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On My Mind

This Blind Chinese Lawyer May Be the Toughest Foreign Policy Challenge Obama Has Ever Faced

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How the White House deals with Chen Guangcheng, reportedly hiding in an American embassy, could reveal more about its agenda and values abroad than maybe any other international crisis.
 The Chinese government is so terrified of Chen Guangcheng that, when rumors spread on Sunday that he had boarded United Airlines flight 898 from Beijing to Washington, state censors almost immediately blocked Weibo users from sending any messages with the word "UA898." Chen, a lawyer who campaigned against state-forced sterilizations and abortions meant to enforce China's one-child policy, is blind; the words "blind man" were also blocked online. Though Chinese police often bend over backwards to avoid harming Westerners, especially high-profile ones, they roughed up Christian Bale and a CNN crew for trying to visit the building where he is kept under house arrest.

This is how seriously the Chinese government takes Chen Guangcheng. Now, Chen has escaped house arrest and reportedly fled to the American embassy in Beijing. In immediate human terms, the U.S. response would be easy and automatic: grant him legal asylum and fly him back to the United States. But foreign policy is more complicated than that. If China knocked around Christian Bale just for trying to shake Chen's hand, what would the country to do the American foreign policy agenda if Obama grants Chen his freedom to continue raising awareness about Communist Party abuses, embarrassing the leaders of that party in the process?

"We're going to make sure that we do this in the appropriate way and that appropriate balance is struck," U.S. counterterrorism adviser John Brennan carefully and tellingly put it on Fox News Sunday. Brennan said that Obama tries to "balance our commitment to human rights" as well as "to carry out our relationships with key countries overseas." Less than two months ago, the police chief of Chongqing rushed into an American consulate to confess his boss's most heinous abuses -- including his role in the murder of a British citizen -- and to seek asylum. The U.S. officials turned him away, and the police chief was arrested. This isn't the same situation -- the police chief had committed his share of crimes as well, and Chen Guangcheng is one of China's most successful activists and one of its best known abroad -- but the police chief's case highlights how sensitive the U.S. is about upsetting China's leadership.

If Chen Guangcheng is still locked up in an American diplomatic office, he poses a remarkable challenge to President Obama, one that asks how U.S. foreign policy under his leadership balances American ideals with American interests, whether he is able to achieve both, and, if not, which he will privilege. Obama's foreign policy team, and possibly Obama himself, face a question that is about more than just the fate of this one lawyer, or even about the U.S.-China relationship. It's about the role that America plays in the world, what we do with all the military and economic power at our fingertips.

It's hard not to think of the clichéd action movie climax, when the hero is forced to choose between saving, say, the sidekick or the love interest. He always managed to save both -- it makes for a better ending -- but the scene is compelling because it's an impossible choice, and because in saving one he is condemning the other. Chen's flight to a U.S. diplomatic building forces Obama to choose between ferrying Chen out of China or keeping him there, between human rights or diplomacy, between America's image in the world or its political capital with Beijing, between making China a little bit more democratic or a little bit more cooperative. Obama might be able to have it both ways, like the Hollywood hero, but he will probably have to sacrifice something.

How Obama deals with Chen Guangcheng may say more about his foreign policy and what it values than maybe any other such crisis he has faced during his presidency. That's not because Chen is so important; he is important, but not anywhere near the scale of Iran or North Korea or the Arab Spring. It's because his dilemma forces Obama to choose between two starkly different visions of American foreign policy.

In one sense, freeing this one dissident would risk daunting costs to Obama's agenda abroad; in another, to bring Chen to freedom would seem the very embodiment of American power at its brightest. A blind man of humble origins, Chen got his start fighting for disabled rights in a country that barely recognized them, and ended up taking on some of his government's cruelest abuses and most powerful interests. The U.S. State Department has previously called for his release. And, if he's seeking refugee status, the U.S. is probably obligated under international law to grant it.

Yet, Chen's release would infuriate the Chinese government, which the Obama administration has spent years assiduously courting. China's help is essential for addressing nearly every major foreign policy issue Obama faces, from the conflicts in Syria and Sudan, to containing Iran and North Korea, to curbing global warming, to determining how the next century of Pacific power will play out. There's also, of course, the U.S.-Chinese economic relationship, which is crucial for U.S. economic growth, which will be necessary for Obama's reelection.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are already scheduled to meet with their Chinese counterparts this Thursday and Friday for a "Strategic and Economic Dialogue" that will likely encompass all of these issues and more. If Chen has been released back into China, Clinton and Geithner are likely to have an easier time pushing their agenda; if Chen is still under U.S. protection or has been removed from China, the U.S. can expect less cooperation, setting back. That's a high price for one Chinese dissident. But Obama's other choice is maybe just as painful: throwing a brave and selfless human rights activist, a man who campaigned against forced abortions and forced sterilizations, back to a government that already executes 5,000 people every year.

