Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Obama in Riyadh: Three dimensional chess (with updates)

The latest chapter in the deceptive narrative of our growing involvement in the Middle East involves President Obama's trip on 4/20 to the Saudi capital of Riyadh for a summit of Gulf states fighting ISIS, followed a few days later by his announcement in London that he would authorize an increase in U.S. troops in Syria.  Leading up to this trip, in what appear strategic feints at candor, the media delivered a series of startling revelations about Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the U.S.  Over the past week we learned from 60 Minutes that the Saudi's were likely involved in 9/11, and that this information is contained and classified in 28 pages from the official 9/11 report that the President has fought to keep classified, and we learned from reviews of Pulitzer Prize winner Dexter Filkins' new book, The Forever War, that the Saudi's knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding for many months before the U.S. did and assisted Pakistan in concealing the information from the U.S.   

The seeming legitimacy of these revelations frees me from my usual sense that I need to inform people of subtle things they've missed, although there is one aspect of what is happening that is currently left out of the news: the perception throughout the Middle East (and reported but not noticed in the U.S.) that Saudi Arabia (like Russia) is our ally in a U.S. led coalition, ostensibly to fight ISIS but involved in quite a lot of other things as well.  The Saudi's have distinguished themselves in our coalition by massacring Houthi civilians in Yemen, bombing, among other sites, a Doctor's Without Borders hospital in January (two months after the U.S. bombed one in Afghanistan).  What is a Houthi?  You'll be lucky to find anyone outside a D.C. think tank who knows, or who might have the slightest idea why we would be a close ally of a country that bombs Houthi hospitals.  But it is in our handlers' interest now to turn America's attention to its disagreements with Saudi Arabia, so that we will not notice that Middle East populations perceive Saudi Arabia to be our partner just as it establishes itself as an evil bad guy in the region.  What is the purpose of this double game?  In my view it is to promote the war that elements in our leadership (including the President) desire (for further exploration of this idea see the next two essays on this blog: Our news is as manipulated as Russia's and Applied Amnesia).

And just as the screenwriters of our coming war do not want anyone to notice our close alliance with Saudi Arabia, they divert our attention from another extremely violent partner in our coalition, Russia, which it turns out, like Saudi Arabia, "doesn't share our values," by which we seem to mean our professed values (see Airwars at  Russia bombs civilian targets in Syria with no apparent relevance to fighting ISIS, unless the goal is to enhance the fierceness of the enemy.  

All it takes is one Russian jet to buzz a U.S. warship and the American people, like the audience of a cruise ship hypnotist, are mesmerized, chanting together:  We are not like them...we are not like them....

Update, 4/21: Saudi King Salman did not greet President Obama when he arrived in Riyadh as he had other world leaders, a seeming snub, but it was reported later that Obama and the King had a two hour meeting which "cleared the air," with much nodding and smiling for the cameras.  Thus both policy ends were met: the need for Americans to see a rift between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia so there will be no American guilt at the Saudi open season on Yemeni civilians, plus a display of solidarity between the two countries to show people in the Middle East the other view, that we are part of the Saudi depredations.  In February U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did a similar balancing act with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the wake of Russian attacks on Syrian civilians (see below, Applied Amnesia).  The point of this strategy is to attain a basic ingredient for the war our leaders have in mind: each side must be seething with hatred and fear of the other.

Updates: 4/26, U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said a partial truce agreed to in February was "barely alive", and he called on Russia and the U.S. to "intervene at the 'highest level' to save the struggling peace talks" (  The next day, 4/27, Russia bombed a Doctors Without Borders Syrian hospital, "killing at least 14 patients and staff" (  Americans will have forgotten the incident, if they noticed it in the first place, by tomorrow so that we and our ally Russia can present ourselves as the saviors of Syria. To see how we arrived at this point, read Our news is as manipulated as Russia's and Applied Amnesia below.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Our news is as manipulated as Russia's

If you follow the news, I have a question for you:  Did you know that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry and several dozen senior national security officials made a rare visit to CIA headquarters yesterday to discuss ramping up U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war?  As important as such a story is, you probably didn't know about it, and for the same reason I didn't until I read about it in today's Los Angeles Times ("Obama visits CIA HQ as U.S. steps up attacks on ISIS," Los Angeles Times, 4/14/16, it was not reported.  I watched the ABC network news with David Muir last night, after a day of reading online news sources like Daily Beast and Politico, and the CIA visit was not reported anywhere.  You would think an escalation of U.S. involvement in this distant war would be news, but it was left on the cutting room floor in deference to a welter of crime stories and extensive coverage of a Russian jet buzzing a U.S. warship.  I checked the other two networks, CBS and NBC, on their online sites, and, as of today, 4/14, Obama's visit to the CIA has not been reported.

