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Monthly Archives: May 2009
A Presidential Visit to NYC’s Belasco Theater: Remembering the History of Lafayette Square by Gregory Hilton
A Presidential Visit to NYC’s Belasco Theater: Remembering the History of Lafayette Square by Gregory Hilton–
Last night the President and Mrs. Obama had another “Date Night.” This time they visited New York City’s Belasco Theater, and because of the cost, the Republican National Committee criticized the outing. The Obama’s traveled in a small Gulfstream V jet rather than a Boeing 747. I am not joining the critics and the strong marital bond between the Obama’s is refreshing after some of the scandals of the past.
The Obama’s may not realize that for 70 years another Belasco Theater and its predecessor could be clearly seen from the front door of the White House. I first learned about the building in David Brinkley’s book “Washington Goes to War.” The six story structure was demolished in 1964 but it had an important role in DC history since its construction in 1895 as the Lafayette Square Opera House. Over the next fifty years, performers including Sarah Bernhardt, Al Jolsen, Will Rogers, Enrico Caruso, Ethel Barrymore, Katherine Hepburn and Helen Hays would grace its stage. It was the main venue for opera, plays, and ballet at the turn of the 20th century in Washington. In 1906, the Opera House became the Belasco Theater, one of the only venues in Washington to present African American acts to desegregated audiences.
The building had a soaring facade, with Ionic columns framing the main entrance on Madison Place. The auditorium could seat about 1800, and it included three balconies and thirty boxes. Live performances ended in the early years of the Depression, and by 1935 it was converted to a movie house specializing in foreign films. After America’s entry into WW II, the Belasco was reopened as the Stage Door Canteen for the entertainment of servicemen. Admission was limited to enlisted men and non-commissioned officers. The canteen offered servicemen nights of dancing, entertainment, food and nonalcoholic drinks, and even opportunities to hobnob with celebrities and lawmakers. Though the canteen served food to the servicemen free of charge, someone had to pay for it.
DC residents responded generously to appeals for aid. Bette Davis said volunteering at the canteen was one of the “few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of.” One of the many praiseworthy qualities of the canteen was its egalitarian credo. They were open to all servicemen of Allied nations, and segregation had no place in them.
By November 1945, Stage Door Canteens were operating in eight US cities and London and Paris. Together, they entertained and fed 11 million Allied servicemen. With the war over it was closed at the start of 1946, but it would re-open during the Korean War, when it was known as the Lafayette Square Club, again as a venue for entertaining servicemen.
In the early 60s, with the reconstruction of Lafayette Square, many of the Belasco’s neighbors were razed, until finally, in 1964, the Belasco itself was torn down to make way for the new US Court of Claims Building.
Before it was a theater: the Rodgers House
The theater was built in 1896 on the site of the 1830s Rodgers House, which was one of Washington’s more famous 19th century residences before its demolition in 1894. The land was owned by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky who ran for President three times. He traded it to Commodore John Rodgers who constructed a 30 room house in 1831. It was rented by Attorney General Roger Taney, who later served for 28 years as the Chief Justice of the United States. President James Polk was a resident while the White House was being restored.
The building was later a fashionable boarding house and was known as the Washington Club. It was also famously the site of the 1859 shooting of Phillip Barton Kelly, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. He was the son of Francis Scott Key, and he was killed by Congressman Daniel Sickles. Sickles shot Key, who had been having an affair with his wife, in full view of pedestrians and the White House. The case and subsequent trial of Sickles drew national media attention, further cementing the Square’s image as a neighborhood unlike any other in the country. One of Sickles’ attorneys was Edwin Stanton who would later serve as Secretary of War in the Lincoln Administration.
In a landmark decision, Sickles was acquitted of murder, based on his plea of temporary insanity, which was the first successful use of this defense. Sickles became a general during the Civil War, fought at the battle of Gettysburg and had his right leg blown off by a cannon ball. He had the presence of mind to tell the medical corpsmen to preserve the leg which they did and it can be seen at the Walter Reed Medical Museum in Washington.
After the fateful day in 1859 the Washington Club closed and the next occupant was Secretary of State William Seward of the incoming Lincoln Administration. A former governor of New York, Seward had campaigned for the Republican nomination in 1860 but lost out to Lincoln who promptly offered him the State position. Lincoln constantly visited Seward in his house to seek his advice on the progress of the war. On April 14, 1865 the Rodger’s House again witnessed violence as the site of the attempted assassination of Seward by Lewis Payne, a conspirator with John Wilkes Booth in the Lincoln assassination plot. Payne was hung in the courtyard of Fort McNair in July 1865. Seward survived and in 1867 in the parlor of his home he completed the negotiations for the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.
