Archive for August 2004
I must have missed a meeting. Junior In April:
One of the interesting things people ask me, now that we are asking questions, is, ‘Can you ever win the war on terror?’ Of course you can.
Junior on July 14:
I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror.
But between July 14 and last Saturday, something must have changed:
I don’t think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.
Scott McClellan rushed in to explain that what Junior was really doing ‘was speaking about winning the war “in the conventional sense” and that his comments underscored the reality that ridding the world of terrorists would take decades.’
“I don’t think you can expect that there will ever be a formal surrender or a treaty signed like we have in wars past,” Mr. McClellan said. “That’s what he was talking about. It requires a generational commitment to win this war on terrorism.”
Not with a pitchfork and a backhoe could you pry that out of Junior’s statement without doing violence to the language, but never mind. Has something happened since July 14 that has shaken Bush’s fabled unshakable, unchangeable mind? Did the truth slip out accidentally (the only way you ever get it from this Administration)? Or has there been a sea-change in their policy that, as usual, they didn’t bother to let us in on?
Question #1: What happened since July 14?
Well, the second cock-up over al Sadr. Eric Martin at Total Information Awareness uses Eric Alterman to connect the dots.
And how does the current administration fare by this standard? Not well, alas. Although the press has been loathe to admit as much, the American military has in essence given up on several strategic objectives in Iraq, pulling troops out of what may have been a winnable fight. Take the siege of Fallujah by 1,200 Marines in April. After fighting street by street with insurgents for about two weeks (at the cost of 36 American lives) the United States halted the siege on the condition that the militants hand over their heavy weapons – which they failed to do. The Marines waited outside the city for another two weeks before pulling out, handing a victory to the insurgents and leaving the city in the hands of religious extremists.
The failure in Fallujah was monumental, and one that continues to imperil the Iraq mission as a whole. Fallujah has become the central planning location for the Sunni led faction of the insurgency. Without Fallujah, there will be no stability, just a continuation of the suicide bomb attacks and assassinations that have so plagued the progress of stability.I suppose it’s at least possible that something of the reality of the situation in Fallujah finally penetrated Junior’s stubborn, C-average brain and that’s he’s beginning to realize–a little late–that it’s easier to start wars than it is to control their aftermath. With any luck, maybe it’s dawning on him that this is one of those complicated problems for which there are no simple, soundbite solutions. Possible, but I ain’t holding my breath.
Question #2: Did the truth slip out accidentally?
More likely. He did the interview on his own, and that’s always dangerous. He forgets what he is or isn’t supposed to say, and if Little Dick isn’t there to remind him, he forgets what he was trying to say and he gets confused.
Question #3: Has there been a sea-change in their policy?
Yes–and No. ‘Yes’ politically; ‘No’ every other way.
I think what we’re seeing here are the first tentative steps toward what they will be saying after the election if Junior wins. The Republicans win when they run on ‘security’ and ‘stength’. They love to run on a ‘war platform’, even though this is only the second time in the past hundred years that they’ve actually had to run the war itself, so it was inevitable that they would come to the conclusion that a perpetual war means perpetual power for them.
The second Bush Admin will begin to talk about how long the WOT is going to last and get us used to the idea that we may never win it, adding, of course, that we don’t even have a chance of winning it unless the Pubs stay in. If they don’t cancel elections altogether because they’re ‘too dangerous in wartime’, they’ll run forever on the Forever War. We will always be in danger (they’ll see to that by keeping the global pot boiling over persuing policies, as they are now, that are guaranteed to produce even more terrorists) and we will therefore always need them to protect us.
It’s a good strategy, worthy of Machiavelli and George Orwell. It may work.
Of course, it may also blow up in their faces.
The results of this poll are very interesting. Half of New Yorkers think that the government had foreknowledge of the 9-11 attacks and consciously failed to act. Note that this is a poll of residents of New York state total, not just New York City. A separate poll mentioned in this article notes that 63% of Canadians agree. For the record, I also agree, at least if “foreknowledge” is interpreted to mean general rather than specific foreknowledge.