Why was it not reported?  Probably for the same reason that Russian media does not report when Russian fighter jets bomb hospitals in Syria: the news outlets are manipulated into not reporting it.  I can't prove that, but is there anything inherently unsound in the theory?

If you are doubtful, consider this question: Why, for the last three years, has CBS anchor Scott Pelly, every time he refers to Syrian President Assad, called him "the dictator Assad"?  Note: that's every time.

Cross check: Since last Sunday's report on 60 Minutes revealed that the Saudi Arabian leadership was likely involved in 9/11, and since Saudi Arabia, which we're told is an ally of the United States in our war on ISIS, has been bombing hospitals and civilian markets in Yemen, you might think Pelley would start referring to "the dictator Salman," or worse.  Watch for yourself.  It's not going to happen.

You can make up your own mind about whether the United States needs to manipulate its news.  My point is that it does, and much of the media, including the three TV networks, are complicit.  For more about how we are being manipulated into a war, see the post below, "Applied amnesia."

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Applied amnesia

Note, 3/8/16: I began this essay on January 28, the day President Obama announced that he would accept more civilian casualties in Syria.  That statement marked the beginning of a spike in tension in the Middle East- barely felt in America- that was achieved through artful use of the political amnesia that is normal for comfortable societies.  Since the President's statement on the 28th, I've been struck by the dependability of our forgetfulness, its routine certainty for purposes of controlling public opinion.  Our forgetfulness has made the escalation of this war possible.

Thursday, January 28, 2016:   There is hard evidence (at least as hard as we're likely to get) that American wars are sometimes staged and manipulated (e.g. revelations by Pulitzer prize winner Dexter Filkins*).   A close reading of the news can detect connections too, as with today's report that President Obama is about to become more aggressive towards ISIS and is ready to accept increased civilian casualties.  He's always been willing to accept civilian casualties, of course, killing hundreds with the recent bombing strikes in Syria and Iraq and untold thousands more with drone strikes throughout his two terms, so this announcement about accepting more civilian deaths is not informational- it appears to have an ulterior purpose.  I speculate that this purpose is to inflame the populations surrounding ISIS troops, who will hear the President say that America knows it is bombing women and children and has decided it's ok.  In this way the President's comment helps ensure that when ISIS strikes again, civilians in Syria and Iraq will resent America enough to provide at least a quiet tolerance of its enemies.  

Some Americans will note Obama's comment and wonder if increasing civilian deaths in Syria is a good idea.  How will Obama handle the doubting Americans?  He will probably use a time-honored vicious circle:  The announcement that the U.S. will accept more civilian deaths means that aggressive behavior and attacks from ISIS will increase, so any American voices objecting to ramped up harm against civilians will be drowned out by cries for revenge.  Other than that, Obama will just rely on our forgetting he ever said anything about increasing civilian casualties.  That amnesia will be complete in a matter of days, though fallout from the comment will continue.

If my analysis is correct, it indicates that we are not so much living in a time of war as acting out a scripted program.   History will remember us as the Sleeping Americans who didn't care about the difference between reality and a reality show.

Update, 2/2/16: U.N. mediated "peace talks" with the Assad regime and the warring factions have begun, a further sign of impending violence.  After enough years of Middle-East "peace talks" that end in renewed conflict,  it does often seem that the covert purpose of  "peace talks" is to drive the combatants to fight  by announcing unacceptable proposals, with the added virtue that the world thinks the parties tried to find peace.

Update, 2/3/16: The U.N. Syria talks did end in violence (Assad's attack to regain Aleppo).  The talks were suspended until February 11.  The resumption of the talks at that time will probably herald a new round of tension and conflict.

