Sunday, October 28, 2007

Harry Potter's Secret

From The Washington Post, an opinion piece by Michael Gerson: "Harry Potter's Secret."
'Hint: It has nothing to do with gay headmasters.'

Notes: Helen Thomas and David Gregory

"From Kennedy to Bush: Covering the White House from the Front Row"
A Conversation with Journalists Helen Thomas and David Gregory
Moderator: Prof. Steinhorn

Helen Thomas: former correspondent for United Press International; columnist
David Gregory: chief White House correspondent for NBC; AU alumnus

Q: What is your perspective on journalism, politics, and the White House media today?

HT: The White House and Pentagon press corps "fell down on the job" leading up to the invasion of Iraq- ran away scared from the administration by not questioning them more. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the reporters were "unleashed" but were still complacent in the questioning. The Bush administration is the most secretive she has ever covered--including the Nixon administration. "Every president tries to frame the truth, and the country suffers." Journalism is meant to be the search for truth.

DG: The time period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq was a momentous time. Disagrees with Helen Thomas that the WH Press Corps was negligent in their questioning- the country was in a different place then than they are now, they wanted action to be taken on those who attacked the U.S. Bush had a lot of political capital and spent it all on Iraq. The Congress and the country believed the evidence. Thinks the press corps did ask the right questions. People are now placing the blame for the Iraq debacle through the "prism of results." Doesn't see it as his role to tell the president his policies are bogus. Talking points for the country on politics come from the press. Congress didn't ask too many questions about the war either- pervasive post-9/11 fear. The anti-war movement took a long time to pull together. The media values their credibility with the public. The important questions pre-war were asked but didn't get airtime > the media was "turned against itself." Recognizes that reporters need to look hard at whether they did the right things, asked the right questions. The press had no leverage with the president, so the president had no accountability. Spikes in news coverage occur- intense investigative reporting doesn't always happen.

HT: Disagrees with DG- White House fed propaganda and the press corps let the rest of the country down by not questioning what they said more.

Q: What are Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert doing that the mainstream media isn't, and what does it mean for the media at large?

Moderator's Comments: Stewart and Colbert expose hypocrisy in the government by putting the present actions in the context of past actions.

DG: Big change away from network news to cable and online news. Stewart and Colbert make us laugh and have a left-wing point of view that a lot of people appreciate. They point out the ridiculous and have a niche audience. Not a direct challenge to the mainstream media, but it is at the same time. Different audience, different products. It's not the news networks' jobs to be funny like Stewart and Colbert.

HT: Read the newspapers. Read the comics first. You can find a lot of truth in comics.

DG: Build your critical thinking skills. Read columnists and editorials with different points of view, and challenge them.

Q: How do you as journalists build up firewalls against spin?

HT: Take everything with a grain of salt. Assume they aren't telling the whole truth- they spin everything. Spin was made state-of-the-art during the Reagan administration. White House press secretaries have to be a little schizophrenic because they have to talk to so many different people.

DG: Spin is the toughest part of the job. Very subjective relationships- administrations have to be salesmen. Campaigns are like relationships- politicians have to know themselves and know the other people. Question everything, including conventional wisdom. Compare current statements with past statements--important to separate the spin.

Q: Which candidate in the 2008 presidential election would be most interesting to cover?

DG: Newbies are the best. Unscripted moments are fun.

HT: Obama- a new face, an idealist.

Q: Which president would you most like to have at dinner at your house?

HT: Kennedy- eyes on the stars.

Q: If you could give one president truth serum, who would it be?

DG: George W. Bush

Q: What was your best White House moment?

DG: The State Dinner with Queen Elizabeth and the press conference in Paris when he spoke in French to President Chirac and Pres. Bush started ribbing him about it.

HT: Several Reagan moments- "I should have taken your advice."

Q: How did the White House Press Corps change between the Clinton and Bush administrations?

DG: Under Clinton, the briefings started being open to the cameras; the increase of the Internet.