This is far from the most important foreign policy challenge Obama has faced, the most dangerous, or the most historically significant. Still, the Chen case is unique because, even with its vastly lower stakes, it has so strongly pitted American strategy against American ideology that the White House must rethink these most fundamental premises of U.S. foreign policy in order to resolve them. Iran and North Korea, for example, are much greater threats with much higher stakes, but Obama inherited well-worn policies of containment on both. Managing those containments is surely difficult, but it's still mostly a question of engineering policy, not of fundamentally questioning the ideologies behind that policy.

Obama's usual foreign policy modus operandi -- calculated, cool-headed pragmatism -- doesn't offer as much guidance here as it might have during past crises. The pragmatic response to the Egyptian revolution, shifting support to the protesters once they looked likely to oust President Hosni Mubarak; to the Libyan civil war, backing NATO without leading it; to the end of the Iraq war, trying to convince the government there to host U.S. troops but not forcing it. But there's no obviously pragmatic response to Chen, and that's exactly what makes it such a momentous challenge for Obama. The stakes are not in Chen's meaning for the world -- neither the U.S.-China relationship nor American democracy-promotion are likely to live or die by what happens to this blind dissident -- but in Chen's meaning for how Obama uses American power in the world.
Max Fisher - The Atlantic 

Police chief in Martin case remains under scrutiny

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SANFORD, Fla. (AP) -- While George Zimmerman is free on bail, the police chief criticized for not charging him after Trayvon Martin's slaying remains under scrutiny, as city commissioners want to wait for the results of a federal investigation to decide if they will accept Chief Bill Lee's resignation.

It could take months before Sanford city commissioners have the information they say they need.

That's because the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to make a thorough analysis of how the city's police department handled the investigation into the Feb. 26 killing of the 17-year-old Martin, including studying when officers arrived to the scene of the shooting to the actions that Lee and other officials took in their ultimate decision not to arrest Zimmerman. Lee remains on paid leave.

"The city commission spoke," city manager Norton Bonaparte said. "They were not ready to have the resignation. So we'll move forward."

Meanwhile, the city needs someone to lead its police department. Mayor Jeff Triplett - one of the three city officials who voted 3-2 Monday not to accept Lee's resignation - said he'd like to see an interim police chief serve before the commission makes a final decision on Lee's proposed resignation.

An interim chief could be hired as early as next week, Bonaparte said. He hedged, however, when he was asked if he thought an interim chief could be effective.

"That'll be up to the community," he said. "It's a challenge. ... We'll move forward to see if we can get a speedy investigation from the United States Department of Justice or some other entities. That's what I heard from the city commission."

Bonaparte presented commissioners with a signed resignation agreement that he prepared with Lee prior to Monday's meeting. Lee stepped down temporarily in March because he said he wanted to let emotions cool in the aftermath of Martin's slaying.

It seemed likely commissioners would sign off on Lee's resignation - after all, they previously gave him a "no confidence vote." Yet the panel decided not to accept the resignation agreement, which would have included four months of severance for Lee. The majority of commissioners said they wanted to wait for the outside investigation to conclude.

The lack of an arrest in the Martin case led to protests across the nation and spurred a debate about race and the laws of self-defense. Zimmerman's father is white and his mother is from Peru. Martin was black. The shooting also led to the local prosecutor recusing himself from the case, prompting the governor to appoint special prosecutor Angela Corey, who eventually charged Zimmerman.

The majority of commissioners Monday blamed the polarization over the Martin case and its handling by the police department on outside groups. Lee's supporters wore "Bring Back Billy" T-shirts to the meeting, though there were detractors as well.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised," said Velma Williams, the lone black representative on the commission who voted to accept the resignation.

Earlier Monday, Zimmerman, who slipped out of jail on $150,000 bail in the early morning darkness, went back into hiding and likely fled to another state to avoid threats as he awaits his second-degree murder trial. He has entered a written plea of not guilty.

Martin was unarmed and was walking back to the home of his father's fiancee's home when Zimmerman saw him, called police and began following him. A fight broke out - investigators say it is unknown who started it.

Zimmerman says Martin, who was visiting from Miami, attacked him. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense, citing Florida's "stand your ground" law, which gives broad legal protection to anyone who says they used deadly force because they feared death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman was not charged for more than six weeks, sparking nationwide protests.