Update, 2/5/16: As predicted above, and as expected by our handlers, everyone has forgotten Obama's statement a week ago that he would accept more civilian deaths from U.S. attacks on ISIS.  To test this forgetfulness, ask a few acquaintances today about the comment- it's likely they will know nothing about it.  Meanwhile you can bet that hundreds of thousands if not millions of civilians in the Middle-East are well aware of the comment and are thinking of it today after Russian jets, in support of Assad's move on Aleppo, reportedly killed 21 civilians- adding to a total, with Saudi Arabia's numbers, of thousands of civilians killed in recent actions.  The media audience in the Middle-East sees attacks from Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as coming from a U.S. led coalition, though Americans are trained by their media to see no such coalition, just a conglomeration of ISIS enemies who don't get along with each other.  The Syrian people will make no distinctions today about which member state does the bombing: it will be the American led coalition, acting under Obama's acceptance of civilian deaths.  Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000-70,000 refugees from Aleppo (projected to reach 300,000 if fighting continues) are headed for the Turkish border, where the mood is not generous.  

Update, 2/7/16,  L.A. Times, Pg. 5 ("Syria, Iran warn Saudi Arabia on troops," reports:  

"On Thursday, Riyadh announced that it would consider sending ground troops [to Syria] to assist a U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group, a suggestion welcomed by the Obama administration."  

The article details the sharp escalation in the conflict that introduction of Saudi ground troops would entail and shows how the region associates that threat of escalation with U.S. policy, as it would with actual Saudi boots on the ground.  What are the chances that many Americans today, on Super Bowl Sunday, with one sentence about a "U.S. coalition" buried in the Sunday paper, will rouse themselves to oppose a dramatic increase in American involvement in the Syrian civil war?  Clearly, since most Americans won't know it's happening, the chances are zero.  We will wake up tomorrow- hungover and oblivious after our sporting Bacchanalia- with no clue that millions of people think we are attacking them.  Then we will be shocked when someone attacks back.  

Update, L.A. Times, 2/10/16, "Islamic State tops a U.S. 'litany of doom,'" by Brian Bennett: "'The group's [ISIS'] leaders are determined to strike the U.S. homeland,' [Director of National Intelligence, James] Clapper said."  Clapper characterized what is in store for America as a "litany of doom."

Update, L.A. Times, 2/11/16, a.m. ( the eve of resumed U.N. "peace talks," "Russian airstrikes destroyed two hospitals, leaving 50,000 people without critical care."  Russia claimed U.S. bombers did it.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denied that and criticized Russia for hitting civilians, but the Arab world sees Russia's efforts as part of our own.  Indications of this will be detectable in the new "peace talks" underway today.  

Update, 2/11/16, p.m.The evening news reported that U.N. mediated talks in Munich of the International Syrian Support Group, primarily between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, agreed to seek a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria, which was further explained as an agreement about whom to bomb and whom to feed.  The news featured long footage of Kerry and Lavrov shaking hands, smiling and talking, allies in this effort.  It took one day for Western populations to forget that Russia bombed two Syrian hospitals (and blamed it on the U.S.).  It will take Syrians longer to forget that handshake.  

The stronger the "cessation of hostilities," the stronger the negative reaction that will follow it.

Update, 2/14/16, CIA Director John Brennan told Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes that ISIS is coming for us with a variety of weapons, adding that ISIS gets an assist from people's need for privacy; The L.A. Times ( reported that Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev compared "current tensions" between the U.S. and Russia to the Cold War period after the Cuban Missile Crisis, "...which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war."  

Applied amnesia review: Two days ago, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and  U.S. Secretary of State Kerry shook hands and smiled for cameras at the International Syrian Support Group where they announced, as noted, agreement on whom they would bomb in Syria and whom they would feed.  After two days the agreement is already vague enough in our memories that Cold War fantasies can be superimposed on it.  By next week, as expected by our handlers, there will be no public memory of a U.S. alliance with Russia, of Russia bombing hospitals the day before the alliance summit [a week after 2/15, no memory of four more Syrian hospitals and a school bombed either by Russia or the U.S., depending on your source], no memory of threats of boots on the ground from our (perceived) ally Saudi Arabia, [Update 2/19: No memory of 38 Syrian civilians killed by "U.S. coalition" bombers, per], and no memory of Obama's threat to increase Syrian civilian casualties. 

