Thursday, December 31, 2015

Americans and locals in Shanghai celebrate the cold winter holiday together with board games

By Yang Lan. Source: Global Times Published: 2015-12-29 19:28:01

Shanghai authorities have canceled the New Year's Eve Countdown to 2016 at the Bund due to the previous year's tragedy. Severe pollution in Shanghai this winter is also being cited as a reason why many locals will be staying in on December 31. But these could not stop people from celebrating the Christmas and the New Year.

As such, the Shanghai American Center recently organized its first-ever board game night, with over 40 local and foreign participants gathered at the center to learn about American gaming culture and try their hand, quite literally, at an old-fashioned board game.

Board games have a very long history, with the earliest forms of board games - xiangqi and shogi - invented in ancient China followed by chess in 7th century India. Evolving across the world throughout the 20th century and peaking in sales and popularity in the 1970s, American board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly have been translated into multiple languages.

In the 1980s and 1990s, European countries including Germany, France and the Netherlands created updated, modernized versions of board games to compete with the rising popularity of video games and computers.

"The newer games were less about luck, more about thinking, planning, strategy and economic management," said Stephen Sanders, Vice Consul of the US Consulate General in Shanghai, who introduced three new-style board games to participants: Dixit, Pandemic and The Settlers of Catan. 

The Settlers of Catan is considered a strategic game, with players establishing colonies on an island. Each player must collect "resources" (cards), trading with each other when necessary, just as in real-world economies. Dixit, on the other hand, allows players to use their imagination to tell stories using cards that they have at hand.

"Board games are still very common in the US, especially when family and friends visit each other for Thanksgiving or Christmas. People open up their board games and play a few rounds when it is cold outside," said Sanders, who added that his current favorite game is Pandemic.

Cooperative gaming

Pandemic differs from the other two games as it requires players to help each other, rather than compete, toward a final goal. The game simulates a situation where humans are threatened by several severe diseases, and players are "experts" who travel the world (presented on the game's map) to treat people, cure diseases and build facilities for further strategies as the diseases continue to spread. 

As a cooperative game, Pandemic bears the philosophy of sharing ideas and working together, very similar to the United Nations. "The better they work together, and the more they share their think+ing and planning, the more they are likely to win. If you just go out yourself and ignore those who are playing with you, you will lose. I think it is an important skill for all people to develop," Sanders told the Global Times.

Local office worker Cai Shizhe played Pandemic for the first time with three other participants during the event and quickly found himself transfixed. "It is an interesting game. Although we have not finished our game yet, we have made some initial results by working out one cure," said Cai, who learned about the event through Weibo.

The Shanghai American Center, a public, free event space from the public affairs section of the US consulate, holds a wide range of people-to-people cultural activities throughout the year. 

"We do cultural activities, everything from lectures and art exhibitions to movie screenings," Andrea Wald, a public diplomacy assistant from the US Consulate General in Shanghai, told the Global Times. "But this one is different, because it is our first interactive activity."

Vice Consul Stephen Sanders explains board game rules at a recent event in Shanghai.

Participants playing board games

Photos: Courtesy of the US Consulate General in Shanghai

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Quotable: Paul Shinkman on "Shutting the Islamic State Group’s Mouth”

Wednesday, December 30th 2015
Paul D. Shinkman, a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report, summarized the “key points Western observers and policymakers will be considering as they monitor the terrorist network in 2016.”  His article, “5 Things to Look For With ISIS in 2016,” appeared on the magazine’s website on December 28, 2015.

Shinkman wrote that the first four “key clues” will be “Retaking Territory, and Governing It,”  “Expanding to Libya, a ‘Plan B,’" “Finding Unity in the War, and Choking Off the Extremists,” and “A Coordinated Attack on the U.S.”  Here is his fifth key point:

Shutting the Islamic State Group’s Mouth

One of the extremist network’s greatest successes has been its use of propaganda, both to control those under its rule but even more potently to recruit disenfranchised young people from overseas, who continue to flock to its homeland.