Even though authorities can pinpoint Zimmerman's location with a GPS ankle bracelet that he must wear round the clock, the public may not see him again for some time. Zimmerman has waived his appearance at his upcoming arraignment next month, so he can stay underground if he wants.

"He's doing well, he's very glad to be out, trying to get settled in, still worried about his safety, but, you know, talking to his family and feeling much better than being in" jail, Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said Monday night on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.

O'Mara declined to say if Zimmerman was in Florida, only saying his client will travel to several locations for his safety. O'Mara did not immediately return phone calls Monday by The Associated Press.

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Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla. contributed to this article. 

 

Dick Clark, America’s Party Chaperone, Dies at Age 82

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The sentence “Dick Clark died today” seems like a contradiction in terms. If there was someone who was supposed to be forever young, untouched by time, it was him: if not immortal, then at least amortal. He was a contradiction: one of TV’s longest-serving colossi, best known for shows that celebrated eternal youth (American Bandstand) and the march of time (New Year’s Rockin’ Eve), who himself was famed for seeming eternal and unchanging. Composed, sunny, gleaming and well-spoken, he was never exactly “The World’s Oldest Teenager,” as the cliché went, but he was a constant nonetheless—the world’s longest-serving cool uncle/chaperone, and a beloved one.

That forever-young facade was gone well before Clark died, reportedly of a heart attack, at age 82 today. He suffered a stroke in 2004, and while he made public appearances at New Year’s Eve and elsewhere, his illness was apparent. But he achieved cultural longevity well before then, beginning with Bandstand, the Philadelphia music show that the former DJ took to ABC in 1957.

Before Soul Train, MTV or American Idol (and along with shows like Ed Sullivan’s), Bandstand permanently married American TV to American pop music. It was a hangout, a community dance, a chaperoned hangout on which American kids got exposed to new pop music—and to each other.

Because one significant thing about Bandstand was that it was as much about the kids, the fans, as the music they loved—Clark interviewed them, let them show off dance steps, asked them to rate new singles. (“It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it!”) Bandstand was a showcase for musicians, definitely, but it also celebrated the idea of pop music as a conversation that you were part of.

It was a party, and Clark made it a good and successful one by being a host in the true sense of the word. Hosting is maybe the most bizarre of TV jobs, one that in one sense is almost nothing—literally being yourself on camera—and yet that stymies most people who try it. Clark, like a good party host, became the dean of TV entertainment hosts because he didn’t let himself get in the way. He had personality—quick-witted, genial, always pleasant—and a way of connecting with everyday kids and artists, but he also managed that difficult balance of being a star yet a servant to his audience.

In the 1970s, Clark began the New Year’s Eve franchise with ABC—a natural fit after minding the punchbowl of America’s biggest TV party. And a generation that saw him as the constant face of their youth now saw him as the constant, cheerful face of the passage of time. With him, New Year’s became perhaps the first native TV holiday of television: watching the ball drop was a much a part of the ritual as champagne, countdowns and kisses at midnight.

I would be lying, however, if I said that either of those most famous gigs were what I will remember Clark most fondly from. As a kid of Generation X, I grew up watching Clark on sick days as the host of the addictive $10,000 (and other denominations) Pyramid. He worked on numerous other game shows and specials as well, but less apparent to the home viewer was his career as a behind-the-scenes titan: besides Bandstand, Dick Clark Productions produced a slew of game and reality shows, as well as music and awards specials.

The “Who will be the next Dick Clark?” speculation started years and years before today, and in the past few years, most people have concluded the title falls to American Idol‘s Ryan Seacrest, who has co-hosted Rockin’ Eve for several years. But no one, however hard-working or well-coiffed, is really in a position to be Dick Clark anymore: not in the sense of presenting one face of youth culture to an entire country. That mass culture Clark represented, like Clark himself, could not really live forever. But for an impressively long run, Dick Clark kept the party going. RIP.


By JAMES PONIEWOZIK

Obama: 'Angry' if Secret Service allegations are true

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Obama: 'Angry' if Secret Service allegations are true

By David Jackson and Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
President Obama said Sunday that if Secret Service agents solicited prostitutes in Colombia, "Then of course I'll be angry." 

The president's first comments on the incident came as the Secret Service began an investigation and two Republican members of Congress indicated they would lead their own probes.

Obama was asked at a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos about allegations that 11 Secret Service agents were involved with prostitutes before this weekend's Summit of the Americas. Obama noted that its director was investigating.

"I expect that investigation to be thorough, and I expect it to be rigorous," Obama said. If the reports prove true, "Then of course I'll be angry."

"We're representing the people of the United States, and when we travel to another country, I expect us to observe the highest standards, because we're not just representing ourselves, we're here on behalf of our people."