Update: Monday, 2/22, the U.S. and Russia announced that a "ceasefire"- as opposed to the previous "cessation of hostilities"- will take effect this Saturday, 2/27.  The formulation appears the same: The agreement covers whom to bomb and whom to feed.  There is no mention of the hundreds of Syrian civilians killed by Russia this week and no strong pressure from us for Russian restraint, and there is no mention of the 140 civilians, mostly Alawites- Assad's clan- killed yesterday in car bombings, the identity of the perpetrators open to interpretation, and no mention of continuing massacres of Houthi civilians by our coalition member and close ally Saudi Arabia.

Update, 2/23: The Syrian government agreed to honor the "ceasefire" starting this Saturday, 2/27, an ominous sign.  As the ceasefire progresses, if past patterns hold true, an increasingly tense mood will lead to renewed violence and strengthened involvement of the U.S. in the Syrian civil war.  Bereft of memory, Americans will not know what hit them.

*From Dexter Filkins’, “The Afghan Bank Heist” (

The vast armies of private gunmen paid to protect American supply convoys frequently use American money to bribe Taliban fighters to stand back. These bribes are believed by officials in Kabul and in Washington to be one of the main sources of the Taliban’s income. The Americans, it turns out, are funding both sides of the war.”

[On Feb. 16 I was Cheryl Lubin's guest on her radio show, In Our Times, where we discussed applied amnesia, crackpot conspiracy theorists and more! Listen to the podcast at].

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Report from the AIPAC Policy Conference

My wife and I attended the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., over three days starting Sunday, March 20.   The purpose of AIPAC is to promote the American/Israeli alliance.  All the major presidential candidates spoke (except Bernie Sanders, who was invited but declined): Hillary Clinton, John Kasich, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, along with notables like Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The first day was devoted to breakout sessions.  I went to one on the Syrian civil war and one on autistic people working for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

The panel of Middle-East experts in the Syrian discussion delivered thorough accounts of the current maze of allies and enemies, a fractured picture of all against all, that "all" including us.  Such chaos can be a useful cover for organized policy that is not as chaotic as it looks, so when the audience was invited to ask questions, I asked, "Three years ago, when President Obama first made moves to intervene in Syria, after Syrian leader Assad's use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, the mail to the White House and Congress ran four-to-one against intervention, and the idea was dropped.  With the subsequent ISIS attacks on the U.S. and Europe, that opposition has dissipated.  Would it be fair to say that ISIS has maneuvered the U.S. into involvement in the Syrian civil war?"

The panel deflected the question with unrelated facts and figures, but several nearby audience members said, "Good question!" which I like to think justified the enhanced carbon footprint of my L.A. flight.

My wife and I attended a session about the IDF's Roim Rachok ("Looking beyond the horizon") unitwhich employs autistic people to study military surveillance photos.  With their enhanced abilities to discern patterns that "normal" people might miss, the autistic soldiers of Roim Rachok make significant contributions.  It was an especially interesting subject for my wife and me because my brother-in-law, Steven (featured in the recent documentary Autism in Love) is autistic.  His uneasy fit with the surrounding culture is striking, as it is with most autistic people, but his talents might be coveted by many: a photographic memory, a mind so quick that the concepts and perspectives behind conventional human language become a pointless burden.  Steven has worked for many years in a factory putting mechanical parts together, the model of a dependable employee, and has derived satisfaction and relief from the daily routine, but we wished he could have found something like Roim Rachok that treated his talents as intellectual human assets.  Autistic author Donna Williams describes autistics as "a people in search of a culture."  These days that might describe us all; why not work together and build a new culture?