Western security agencies remain befuddled how affluent young people see something in the slick messaging the Islamic State group puts forth, and its elusive use of social media as a way to directly connect with potential recruits.

The solution, however, cannot come from the U.S., as that would be too easily dismissed by extremist leaders who see America as the living symbol of everything they oppose. Instead, finding a solution must come from one of the other greatest holes in the anti-Islamic State group strategy, which is greater support from Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

These nations have long been the recipients of U.S. military aid and support, and touted by President Barack Obama as evidence of the potency of the coalition he leads, even though the U.S. and its European partners carry out almost all of the military strikes. But questions among their top leadership of U.S. priorities, and the extent to which America is  willing to go in the Middle East, has resigned them to focusing on their own internal problems, such as the refugee crisis spilling into Jordan or Saudi Arabia’s war in neighboring Yemen.

But, perhaps merely exposing the reality of life under the Islamic State group is the most potent form of counter-propaganda.

Reports have emerged from Iraq saying the Islamic State group has begun to ban access to satellite broadcasts for those under its control.

“We're starting to see a change in their behavior that may be related to some desperation,” Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition, told reporters Tuesday from his Baghdad headquarters. “They appear to be trying to hide information regarding the recent string of defeats as we continue to kill their leaders, to increase the security capacity of our regional partners and to strike them across the battlefield and all of their formation. It seems like they're beginning to feel the pressure.”

The Struggle to Propagate the Truth

Edward R. Murrow wouldn't be surprised at all at the U.S. inability to win hearts and minds.

Image from article, with caption: A voice from the past.
By + More

If he returned from the grave, broadcast news legend Edward R. Murrow would nod his head at government fumbling in the propaganda wars with the Islamic State group and other bad guys. It might seem all too familiar.
Well, he has returned, sort of, through a previously undisclosed Murrow memo (embedded below [see link]) in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It makes clear his historically evocative chagrin with how the U.S. pressed its case in the battle for hearts and minds around the globe.
The needed background is as minimal as most Ben Carson campaign declarations: The Obama administration has continued a tradition of modestly financed and seemingly subpar world-wide media efforts that trace themselves to Cold War attempts to confront and rebut communism.
The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia and several other government broadcast entities are the best known of those ongoing efforts. They are overseen by a part-time broadcasting board and employ about 3,500 people, reach an estimated 206 million people worldwide each week and cost taxpayers about $750 million a year. By comparison, the Pentagon recently approved a deal with Northrop Grumman for a new Long Range Strike Bomber that will cost $564 million per plane for 100 aircraft, along with about $20 billion in development costs.
Forget planes. Compared to the billions spent by the likes of China and Russia on government media, whose daily tactics are rife with lies about the U.S., what we spend is a pittance.
U.S. operations have also suffered from a general neglect by the White House and State Department in multiple administrations. We're more inclined to use hard power (guns and ammo) than soft power (diplomacy, cultural missions, adept social media). I've previously covered our current efforts with soft power and a dubious status quo is clear, including the very uneven performance of the part-time Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees our international broadcasting.
So now I find the handiwork of Murrow, the onetime CBS News fixture who rose to international fame through intrepid and lucid World War II reporting and, later, prime time muckraking documentaries on CBS with collaborator Fred Friendly. He ended his career by crossing the professional street and overseeing what was then known as the United States Information Agency during the John F. Kennedy and (briefly after Kennedy's assassination) Lyndon Johnson administrations.
The agency had been established in 1953, though its roots were in the Office of War Information from World War II. Its primary mandate was to improve our image overseas through overt and covert programs (the latter at times done in tandem with the CIA, including counterinsurgency programs in areas that included Southeast Asia). In 1999 its broadcast functions were placed under the aegis of the then-new Broadcasting Board of Governors and the others were given to a new State Department undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs (former Time magazine managing editor Rick Stengel now holds that position).
This brings us to the newly declassified memo at the Kennedy library, written by Murrow during his government days. It was penned early in the Kennedy administration, on May 17, 1961, and was sent to David Bell, Kennedy's director of the Office of Management and Budget with a copy sent to Theodore Sorensen, JFK's top adviser.
It was a six-page exhortation to hike the modest allocation for the USIA and offered what the French might tag a tour d'horizon of various propaganda challenges facing the United States.
It touches on problems in Africa and Latin America, including Cuba, but reaches its rhetorical climax on "the deteriorating political and military situation in Southeast Asia." That situation, he believed, "calls for urgent additional steps to communicate the determination of the United States to (1) support our allies and maintain them as allies and (2) prevent neutral countries from falling to Communism."
Then, Murrow waxed dramatic.
In this century of crises, no crisis has been graver than that which we now face. History has no patience with alibis. Generations yet unborn will ask: "Did they try to preserve for us the land and the ideals of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln? Or, like the ancient Carthaginians, did they – figuratively speaking – offer their children as hostages in a vain effort to hold back the enemy?"
We are in a war both hot and cold, a war for men's minds as well as their bodies, a war for men's souls as well as their goods. This Agency could operate for four hundred years on one year's appropriation for the Defense Department. We do not dispute the spending of vast sums for physical defense. Nor are we asking billions for propaganda – propagation of the truth. But if we are unwilling to do what must be done to preserve and promote our ideals, we may have alien ideas imposed on us and our allies.
He completed his impassioned cry for bureaucratic assistance by writing, "As never before, USIA urgently needs adequate resources to do the job which must be done; not only the funds requested herein but also substantially all of our original request."
Murrow's tenure included many successes: He convinced Kennedy that he, Murrow, should attend cabinet meetings, he oversaw the opening of new posts in Africa, he expanded broadcasting to Latin America and he in diversified the agency with the hiring of women and African-Americans.
But his successes did not include his getting any significant budget increases. That's further reason he might feel right at home today.
He quit in 1964 and died of brain cancer in 1965. The agency he ran (which back then had 12,000 employees) got smaller and smaller over the decades even as its challenges became arguably more formidable.
If he returned from the grave, maybe he'd be gratified to learn that the State Department brings 75 journalists from around the globe to the U.S. each year to study the importance of a free press in a democracy. They call it the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists.