I guess this means that I’m a “conspiracy theorist” because, as far as I can tell, the operational definition of “conspiracy theorist” these days is “one who does not accept pronouncements coming from the administration (and transmitted through the mainstream media) as articles of faith”.
At least that’s what I think it is. Not much activity here the last few weeks. Partly I think it’s the heat and humidity–no AC and sitting at the computer is a trial even with a fan going full blast and aimed straight at me. Usually I like heat (I waaaay prefer it to being cold) but for some reason this summer it’s been getting to me. No energy. No oomph. I did my first post for LitBlogs yesterday in a week and I haven’t written a new story for Snake Tales in over a month even though there are notes for three of them, including the next chapter in the ‘bush wars’ saga, in my word processor.
But another part of the problem is systemic: I find I don’t have much to say that’s new and I can’t see repeating myself endlessly just because the Bushies do. How many times can you debunk the Swift Boat Vets’ lies? In how many different ways can you say that Abu Ghraib happened from the top down? I go through the papers every day and it’s the same old shit, day after day after day. I read it and I think, ‘I said that already–three times’, and find I don’t have the energy to say it a fourth. And you probably wouldn’t have the energy to read it.
So where do we go from here? Personally I’ve spent more of what little energy I have these days on Trenches. I’ve changed the name slightly–to Dispatch from the Trenches–and re-designed the site so it’s more focused on what I really want to get at–the impulse to selfishness and greed behind the conservative agenda. That agenda deliberately plays to all our worst instincts and praises them as our best; it wants us to Look Out For #1, to believe we are not Our Brother’s Keeper, and to build a society based on ‘ownership’–as in if you don’t ‘own’ something, you don’t count. I want to start aiming directly at that profoundly abusive and destructive concept. I know it’s tilting at windmills but where I come from that’s what windmills are for–tilting at.
I’ll likely get back to normal when a) the Republican Liars’ Festival is over (I mean, come on–they’re trotting out the last of the moderates that they otherwise keep locked in closets, and trying to pretend the GOP isn’t run by radicals; the whole damn convention is a lie, that’s gotta be a first), b) when I’ve got something to say that I haven’t said 40 times already, and c) when the weather gets cooler.
In the meantime, check out some of the blogs on the sidebar and see what they have to say. For example, John has a terrific post up at archy about Rove and the SBV attack:
We should not feel good about beating back the Swifties. Rove has a score of these attacks in the wings. Many writers have described the Rove method as “if you throw enough mud, some is bound to stick.” That is a naive oversimplification. The Rove method assumes that as a foundation and adds, “if mud doesn’t stick, try dung, then pudding, then paint, then gravy, then bile, then library glue, then baby poop, mud again, warm tar, herbed bread crumbs, cheese sauce, Silly Puddy ™, that stuff that collects in the trap of your kitchen sink, toe jam, more pudding…” You get the idea.The attack has just begun. We need to brace ourselves for the next assault.
(Note: John? It’s ‘Silly Putty’.)
There are people out there who have things to say that are worth reading. eRobin is doing stellar work at Fact-esque deconstructing the NYT; Bert’s ThatColoredFellasweblog has been re-invigorated recently with a lot of new posts, some excellent political commentary, and a fleet of new commenters; Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom is in the thick of not one but two elections, ours and the Australian; Karlo has a great post up at Swerve Left about Bush’s time in the National Guard; and and Digby at Hullabaloo is, as usual, all over the political ramifications of yet another Bush ‘mis-statement’.
[Bush has] now simultaneously admitted that he screwed up big time on the single most important issue a president ever faces, while also saying that he has no intention of trying to figure out what went wrong. That is the worst of all possible worlds. It’s best not to have to admit screwing up something as important as war planning but if you do you simply have to make the case that [you] learned from the experience and you won’t do it again. He didn’t do that. Iraq is a massive failure and the president has just opened the door to his own culpability on that.
