- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2013

Arriving this week: the Freethought Equality Fund PAC, the creation of the Center for Humanist Activism. Organizers say the new political action committee will support candidates ready to advocate for the “equal rights of nonbelievers.”

They make their case known at the National Press Club on Wednesday. Their goal, according to national coordinator Bishop McNeill:

“The mission of the Freethought Equality Fund PAC is to change the face of American politics by providing nontheist Americans the opportunity to make their voices heard in the political process like never before by getting involved in the electoral process supporting candidates for public office at all levels of government.”

PUTIN ON THE BLITZ


Wise, noble and strong? The new and improved positive Russian image is emerging following the nation’s sudden starring role in the Syria crisis. That image is far from the unforgettable sight of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the Cold War era, once promising Americans “We will bury you,” among other things.

Ironically, the marketing prowess of brand savvy Americans has been at work behind the scenes here: both Buzzfeed and the nonpartisan watchdog Pro Publica report that Russia President Vladimir Putin’s much ballyhooed New York Times op-ed condemning U.S. intervention in Syria and American “exceptionalism” was actually placed in the newspaper by Ketchum Inc. Founded in 1923, the public relations giant has a presence in 70 countries and handles the branding challenge of Haagen-Dazs, Barbie dolls and IKEA, among many commercial entities.

The bodacious firm has placed editorials favorable to Russia in U.S. publications, these penned by seemingly neutral or independent authors “without disclosing the role of the Russian government,” says Justin Elliott, a Pro Publica analyst, who has pored over the company’s records and disclosures since last year.

Ketchum’s latest public filing says it was paid $1.9 million by Russia for the six-month period ending May 31, 2013. It received another $3.7 million for its work for Russian energy giant Gazprom over the same period,” Mr. Elliott says.

But such is the nature of diplomacy, which now includes show biz and a few psychological operations thrown in for good measure.

“There’s nothing unusual about Ketchum’s work on behalf of Russia. Public relations firms constantly peddle op-eds on behalf of politicians, corporations, and governments,” Mr. Elliott adds, noting. “Placement of op-eds is a standard part of the influence game, but it’s rare for readers ever to find out who is behind the curtain.”

It is a case of “Putin on the Blitz,” at least according to a headline at Fark.com, the cheeky news site.

THE COST OF DITHERING

Many Republican lawmakers delicately agree that the aforementioned Russian-brokered deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is laudable within limits. But dithering has its price.

“The Syria plan has been confusing at best over the last two years. Last week, it was more confusing to the American people, and more confusing to members of Congress about our national security interests,” Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on CNN.

“The president couldn’t quite close that deal. So, that indecisiveness gave the diplomatic advantage to the Russians. They saw it. They stepped in. This is a Russian plan for Russian interests,” the Michigan Republican said.

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