East Africa: Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan Announce Consent in Applying GERD Principles

Image from article, with caption: Artist's impression of the Renaissance Dam, under construction on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan announced Tuesday that they have reached consensus to put into practice provisions in the Declaration of Principles regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). ...
The government of Ethiopia is being transparent on the construction of GERD project to promote partnership and to build mutual trust. It is also extending invitation to the public diplomacy and the media in Sudan and Egypt to visit GERD. ...

Bayit Yehudi MK: No such thing as Palestinians; cancel Oslo

Lahav Harkov,

Image from article, with caption: Slain Israeli Prime Minister Rabin with former US President Bill Clinton and former PLO President Yasser Arafat after signing the Oslo Accords at the White House on September 13, 1993.

M. K. Bezalel Smotich called too cancel the Oslo Accords, while presenting legislation Wednesday that would require the government to pay landowners who lost land because of the agreement with the Palestinians.
“There is no such thing as Palestinians,” Smotrich said, sparking outrage in the opposition, whose members shouted at him.
The Bayit Yehudi MK added: “My friends in the opposition, we will annex [the West Bank], whether you want it or not. This is our Land of Israel. It was given to us by God.”
Smotrich pointed to last week’s Torah portion, the last one in the book of Genesis, and said the opposition is angry because the stories take place in Beit El and Hebron and not in Tel Aviv.
“We will cancel the Oslo Accords. You have no reason to be angry. Don’t rewrite history and the Torah. Everyone agrees; don’t waste your time,” Smotrich said.
MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) shouted to Smotrich that he is “doing greater damage to Israel’s public diplomacy than the extreme Left. You should be ashamed!” MK Osama Sa’adi (Joint List) asked: “If you want to cancel the Oslo Accords, why hide it? You are continuing the settlement enterprise, which is a war crime. ..."

