The True Voice of America

… if you go back and look at the very first transcript of our [Voice of America] broadcast back in 1942 during World War II, the famous quote is “The news may be good, the news may be bad, we shall tell you the truth.” 

Al Pessin, speaking to Catherine Jacobsen, Committee to Protect Journalists
Sandblast, Task Force Epsilon thriller

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists’ Katherine Jacobsen recently interviewed my friend, former VOA journalist Al Pessin (author of the Task Force Epsilon thriller series). Al is my contemporary, but his words harken back to my father’s Foreign Service career in the US Information Agency.

As I’ve written about before, President Eisenhower created USIA after WWII to tell America’s story to the world, a public affairs operation in tandem with the radio and print journalists of the Voice of America. USIA and the VOA fell under partisan attacks periodically and worked hard to earn the confidence of the Congress during my father’s career. Ultimately, USIA was absorbed into the Department of State, where Dad’s work in public diplomacy carries on in American embassies around the world.

The voa is under attack

Now, the VOA and other news outlets that helped the United States to win the Cold War are under partisan attack.

As Nick Schifrin recently reported on the PBS NewsHour, Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, ignored a congressional subpoena to appear before Congress over concerns he has politicized and mismanaged media outlets that helped the U.S. win the Cold War. One of those outlets is Voice of America.

Al Pessin joined his former VOA colleagues in signing a letter to the Acting Director of the VOA objecting to the wholesale firing of management and removal of boards of directors as a witch hunt reminiscent of the Red Scare of the 1950s. Even more damaging was the summary visa revocation of foreign journalists, many of whom may face persecution at home for having worked for the United States. VOA journalists — going against a reporter’s grain by becoming the news — put their careers on the line to object.

He has ordered the firing of contract journalists, with no valid reason, by cancelling their visas, forcing them back to home countries where the lives of some of them may be in jeopardy.

Voice of America journalists

Journalists are not spies

Most damaging of all is his public statement, on a podcast, that the VOA is great cover for our enemies.

A great place to put a foreign spy.

Michael Pack, CEO, US Agency for Global Media, speaking about the Voice of America

Pack’s tossed off remark was recorded in an interview with conservative and pro-Trump The Federalist.

It takes a long time to build the credibility of a news organization and just a brief moment to destroy it … It just shows a complete lack of understanding or disregard for the job that we have to do and potentially for the personal safety of the people trying to do it. 

Al Pessin, retired Voice of America journalist

Handing our enemies a win

Congressman Tom Malinowski, D- NJ, put it like this at the hearing Pack disregarded.

If China, Russia, North Korea, or any of our adversaries, had in fact infiltrated USAGM, they could have not possibly done more harm to America’s interests than Mr. Pack has in fact done on his own.

Congressman Tom Malinowski

With friends like Michael Pack — and presidents like Trump — damaging our democracy from the inside, who needs enemies?

Dognapping Home Invasion

In this recent piece for the PBS NewsHour, correspondent Malcom Brabant discusses England’s COVID canine calamity.

As I wrote in a recent post, dog adoptions have soared in Florida during the pandemic. Same thing in Britain. Toilet paper hoarding and puppy housemates have become the English physiological and psychological base in the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.

Dogs became the must-have thing, after the toilet roll.

Beverley Cuddy, “the canine Cronkite” of the BBC

As dogs become as dear as our own family — maybe more, since people can really get under our skin after six months of lockdown, and a dog is always happy to see you, in a goofy Groundhog Day kind of loop — the Evil Do-Ers have converted our displaced priorities into a new revenue stream (as I learned to say in my previous life as a budget analyst): dognapping.

In the United Kingdom, an unexpected result of the pandemic: a surge in dognapping. Puppy prices have soared during lockdown, and pet thefts have spiked 65 percent in a year.

PBS NewsHour

Sadly, British law equates the loss of a dog with the loss of an iPhone or other personal property. But these are members of a family.

They have got human names. They used to be called Spot and Fido and maybe they lived in the shed. Now they’re on the sofa. They’re on the bed.

