A picture for our times: In Red Square, Reagan stands near someone who looks familiar

President Obama has been taking heat from Republicans for not being more confrontational with Russian president and former KGB officer Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Crimea. (The way we were when the commies invaded Hungary during Eisenhower’s administration, and Czechoslovakia during Johnson’s, and Georgia when Bush II was in charge?)

Inevitably, a photo of Ronald Reagan touring Red Square with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988 has resurfaced, showing Reagan greeting a Russian kid with someone looking a lot like Vlad himself standing nearby.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Reagan (and now Obama) White House photographer Pete Souza , who took the photo, told NPR in 2012 that “there were these different groups of quote-unquote tourists” in Red Square who kept asking Reagan about “human rights in the United States.”

Souza said he asked a Secret Service agent “how these tourists in the Soviet Union are asking these pointed questions.” The agent answered: “Oh, these are all KGB families.”

Souza said he was later told the “tourist” with the camera was Putin, “and it certainly does look like him.”

Crimea and punishment

Speaking of Putin, folks at the State Department, plainly frustrated by the Russians’ mendacity over the situation in Ukraine, have taken the unusual step of directly refuting Putin’s claims.

But before State’s 10-point takedown, which challenges, among other things, Putin’s claims of a Ukrainian humanitarian crisis (“absolutely no evidence”) and a threat to ethnic Russians (no “credible reports”), State turns to Russian literature to rib the Russian.

His fiction is akin to Feodor Dostoevsky’s “The formula ‘two plus two equals five’ is not without its attractions,” State says.

But why stop there? We could also suggest five other quotes from Russian literature the State Department may want to keep in its back pocket:

“In this world one has to be cunning and cruel.” — Leo Tolstoy

“A hungry dog only believes in meat.” — Anton Chekhov

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.” — Dostoevsky

“You can dye a wolf, clip a wolf — he still doesn’t look like a poodle.” — Mikhail Bulgakov

And a personal favorite:

“A man who’s active and incisive can yet keep nail-care much in mind.” — Alexander Pushkin

Pass the orange juice

National Sunshine Week starts March 16!

So, to get us in the holiday spirit, let’s go back to 2009, when, for those of us who joust regularly with government officials for a morsel of information, hope and change still felt fresh and within reach, and the new Obama White House pledged unprecedented transparency.

Five years later, Team Obama is still struggling to figure it out.

Todd Park , Obama’s chief technology officer, last week sent agencies a guidance memo (the first since 2009) that made public new metrics to use when writing their 2014 Open Government Plans — the third round of action plans intended to build a “presumption of openness” into everyday operations.

By April 1, around 100 departments must submit an outline that includes “at least one specific new transparency, participation or collaboration initiative that your agency is currently implementing.”

Hey! How about if they stopped abusing the “secret” stamp by putting it on most every last document? (Yes, DOD, that means you.)

Where the heart is

House Republicans weren’t the only ones rehashing the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of nonprofits on Wednesday. Across the Capitol, Senate Republicans used a Finance Committee hearing on the Obama budget proposal to weigh in on that issue.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), immersed in a primary battle, wanted Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to know that Republicans have no intention of dropping the matter. In fact, one issue he is “always asked about on my visits home is whether anybody will be ever held accountable for the scandals at the IRS.”

Home visits?

If home is where you hang your hat, then one could argue Roberts is a Washingtonian. Byron York at the Washington Examiner reported Thursday an attack from Roberts’s primary opponent that the senator spent 65 days in Kansas in all of 2012. In an interview with York, Roberts did not deny that statistic but decreed that his service be measured in results, not days in the state.

If this remains an issue in his campaign, Roberts can always click his heels together three times . . .

Show your work

The State Department employees union is demanding that the department turn over key documents on three embattled ambassadorial nominees — and all recent Obama administration nominees, both career Foreign Service and non-career folks — or face a lawsuit.

The three nominees were mega-bundlers Colleen Bell (for Hungary, which borders on Ukraine), George Tsunis (Norway) and Noah Mamet (Argentina). Bell and Tsunis were approved by a Senate committee this month, though Tsunis got through on a party-line vote of 12 to 6. All three have come under heavy fire at their committee hearings after showing scant knowledge of the countries to which they’d been nominated.

The documents, called “certificates of demonstrated competence,” essentially explain the rationale for nominating each individual. The 28-member governing board of the American Foreign Service Association voted unanimously to demand them.

Hammer time

Just in time for Vice President Biden’s visit to the country next week, the Senate confirmed Michael Hammer as ambassador to Chile on Thursday. The vote, which ensures a top American diplomat will be on hand to escort Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, unshackles one of the nearly 50 ambassadorial nominees held up in Senate gridlock.

The Senate gave unanimous approval to Hammer, a former assistant secretary of state, along with five other agency nominees.

Among them: Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, to be undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere; Rose Gottemoeller (undersecretary of state for arms control and international security); Gil Kerlikowske (commissioner of Customs and Border Protection); and Suzanne Spaulding (undersecretary of homeland security).

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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