Hasbara group wants you to infiltrate human rights NGOs

Dahlia Scheindlin,

A private, low-profile ‘public diplomacy’ outfit is setting out to train ‘Secret Hasbara Agents.’ But don’t worry, it’s not propaganda.
Screenshot of an email from "The Centre for Public Diplomacy"
Screenshot of an email from “The Centre for Public Diplomacy”
A private Israeli hasbara – or “public diplomacy” – organization on Wednesday put out one of the weirdest responses yet to the incitement campaign by far-right group Im Tirzu of two weeks ago.
The original Im Tirzu campaign described Israeli human rights advocates as “planted” agents serving foreign agendas because the organizations they work for receive funds from European governments.
The response ad published on Wednesday called for — presumably right-wing — Israelis to be “planted” inside the “plants,” a reference to the human rights organizations Im Tirzu put in its cross-hairs.
The ad says that following Im Tirzu’s report, the “Centre for Public Diplomacy and Hasbara” is organizing a “reprisal action” against the human rights groups. It wants to encourage people to apply for jobs at the human rights organizations in order to “oppose the dissemination of their lies.”

Cadets in our secret hasbara agent training course will track the wanted ads of these organizations and publish them, with the goal of “planting” employees there who will oppose the dissemination of lies about Israel abroad.
Yes. The Centre for Public Diplomacy & Hasbara runs a program, according to its website, to train “Secret Hasbara Agents,” who become “certified” – it’s not clear by whom – to the “Secret Hasbara Agent Network.”
Participants of the course will be sent on “missions abroad.” Moreover, the website promises they will earn a “big reputation as graduates of an elite, prestigious and impressive program from the Centre…”
The “secret agent network” and the ad for the “reprisal operation” marked “top secret” were published on the organization’s web page, as well as its founder’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The organization is the brainchild of an attorney named Davidi Hermelin. The “contact us” section of the website lists his mobile phone number. Hermelin has served as chair of the Young Likud committee, he made a run for Knesset, and consults for certain government agencies.
Asked by phone what exactly the concept of “secret agents” means, Hermelin explained to +972 Magazine that his approach is not to engage in hasbara proper or even necessarily Israel-related forums. Instead, the workshops offer participants a range of topics about Israel that they can select for training.
The courses “stress complexity,” he emphasizes. They are not trying to convince participants or their future audiences of any given position. He just wants them to know the facts on any given issue, and have the skills to convey their own ideas.
His example is a lengthy explanation of why Jews in Israel have the exclusive right to settle all the land west of the Jordan river under international law — “by contrast to the other bon ton explanations in the media about international law. They’re just not correct,” he says.
Once participants have completed the course, Hermelin’s organization then actively seeks out any type of forum for the graduates — about 100 since he began in early 2014, he says — to attend abroad. The goal is for them to just interact at these conferences, seminars, or gatherings, to raise conversations spontaneously, prompt questions and then give the answers with the skills and facts they have learned.
Hermelin says that the “plants in the plants” initiative is not meant only for trained members of his workshops, but for anyone: “a broad range of people who don’t want Israel to be presented wrong.”
The ad is currently running links to the employment opportunities page of veteran Israeli NGO “HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual,” which protects Palestinians from occupation-related human rights violations.
The ad also contains the sentence: “Our goal is not to sabotage the activities of the ‘plants’ themselves…but to prevent the false defamation of Israel, to the countries of the world, particularly with foreign government funding.”
The page also reminds “friends” of the organization to avoid breaking Israeli law.
It might tempting to dismiss the organization as an eccentric one-man show, but for some very serious implications.
First, the existence of this “Centre,” however off-grid, is part of a frenzy of private hasbara efforts. It is part of the national obsession with propaganda fostered and funded by the government through numerous bodies, public and private. The Israeli Foreign Ministry itself functions largely as a Ministry of Hasbara these days. As I have argued, this hasbara obsession is damaging to the national psyche, especially when presented as an educational endeavor to shape the thinking of young people.
Second, the idea that impostors might apply for jobs in a human rights organization — not as committed employees but to police their activities — is not impossible at all. And what do they mean by “opposing” the dissemination of lies abroad? Would such “planted” employees covertly record conversations? Testify for Im Tirzu’s next report? Create situations to make the organizations look bad, just as Likud MK Oren Hazan tried to do by giving a made-up testimony to Breaking the Silence? Why does Hermelin need to remind interested people to obey the law?
Third, the mechanism of disguise is like a mental double gag order to suppress what hasbara really is. Hermelin says time and again that left and right wingers alike are welcome, he just wants them to know facts — that is, right-wing facts taught by far-right-wing speakers. The ad itself may just be a gimmick, a distraction turning attention to this wacky initiative while the organization is regularly turning out people who are hasbara-ists, but who pretend they are not.
Finally, the whole thing reminds us how easily other groups are jumping onto Im Tirzu’s mission – a proto-fascist organization whose main activity is inciting and threatening civil society, academia and left-wing causes.
Im Tirzu’s report calls for shutting down those civil society organizations altogether. “If the state of Israel wants to continue to exist as an independent, Jewish and democratic state, it has no choice but to dismantle propaganda organizations that work among us and are funded by foreign money.”
Any new partners to this endeavor, eccentrics or not, strengthen the cause.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Broadcasting Board of Governors Information War: It’s Over. We Lost. Fantasy Reform

