Inside the Beltway: The ‘nontheists’ get political

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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.

STILL EXCEPTIONAL

Putin op-ed? What Putin op-ed? “Most U.S. voters still subscribe to the view that there is something special about America,” says a Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters released Sunday. It found that 59 percent of likely U.S. voters believe the United States is more exceptional than other nations. Just 27 percent disagree, with 14 percent more who are not sure.”

The poll, incidentally, was conducted Thursday and Friday.

STILL QUESTIONING BENGHAZI

The one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Benghazi. Libya, has come and gone, with few answers, scant attention and a greater sense of tragedy rather than resolve. Rep. Steve Stockman is having none of it, though.

“If four members of Obama’s personal staff had been killed there would rightfully have been a full investigation and congressional hearings. But not one perpetrator has been brought to justice and requests for witnesses and information have been blocked,” the Texas Republican declares.

“Not one survivor has been allowed to testify to Congress and repeated requests for information have been blocked. Two different hearings have been canceled after witnesses were confronted and some intimidated,” he continues.

The lawmaker notes he has filed a discharge petition to force a vote of the full Congress on legislation already introduced by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, which would create a select committee with full subpoena power to investigate Benghazi, once and for all.

“The survivors and the victims’ families deserve answers and all Americans overseas deserve to know why their commander in chief left men to die at the hands of terrorists,” Mr. Stockman adds.

BROOKSISM

For the temporary lexicon: New York Times columnist David Brooks has identified a new trend in the Grand Old Party that appears to alarm him: “the rise of Ted Cruz-ism.”

Mr. Brooks tells PBS: “Ted Cruz, the senator from Canada through Texas, is basically not a legislator in the normal sense, doesn’t have an idea that he’s going to Congress to create coalitions, make alliances, and he is going to pass a lot of legislation. He’s going in more as a media-protest person. And a lot of the House Republicans are in the same mode. They’re not normal members of Congress. They’re not legislators. They want to stop things. They just want to obstruct.”

The point of Cruz-ism is the 2016 presidential election and “to take over the Republican Party and for Ted Cruz, it’s potentially to get the nomination.” Mr. Brooks concludes.

Interesting to note the diabolical Mr. Cruz’s latest tweet, issued Sunday: “I hope you’ll take a moment to say a prayer for those affected by the Colorado floods.”

POLL DU JOUR

70 percent of Americans do not think that the world “will end during their lifetimes.”

18 percent think that the world will end during their lifetime; 32 percent of evangelical Christians agree.

49 percent of Americans overall do not think that the civil war and strife in Syria are part of the prophecies referenced in the Bible’s Book of Revelations; 32 percent believe the Syrian crisis is part of those prophecies; 58 percent of evangelical Christians and 51 percent of those who attend church at least once a month agree.

26 percent say that U.S. military intervention in Syria could lead to the Battle of Armageddon spoken of in Revelations; 40 percent of those living in the South and 24 percent of those living in the Northeast agree; 34 percent of those older than 65 years and 21 percent of those 18 to 29 years old agree.

Source: A LifeWay Research survey of 1,001 U.S. adults conducted Sept. 6 to 10.

Witty asides, impatient demands to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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