I may be dry as toast at the moment, but others’ juices are flowing strong.
Mark Fiore: The Political Attack
Drat those pesky troublemakers! We keep coming up with cappa stories about stuff and they keep dragging in facts! Who needs ‘facts’? They just get in the way.
A Bush administration report suggests that evidence of global warming has begun to affect animal and plant populations in visible ways, and that rising temperatures in North America are due in part to human activity.The report to Congress, issued Wednesday, goes further than previous statements by President Bush. He has said more scientific research is needed before he imposes new restrictions on greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
In 2001, after the release of a National Academy of Sciences report on global warming, Bush said the concentration of greenhouse gases has increased, in large part, because of human activity, but he emphasized that other factors could have influenced warming. Referring to the NAS report, he said, “We do not know how much effect natural fluctuations may have had on warming.”
He’s right, you know. ‘Natural fluctuations’ are entirely and completely unpredictable. You can’t know about things like that. Who do you think they are, scientists? Oh, wait….
We’ll just have to bide our time until the ocean washes over NYC and NJ drops into the sea. Then we’ll be sure–that it happened, not that global warming was the reason. With the oil and gas industries at stake, we can pretend there’s no such thing as ‘global warming’ for millenia, and as long as they keep paying us, we WILL!
Several administration officials characterized the study as a routine annual summary of scientific research on global warming. John H. Marburger, the president’s science adviser, said the report has “no implications for policy.””There is no discordance between this report and the president’s position on climate,” Marburger said.
But environmentalists and conservatives said the report reveals contradictions within the administration’s stance on global warming.
Jeremy Symons, who heads the National Wildlife Federation’s global warming program, characterized the study as “nothing new in terms of the science of global warming, but this is definitely new in terms of the administration’s position.”
Those darn scientists thought it was a routine report because everything in it has been known to the scientific community for years. They forgot Cardinal Science Rules #1 (‘NO science is to be considered valid if doing so directly affects the oil industry or any other corporate product in an adverse way’) and #2 (‘ALL “science” must be cleared by the political section; any scientific conclusions deemed harmful to the Would-Be-Emperor’s re-election effort or in contradiction of fundamentalist Xtian fantasies are to be destroyed’).
No worries. Karl will make sure this never happens again.
August 26, 2004
It Takes Real Courage to Desert Your Post and Then Attack a Wounded Vet
Dear Mr. Bush,
I know you and I have had our differences in the past, and I realize I am the one who started this whole mess about “who did what” during Vietnam when I brought up that “deserter” nonsense back in January. But I have to hand it to you on what you have uncovered about John Kerry and his record in Vietnam. Kerry has tried to pass himself off as a war hero, but thanks to you and your friends, we now know the truth.
First of all, thank you for pointing out to all of us that Mr. Kerry was never struck by a BULLET. It was only SHRAPNEL that entered his body! I did not know that! Hell, what’s the big deal about a bunch of large, sharp, metal shards ripping open your flesh? That happens to all of us! In my opinion, if you want a purple heart, you’d better be hit with a bullet — with your name on it!
Secondly, thank you for sending Bob Dole out there and letting us know that Mr. Kerry, though wounded three times, actually “never spilled blood.” When you are in the debates with Kerry, turn to him and say, “Dammit, Mr. Kerry, next time you want a purple heart, you better spill some American red blood! And I don’t mean a few specks like those on O.J.’s socks — we want to see a good pint or two of blood for each medal. In fact, I would have preferred that you had bled profusely, a big geyser of blood spewing out of your neck or something!” Then throw this one at him: “Senator Kerry, over 58,000 brave Americans gave their lives in Vietnam — but YOU didn’t. You only got WOUNDED! What do you have to say for yourself???” Lay that one on him and he won’t know what to do.