By The Federalist

image from article

‘We’re just not countering it [Kremlin propaganda] effectively,’ Mr. Royce [Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee] told The Washington Times, asserting that the federal Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees RFE/RL, VOA and a slate of other taxpayer-funded international news outlets, is essentially broken.” — Russia propaganda machine gains on U.S. – American lawmakers push bill to counter Putin message, By By Guy Taylor – The Washington Times – Sunday, December 27, 2015

 As we have read on BBG Watch, Jeffrey Shell, Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) chairman and John Lansing, BBG chief executive officer (CEO) claim that they have a “plan” to reform US Government international broadcasting.
We haven’t seen “the plan” anywhere in writing. That which can be seen can be analyzed, critiqued. For the moment, a higher state of visibility is elusive. Perhaps it exists conceptually, a figment of imagination, if you will.
On the other hand, the US Congress has a plan. It’s called H.R. 2323, the United States International Communications Reform Act. This is not imaginary. It’s on paper. You can read it. You may like it. You may not like it. But you most certainly can see it.


We already know what the Shell/Lansing “plan” may look like. They oppose the key remedial actions contained in the proposed congressional legislation. Thus, one may be inclined to call the Shell/Lansing Plan:

“BBG Reform: Perpetuating Business As Usual!”

What a concept!
That’s one thing we know very, very well about this agency: the BBG may come up with some new packaging, but the contents remain the same.
Let’s keep in mind that the same cast of characters are on board: the ones who liked to talk about a “strategic plan.” As others have observed, the methodology of “strategic plan” embraced by the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) is “neither strategic nor a plan.”
Because the foundation on which it rests is severely compromised.
Here are some common elements in “BBG Reform: Perpetuating Business As Usual:”

But wait, there’s more:

Failure As The Agency’s Gold Standard

Examples abound:
  • Funky, tricked up “audience research” which no one believes to be an accurate reflection of the agency’s audience, and certainly not an accurate reflection of the agency’s impact, which is what counts.
  • A perpetual place holder as one of the worst agencies in the Federal government in the annual Office of Personnel Management (OPM) employee evaluation of its workplace–Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS).
  • Being routinely outclassed by other international media on breaking news, developing stories and objective content.
  • A critical, strategic meltdown in effectiveness – generally across the board but most egregious in the Arab and Muslim world and in Russia.