The event overshadowed Obama's participation in the summit, during which other leaders urged the U.S. to alter its monetary policy, legalize drugs and admit Cuba to future summits.

The alleged incident happened two days before the president landed Friday for the summit. Administration officials stressed that Obama's security was unaffected. No members of the president's immediate protective detail were involved.

Five military personnel who were assisting the Secret Service in Colombia are also under investigation.

Paul Morrissey, an assistant director with the Secret Service, said the 11 agents were sent home, and put on administrative leave pending the investigation.

"The Secret Service demands more from its employees," Morrissey said. "This incident is not reflective of the behavior of our personnel as they travel every day throughout the country and the world performing their duties in a dedicated, professional manner."

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., told CNN the agents are accused of bringing women back to their five-star hotel in Cartagena, which was within the security zone for Obama's visit. Local police were called when one woman refused to leave, claiming she had not be paid, said King, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, which oversees the Secret Service.

"They cannot put themselves in compromising positions where they're open to be blackmailed or threatened," King said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said more people may be involved in the scandal. "We think the number might be higher," he said.

Issa, speaking on CBS' Face The Nation, said he wonders whether similar incidents may have happened in the past. "Things like this don't happen once if they didn't happen before," he said.

Presidential trips often take unexpected twists that overtake the intended goals.President George W. Bush's farewell visit to Iraq in December 2008 was overshadowed when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush.

"The shoe-throwing incident dominated a lot of the message on that trip," recalled Tony Fratto, Bush's deputy press secretary at the time. "In fact, I'm sure it's the only thing anybody remembers." 

`60 Minutes' interrogator Mike Wallace dies

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(04-09) 01:25 PDT New York (AP) --

Within five months of each other, two of the men who helped make "60 Minutes" the most distinctive news show on television have died.

First it was Andy Rooney, the cantankerous commentator who died last November, a month after delivering the last of his show-closing essays. Late Saturday night, it was Mike Wallace, the hard-charging interviewer who frequently led "60 Minutes" and gave it journalistic heft with a showman's flair.

Rooney made it to age 92. Wallace beat him by a year, although he spent the latter stage of his life in the New Canaan, Conn., care facility where he died.

"More than anyone else he was responsible for the continuing success of `60 Minutes,'"veteran correspondent Morley Safer, a longtime colleague and frequent competitor of Wallace's in chasing after big stories, said on Sunday's show. "We are all in his debt."

"60 Minutes" plans an extended tribute to Wallace next Sunday.

Wallace had such a fearsome reputation as an interviewer that "Mike Wallace is here to see you" were among the most dreaded words a newsmaker could hear.

Wallace didn't just interview people. He interrogated them. He cross-examined them. Sometimes he eviscerated them pitilessly. His weapons were many: thorough research, a cocked eyebrow, a skeptical "Come on" and a question so direct it took your breath away.

He was well aware that his reputation arrived at an interview before he did, said Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and Wallace's long-time producer at "60 Minutes."

"He loved it," Fager said Sunday. "He loved that part of Mike Wallace. He loved being Mike Wallace. He loved the fact that if he showed up for an interview, it made people nervous. ... He knew, and he knew that everybody else knew, that he was going to get to the truth. And that's what motivated him."

Wallace made "60 Minutes" compulsively watchable, television's first newsmagazine that became appointment viewing on Sunday nights. His last interview, in January 2008, was with Roger Clemens on his alleged steroid use. Slowed by a triple bypass later that month and the ravages of time on a once-sharp mind, he retired from public life.

During the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, Wallace asked Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini — then a feared figure — what he thought about being called "a lunatic" by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Khomeini answered by predicting Sadat's assassination.

Late in his career, he interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin, and challenged him: "This isn't a real democracy, come on!" Putin's aides tried fruitlessly to halt the interview.

In 1973, with the Watergate scandal growing, he sat with top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman and read a long list of alleged crimes, from money laundering to obstructing justice. "All of this," Wallace noted, "by the law-and-order administration of Richard Nixon."

The surly Ehrlichman could only respond: "Is there a question in there somewhere?"

In the early 1990s, Wallace reduced Barbra Streisand to tears as he scolded her for being "totally self-absorbed" when she was young and mocked her decades of psychoanalysis. "What is it she is trying to find out that takes 20 years?" Wallace wondered.

"He was hands down the best television interviewer ever," said Steve Kroft, his former "60 Minutes" colleague. "I can't think of anyone, besides (CBS legend Edward R.) Murrow, who had a greater influence in shaping television journalism."

