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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres




"The Obama administration published a series of memoranda on torture issued under the Bush administration. The memoranda, most of which dated from the period after 9/11, authorized measures including depriving prisoners of solid food, having them stand shackled and in uncomfortable positions, leaving them in cold cells with inadequate clothing, slapping their heads and/or abdomens, and telling them that their families might be harmed if they didn't cooperate with their interrogators. On the scale of human cruelty, these actions do not rise anywhere near the top. At the same time, anyone who thinks that being placed without food in a freezing cell subject to random mild beatings — all while being told that your family might be joining you — isn't agonizing clearly lacks imagination. The treatment of detainees could have been worse. It was terrible nonetheless. But torture is meant to be terrible, and we must judge the torturer in the context of his own desperation. In the wake of 9/11, anyone who wasn't terrified was not in touch with reality. We know several people who now are quite blasé about 9/11. Unfortunately for them, we knew them in the months after, and they were not nearly as composed then as they are now. Sept. 11 was terrifying for one main reason: We had little idea about al Qaeda's capabilities. It was a very reasonable assumption that other al Qaeda cells were operating in the United States and that any day might bring follow-on attacks. (Especially given the group's reputation for one-two attacks.) We still remember our first flight after 9/11, looking at our fellow passengers, planning what we would do if one of them moved. Every time a passenger visited the lavatory, one could see the tensions soar. And while Sept. 11 was frightening enough, there were ample fears that al Qaeda had secured a "suitcase bomb" and that a nuclear attack on a major U.S. city could come at any moment. For individuals, such an attack was simply another possibility. We remember staying at a hotel in Washington close to the White House and realizing that we were at ground zero — and imagining what the next moment might be like. For the government, however, the problem was having scraps of intelligence indicating that al Qaeda might have a nuclear weapon, but not having any way of telling whether those scraps had any value. The president and vice president accordingly were continually kept at different locations, and not for any frivolous reason. This lack of intelligence led directly to the most extreme fears, which in turn led to extreme measures. Washington simply did not know very much about al Qaeda and its capabilities and intentions in the United States. A lack of knowledge forces people to think of worst-case scenarios. In the absence of intelligence to the contrary after 9/11, the only reasonable assumption was that al Qaeda was planning more — and perhaps worse — attacks. Collecting intelligence rapidly became the highest national priority. Given the genuine and reasonable fears, no action in pursuit of intelligence was out of the question, so long as it promised quick answers. This led to the authorization of torture, among other things. Torture offered a rapid means to accumulate intelligence, or at least — given the time lag on other means — it was something that had to be tried ... The endless argument over torture, the posturing of both critics and defenders, misses the crucial point. The United States turned to torture because it has experienced a massive intelligence failure reaching back a decade. The U.S. intelligence community simply failed to gather sufficient information on al Qaeda's intentions, capability, organization and personnel. The use of torture was not part of a competent intelligence effort, but a response to a massive intelligence failure. That failure was rooted in a range of miscalculations over time." (STRAFOR)

Map 1: 2016’s contested Senate seats




"After playing offense in 2014 and netting nine Senate seats to set up a 54-46 majority in the 114th Congress, Republicans will mostly be playing defense in 2016. That probably means the GOP will end up losing seats, but recent history suggests that we should not be certain about that. Heading into the 2016 Senate cycle, Republicans find themselves in a position similar to the Democrats going into 2012, with a Senate map dotted with vulnerabilities created by victories won six and 12 years prior. In 2012, many observers, including us, thought the Republicans were primed to net at least a few Senate seats in large part because the Democrats were defending 23 Senate seats to just 10 for the Republicans. That Democratic exposure was created by the party’s solid wins in 2006, when they netted six Senate seats, and 2000, when they netted four seats. Two straight big elections on the same Senate map suggested the Democrats were in line for losses. Republicans find themselves in almost the same position Democrats did four years ago, when the 2012 election cycle was taking shape. The GOP is defending 24 seats, while the Democrats only need to protect 10. The 2016 map is also the product of not just one previous big Republican victory, but two. In 2010, the last time this Senate class was contested, Republicans netted six seats. And six years before that, in 2004, Republicans netted four seats." (SabatosCrystalBall)