Face it: the BBG has to say they have a “reform plan” even when for all practical purposes they don’t. Not having a plan – real or fictional – gives a whole lot more impetus to the Congress coming up a “nuclear option:” namely, a much more severe restructuring of what constitutes US Government international media and who will be in charge of it than even the H.R. 2323 bill envisions. Read: someone other than the BBG, as in perhaps the Agency for International Development (AID) or the National Endowment for Democracy, a few of the possibilities that come to mind.

“BBG Reform: Perpetuating Business As Usual:” The Bureaucratic Merry-Go-Round

BBG Governor Matt Armstrong (Republican) said in May 2014 that some of the congressional criticism of the agency was“dated,” “overly harsh” and “not fair.” He described the H.R. 4490 (previous version of H.R. 2323) “less than inarticulate” [sic].
The May 2015 Office of Inspector General report said about the BBG: “A weak tone at the top,” “vulnerabilities in the management and oversight,” “an increased risk of fraud, waste, and abuse,” “insufficient oversight of contracts and grants,” weaknesses in financial management”, “inadequate information security,” “several management control weaknesses in administrative operations” at OCB, “management did not communicate effectively and … decision-making processes lacked transparency,” “many employees expressed fear of reprisal by management if they raised concerns.”
BBG Chair Jeff Shell (Democrat) said in response to the OIG report that the leadership problem at the board level happened before the current board took over. He also pointed out in his letter to the OIG, which was prepared by the BBG staff, that many of the problems identified in OIG reports have been solved or are being solved.
How would a highly successful and busy Hollywood executive know this unless he got this information from the BBG executive staff?
Former BBG member and former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) executive S. Enders Wimbush told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the BBG’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was “feeble” (November 17, 2015). He expressed support for H.R. 2323, as did former Washington Post foreign correspondent in Moscow, former National Public Radio (NPR) president and former RFE/RL president (twice) Kevin Klose (November 17, 2015). Many other former BBG members, former top-level U.S. diplomats and other distinguished Americans also expressed their support for H.R. 2323.
If problems have been solved or are being solved, how do BBG executives explain a long lasting power failure without emergency power supply that crippled many VOA broadcasts earlier this month? VOA’s December 4, 2015 “State of Fear” U.S. opinion roundup? “VOICE OF AMERICA FRENCH or VOA Agence France Presse?” (December 7, 2015), “Voice of America or Voice of Castro?” (December 18, 2015), “Is this Russian RT, SPUTNIK or something else?” (December 19, 2015),” “BBG employees ‘crippled’ by technical breakdowns ‘lose confidence’ in leaders” (December 22, 2015), “$400M class action suit may signal more trouble ahead for new BBG CEO” (December 28, 2015), and finally “Digital failure at Voice of America MONDAY PM UPDATE” (December 28, 2015).
Does this show that problems have been solved or are being solved?
On December 17, 2015, the agency distributed an announcement: “Message From BBG CEO and Director John Lansing RE Personnel Actions for Some Key Positions.”
Here we go: the latest iteration of rearranging jobs among the senior bureaucrats. In the reading, we see some of “the usual suspects” with a couple of newcomers.
Let us consider:
Jeffrey Trimble: renowned as the agency’s… “$10,000 Bonus Man,” Mr. Trimble takes over from the recently departed (as in left the agency) Rob Bole who was “Director of Global Strategy” (there’s that kiss of death term again, “strategy”). That position is to be eliminated (kiss of death). According to Mr. Lansing:
“…I’ve asked Jeff [Trimble] to lead a comprehensive review of each of the functional areas that fell under the Global Strategy umbrella, and that team will provide recommendations to me on how best to recast those units to best support the strategic priorities that I have laid out for the Agency.”
But wait a minute. We have a couple questions:
OIG Management Alert on BBG May 2015Wasn’t Mr. Trimble once tasked to write a report on the fiasco surrounding the wholesale firing of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Russian Service in Putin’s Russia in 2012? We may have missed it, but to outward appearances, that report either (a) never got written or (b) got buried so as not to see the light of day. Didn’t that crisis occur under Jeff Trimble’s watch at IBB if one does not count his then boss Dick Lobo? Isn’t Mr. Trimble an expert on Russia and RFE/RL? How many “Significant Management Weaknesses,” to use the title of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) May 2015 report on the BBG, happened during Mr. Trimble’s long tenure as one of the agency’s top executives?
But remember:
At this agency, it is always somebody else’s fault. It is never the fault of the current BBG board or top executives currently running the agency.
And –
Mr. Trimble was part of a group that went to Azerbaijan to secure the release of Khadija Ismayilova, a brave RFE/RL Azeri Service reporter who has been jailed by the government on false charges and is serving a lengthy prison sentence.
Let’s just say that we have to say that we don’t have the highest degree of confidence in Mr. Trimble. Readers of our commentaries know that we had a very dim view of him leading a BBG delegation and being involved in this kind of delicate situation. The results speak for themselves.
Later in the memo, we learn from Mr. Lansing that in January 2016 the agency will submit to Congress a “program plan” in which it will
“…establish an umbrella organizational structure titled “Management Services, which will combine the Office of Human Resources, Contracts, Security, Civil Rights, Administration, and Workforce Support and Development.”
That earns another “Wowser.”
What appears on its face is the creation of yet another monster conglomeration of the bureaucracy.
The person placed in charge of this multi-headed Hydra (since each has its own chief) is Marie Lennon.
OIG-BBG-Audit-June2014Ms. Lennon has been with the agency even longer than Mr. Trimble. At various times, she has been chief of staff to the Voice of America (VOA) director and of the Broadcasting Board of Governors/International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB). Didn’t the contracting crisis, exposed by OIG, which has now resulted in the reported $400 million class action lawsuit against the agency filed on behalf of underpaid contract employees, happen partly under their watch?
But remember:
At this agency, it is always somebody else’s fault. It is never the fault of the current BBG board or top executives currently running the agency.
Given the nature of this agency and its many shortcomings, one can reasonably deduce that this is another gesture toward perpetuating business as usual and status quo. Or perhaps raising
  • Dysfunctional
  • Defunct
  • Broken
  • Rudderless
To new, stratospheric heights.
You have to wonder.

