of the new territories.

I was especially taken with a small note on Mathew Brady and his role with the image and icon of Lincoln.  The pic on the right came at the critical Cooper Union speech, and helped convey an image of a dignified Lincoln that shone over the caricature depictions that Lincoln's enemies had been pushing.

"Insurrection of though always precedes insurrection of arms."
-Wendel Phillips

I also loved the various portraits of the suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, alongside the abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and WP.  I felt like I was swimming back through ages and pages from Yohuru's class.

I wandered my way back upstairs and found myself this time back over in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  There, I found a wonderful painting by Albert Bierstadt
I had a chuckle of the notion of Bierstadt doing American propaganda/ nationbranding.  Apparently Bierstadt was equally talented as a self-promoter as he was a painter.  His imagery of an American Eden in the west helped sell America as the promised land to immigrants in Europe, and helped push his unveilings amid serious pomp.  The picture above is believed to be more conjured imagery by Bierstadt than factual place.  

LA Lights

LA Light from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Write about Afrika

A great article by Binyavanga Wainaina. ThaX!nks HaX!rry.
How to Write About Africa

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘real Africa’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people’s property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Public Diplomacy & the Newseum

I have a new blog on CPD on using the Newseum as an outlet for Public Diplomacy:

For a field that is predicated on communication, we public diplomats don’t always do as good a job as we could in communicating what is public diplomacy to the public that we serve.  As such, it remains an ongoing challenge for the field to create awareness of what public diplomacy is and what it entails.
I recently visited the Newseum in Washington, DC.  The Newseum is a veritable museum of the Fourth Estate, interactively chronicling the history of the communication of information.  The Newseum’s mission is "to help the public and the news media understand one another better" as well as to "raise public awareness of the important role of a free press in a democratic society".   In the seven-level, 250,000 square ft museum, the history of journalism and the relationship between media and society are methodically evaluated and analyzed.  Since opening, the Newseum has become one of the most popular attractions in Washington.
Unfortunately, for a museum that so deeply dissects the diffusion of ideas, there is nary a word about public diplomacy.  To be sure, the museum touches on figures important to public diplomacy such as George Creel and his work with the Committee on Public Information (CPI) and Carl Rowan and his work with United States Information Agency (USIA).  In addition, microphone memorabilia from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is included among its section on the impact of radio on the dissemination of information.  Meanwhile, in its section honoring journalists slain in the line of duty, the Newseum includes RFE/RL journalists among it memorializes. 

The museum devotes a whole section to the doyen of American public diplomacy, Edward R. Murrow.  In this section, there is a moving video on the life of Murrow, as narrated by public radio host and biographer Bob Edwardswhich mentions Murrow’s work with USIA and briefly notes the films that USIA produced for global audiences under Murrow’s stewardship.  There are even a few of Murrow’s effects, such as the seal from Murrow’s office when he ran the show at USIA.  
On the whole, the story of American public diplomacy is largely missing from the Newseum This absence presents a golden opportunity for the public diplomacy community to work with the Newseum to design an exhibit on public diplomacy.  
An exhibit that chronicles American public diplomacy could showcase the history of public diplomacy and the advocacy work of the CPI and USIA.  It could provide the public with the framework to understand the differences between diplomacy, public diplomacy and propaganda.  
Such an exhibit could help document the cultural diplomacy efforts of those like Willis Connover through his program “Jazz Hour”, or the role of The Family of Man as successful American cultural diplomacy outreach, as well as focus on the many others who did so much to contribute to American public and cultural diplomacy efforts abroad yet whose work remains largely unknown to the American public.  Moreover, an exhibit highlighting American cultural diplomacy could help educate audiences about the vital role that cultural projection played during the Cold War.

The exhibit could examine international broadcasting outlets like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It could also examine the role played by government-supported broadcast networks in communicating information.  Meanwhile, the exhibit could outline issues like the Smith-Mundt Act, and describe why outlets like VOA and RFW/RL remain behind the firewall and how such situations can be construed as antiquated in light of the modern media landscape.  
Over the years, the Newseum has played host to a number of public diplomacy events such as CPD’s event “A New Public Diplomacy” and the 60th anniversary celebration of Radio Free Europe, but it has yet to host a full-scale exhibition on public diplomacy.   If we are to broaden the overall understanding of public diplomacy, then popular locations like the Newseum offer perfect locales to communicate such ideas.  The old USIA slogan was “Telling America’s Story”; if we are to successfully tell the world America’s story, then we must come up with creative ways of communicating to American audiences how our story is told globally. 