HT: WH Press Corps has changed a lot- the atmosphere especially- less personality is seen in the president

DG: Insight into the president personally helps with the quality of the coverage.

Q: What do you think of the coverage of the crisis in Darfur?

DG: Humanitarian crisis- coverage has increased but it hasn't been a huge priority. It's been underrepresented but some pockets have done a good job with the coverage (New York Times, NBC)- priority in the country as a whole needs to change.

Q: What are the consequences of the budget cuts that caused the closure of foreign news bureaus?

DG: Budget cuts did have a big effect on foreign news coverage.

Q: Is Fox News fair and balanced? Where should the line be in the relationships between relationships and the people they cover in terms of friendly and detached?

HT: Needs to be a respectful relationship- talk to them, get insight- part of the integrity of reporters. Fox News is not especially balanced- but any presidential interview is a good one.

DG: There's too much of a wall right now between coverers and coverees. Need to get to know people as well as you can. Fox is part of a niche audience.

Q: What's the future of TV network news with a more apathetic generation?

DG: Doesn't think this generation is that apathetic- lots of activism involved. TV news has to evolve to satisfy a more active audience. There's still a place for network news- it is still integral.

Q: Is there a declining interest in newspapers?

HT: Corporate chains problem- "Competition is the lifeblood of journalism." TV reaches more people than newspapers.

Q: What final words of wisdom do you have?

DG: Helen Thomas is the "conscience of the national press corps." She challenges the press corps. Study her example (?). Also DEVELOP CRITICAL THINKING.

HT: Keep learning--one of the privileges of journalism. Be attuned to what's going on. Don't repeat past errors. Participate in the system. "We are all responsible."

Friday, October 26, 2007


Live from American University over the friend Graham and his friend Nick now have a political news and opinion podcast: The AU EagleCast.

From the website:
"Join Nick Troiano and Graham Vyse for an inside the Beltway perspective on U.S. politics and current events."

First episode is now online...hopefully more to come soon! :-)

Chris Golden: Reflection on Jimmy Carter

Below is the text of a response written for a class assignment by my friend Chris Golden, who had the opportunity to go hear from former President Jimmy Carter about the crisis in Darfur and other topics. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, but I enjoyed reading Chris's thoughts on the event and so thought I would post them here.


As Dr. Cornelius Kerwin, President of American University, said in his introduction, “the opportunity to hear from a former President of the United States on any topic is uncommon.” It was with the awe and respect for the office of President and the former officeholder that Nicole and I attended an address by Former US President James Earl Carter, Jr. on Wednesday October 24th. The topic was Darfur and specifically President Carter’s work with The Elder’s Group, a group of what he called “political has-beens” who have been established to solve some of the world’s most complex issues. Carter outlined the four areas of The Elder’s work: stopping the violence and renewing attempts at democracy in Burma, democratization in Zimbabwe, a comprehensive plan to bring peace to the Middle East, and the Crisis in Sudan including the Darfur genocide.

The CEO of the Elder’s Group is Dr. Robert Pastor, a Vice President at American University. In his flattering introduction, Pastor declared that Carter is “the best ex-president the US has ever seen,” which is the tag line that has come to signify Jimmy Carter. Indeed in his opening words, President Carter repeated the familiar joke of a young child saying to his father, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a former president.” In his introduction, Pastor cited many of Carter’s foreign policy and diplomatic successes during his administration, many of which I have seen as lost or blurred with other presidents in the hindsight of American history. “President Carter normalized relations with China including spiritual relations with Taiwan,” Pastor said indicating that this normalization had a greater effect than President Nixon’s famous trip to China. “Because he negotiated the Panama Canal Treaty,” Pastor said, “the Canal is still open and doing better.” Pastor said that in the first three years of his Presidency, President Carter accomplished more in terms of foreign policy than any other United States President except for FDR & LBJ. “He is one of our greatest Presidents and one of our best past-Presidents,” he said.