And thanks, also, Mr. Bush, for exposing the fact that Mr. Kerry might have actually WOUNDED HIMSELF in order to get those shiny medals. Of course he did! How could the Viet Cong have hit him — he was on a SWIFT boat! He was going too fast to be hit by enemy fire. He tried to blow himself up three different times just so he could go home and run for president someday. It’s all so easy to see, now, what he was up to.
What would we do without you, Mr. Bush? Criticize you as we might, when it comes to pointing out other men’s military records, there is no one who can touch your prowess. In 2000, you let out the rumor that your opponent John McCain might be “nuts” from the 5 years he spent in a POW camp. Then, in the 2002 elections, your team compared triple-amputee Sen. Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden, and that cost him the election. And now you are having the same impact on war hero John Kerry. Since you (oops, I mean “The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth!”) started running those ads, Kerry’s polls numbers have dropped (with veterans, he has lost 18 points in the last few weeks).
Some people have said “Who are you, Mr. Bush, to attack these brave men considering you yourself have never seen combat — in fact, you actively sought to avoid it.” What your critics fail to understand is that even though your dad got you into a unit that would never be sent to Vietnam — and even though you didn’t show up for Guard duty for at least a year — at least you were still IN FAVOR of the Vietnam War! Cowards like Clinton felt it was more important to be consistent (he opposed the war, thus he refused to go) than to be patriotic and two-faced.
The reason that I think you know so much about other men’s war wounds is because, during your time you in the Texas Air National Guard, you suffered so many of them yourself. Consider the paper cut you received on September 22, 1972, while stationed in Alabama, working on a Senate campaign for your dad’s friend (when you were supposed to be on the Guard base). A campaign brochure appeared from nowhere, ambushing your right index finger, and blood trickled out onto your brand new argyle sweater.
Then there was the incident with the Crazy Glue when your fraternity brothers visited you one weekend at the base and glued your lips together while you were “passed out.” Though initially considered “friendly fire,” it was later ruled that you suffered severe post traumatic stress disorder from the assault and required certain medicinal attention — which, it seems, was provided by those same fraternity brethren.
But nothing matched your heroism when, on July 2, 1969, you sustained a massive head injury when enemy combatants from another Guard unit dropped a keg of Coors on your head during a reconnaissance mission at a nearby all-girls college. Fortunately, the cool, smooth fluids that poured out of the keg were exactly what was needed to revive you.
That you never got a purple heart for any of these incidents is a shame. I can fully appreciate your anger at Senator Kerry for the three he received. I mean, Kerry was a man of privilege, he could have gotten out just like you. Instead, he thinks he’s going to gain points with the American people bragging about how he was getting shot at every day in the Mekong Delta. Ha! Is that the best he can do? Hell, I hear gunfire every night outside my apartment window! If he thinks he is going to impress anyone with the fact that he volunteered to go when he could have spent the Vietnam years on the family yacht, he should think again. That only shows how stupid he was! True-blue Americans want a president who knows how to pull strings and work the system and get away with doing as little work as possible!
So, to make it up to you, I have written some new ads you can use on TV. People will soon tire of the swift boat veterans and you are going to need some fresh, punchier material. Feel free to use any of these:
ANNOUNCER: “When the bullets were flying all around him in Vietnam, what did John Kerry do? He said he leaned over the boat and ‘pulled a man out of the river.’ But, as we all know, men don’t live in the river — fish do. John Kerry knows how to tell a big fish tale. What he won’t tell you is that when the enemy was shooting at him, he ducked. Do you want a president who will duck? Vote Bush.”
ANNOUNCER: “Mr. Kerry’s biggest supporter, Sen. Max Cleland, claims to have lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam. But he still has one arm! How did that happen? One word: Cowardice. When duty called, he was unwilling to give his last limb. Is that the type of selfishness you want hanging out in the White House? We think not. Vote for the man who would be willing to give America his right frontal lobe. Vote Bush.”