The last person to occupy the house before it became a theater was Secretary of State James Blaine in the Benjamin Harrison administration. He leased the house in 1889 but tragedy struck again when first his son and then his daughter died in the house within a year. Blaine soon after became ill, resigned and then died in the house in January 1893.
What Appeals to Young Women? – The CW Network May Have the Answers by Gregory Hilton–
I recently witnessed a large group of young women bolt out of my class just before 9 p.m. Our group discussion that evening was forced to an early conclusion because these girls would not miss an episode of the TV series “90210.” The program is a remake of “Beverly Hills 90210,” and it has just been renewed for a second season on the CW Network. CW was formed in 2006 and is the nation’s fifth largest broadcast network.
CW is unique in that its target audience is women between the ages of 18 and 34. They are considered the most desirable market for advertisers, and many 30 second spots for luxury brands are now on CW.
To keep its female-only focus, CW has jettisoned shows such as “Reaper,” which was canceled on May 19th, and “Friday Night Smackdown!,” a wrestling program which was doing well in the ratings. The audience numbers for “Reaper” were fine by CW standards, and the program was about a man who works for the Devil by retrieving souls that have escaped from Hell. The main reason it was canceled was because it tended to attract male viewers. Every other network concentrates on ratings, but CW’s focus is on “the right demographic.”
Young women are a tough market because they often fast forward through commercials and similar to their male counterparts, they have short attention spans. CW has responded with short commercials.
The CW niche can not be ignored because they are currently producing as many scripted hours of television as NBC. According to every survey, the number of people watching television and the amount of time they spend doing it continues to rise to historic levels. However, at the same time, the three major networks are continuing to lose significant audience share. The major networks are similar to CW in that they are narrowing their audiences to specific demographic groups. They have cut back on programs appealing to a multitude of demographics.
My female students told me in advance about the importance of “90210” and I agreed to let them leave early. My next surprise came when the girls ran out of the class. I expected the boys to follow rapidly but they were in no hurry to exit. None of these young men expressed an interest in seeing “90210”.
Television became our discussion topic, and this time I was the one taking notes. I had not seen or even heard about any of the programs they mentioned, but I was fascinated by their observations and the loud message about the state of our popular culture. I have now done some research on these CW dramas, and the young women portrayed favorably are overwhelmingly pretty, affluent, white, sexually aggressive, smokers who engage in a variety of risky behaviors. There are few admirable role models on the CW programs I reviewed.
The boys praised CW for having an hour long format and great music, but they said the shows were clearly aimed at girls with a focus on fashion, romance and few of the action scenes they enjoy. A drama with weekly installments also did not appeal to them. My students are obviously not a scientific sample but according to these young men it is impossible to schedule anything on campus at 8 pm on a Monday. That is the air time of the most popular CW program, “Gossip Girl,” which won practically everything at last year’s “Teen Choice Awards.”
CW describes the program as “steamy, fashionable and trendy”, and its motto is “You’re nobody until you are talked about.” According to “People” magazine, “The cast members have become a mainstay in young celebrity Hollywood which has made the CW even more entrenched as the breeding ground of the young and beautiful of the showbiz industry.”
The “Boston Herald” calls it “every parent’s nightmare,” while “Access Hollywood” says “The fun of ‘Gossip Girl’ is the scandal. Viewers are introduced to privileged lives that other teenagers covet, with characters drowning in money and misbehaving at an early age. Audiences can’t get enough of the naughtiness, and the show’s network, the CW, is eating up the attention.” It is now being seen in 147 global markets, and a spin-off series set in the 1980’s is now being planned.
“Gossip Girl” is about a select group of students attending an elite private high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They are in the top echelon of society and have formed a fashionable social clique. The program tells us about their “breakups, hookups, freakouts and breakdowns.”
“90210” is set around the fictional West Beverly Hills High School. The mother of one teen is a TV star and another girl is a drug addicted starlet. The girl who is a virgin is not very popular with other students. There is rivalry among both mothers and daughters regarding desirable men and boys.
“Melrose Place” is another CW remake and it features a group of young adults living in a trendy West Hollywood apartment complex. One of the main characters is a bad boy with smoldering good looks who grew up as a rich kid but has been cut off from his family’s money. Another character is a medical student at UCLA who is living a double life as a high-end call girl. Singer David Cassidy’s 22 year old daughter plays a bisexual public relations agent who dates both men and women.