This introduction made me think more about the Carter presidency, which is often cited as unsuccessful because of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Iranian Oil Embargo, and the national climate of malaise which persisted during his four years in the White House. Pastor made no mention of these challenges in his introduction and I would argue that when the Carter Presidency is studied with the advantage of independent historical thought (i.e. historians who were not alive during the Carter Presidency), the challenging and difficult aspects of the Carter Years will have more prevalence. However, I was also thinking during the introduction that when the Former President passes away (he remains vigorously active and in excellent health, however), that the successes of his Administration will again be considered by the nation as a whole.

President Carter gave a brief but understandably detailed account of the Crisis in Sudan, the division between the North and South, and the ethnic cleansing (as a technical point, Carter does not go as far as to use the term “genocide”) in Darfur. Carter said that he has visited Sudan at least once a year since 1988 and has been actively involved with negotiations between leaders within the country and with neighboring nations. Carter directly criticized the attention that Darfur has received in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations and openly chastised both leaders. However, Carter stopped short of offering specific policy changes that he would urge the US Government to impact immediately—he always phrased them as occurring in the future, meaning the next administration. It is common for former Presidents to try, as much as possible, to not criticize the current administration or answer questions like “If I were in office, I would do this…” because it can limit the effectiveness of decisions made by the Current Chief Executive. If one follows the news, however, they will find that of late Carter has had problems with keeping his personal and partisan views out of the public limelight, as when he said recently that Vice President Dick Cheney has been “a disaster for our country.”

One of the most interesting moments during the President’s hour-long talk was when he put himself in the shoes of the next President of the United States and offered suggestions as to what should be said in his/her inaugural address. “I hope that the next President will be a Democrat,” Carter said, “and then there will be an all-out effort to support peace,” specifically referring to peace in the Middle East. President Carter said that the 44th President should immediately abdicate the “new policy of pre-emptive war,” assure that the United States would “never again torture a person and adhere to all International agreements on torture,” work towards a permanent comprehensive peace plan in the Middle East (“I hope that the next President will announce at the initiation of their term an effort for comprehensive peace,” he said”), lead an effort to protect the environment and combat global warming, and insist that “we will raise high the banner of human rights” again.

It was an honor and a privilege to hear from President Jimmy Carter. Carter is the feature of a new documentary called Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains, and I will undoubtedly think about my front-row vantage point to his thoughts about the state of the world today, its troubles, its tribulations, and its future. Jimmy Carter may be a former President but he is forever an Ambassador of the United States.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Notes: Brookings Institution Visit

Speaker: Dr. Pietro Nivola, Vice President and Director of Governance Studies program
October 24, 2007

On the Brookings Institution
-Independent organization designed to influence government policy and inform the public debate through (somewhat biased) research.
-In terms of slant, Brookings is just left of center overall, but is one of the most centrist think tanks
-Oldest institution of its kind in the world, one of the biggest and most renowned
-Founded by St. Louis businessman Robert Brookings in 1916 or 1917 (about the time the U.S. entered WWI) because he and others saw that the government needed to develop a better planning and administration apparatus for management and budget especially
-Oldest department is Governance Studies; since then, it has branched out and formed different departments and centers for study
-Unlike university centers, Brookings exists not just to do academic studies, but to impact governmental policy. The amount of impact they have depends on the issue and on who is in power at the time.
-More right-of-center sister institute: American Enterprise Institute
-Brookings studies have impacted tax reform bills, the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act, and the Intelligence Reform Act, among others.