Hope these help, Mr. Bush. And remember, when the American death toll in Iraq hits 1,000 during the Republican convention, be sure to question whether those who died really did indeed “die” — or were they just trying to get their face on CNN’s nightly tribute to fallen heroes? The sixteen who’ve died so far this week were probably working hand in hand with the Kerry campaign to ruin your good time in New York. Stay consistent, sir, and always, ALWAYS question the veracity of anyone who risks their life for this country. It’s the least they deserve.
The Daily Show has it right:
STEWART: Here’s what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry’s record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven’t been disputed for 35 years?
CORDDRY: That’s right, Jon, and that’s certainly the spin you’ll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.
STEWART: Th-that’s not a spin thing, that’s a fact. That’s established.
CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.
STEWART: But that should be — isn’t that the end of the story? I mean, you’ve seen the records, haven’t you? What’s your opinion?
CORDDRY: I’m sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don’t have ‘o-pin-i-ons’. I’m a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called ‘objectivity’ — might wanna look it up some day.
STEWART: Doesn’t objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what’s credible and what isn’t?
CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well — sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] ‘Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.’ Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.
STEWART: So, basically, you’re saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.
CORDDRY: No, Jon — in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleages, challenging the president’s activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They’ve apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in ’71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized piñata. Jon — they just want to set the record straight. That’s all they’re out for.
STEWART: Well, thank you Rob, good luck out there. We’ll be right back.
(Thanks to Atrios.)
Mark Kleiman has succinctly summarized Bush’s response to demands that he condemn the ads: “I’ll ask my friends to stop lying about John Kerry, if he’ll ask his friends to stop telling the truth about me.”
I don’t have time to post anything today, so go read this at Fact-esque. It’s a potent reminder of the price that was paid for equality by those who came before us.
The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 helpless women wrongly convicted of “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the “Night of Terror” on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote.
Yet another committee investigating Abu Ghraib has taken yet another timid step in assigning responsibility for the torture to the top of the Administration. Months after the initial revelations about the Admin’s cold and calculating search for legal loopholes in the Geneva Convention that would allow the US to torture prisoners for information (White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called the Convention ‘quaint’ and ‘irrelevant’) and its in-house support for torture as a tactic, the Schlesinger panel concludes that responsibility lies with Rumsfeld and the DoD.
WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 – For Donald H. Rumsfeld to resign over the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib would be a mistake, the four-member panel headed by James M. Schlesinger asserted Tuesday. But in tracing responsibility for what went wrong at Abu Ghraib, it drew a line that extended to the defense secretary’s office.The panel cited what it called major failures on the part of Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides in not anticipating and responding swiftly to the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq. On the eve of the Republican convention, that verdict could not have been welcome at the White House, where postwar problems in Iraq represent perhaps President Bush’s greatest political liability.
The report rarely mentions Mr. Rumsfeld by name, referring most often instead to the “office of the secretary of defense.” But as a sharp criticism of postwar planning for Iraq, it represents the most explicit official indictment to date of an operation that was very much the province of Mr. Rumsfeld and his top deputies.
A ‘failure’ is not the same thing as a ‘decision’. The panel is saying what the evidence compels it to say but putting it in a context that ignores some key decisions that suggest very strongly that Abu Ghaib was planned all along. A few of those questions:
***Why was Boykin not fired after his anti-Muslim/pro-fundamentalist Xtian comments?
***Why was Boykin put in charge of the Army’s prison system?
***Why did Rumsfeld allow Boykin to appoint MajGen Geoffrey Miller as head of the prison system in Iraq even though Miller’s use of torture techniques while he was in charge of Gitmo was an open secret and potential scandal?
***Why was Army Intelligence put in charge of the ‘interrogations’?
***Why was Gen Karpinski–and others in the theater–told not to interfere with them even though she was supposed to be in command at AG?