The long running “America’s Next Top Model” is a reality show where young women compete to be a top model. It is hosted by former supermodel Tyra Banks and is CW’s most popular program. Viewers see the girls coached in runway walking, acting and applying make-up. I would have thought the ratings would be higher among boys because the girls are seen participating in lingerie and swimwear photo shoots.
Most of the girls are heavy smokers. Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel reviewed the program for “Harper’s Bazaar” by slamming it as “trash that is funny for five minutes if you’re with other people. If you’re alone, it’s not funny. Those girls will never be top models. There is no justice in the fashion business.”
“The Beautiful Life” will debut on CW this fall and it is about young models living and working together in New York City. The star is Mischa Barton, 23, who was previously on the Fox Network’s “The OC,” which has a plot similar to “90210.” Another new show is “Parental Discretion Advised”, about a young girl seeking out her birth parents because she wants to become an emancipated minor.
CW has cancelled the show “Privileged” which was popular with critics but had low ratings. The show was set in Palm Beach and it was based on the book “How To Teach Filthy Rich Girls” by Zoey Dean.
The CW business model may be a success, but the jury is still out. The great decline of NBC began with the ending of the sitcom “Friends,” and the network is still struggling to recapture this market. CBS is trying to appeal to the same audience with “How I Met Your Mother,” and NBC will try to reclaim it with the upcoming romantic comedy “100 Questions.” The show is about a young woman who joins an online dating site and, in answering 100 questions posed by her dating counselor she recounts 100 different anecdotes that involve her interactions with friends.
One of my next assignments will be reviewing the programs appealing to young men.
The arrest of four men in New York earlier this week for planning to bomb synagogues and shoot down military aircraft underscores the progress the U.S. intelligence community has made. The videotapes show the four men were enthusiastic participants in this plot. It does appear that the head Imam of the Masjid Al-Ikhlas mosque and others need to explain their actions. They were aware of offers of $25,000 payments to commit terrorism and they did nothing.
“It’s hard to imagine a more chilling plot. These were people who were eager to bring death to Jews, and they are extremely violent men,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder. FBI Special Agent Robert Fuller said, “The information provided by the informant during the course of this and other investigations has proven to be accurate and reliable and has been corroborated by other evidence.” NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “I think we should walk away from this feeling better and safer about New York than ever before.”
Many stories such as this have appeared since 9/11. Potential terrorists are now in custody because the USA Patriot Act has been successful. Because of this legislation for the first time the FBI and the CIA can work together. Various federal law enforcement agencies are now collecting and sharing information, and they have gained access to information and communications of terrorists that was not possible in the past.
Before the Patriot Act, the FBI and the CIA were prohibited from communicating. The legislation enabled the monitoring of conversations among multiple terror suspects more quickly and efficiently. It was necessary because terrorists often discontinue their phones lines or change cell phones frequently.
It gave law enforcement agencies permission to listen in on any phone being used by a terror suspect. Prior to the Patriot Act’s passage in October 2001, law enforcement could wiretap only a landline — and authorities needed to acquire separate court approvals for every phone line they tapped. The Patriot Act recognizes modern technology, and blackberries and disposable cell phones are no longer safe for them. Voicemail can be accessed through a search warrant rather than a court order.
In March of this year FBI director Robert Mueller said the Patriot Act was “exceptionally helpful.”
As recognized in the Declaration of Independence, the first responsibility of government is to preserve the lives and liberty of the people. Within the boundaries of the Constitution, the Patriot Act has been an enormous success in stopping the people who want to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
Instead of providing a single example of the Patriot Act being misused, opponents make frightening, unsubstantiated claims that the Patriot Act is a virtual roll back of the First Amendment.
The USA Patriot Act was enacted in 2001 and reauthorized in 2007. Despite the lobbying efforts of organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Obama Administration is not seeking the repeal of the Patriot Act nor are they requesting any major modifications.
The ACLU’s Capitol Hill champions are Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Speaking of his opposition to the Patriot Act, Senator Whitehouse says, “The privacy of American citizens is a core value in our society, I think this is our next really big civil liberties issue.”
Many of the tools the Patriot Act provides to law enforcement to fight terrorism have been used for decades to fight organized crime and drug dealers. These provisions have been reviewed and approved by the courts on numerous occasions. As then Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) explained during the floor debate about the Act, “the FBI could get a wiretap to investigate the mafia, but they could not get one to investigate terrorists. To put it bluntly, that was crazy! What’s good for the mob should be good for terrorists.”