"60 Minutes" pioneered the use of "ambush interviews," with reporter and camera crew corralling alleged wrongdoers in parking lots, hallways, wherever a comment — or at least a stricken expression — might be harvested from someone dodging reporters' phone calls. Wallace once went after a medical laboratory offering Medicaid kickbacks to doctors in this fashion.

They were phased out after founding executive producer Don Hewitt termed them "showbiz baloney.""Finally I said, `Hey, kid, maybe it's time to retire that trenchcoat,'" Hewitt recalled.

Wallace's late colleague Harry Reasoner once said, "There is one thing that Mike can do better than anybody else: With an angelic smile, he can ask a question that would get anyone else smashed in the face."

Fager's first contact with Wallace — as a young producer he had to shorten one of Wallace's stories for another broadcast — left him more frightened than anything he had to do professionally to that point. Eventually, Fager became one of Wallace's producers and, as the top producer at "60 Minutes," the one who had to delicately convince a man who never wanted to retire that it was time to hang it up.

"I was scared of him and intimidated by him," he said. "He knew it and he would just make you more miserable. That was Mike. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and even if you were intimidated by him, it was hard not to love him."

ABC's Diane Sawyer, a former "60 Minutes" colleague, said Wallace's energy and nerve set the show's pace. "He bounded through the halls with joy at the prospect of the new, the true, the unexpected," she said.

His prosecutorial style was admired, imitated, condemned and lampooned. In a 1984 skit on "Saturday Night Live," Harry Shearer impersonated Wallace, and Martin Short played weaselly, chain-smoking attorney Nathan Thurm, who becomes comically evasive, shifty-eyed and nervous under questioning.

Wallace was hired when Hewitt put together the staff of "60 Minutes" at its inception in 1968. The show wasn't a hit at first, but worked its way up to the top 10 in the 1977-78 season and remained there year after year. Among other things, it proved there could be big profits in TV journalism. It remains the most popular newsmagazine on TV.

Wallace said he didn't think he had an unfair advantage over his interview subjects: "The person I'm interviewing has not been subpoenaed. He's in charge of himself, and he lives with his subject matter every day. All I'm armed with is research."

Wallace himself became a dramatic character in several projects, from the stage version of "Frost/Nixon," when he was played by Stephen Rowe, to the 1999 film "The Insider," based in part on a 1995 "60 Minutes" story about tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, who accused Brown & Williamson of intentionally adding nicotine to cigarettes. CBS News initially cut Wigand's interview for fear of being sued.

In all, his television career spanned six decades, much of it at CBS. In 1949, he appeared as Myron Wallace in a show called "Majority Rules." In the early 1950s he was an announcer and game show host. In the mid-1950s he hosted "Night Beat," a series of one-on-one interviews that first won Wallace fame for his tough style.

After holding a variety of other news and entertainment jobs, including serving as advertising pitchman for a cigarette brand, Wallace became a full-time newsman for CBS in 1963.

He said it was the death of his 19-year-old son Peter in an accident in 1962 that made him decide to stick to serious journalism from then on. (Another son, Chris, followed his father and became a broadcast journalist. He anchors "Fox News Sunday" on the Fox network.)

Wallace had a short stint reporting from Vietnam and took a sock in the jaw while covering the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. But he didn't fit the stereotype of the Eastern liberal journalist. He was a close friend of the Reagans and was once offered the job of Richard Nixon's press secretary. He called his politics moderate.

The most publicized lawsuit against him was by retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who sought $120 million for a 1982 "CBS Reports" documentary, "The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception," that accused Westmoreland and others of deliberately underestimating enemy troop strength during the Vietnam War.

Westmoreland dropped the libel suit in 1985 after a long trial. Lawyers for each side later said legal costs of the suit totaled $12 million, of which $9 million was paid by CBS. Wallace said the case plunged him into a depression that put him in the hospital for a week.

In 1996, he appeared before the Senate's Special Committee on Aging to urge more federal funds for depression research, saying that he had felt "lower, lower, lower than a snake's belly" but had recovered through psychiatry and antidepressants. He later disclosed that he once tried to commit suicide during that dark period.

Wallace was born Myron Wallace on May 9, 1918, in Brookline, Mass. He began his news career in Chicago in the 1940s, first as a radio news writer for the Chicago Sun and then as a reporter for WMAQ. He started at CBS in 1951.

He was married four times. In 1986, he wed Mary Yates Wallace, the widow of his close friend and colleague Ted Yates, who had died in 1967. Besides his wife, Wallace is survived by his son, a stepdaughter, Pauline Dora and stepsons Eames and Angus Yates.

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Associated Press Television Writer Frazier Moore, Deepti Hajela, former Associated Press writer Polly Anderson and National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.

 




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