Hillary Clinton

"Catching up: on Friday, November 21st, 280 attended the New-York Historical Society hosted its annual History Makers Gala at the Mandarin Oriental, and presented its distinguished 2014 History Makers Award toHillary Rodham Clinton. The evening raised $2.5 million for the N-YHS, which will benefit the programs of the New-York Historical Society, including major exhibitions and educational programs on American history. The event featured a 40-minute conversation between Secretary Clinton and Walter Isaacson, the noted historian and Aspen Institute President and CEO. Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society announced plans for the establishment of a new Center for the Study of Women’s History, located on New-York Historical’s fourth floor within a fully-renovated Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture.Among the guests: Helen Appel, Norman Benzaquen, Judy Berkowitz, Lois Chiles, Jim Dale, Susan Danilow, Beth Dater, Barbara Debs, Betsy Gotbaum, Richard Gilder, Roger Hertog, Agnes Hsu Tang, Patricia Klingenstein, Sid Lapidus, Ernest Tollerson, Glen Lewy, Tarky Lombardi, Wynton Marsalis, Carl Menges, John Monsky, Emily Rafferty, Rick Reiss, Charles Royce, Pam Schafler, Bernard Schwartz, Clarice Smith, Michelle Smith, Lesley Stahl, Ann and Andrew Tisch, Eric Wallach, and Sue Ann Weinberg." (NYSD)

Diane Clehane and Loren Ruch
Diane Clehane and Loren Ruch

"With yesterday’s monsoon a not-so-distant memory, an SRO crowd of the usual suspects at Michael’s showed up at 55th and Fifth today. There was the requisite gathering of ladies who lunch perched at Table One (including Peggy Siegal and Beth Ostrosky Stern amid a sea of blondes) with a smattering of power brokers (Bob Barnett) and TV types (Bill HemmerFelicia Taylor) scattered around the room. ‘Tis the season! I was joined today by Loren Ruch, vice president of programming partnerships and special events for HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country. He oversees many of the networks’ high-profile specials, like the annual broadcast of White House Christmas and many popular series, including Flipping the Block, Brother vs Brother, HGTV Dream Home, HGTV Smart Home, HGTV Urban Oasis and the upcoming Sharing Paradise. I met Loren (where else?) in this very dining room a few weeks back when he was lunching with PR maven extraordinaire Judy Twersky, who always introduces me to the most interesting folks, and we decided our own 'Michael’s lunch' was in order.  With White House Christmas 2014 premiering on HGTV this Sunday at 8 p.m., it was perfect timing. Everywhere you look these days, it seems an HGTV show or personality is being obsessively talked about. The Property Brothers aka the telegenic twins Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott, recently got the full People magazine treatment. Hillary Clinton frequently cites Love It or List It as one of her favorite shows and everyone I know watches House Hunters, although it’s always a bit disconcerting to realize that for what you paid for your modest East Coast home, you could buy an entire block in other parts of the country. 'House Hunters is absolutely a part of pop culture. We’re in the attainable, aspirational space,' said Loren, who explained the network’s multi-generational fan base this way: 'We’re one of the few G-rated networks left on TV! We hear a lot about families watching our shows together.'" (Diane Clehane)

David Rubenstein greets honoree Al Green at the State Department.

"Washington, famous for being one of this decade’s most fruitful employment hubs, is about to post a prime job opening, and it’s not for the next President of the United States or owner/manager/coach/quarterback of the football team. This particular job has more longevity, or at least had more longevity. In the midst of the Kennedy Center Honors this past weekend, with the focus trained on a batch of glittering honorees and their acolytes, the evening’s impresario, George Stevens, Jr., drew the spotlight to himself, announcing he is stepping down. Over 37 years, he’s the only person who has ever had the job. A producer who knows how to stage a show, he offered a showstopper, making the dramatic announcement from the stage after the intermission. Jaws dropped. While its not entirely clear whether Stevens opened the stage door himself or whether Kennedy Center board chairman David Rubenstein opened it for him, the announcement upstaged everyone who was being honored. Stevens reasons were emotional and personal. To a packed house of celebs and swells, he broke his news, calling out Rubenstein as wanting a new producer, a fresh approach. Only element missing was a drum roll from the orchestra pit.Producing the Kennedy Center Honors seemed to be a job that was Stevens’ until the day he decided he didn’t want it anymore, and only then would it be handed gracefully to his son, Michael Stevens, who has worked with him for years, much as George worked with his father, Oscar-winning “Giant” director George Stevens. But that’s not how this break went down. (Another drum roll) Stevens said that Michael, too, also out. And thus the search is on for a new Honors producer, altogether a tough job but also a plum job." (Carol, Joynt)

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