The USA Patriot Act removed the major legal barriers that prevented the national security community from talking and coordinating their work to protect the American people. Now police officers, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and intelligence officials can uncover terrorist plots before they are completed. As former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) said about the Patriot Act, “we simply cannot prevail in the battle against terrorism if the right hand of our government has no idea what the left hand is doing.”
The USA Patriot Act was passed nearly unanimously by the Senate 98-1, and in the House of Representatives it was enacted by a huge 357-66 margin. On March 2, 2006, Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 with strong bipartisan support. The vote in the Senate was 89 to 10, and it passed the House by a 251 to 174 vote margin.
At its heart, the Patriot Act streamlines communications between varying agencies that can work together to investigate terrorist activities. It also provides for easier and less cumbersome means of investigation and surveillance. Furthermore, the Act also provides increased funding for victims of terrorist attacks and their families, as well as for the rebuilding of business and infrastructure that are damaged by terrorism.
The ACLU claims the Act permits the FBI to conduct secret searches and to “secretly record telephone conversations for the purpose of investigating crime even though the FBI does not have probable cause of crime. It authorizes unconstitutional activity – searches and wiretaps in non-emergency circumstances – for criminal activity with no showing of probable cause of crime.” The truth is that a surveillance or search can be ordered only if the court finds that there is probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.
The ACLU also claims wiretaps “pose a greater challenge to privacy because they are authorized secretly without a showing of probable cause of crime. This represents a broad expansion of power without building in a necessary privacy protection.” For years, law enforcement has been able to use “roving wiretaps” – in which a wiretap authorization attaches to a particular suspect, rather than a particular communications device – to investigate ordinary crimes, including drug offenses and racketeering. The authority to use roving wiretaps in drug cases has existed since 1986. The Patriot Act authorized the same techniques in national-security investigations. A number of federal courts have ruled that roving wiretaps are perfectly consistent with the Fourth Amendment.
Another outrageous claim by the ACLU is that Patriot Act “Expands terrorism laws to include ‘domestic terrorism’ which could subject political organizations to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for political advocacy.” The ACLU also says the Patriot Act includes “provision that might allow the actions of peaceful groups that dissent from government policy, such as Greenpeace, to be treated as ‘domestic terrorism.'”
The truth is that the definition of “domestic terrorism” is extremely narrow. Individuals and groups would be eligible for surveillance under this definition only if they engage in criminal wrongdoing that could result in death. Law enforcement would have to show that the conduct appears to have been committed with a specified terrorist related intent.
The USA Patriot Act was enacted in the month after 9/11, and the title of the legislation is an abbreviation for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. Senator Barack Obama voted for renewal of the Patriot Act in 2005 but he made critical remarks about the legislation during the 2008 campaign. Many liberal activists cited Obama’s background as a Constitutional law professor. They had been expecting the new President to seek repeal of this legislation, but so far his Justice Department is complying with the Patriot Act. This has been a big disappointment for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Obama is also opposing them by continuing the Bush Administrations Military Commissions and the indefinite imprisonment of various terrorists.
The ACLU has been spreading myths about the Patriot Act since 2001. They claim that primarily because of the Patriot Act, “The Bush years were a nightmare for the shredding of the Constitution and our legal protections.” According to the ACLU “Many people are unaware that their library habits could become the target of government surveillance. In a free society, such monitoring is odious and unnecessary. . . The secrecy that surrounds section 215 leads us to a society where the ‘thought police’ can target us for what we choose to read or what Websites we visit.”
The reality is that the Patriot Act specifically protects Americans’ First Amendment rights, and terrorism investigators have no interest in the library habits of ordinary Americans. Historically, terrorists and spies have used libraries to plan and carry out activities that threaten our national security. If terrorists or spies use libraries, we should not allow them to become safe havens for their terrorist or clandestine activities. The Patriot Act ensures that business records – whether from a library or any other business – can be obtained in national security investigations with the permission of a federal judge.
Examining business records often provides the key that investigators are looking for to solve a wide range of crimes. Investigators might seek select records from hardware stores or chemical plants, for example, to find out who bought materials to make a bomb, or bank records to see who’s sending money to terrorists. Law enforcement authorities have always been able to obtain business records in criminal cases through grand jury subpoenas, and continue to do so in national security cases where appropriate. In a recent domestic terrorism case, for example, a grand jury served a subpoena on a bookseller to obtain records showing that a suspect had purchased a book giving instructions on how to build a particularly unusual detonator that had been used in several bombings. This was important evidence identifying the suspect as the bomber.