***Where–and who–did that order come from?
The Schlesinger panel’s criticism of Rumsfeld’s ‘failure to respond’ doesn’t connect any of these dots or answer any of those questions; it ducks altogether the thorny possibility that Rumsfeld didn’t ‘respond’ because it was a policy he knew all about and had in fact deliberately implemented. Instead it pretends that leaving Boykin and Miller in charge was somehow an accidental oversight. That’s quite an assumption given the intensity with which the DoD, DoJ, and BA hunted for legal rationalizations for the US to justify precisely what US interrogators later did at AG. It’s an incredible assumption given that Rumsfeld not only knew what had been going on at Gitmo under Miller but had publicly defended it.
The only way to avoid pointing the finger directly at the Bush Admin is by compartmentalizing all these separate findings and then making believe they’re totally unconnected to each other. Put them together and the inevitable conclusion is that Rumsfeld and the BA planned, developed, and implemented a specific policy; the pieces can’t be explained rationally any other way.
It is becoming, bit by bit, clearer and more inescapable that responsibility for the torture at Abu Ghraib belongs on the desk where Harry Truman said the buck stopped.
Veep Cheney, after months of waffling, has returned to his original position on gay marriage: that it’s an issue that should be decided by the states.
DAVENPORT, Iowa — Vice President Dick Cheney, whose oldest daughter is a lesbian, said Tuesday he believed that decisions about same-sex marriages should be left to the states, contending that “freedom means freedom for everyone.”Despite his personal view, he added, President Bush is his boss, and Bush favors an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning such marriages. “The president makes policy for the administration,” Cheney said.
His comments came in response to a question during an invitation-only town hall meeting in Davenport, a city both presidential campaigns have focused on in their competition to win Iowa. Cheney’s remarks were his first this year on the gay marriage issue while campaigning.
So what’s the actual news here? The LAT seems torn between three possibilities:
1) It’s news because Cheney is openly breaking with Bush;
2) It’s news because he did so at an ‘invitation-only’ appearance where both the questioners and the questions are known in advance;
3) It’s news because the Veep decided to let the Pres call the shots just this once.
Asked later about the difference between Bush’s and Cheney’s positions on the constitutional amendment, Anne Womack, a spokeswoman for the vice president, responded: “The vice president respects the president’s right to make that decision.”
Out of the mouths of babes. Quite subconsciously, it seems, Little Dick’s spokeswoman let the cat out of the bag. If the Veep respects Junior’s ‘right’ to make ‘that’ decision, the unspoken assumption is that ‘that decision’ is an exception to the general rule. She might as well have said, ‘Dick decided to let George have his way on this one, but it probably won’t happen again.’
In true Publican backstabbing style, naturally she said this after the Vice President had torpedoed one of his boss’ favorite far-right panders in a semi-public forum. Look for the Mighty Wurlitzer to chop him up in little pieces for subverting their dearly beloved campaign distraction and ‘major social issue’ about which they have been fulminating for months, the FMA. They’ll call Dick a ‘traitor’, they’ll say he wants to destroy the institution of marriage, that he hates America, that he’s a tool of the ‘special interests’.
Sure they will.
Reservists’ paychecks riddled with errors By KEN GUGGENHEIM
Published on: 08/23/04
WASHINGTON — Army Reserve payroll procedures for activated soldiers are so convoluted that mistakes occurred in 95 percent of the cases examined by congressional auditors, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.
Soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan have had to spend a year or more straightening out problems affecting their pay, allowances and tax benefits, the GAO said.
Most errors involved overpayments, but those proved to be problems for soldiers who didn’t acknowledge the extra pay or didn’t set aside enough money to pay it back. In one example, the GAO recommended a criminal investigation for a soldier who didn’t report $36,000 in overpayments.
The GAO found the payment system was so “error-prone, cumbersome and complex that neither [the Defense Department] nor, more importantly, Army Reserve soldiers themselves could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payments.”
