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China takes the Onion’s bait


Looks as though sarcasm is easily lost in translation — or easily ignored. The online version of the People’s Daily, the official organ of China’s Communist Party, lauded a story from the satirical news site that named North Korean dictator Kim Jong Eun 2012’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”

Not realizing — or perhaps not caring — that the Onion was being cheeky, the People’s Daily ran a 55-page photo spread to accompany the story, which it quoted thusly: “With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true.”

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

No doubt the women of Beijing are swooning. After all, if you squint really, really hard, you might see a slight resemblance to George Clooney — in that they are both sentient humans.

It’s not the first time a foreign news outlet has fallen for an Onion spoof. An Iranian news agency this fall reprinted an Onion story about a poll finding that rural white Americans would rather vote for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Obama. The news site later apologized for getting duped — but insisted that Ahmadinejad could beat Obama in a popularity contest.

Cotton, not Kevlar

The Christmas shopping season is upon us. But some folks have been planning holiday events for many months.

For example, back on July 12, the Air Force put out a solicitation for companies to chip in for a Christmas celebration at “an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.”

We’re guessing this location is pretty close to Bagram air base near Kabul.

“This is a perfect event to let our military men and women know you care and are thinking about them as they serve our country in a remote part of the world,” the solicitation said.

The Air Force said it was looking for 500 or so T-shirts “to help support this event,” adding: “Your sponsorship will make a huge impact on those serving.” Perhaps knowing their target office, the Air Force folks noted that “sponsorship recognition can include company logo on event ­
T-shirts and mention on all advertisements.”

This should have been pretty easy, given the billions and billions of dollars U.S. companies have made in supplying the war in Afghanistan. After all, we’re talking a donation that would cost maybe a few thousand bucks, tops.

But the original response deadline to the solicitation was Sept. 28 and it appears no one stepped up. Then Nov. 7 there’s a notation that the bidding process was “closed no sponsors.”

The next day, however, International Armored Group in St. Augustine, Fla., which makes armored vehicles, agreed to pony up for the T-shirts.

“We saw the sponsorship opportunity online and immediately thought it was a great way to show the troops our support,” said Sean Wang, the company’s business and marketing director. “It was really a no-brainer decision for us.”

So Santa’s heading over in an armor-plated sleigh. The reindeer had better start pumping iron.

Thoughts that count

Signs of the holiday season are all around: wreaths on the doors, carols in the air . . . and a warning from the House Ethics Committee.

The panel’s top Democrat and Republican jointly issued a gentle reminder to their colleagues about the rules restricting the kinds of gifts that members and their staffers can accept. The rules apply “even during the holiday season,” they cautioned.

The memo goes on to outline the highlights of the rules: It’s okay to accept gifts worth less than $50 from non-lobbyists; the limit for lobbyists is a measly 10 bucks — but accepting presents of any value from relatives is just fine and dandy, etc.

Also worth noting, the committee pointed out, are the rules regarding which holiday parties members and staffers can attend. “Widely attended events” are sure to be all the rage, as they’re perfectly acceptable. Receptions are fine, too, as long as the grub is only of “nominal value” (well, that depends, doesn’t it?) and there are no full meals offered.

Looks like the season of the canape-on-toothpick has arrived again.

Maybe next time

The rocker Andrew W.K. — “Party Til You Puke” is one of his big hits — was most disappointed that the State Department canceled his trip to conflict-ridden Bahrain on Monday. A department spokeswoman said that, after the invitation was extended, more senior officials “took a look at this” and “the conclusion was that this was not an appropriate use of U.S. government funds.”

“I would’ve done a great job and represented our nation with dignity and pride,” Andrew W.K. said in an “official” statement on his Web site. “I still would love to go and I vow to continue partying, and working everyday to unite our human race through the power of positive partying.”

Turnover in a hot spot

Senior diplomat Marc Grossman has resigned as the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, effective Dec. 14, our colleague Karen DeYoung reports.

Grossman, who had previously served as undersecretary for political affairs, assistant secretary for Europe and ambassador to Turkey, was persuaded to put a second career at the Cohen Group on hold to take the SRAP position after Richard Holbrooke, who had inaugurated the job, died in December 2010.

The SRAP is one of several senior envoy positions the Obama administration created to coordinate particularly vexing diplomatic challenges that spanned several countries. Former senator George Mitchell, who served as special envoy for Middle East peace, was replaced last year by David Hale, a senior Foreign Service officer.

Grossman, who plans to return to private life, will be replaced in an acting capacity by his current deputy, David D. Pearce. Before moving to the SRAP office this year, Pearce served as assistant chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan and was ambassador to Algeria.

In other moves . . .

Michael Botticelli, formerly director of the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse, has been sworn in as deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a.k.a. the deputy drug czar.

White House Associate Counsel Andrew Wright, who focuses on congressional oversight and national security, is joining the Savannah Law School faculty next academic year.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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