In the Loop

Mubarak leads the way . . . sort of

By Al Kamen Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And now, the first annual Loopy Award, given to the most boneheaded action by an organization in fiscal 2010.

The honor, named for the loopy former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, goes this year to Egypt's largest newspaper, the state-run Al-Ahram, publishing since 1876.

First, the paper ran a doctored photo. It showed President Hosni Mubarak at the White House on Sept. 1, leading President Obama, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on a red carpet as they walked out to talk to the news media during the summit meeting.

The actual photo, an Egyptian blogger named Wael Khalil pointed out, shows Obama leading the group with Mubarak well behind. But winning a Loopy requires more than just a dumb Photoshop ploy. (After all, anyone could see that Mubarak's tie magically moved from right to left in the two shots.)

No, winning requires not only the goofy move itself but also a forceful defense of the ham-handed blunder.

The Associated Press reports that the paper's editor in chief, in an editorial Friday, wrote that the "expressionist photo is . . . a brief, live and true expression" of Mubarak's "unique role" in "leading" on the Palestinian issue.

Of course! Expressionism! The episode is a cross between a Wassily Kandinsky painting and the great Monty Python dead-parrot routine, in which the clerk at a pet shop insists that the obviously deceased bird is just "kippin' [napping] on its back."

Get the balance right

Speaking of contests, don't forget to enter the quadrennial In the Loop Congressional Election Contest. The Republicans need to pick up 39 House seats to get a bare 218-vote majority there. They need to pick up 10 Senate seats to control that body.

To win, simply guess what the new lineup will be in the Senate and the House after the elections. Send your predictions to You must include your phone number - home, work or cell - to be eligible. Administration officials and Hill folks may enter "on background."

Entries must be submitted by midnight on Sept. 27. The 20 winners (10 for the House and 10 for the Senate) will receive, in addition to bragging rights and mention in this column, one of those coveted official In the Loop T-shirts.

Don't delay. Ties will be broken by time of entry. Close enough might be good enough!

Dispatch from the East

Now it can be told.

Outgoing Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is safely back from last month's 11-day trip to China, Vietnam and Taiwan. When we noted in August that he and his wife, plus a military officer and an aide, were off at taxpayer expense to Asia, his office didn't want to tell us where he was going, for security reasons. (Bet you didn't know how dangerous it is for someone as instantly recognizable in Asia as Specter to travel in violent cities such as Beijing, Hanoi and Taipei.)

In a brief 5,000-word report to "the Congress, my constituents and the general public," last week, Specter, who will be out of office in 31/2 months, takes us through his grueling official schedule. (No word on other activity, such as a last visit to the Great Wall.)

On Aug. 8, his first working day, he met with a top Google executive and the U.S. ambassador in Beijing. The next day, nine embassy employees, apparently with lots of time on their hands, briefed him on various trade and security matters and he met with nine Pennsylvanians who work at the embassy.

Then on to see the vice minister of commerce and then the governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan. "I informed Gov. Zhou about how Chinese subsidies and dumping are unfairly harming" U.S. industries, Specter reported. Zhou was probably shocked to hear this.

Specter, the lowest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on foreign operations and one of the Senate's all-time foreign travelers, also spoke to 47 law students and professors - he lists every name - who attend a Temple University-sponsored program.

Then it was off to Hanoi on Aug. 10. The next day he got a country briefing from the U. S. ambassador and 11 other apparently underemployed senior embassy aides who gathered to give the outgoing (did we mention he was outgoing?) senator the latest news on Vietnam.

On the 11th, the Specter team had a "working lunch," hosted by the head of the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee. On Friday the 13th, the intrepid team made the nearly three-hour flight to Taiwan, where he met its president. On his last day he dropped by the Taiwan legislature before the flight back, apparently the first senator to visit that body in the past two or three years.

The trip didn't seem to make a splash in the regional media, though it did get a few paragraphs in the China Post, which said Specter "was reported to want to know how Taiwan's trade with China is proceeding." Apparently going quite well, thanks.

When in dome . . .

We got this e-mail message, sent Friday from Terrance W. Gainer, Senate sergeant at arms, to the Senate community.

"I wanted to share some preliminary information with you concerning a shooting on Capitol Hill earlier this morning. The U.S. Capitol Police officers did a great job. Their alert action prevented injury to others. Our new centurions performed just as they are trained."


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