It warned that the payroll problems could hurt morale and the Army’s efforts to retain reservists.
Sen Pat Roberts has been making waves the last couple of days with his proposal to just eliminate the CIA altogether. I was going to write about this over the weekend but there’s a problem: nobody has seen this ‘plan’ except Republicans. Not knowing what it entails makes it hard–well, impossible, really–to evaluate, but I want to at least offer a word or two of caution.
First, Roberts is a long-time ally and follower of Newt Gingrich. In the early 90′s, Gingrich also proposed eliminating the Company–in everything but name. He was furious with John Deutsche’s CIA for debunking Laurie Mylroie’s fantasies of Saddam Hussein as the Professor Moriarty of MidEast terrorism–a theory in which he still fervently believes despite all the evidence to the effect that Mylroie is a raging loony whose ties to a reality anyone else would recognize are tenuous at best–and in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (where he later became a Fellow), he suggested a reform of the intelligence community that was, in outline, precisely what Gingrich-acolyte Doug Feith later set up with the OSP and C-TEG: stovepiping–sending raw data around Company intelligence analysts straight to the policy-makers.
Newtsie, you see, who fancies himself an intelligence expert (a self-inflicted fantasy that must have arisen from his fondness for Ian Fleming because he has zero actual intelligence knowledge or experience, though he did write a Fleming-ish spy novel that was so bad it was remaindered mere weeks after publication), was convinced that for political reasons Deutsche and the CIA were hiding the proof that Tinfoil-Hat Laurie was right, and he was determined to punish them by marginalizing them (a standard right-wing strategy for dealing with enemies). The ‘reforms’ he proposed would have shifted most if not all of the CIA’s responsibilities to other intel agencies (NSA, DID, NI, and so on) and put it all under the control of a new Intelligence Directorate where an ‘intelligence czar’ would pull all the pieces together and run the show just as Bill Simon had done with ATF, DEA and Customs as the ‘drug czar’ (sound familiar?)
The proposal never went anywhere but Newt never let it go, either, though he changed his approach. By the late 90′s he was pretending to be a CIA ‘supporter’, arguing for more funds, less oversight, and fewer restrictions on the illegal ops intel agencies, especially the Company, could engage in. Sounds like a booster, right? But hidden within his proposal for ‘expanding’ the CIA was the same old ‘reform’ plan: cut it up, spread its duties around, and join it to a ‘larger effort’ where it would be just another player in a welter of them, all responsible to an overall authority.
When I read the 9/11CR, I thought that, although there were key differences, their proposal was just Newt’s plan raising its ugly head again like the monsters in Binkley’s Anxiety Closet who never really go away, they just change their form as his fears change. The problems with both the 9/11C’s proposal and Gingrich’s is the same: first, they don’t solve the problem of politicizing intelligence, they exacerbate it, making the Company even less independent and more obedient to political forces than it is now; second, they don’t address the problem of the CIA’s culture at all.
I suspect (though I cannot, of course, know–I’m not a Republican) that Roberts’ unseen proposal is most likely Newt’s old plan in new clothes with one new wrinkle: getting rid of even the pretense that the CIA would survive the reforms.
The trouble with the Company is not now and never has been with its structure. As Deutsche correctly pointed out, the fault lies with the CIA’s culture–bureaucratic, insanely turf-conscious, slack, and above all, technology-crazed. Amazing amounts of money have been pissed away on satellites, cyber-toys, and increasingly complicated (and ineffective) listening devices while human intel–assets–have been downgraded to expendable accessories. So rare are they that many station-chiefs aren’t even trained in the tradecraft of running a nertwork any more, and couldn’t do a legitimate interrogation or debriefing of an asset if you put a gun to their heads.
Changing the structure may make everybody feel better because they think they’re doing something, but it isn’t going to solve the core problems of culture and politicization. It may dress the dummy up in the latest fashions from Bergdorf’s, but underneath it’s still going to be the same old dummy.