Under the Patriot Act, the government can ask a federal court (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) to order production of records through grand jury subpoenas. This federal court, however, can issue these orders only after the government demonstrates the records are sought for an authorized investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information. Congress reviews the government’s use of business records under the Act. Every six months, the Attorney General must “fully inform” Congress on how it has been implemented.
The ACLU also claims the Patriot Act “allows law enforcement agencies to delay giving notice when they conduct a search. . . . This provision marks a sea change in the way search warrants are executed in the United States.” What the ACLU does not say is that delayed notification search warrants are a long-existing, crime-fighting tool upheld by courts nationwide for decades in organized crime, drug cases and child pornography. The Patriot Act simply codified the authority law enforcement had already had for decades. This tool is a vital for detecting and incapacitating terrorists before they are able to strike.
In some cases if criminals are tipped off too early to an investigation, they might flee, destroy evidence, intimidate or kill witnesses, cut off contact with associates, or take other action to evade arrest. Therefore, federal courts in narrow circumstances long have allowed law enforcement to delay for a limited time when the subject is told that a judicially-approved search warrant has been executed. This tool can be used only with a court order, in extremely narrow circumstances when immediate notification may result in death or physical harm to an individual, flight from prosecution, evidence tampering, witness intimidation, or serious jeopardy to an investigation. The reasonable delay gives law enforcement time to identify the criminal’s associates, eliminate immediate threats to our communities, and coordinate the arrests of multiple individuals without tipping them off beforehand. In all cases, law enforcement must give notice that property has been searched or seized.
The Supreme Court has held the Fourth Amendment does not require law enforcement to give immediate notice of the execution of a search warrant. The Supreme Court emphasized “that covert entries are constitutional in some circumstances, at least if they are made pursuant to a warrant.” In fact, the Court stated that an argument to the contrary was “frivolous.” Dalia v. U.S., 441 U.S. 238 (1979)
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the death of Jacqueline Kennedy. Her major legacy as First Lady was the restoration project and many items of historical significance were missing from the White House when she arrived.
She was never frugal with her own money, but the taxpayers can thank her. She was criticized for extravagance and the wall paper in the family dining room did cost $12,000. However, Mrs. Kennedy solicited private donations and she did not rely on government funding.
We can also thank her for creating the first White House Guide Book which funds the White House Historical Association. Her decision to avoid government funding was wise, and she is also responsible for the creation of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a permanent Curator of the White House, the White House Endowment Trust, and the White House Acquisition Trust.
Mrs. Kennedy was only 31 when she became First Lady and she was a definite asset to United States foreign policy. She was very highly regarded in France, where she had studied and learned the language. Tours of India and Pakistan would follow, much documented at the time, where Jackie and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, meet the leaders of both nations. She did enhance America’s image and she fostered our foreign policy goals.
Last year then presidential candidate Barack Obama called the Military Commissions being used to hear the cases of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay “an enormous failure.” Now he is accepting the Bush Administration’s thesis that civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Bush.
President Obama is also in agreement with Bush that terror suspects should be viewed as enemy fighters. Other areas of common ground are Obama’s decision to oppose the release of prisoner abuse photographs, supporting the indefinite detention for some detainees, and restoring Military Commissions.
He denounced this “shadow justice system” in 2007 and said civilian courts were the best option. After the Supreme Court’s Boumediene decision gave terrorists habeas corpus rights, Obama laid into the Bush Administration’s “legal black hole” and “dangerously flawed legal approach,” which “undermines the very values we are fighting to defend.” Now Obama has reversed himself.
It will be interesting to watch Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal defend the new Military Commissions in court. In 2007 he wrote in “Slate,” “Military commission trials are not ‘equal justice’: For the first time since equality was written into our Constitution, America has created one criminal trial for ‘us’ and one for ‘them.’ Whatever else might be said about the Guantanamo courtroom, it will never symbolize America or what it is about.”
The Military Commissions Act was passed by Congress and it respects our obligations under the Geneva Convention. Congress took this initiative because of its belief that the Constitutional provision guaranteeing habeas corpus does not apply to alien enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States. Provisions in the Act removing habeas corpus does not apply to United States citizens. The Congress then concluded that this law does not conflict with the Constitution.
It is difficult to see how Obama will be able to close the Guantanamo facility by the end of the year as he has promised. Congressional opposition to bringing the prisoners to the United States is also increasing. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said Guantanamo Bay was the best venue to try terror suspects. “Given the disruption and potential dangers caused by bringing terror suspects into American communities, the secure, modern courtroom at Guantanamo Bay is the appropriate place for commission proceedings,” McConnell said. The camp still holds 241 inmates from 30 different countries.