Sunday night we heard Vice President Biden.  As with the other speakers, Biden's impact was much more forceful, at least to me, in person than the impact from his sound bites over the years.  He is a compelling and skilled speaker, which I hadn't known.  He projects a paternal image that's almost impossible to resist.  I have to admit a frustration over liking people in person that I have grumbled about after years of seeing them on TV.  After the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, Biden gave a speech in which the jingoistic parts, where he shouted and crowed about the death, were widely reported.  It was aimed at an audience that might have believed the assassination would solve any problems, as if it would stop current history from unfolding (like the assassination of Hitler might have done).  It's clear now that bin Laden was just another replaceable figurehead for the masses who hate America.  The new figureheads are now in place.  I was displeased by Joe Biden then, but watching him now I was seduced by his fatherly sincerity, by the bravery of his response to family tragedy, maybe by a need to think something positive about a leader.  It was a confusing sensation.

The first event Monday morning, and the payoff for waiting in the long security lines outside in the D.C. chill at the Verizon Center (inside of which was one open vendor, Dunkin' Donuts, with a twenty minute line for lukewarm coffee) was Hillary Clinton's speech.

She wore a red jacket, which, my wife pointed out, matched the red in the American flag graphics inserted around Clinton's face on immense screens suspended above the stage.  Speakers faced 360 degrees of audience.  The stage, which was circular, turned periodically so no part of the audience saw only the speaker's back.  The screens gave the impression that the giant beaming face of a deity was gazing directly into your eyes.

The crowd of 18,700 filled the stadium up the steep sections, with most of the young people in the cheap seats on top.  From our seats about midway up, Clinton was a red and blond dot beneath her face on the giant screens.  Like all the speakers, she had mastered the talking points: the importance to the U.S. of Israel's security; the many trips the speaker has taken to Israel; the technological prowess of Israel (there was much emphasis on Israeli water technology); Israel's status as a democracy surrounded by dictatorships.  Her speech became interesting when she attacked Trump, which she did by implication when she talked about bullies and people who say they support something, like Israel, but impulsively change their minds later.  These lines received a rowdy and prolonged standing ovation.  Quite a bit of love and support was beamed at Clinton, and at the end it almost seemed that she was crying.  I would understand if she was.  How many people could withstand the ego-busting roller coaster she's on?  Once again, as with Biden, I was chagrined to find that in person, after years of fulminating at her sound bites, like a sucker, I liked her.  No wonder candidates speak in person.

I'm skipping ahead to Trump's speech that evening, because the contrast with Clinton's speech was illuminating.  Trump is not skilled, at least for me, at being likable.  His strategy is to target people with specific positions.  He creates widespread support with a shotgun approach in which he addresses as many demographics in the electorate as he can, from left to right, saying at least one thing each group desperately wants to hear but is not hearing from the other candidates, who appear timid and beholden compared to him.  He targeted me when he talked about the Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq, which killed five thousand American troops and up to 500,000 Iraqis without securing a single foreign policy objective- unless our objective has been chaos and danger.  No other Republican candidate than Trump will press Hillary Clinton on her vote for the Iraq War, in spite of the ocean of Democratic votes such criticism would garner, just as no other Democratic candidate than Sanders (a Democrat since 2015) will press a Republican on Bush's Iraq invasion.  It's what we used to call a "gentleman's agreement," Trump and Sanders being the two non-gentlemen. 

Sanders is not likely to prevail in the nomination process, leaving the door wide-open for the demagogue Trump to be the only representative of many unheard voices.  The pity is that, even in the event that Trump wins, it's unlikely that this poser would or could do anything for a more sensible U.S. foreign policy or a better immigration policy.  Trump's candidacy, diverting though it has been, is a waste of time at best.

Trump had clearly studied Middle-East history for his AIPAC speech, no doubt stung by recent evidence that he doesn't know much about foreign policy, as there were numerous references to dates and events (though, as Cruz mockingly pointed out later, Trump slipped when he stated that "Palestine was created in 1948").  All of the talking points were covered.  The interesting parts came when he attacked Clinton by name ("Hillary would be a disaster!") and then President Obama ("It's Obama's last term, yay!"), both of which received prolonged standing ovations which appeared to match in force the standing ovation Clinton had received that morning when she attacked Trump.  Many people, including us, felt severe cognitive dissonance.  Was the whole place cheering both sides?