Might the academic bubble be next to burst?

"Based on Consumer Price Index data, the cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled since 2000, and has outpaced inflation across all goods, health care, housing and energy."

The Fall

Michael Cox has a good piece for Chatam House about the decline of Pax Americana:
It is well worth recalling this mood today if we are to fully appreciate how far things have changed since 9/11. At the turn of the century Americans felt self-confident and the US acted as if there was little that it could not do – even invade Iraq with little concern for the deeply disturbing impact this might have on both the Middle East and its own position in the world. A decade on and America looks to have changed almost beyond recognition.

Firstly, it has changed politically. There are many reasons why Barack Obama was elected in late 2008. But amongst the most important was the simple fact that Americans no longer felt confident about the direction in which the country was going after two terms of a republican administration that had first brought them the Iraq war and then the financial crisis of 2007. Whether or not Obama has delivered on all of his promises remains a moot question. What is not in question however is the extent to which his remarkable rise was made possible by a widespread sense that America was in crisis and that something new – and possibly radical – was needed to restore US standing in the world and possibly prevent it experiencing another great depression.

This in turn raises a much wider question about Americans themselves. For a very short while 9/11, and indeed the war in Iraq itself, united them like only a war can do. But unlike the Cold War, this particular 'clash' against Islamic militancy has effectively divided the country, making the ideological gap between liberals on the one hand and conservatives on the other almost unbridgeable. It has also had a corrosive impact upon American self-confidence. Troop losses in Afghanistan and Iraq, the huge economic costs involved in waging these wars, and the fear that the means involved in fighting a particular kind of enemy might be undermining US core values, has not only done much to dent American amour propre but made Americans increasingly uncertain about the country's purpose in the world.

This would be bad enough. But what has further contributed to Americans' sense that the world is no longer moving in their direction is firstly the impact that the economic crisis has had on that intangible thing called the American way of life – only a quarter of Americans in 2011 believed that their children would have better chances than themselves - plus an even stronger sense that changes taking place globally are fast undermining its ability to shape what is taking place around them. There has certainly been too much talk of late about the next century being Asian and the axis of power moving rapidly away from the west to the east. Still, as economists like Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs noted, some time ago, while the US waged war in the Middle East and against the Taliban in Afghanistan, others – some of those so-called BRIC's - seemed to be getting on with the business of making money, building new partnerships, and pulling themselves out of the economic crisis a good deal more rapidly than the US and its transatlantic allies.

Which leads lastly to the question of the balance of power. When Bush assumed office few questioned the idea that the world was unipolar or that the US would remain dominant for many decades to come. To coin a phrase, there was little chance of the sun setting on this unique form of liberal empire for many decades to come. Its future looked assured. Now it all looks very different. With China rising and even buying up a good deal of America's debt; with new powers like India pushing their way upwards; and with its own capacities diminishing in an age of austerity – few today talk as they once confidently did of an ever-lasting American primacy. Some may continue to point to the enormous structural advantages enjoyed by the United States; of how many great universities it still possesses; of its rare combination of hard and soft power; of the fact that it remains the only serious power that there is with true global reach; that its corporations constitute well over half of the world's largest; and that the dollar still accounts for over sixty percent of the world's international transactions. But in the current climate such facts appear to be cutting little ice with those who now insist that as result of George Bush's ill-conceived war on terror, followed by the financial crisis of 2007, American decline is now a foregone conclusion.

The last three feet...to the bar

I did a bit of organizing and managed to set up a PDDC happy hour last night for all the semi-recent PD grads from Syracuse, AU and USC last night (sorry GW, although an invite did go out though).   No slight to our more august PD friends in the DC area, this was for the pd juniority and I am sure we can find a way to include the pd boyars at later date.

Anyway, we had probably about 25 people come out last night for a bit of networking.  Syracuse had the lion's share of attendees, I was amazed how many Orangepeople are in DC.  Part of this is due to the structure of the 'Cuse program, which has its last semester serve as an internship period in DC, and many of the PD grads stay on in the area.  Anywho, a lot of fun, and hopes for a subsequent affair the following month.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


The Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I waterd it in fears
Night & morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretchd beneath the tree.