About Dr. Nivola
-Has worked at the Brookings Institute for 20 years
-Has worked on energy policy, trade policy, urban policy, and federalism
-Currently is working on a project about partisan polarization with the Hoover Institution at Stanford

Questions and Answers
-What impact does polarization have on foreign policy?
-Polarization is not always bad, but in conducting foreign policy (which is more long-term strategic concerns) it can have very negative effects.
-Without bipartisanship, foreign policy gets very messy
-Regarding the UN: John Bolton was your typical partisan posterboy, but there is precedent for having similarly U.S.-sovereignty-focused ambassadors from both parties (Daniel Patrick Moynihan would be an example)
-In what ways is partisanship not so bad?
-Without ideological differences, there is little to no debate, which makes politics very boring. This leads to low voter turnout and interest in the system, because differences inspire interest.
-People used to complain that the parties were too "mushy." No one knew what the platforms of the party were, because people shifted around their positions too much. Discipline in a party (voting along party lines) gets stuff done, for better or worse. This would be a majoritarian parliamentary-esque system.
-Do candidates utilize the Brookings Institute for their campaigns?
Brookings is not allowed to line up as an institute with any one campaign. Certain individuals will work on an individual level with campaigns, but they are not representing Brookings.
-Opportunity '08 project- attempt to engage candidates in policy dialogues. Most candidates stay pretty vague on policy throughout the campaign, but once they get elected, they want to know what next, and that's where think tanks like Brookings can step in.
-If partisanship is so prevalent, how come the frontrunners in the 2008 presidential campaign are the moderates?
The problem with primaries:
-Graham: Candidates need to cater to their specific parties, then reposition themselves for the general election to appeal to centrists
-Jenny: Yes- primaries are all about fundraising, and the money comes from the passionate people who are usually more fringe- the frontrunner is usually the best fundraiser
-When the party bosses picked candidates, they were looking for someone electable, close to the bulk of the voters. Today, only the committed passionate voters are the ones who vote in primaries, and they pick different kinds of candidates: either ones who are more extremists or virtual unknowns (like Jimmy Carter) with no paper trail and lots of time to campaign
-Hillary Clinton had to run a more centrist campaign to compensate for the ultra-liberal stigma that the conservatives are painting her with. She also has a big Rolodex of supporters thanks to her husband, so she doesn't need to pander to the Democratic base as much. Additionally, the Democratic party as a whole simply wants to win the election, so they'll probably bite their lips and vote for the person who has the best chance of winning.
-Rudy Giuliani may or may not prove to be the real Republican frontrunner. He's hard to characterize, a "weird duck," a social liberal trying to offset that image with a very hard line on foreign policy
-Don't write off Mitt Romney, although he could be easily painted as a flip-flopper- governed MA in a very moderate way but running now as a stern conservative- again, you have to paint yourself in one certain way to win the primary and then another way to win the general election.
-On federalism
-currently, the federal government will always override the states in disagreements, no matter which party is in power
-Abortion: could let the states decide- laws would vary state to state based on the opinions of the citizens of that state- would depolarize the issue
-Abortion and gay marriage- should one, both, or neither be left up to the states?
-Moving one state to another, gays could become unmarried but the abortion would still have happened
-Some issues can't be left to the states-- slavery was left up to the states, and that led to the Civil War.
-Advantage of federalism: responsibility for a lot of things is given to the states, leaving a more manageable agenda and costs for the federal government
-People think the federal government should be helping them. How do you reconcile having a manageable federal agenda with what the people expect?
People do have a notion that the feds should take care of everything. Concurrently, the politicians view their role as doing something (of a local importance) for their constituents.
-Huge momentum towards centralization
-What are some smaller-issue examples of returning powers to state governments?
Welfare reform- has been in some cases successfully given back to the states
-Transportation infrastructure- federal Highway Act- has created a tight web of highways, but now it's created and therer are other priorities. Local governments can take care of improvements- for instance, Boston should have taken care of the Big Dig instead of having the federal government pay for it.
-Has political polarization manifested itself in think tanks like Brookings?
Yes- parties listen to their echo chambers. The Republican party listens to right-leaning think tanks, and Democrats listen to left-leaning think tanks.
-Although there's a considerable amount of partisan alignment in think tanks, the opinions in think tanks are not totally along party lines- for instance, two left-leaning Brookings scholars went to Iraq at Gen. Petraeus' invitation, toured, came back, and reported that we can't write off the surge just yet. The right-leaning Cato Institute has criticized the Bush administration for many of its policies. There is a certain amount of independence and internal splits within think tanks.
-What are some of the thoughts within Brookings about pulling out of Iraq?
very divided thoughts person-to-person within the institute
-Some align closely with the Democrats, saying that we need to withdraw from Iraq immediately and let the Iraqi government take control of their policies.
-Some are more inclined toward a different point of view, saying that if we withdraw too fast Iran will come in and fill the military vacuum, leading to genocide on a huge scale.
-Kenneth Pollock (Brookings scholar)- have to be careful about how we withdraw, because creating a vacuum would be a bad idea.
-It's hard to know in politics if when a candidate is elected they will hold on to their campaign promises-- when they get hit with the reality of the situation in Iraq, they may not be as apt to run away from the situation.
-There are even dangers in drawing back the number of troops, because having too few troops would again create a vacuum that Iran would fill, posing a real threat
-If Clinton wasn't so far ahead in the polls already, she'd have to be running her campaign differently regarding Iraq, perhaps even having apologized for her war vote
-Iowa runs a different sort of primary- it's a much more ideologue-oriented state
-What is the relationship between Brookings policy makers in helping them make educated decisions?
It's harder for House members to risk doing the right thing- while most have very safe seats, their terms are very short so they have to listen to their base
-Brookings tends to appeal to independents and moderates
-Members of Congress from swing states and districts might be more interested (i.e. Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Congressman Davis, Joe Lieberman) - non-extremists
-Some issues with bipartisan appeal (NCLB) will be more inclined to listen to think tanks
-Issues with more splits (tax reductions) - the GOP will not pay attention to what Brookings has to say (and Brookings won't pay attention to the GOP)
-How does polarization affect and blur the three branches of government and the checks and balances system?
Polarization can upset the checks and balances. For instance, when the GOP was in charge of both the White House and the Congress, they were disciplined enough that there were virtually no checks-- oversight and vetoes just didn't happen.
-In the judiciary: polarization can result in radical appointees because the president needs to appeal to his base > pitched battles with opposition
-Still some checks, with respect to appointments-- Senate confirmation process-- filibusters cannot be stopped without 60-vote cloture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Problem Food