Beverley Cuddy, “the canine Cronkite” of the BBC

God speed to the British Parliament in addressing this growing problem.

But that’s not the worst of it. Dogs have taken over people’s homes. Those cute bundles of fur have grown into full on home invaders. Brabant recounts his own experience.

Loki is a typical lockdown puppy. We paid top dollar seven months ago, and haven’t once left him alone. He had an idyllic lockdown. But in common with so many new owners, we have become his prisoners.

Malcolm Brabant, PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent

We feel you, Malcolm. We knew Kumba did not like being left alone when we adopted him in February the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. There was trauma in his past: he’d been given up by his owners and left in a shelter in Puerto Rico, where he had remained for months before LRROF flew him to Ft. Lauderdale. He weighed 50 pounds and was so anemic that the LRROF vet didn’t know how he was still upright. By the time we brought him home from his amazing foster mother Kim, he was gaining weight and confidence, but he was pretty unsure about life in general.

Now, we are his prisoners, too. It’s pretty hard to break eye-contact with this guy.

And he’s not a big fan of being on his own even with his toys.

When we left him on his own for the first time, here is part of what happened. Oh, yeah, he is a clever one, chewing on A Dog’s Way Home and making an appetizer of several sheets of my own writing. Who knew dogs could be ironic.

Without realizing, dog owners living through the pandemic may not realize that there is a problem until things return to normal and they’re off to school, to work, to dinner.

The sad fact is that, if you have a dog with an established attachment disorder, you have to be at home in order to get through a behavior modification program. If you only discover it once you’re out to work for eight, nine hours a day, then it becomes almost impossible to rectify.

Sue Ketland, Behaviour and Training Consultant, Wood Green the Animal Charity

Word to the wise. Get out of the house while you have time to get Fido, er Philip, used to life without you. There must be a self-help group for this dog-person co-dependency.

We are going for a drive today. Just the two humans in the household. Although my husband said, “Let’s bring Kumba!”

Going Down Inflamed

Friday evenings we go to church for ten minutes. That’s when the duo of Mark Shields and David Brooks speak with PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff about the events of the prior week. Almost every week we are buoyed by the thoughtful analysis.

Last night, on the topic of national leadership, Shields commented that a president has two opportunities to shine as a leader: 1) when everything is coming up roses — the economy is pumping, we are not at war, employment is high and happy days have come again; and 2) when there is a national catastrophe not of the president’s making and people are looking to the White House for solace from the Consoler in Chief.

Trump has blown both opportunities.

Donald Trump has failed at leading the country and failed miserably. He has been a sniper on the sidelines.

Mark Shields, PBS NewsHour

Even when a dire emergency calls for traits other than bellicosity, fighting is all he knows how to do.

Mona Charen, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Four years into the Trump administration, this fellow’s unsuitability to the job has led to the deaths of more than 125,000 Americans, the rapid unemployment of one out of every four Americans, and a crashing economy. This tin pot ruler even wanted to bring the military into American cities to fight unarmed citizens.

With a nation on edge, ravaged by disease, hammered by economic collapse, divided over lockdowns and even facemasks and now convulsed once again by race, President Trump’s first instinct has been to look for someone to fight.

Peter Baker, The New York Times

Just as the baffoon allowed entry to the cool kids’ club might prance in the outfit for a while, his unsuitability to the position wears out its welcome. It comes time to show the joker the door.

Suddenly, electing a television entertainer with no knowledge of history or experience of the world seems less amusing. Suddenly the desire to apply a wrecking ball to American politics seems less responsible and appealing amidst the ruins….This is the main and rather obvious lesson of Civics 101: if you elect a politician who is professionally incompetent and emotionally unwell, you will pay a price.

Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

It’s time to call this guy’s bluff. As Republican commentator David Brooks said in his recent op-ed column:

I thank God that Joe Biden is about to be nominated by the Democratic Party. He came to public life when it was about crafting coalitions and legislating. He exudes a spirit that is about empathy and friendship.