-William Blake, The Poison Tree

Monday, August 08, 2011

Talmud Business Hotel

Yes, there is really a hotel in Taiwan called the Talmud Business Hotel, check out the description:
Talmud Business Hotel Taichung is a Business hotel that is named after a holy book contains a collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish law and traditions. The word Talmud has the following meanings: “Instruction, Learning, Teach and Study”. Inspired by the Talmud theory, the owner uses red interior to add a splash of fashion and professionalism. In each room, there’s also a copy of “Talmud-Business Success Bible” for anyone who would like to experience the Talmud way of becoming successful.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

RT's best PD assets

I heard a fascinating interview on CSPAN with RT program host Alyona Minkovki, who hosts the RT program The Alyona Show.  I think I have a PD crush.  I had no idea international broadcasting could be so hot.  And she is actually pretty savvy too.  Kind of a PD-IB-RT Rachel Maddow. Will have to see if Deutsche Welle or France24 has anything comparable.  Kudos to RT and Ms. Alyona, nice public diplomacy work.

Friday, August 05, 2011


There is an interesting article in FP today about Pakistan's internal war in Baluchistan.  The conflict in Baluchistan is a long-simmering issue, and a reminder that Pakistan has some real serious internal divisions that aren't always in the spotlight but are just as serious. 

Bolt Branding

Something I found kinda interesting.  I am up in NYC at the moment, and to get here I hopped the Bolt Bus.  Bolt is one of the many cheap carriers to New York that sprung up over the last few years to shuttle between DC and NY, among other places.

Anyway, at the rest stop at the midway point, I was about to get back on the bus when I noticed a tag on the bottom of the bus that said "Greyhound".  I asked the bus driver about it, and he said that Bolt Bus is owned by Greyhound.  Fascinating.

This particular line doesn't leave from the Greyhound terminal but rather from Union Station, and there is little to make you think it is connected.  So Greyhound spun off a whole subsidiary of bus lines in part because, I am assuming, of the associations with the Greyhound brand.  There are perceptions and associations with the Greyhound brand that would make some consumers wary, but the Bolt brand has no such issues.  Same services, same bus, different brand and reputation.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

4 qs to Obama

Marilyn made a better birthday wisher than moi.  In any case, Happy Birthday Mr. President.  

Chindian International Broadcasting

There was an interesting story in The Hindu on Chinese public diplomacy outreach in Tamil to Tamil Nadu via China's international broadcasting arm China Radio International.  Smart PD from China.  You can see from the article how impressed some listeners were by the effort.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Liias for Congress!

My friend and former Prague roomie Marko Liias is running for Congress.  He has been working his way up the political system, first as city council, then as a State Rep.  I got to watch the nitty-gritty of local politics when I visited the great Markocratus in the halls of Olympia.  Marko has a brilliant political sense, and a wittier sense-of-humor, which he will use to eviscerate the Tea Party. Good luck Marko, I will be supporting your campaign with checks for $18!  

Nihao India!

I'm pleased to see Taiwan conducting more cultural diplomacy outreach to India in the form of a new Taiwan Education Center to teach Mandarin.  The new center is just north of Delhi, and will offer Mandarin classes for Indian students.  

Museum on the Seam

The Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem- a Frank Gehry building in J-town, is holding a number of fascinating exhibits of art work from the Muslim world.  Of course, this is proving a tad controversial.

It ain't easy being green

Back at USC, we did a lot of work examining theories on Middle Powers and the concrete public diplomacy strategies of such actors in areas like niche diplomacy.  Iin short, niche diplomacy is how Middle Powers take on leadership roles in niche areas, and by doing global good, they do well in public diplomacy terms.

In my travels last year in Chindia, I started considering the theoretical framework for a new category: the public diplomacy of emerging powers.  Basically, the concept I am working on, and will examine further is that emerging great powers like Chindia need to conduct a Middle Powers Plus form of niche diplomacy, and show leadership in major global problems like climate change, the fight against global poverty and other such areas.

FP has a good article on the failure of US leadership in going green, and how the emerging power countries like Chindia aren't waiting around for the US in such matters.  What Chindia needs to do is combine this leadership with a more tangible PD strategy.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Socialite Spotlight

My friend and PD classmate Katherine (KK) Keith was highlighted in the glossies: Wiles Magazine did a profile on this lovely, talented public diplomatess in its Socialite Spotlight.  What the mag didn't mention is KK's pet project spearheading Socialites Without Borders.

Wither VOA?

In what strikes me as the worst PD move since USIA was folded up and America international broadcasting was placed under the aegis of the BBG, it appears that VOA is moving away from radio broadcasts to a push for internet broadcasting and social media outreach.  Not to be a PD luddite, but the vast majority of the world still connects via radio not internet.  VOA is being a tech dilettante and pushing for PD 2.0 when the world still requires PD 1.0.