When I'm having problems, if I'm not turning directly to God or friends or family, I turn to food for comfort. That is, if they're not so serious that I just don't want to eat.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a compulsive problem-eater. But there are just certain foods that fit certain problems.
So, just for kicks and giggles, I have compiled a list of food that I turn to frequently- my favorite comfort food, if you will. There is more, but these are the top five:

1. ICE CREAM- next to item #5, ice cream may be the best comfort food in existence. This is especially the case for relationship problems. Seriously, who do most girls turn to when they're having issues with friends or especially boyfriends? You got it: Ben and Jerry. I sometimes call them "the two dates of the dateless." One sugar rush and consequently mood change, coming right up. Best when combined with sympathetic and/or silly friends.
2. JELLY BEANS- they're just such a naturally happy candy. For minor bad moods (a bad class, bad test grade, annoying people, something like that) they can be very helpful. Have a silly conversation while eating for best results.
3. MACARONI AND CHEESE- perhaps the #3 best comfort food in existence. Warm, cheesy...just a good mood in a box. Expect inexplicable cravings once you get onto it, whether you're in a bad mood or not. Top kinds: homemade is obviously number one, closely followed by Annie's Pasta and Kraft Mac-and-Cheese or Easy Mac (or ghetto mac, if you prefer :-p)
4. SALT AND VINEGAR CHIPS- OK, so I know not everyone's as much of a fan of salt and vinegar chips as me. But when you're me, being in a minor bad mood is often frequently solved by curling up in front of the TV with a sitcom or romantic comedy and a bag of salt-and-vinegar chips.
5. CHOCOLATE- THE INDISPUTABLE BEST PROBLEM FOOD IN EXISTENCE. More girls turn to chocolate during PMS than to Midol or any other drug. It doesn't matter what kind you prefer. Chocolate solves (or at least helps with) ALL problems.