David Brooks, The New York Times

Empathy and friendship. Those sound like just the qualities that we need right now as individuals, locked in our homes and hidden behind our masks.

Empathy and friendship sound like just the qualities that the states need right now as they struggle to balance economic needs and the health of their resident Americans. And that Congress and the White House will need in order to craft real solutions that address our losing fight against the coronavirus, the economic depression, and a powerful new push for cultural change.

And empathy and friendship are certainly the qualities our international relationships need right now. More on that soon.

Seek Aggressive Friendship

One of my spiritual gurus is New York Times columnist and PBS NewsHour Friday commentator David Brooks. Although he represents the Republican-conservative view in his Friday commentary on the PBS NewsHour (Mark Shields speaks for my political side, the Democrats), Brooks often offers up touching insights into what really matters.

In his commentary these past couple of weeks, he acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown our economy into a tailspin, but he is most concerned about Americans´mental health. In his NYT column last week, Brooks asked his readers to share how we are coping with the crisis, comparing it to a wrestling match in which our nervous system’s opponent is stress.

This week, Brooks shares the overwhelming response.

I don’t know what I expected; maybe some jaunty stories about families pulling together in a crisis. What you sent gutted me. There have been over 5,000 replies so far, and while many people are hanging in there, there is also a river of woe running through the world — a significant portion of our friends and neighbors are in agony.

David Brooks, NYT 4-9-20

He heard from young people feeling bereft of a future, from widows and widowers feeling bereft of love, and from people with chronic mental health problems that see the invisible enemy just waiting for us to forgo one 20’second hand wash to take us down.

The Health Doctors, PBP 4-12-20

The experts, Brooks tells us, suggest that anything rhythmic can ease your nervous system back into alignment — dancing, yoga, tai chi, Zumba. I’m making face masks for Ray and me out of old pajama bottoms. My handstiching is pretty lame but the therapy is very good.

Just this morning, I found myself doing a very lame kind of merengue on my morning walk. I figure we’re all allowed some acting-out room these days, plus I had Kumba with me.

This four year old black Lab came into our life on February 2, via the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. and it’s hard to tell if we helped rescue him or if he’s the one doing the saving. Ten weeks in and Kumba’s overwhelmed our hearts. He’s sweet and dear, enjoys going nuts each day for about 5 minutes in the side yard, walks beautifully, and understands us. We’ve broken all the rules – his favorite place is on the couch between us. I go to bed early, and Kumba lets his long body slide onto my side of the couch with his head on Ray’s leg. They are both very content in this position

There is something about petting a dog that fits into what Brooks’ experts advise we seek to reduce our stress. Like Levy the therapy dog, Kumba helps settle us down.

My pair of Palm Tree Socks are on the kitchen chair

In his recent article in The Palm Beach Post, reporter Sam Howard wrote about an effort that connects shelter dogs with military veterans. He quotes veteran Doug Wonnacott who said he transformed from a happy go lucky guy to someone who can easily hide all emotions, especially anger.

“Delta [his 18 month Lab mix] reacts when you get that anger. He’s trained to interact with you, Hey pet me a little bit. And by the time you’re done petting him you’ve forgotten while you’re angry in the first place. To me, that is huge.”

Veteran Doug Wonnacot

The Shelter to Service Dog program is a joint effort by two Jupiter non-profit organizations: the Renewal Coalition, a veterans support group, and Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic and Ranch, whose motto is ¨rescue, rehab, re home.¨

The transformations are incredible. We take dogs that are battered and broken and beaten and turn them into healing agents for veterans.

Trainer Summit Earhart

And dog companions improve our physical and mental health, and strengthen our immune system.

I’m reminded that this is a time to practice aggressive friendship with each other.

David Brooks, NYT

Call an old friend. Reach out to your aunt. Track down someone you once knew and tell them you still think about them. And when we do come out of this pandemic, let us not go back to the way things were. Let’s go on to the way things can be, conscious of how much we value being connected to each other.

And, maybe, you even adopt a dog.

Kumba and me on our morning walk