Some of the explanation came from our nephew, who was up in the cheap seats, which were not well lit or visible from our area.  He said that everyone in the under-40 seats cheered when Clinton attacked Trump, but that when Trump attacked Clinton and Obama, no one stood or cheered; it was totally silent as people were stunned by the cheering below.  I talked later to a woman on the plane who said her 18-year-old son started crying at the cheers when Trump attacked Clinton.

AIPAC leadership was concerned by the situation, by the idea that AIPAC members (older ones) might alienate the powerful people that Jews believe they need to be on their side, and they made statements asking all attendees to avoid encouraging ad hominem and defaming attacks, but the problem goes beyond the AIPAC conference.  There is a generational fracture already at work to accompany the other fractures splitting humanity around the world: men vs. women; race vs. race; religion vs. religion; nation vs. nation, economic class vs. economic class, not to mention human beings vs. the rest of life on earth.  The crazy quilt of warring tribes in Syria matches the pattern.

Are humanity's divisions real?  Or are we manipulated into divisiveness by the One Percent so they can control us better?  Is it true, as I often hear, that secret forces have molded American society so that groups are isolated from each other and disenfranchised?  When I work with Millennials, of course there is a generation gap.  There is a teenage world.  There is a different world for people who just turned 70.  You don't have to make up that gap; it's there, but for many people it's not that difficult to communicate across the realms, to find levels where young and old share the common, human perspective.  But then, of course, each side reads the trash on the other.  The young read that their teachers' retirement pensions and health benefits are sucking the lifeblood out of the system, so that when the young reach retirement age there will be nothing left for them.  The old read how lazy and stupid the young have become, that no one reads The Mayor of Casterbridge anymore or learns cursive, and all anyone can do is press buttons on video game controls.  Where do the slanders come from?  I read them all the time in mainstream media.  It's enough to push a guy into conspiracy theory.  Oy Gevalt, not another conspiracy theory!

Ohio governor Kasich seems a nice guy with some decent ideas, but he stood out poorly against the other candidates- polished speakers all, who barely looked at the teleprompter or their notes and gave the strong illusion (probably at times not an illusion) that they were speaking extemporaneously. Kasich read entirely from his notes, making eye contact with the audience less than a novice high school debater would.  The effect was disastrous, and commented upon by many.  I felt vindicated after years of haranguing students to look at the audience.

Ted Cruz said that, while Trump would "renegotiate" the Iran Deal (strongly opposed by AIPAC), he, Cruz, would "rip it to shreds," continuing the kind of useless semantic trop that characterizes this and all of our political campaigns.  But Cruz, to my shock, after I'd reviled his sound bites for months, did the same magic on my hostility as Biden and Clinton had. Maybe it was the prolonged cheer when he referred to "the whole megilla," three days before Purim. OMG, I even liked Ted Cruz!  Briefly.  These guys are good. 

Paul Ryan was poised and likable as well.  He is the most presentable public official associated with what was formerly called the Tea Party.  His trick has been to position himself as a budget expert and not say too many crazy things.  It's understandable that he did not want to be House Speaker.  His recent resistance to cuts in Planned Parenthood funding created his first serious division with the far right.  Now there's no one left but Trump.  GOP, look what you've done.

The Tuesday morning of our departure we and everyone else read about the attacks in Brussels.  One of the speakers we had listened to was from Belgium.  He told how his grandparents had run for their lives from Ukraine; his father had fled Germany, and he had thought that, in Belgium, he would be the first in his line to live his life in one place.  Now he was not sure.  We thought of him Tuesday morning.  AIPAC concentrates on what is called the "existential threat" to Israel (the definition of "existential" apparently having morphed to "relating to existence" from its former "relating to the meaning of existence"), which is presented as a subset of the existential threat to America.  I hope we don't forget that when existential threats approach, it's important to have a quality existence, so you have the will and energy to prolong it.

I also want to mention what a beautiful and wonderful city Washington, D.C. is, with  gorgeous old structures everywhere, artfully integrated with the new (refreshing for people from L.A., where things aren't so much integrated as jumbled).  We'd seen the unforgettable Smithsonians in the past, but this time we saw the Newseum and the Spy Museum, both outstanding.  What an advantage to be the seat of empire!  Los Angeles, why can't we do that? With more than the movie industry, I mean.  Washington D.C., watch out!