Last But Definitely Not Least

What to our wondering (and somewhat incredulous) eyes should appear but an article by David Ensor, the former VOA director, in Foreign Policy magazine.
Here we have yet another example of promoting business as usual, as seen through Mr. Ensor’s perspective.
Similar sentiments come from David Jackson, another former VOA director.
The bottom line to both pieces is the same: stick with business as usual: one part-time board and a single CEO presiding over a perpetual state of confusion, conflicting missions and priorities.
There are no institutional checks and balances beyond the current part-time board that has failed so spectacularly, no additional institutional accountability.
This is the tried and true formula for disaster.
One presumes that the two former directors believe that VOA will win out in any battle over resources in the business as usual model.
However, should Lansing find the programs of the grantee operations such as RFE/RL, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and others more deserving, past experience would indicate that this tune could change very quickly.
Ironically, Mr. Ensor cites VOA audience growth to 188-million — the largest gain in MEXICO. WOW!
We have absolutely not the slightest doubt that “business as usual” as the basis for the Shell/Lansing model for “reform” of US Government international broadcasting/media is the precise formula for perpetuating failure. This is where the agency has been, is now and appears intent upon being forever.
Neither the BBG nor John Lansing needs legislation that preserves business as usual.
To the contrary, what is needed is legislation that protects the American people from an agency that has garnered a reputation for being one of the worst agencies in the Federal government, an agency that is ineffective in countering the anti-American rhetoric of Islamic jihadists and others, an agency that shows no intention of doing anything different than what it is doing now to continue to waste public funds in a fruitless pursuit to secure some measure of relevance in a world that has passed it by.
The bureaucrats of this agency relish being arrogant and defiant. It is well past the time to move them out for the damage they have done.

The Federalist

December 2015