Update: According to the WaPo, Roberts’ plan is, in fact, almost identical to Gingrich’s from 13 years ago.
Under the plan, the CIA’s three main directorates would be torn from the agency and turned into separate entities reporting to separate directors. The Pentagon would lose control of three of its largest operations as well, including the super-secret National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic signals worldwide.
I don’t remember Gingrich taking anything from the DoD, and the czar is missing, oddly enough, but otherwise we’re in the same ballpark. Another terrible proposal.
[A] senior intelligence official said…the plan “makes no sense” and would cause more problems than it solves.“Rather than eliminating stovepipes, this will create more of them,” said the intelligence official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the political debate. “Rather than bringing intelligence disciplines together, it smashes them apart. . . . This proposal is unworkable and would hamper rather than enhance the nation’s intelligence operations.”
In a post last Friday, I said the SBV ad was a stalking horse and that the real target was the elimination of all 527 groups. Yesterday, Junior took the next step and proposed exactly that. Meeting with reporters at his so-called ‘ranch’ (I haven’t been paying attention–is he on vacation again?), he ordered all 527′s to ‘stop all this stuff’. He has a way with words, don’t he?
CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush on Monday criticized the broadcast of a political advertisement that accused Sen. John F. Kerry of lying about his military record in Vietnam, as he called for independent groups to stop “all the stuff” aimed at influencing the November election.But Bush did not address the charges that have turned the presidential campaign into a series of daily skirmishes over Kerry’s military service and his subsequent protests against the Vietnam War. And after Bush’s comments, a White House spokesman said the president had not intended to specifically denounce the anti-Kerry ad.
Allies of the Democratic candidate said Bush’s remarks — coming more than a week after the ad stopped running — were too little and too late.
The president was asked about the ad, sponsored by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as he met with reporters at his ranch near Crawford. “I think we ought to be debating who best to be leading this country in the war against terror,” he said.
Pressed on the subject, Bush called for an end to ads paid for by independent organizations, such as the Swift boat group, and said “all of them” should stop running. “That means that ad, every other ad,” he said.
And just in case anybody missed the point that the enemy was all 527′s, not just the lying, inaccurate, or misleading ones, Scott-baby–and the rest of the sycophants–drove the point home.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said later that despite the president’s mention of the Swift boat ad, he had not meant to spotlight it.Bush and his aides, when asked previously about the ad, had skirted a direct mention of the group while broadly assailing negative commercials by organizations unaffiliated with either presidential campaign or major political party. The president’s aides have stressed that most of the advertising has been financed by pro-Democratic groups and has targeted the president for attacks.
A top Bush official, who asked not to be named, said the president’s comments Monday “were precisely” along those lines. (emphasis added)
While the corporate media–and way too much of the blogosphere, I’m afraid–is dutifully being sidetracked by the SBV controversy, Bush and Rove are aiming right at the heart of the only tool the Democrats have with the potential to level the financial playing field. If they succeed in killing off the 527′s, there will be nothing to prevent the RMP from buying every election between now and Armageddon.
A lot of people don’t know this but the first three of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks’ five 2000-Year-Old Man albums each had a few other routines on them. In one of those routines, ‘The Ad Man’, Brooks aimed his satiric eye at Madison Avenue. After explaining that since menthol was the latest rage (this was 1961) his company planned to introduce mentholated bread (which would be the blue kind because the green kind looked like mold), Reiner asked him what would be next? His newest client, Brooks replied, was The American Cardiologist Society. ‘We’re going to put cholesterol into the American heart.’ When Reiner expressed doubts that people would fall for that, Brooks answered:
“Sure they will. Advertising is a lot stronger than life, you know.”
As prescient as that statement was, Brooks didn’t go far enough. We have now reached the point where advertising isn’t ‘stronger than life’–it is life. Advertisers, who have found themselves smack up against a wall of cynicism and ridicule as the result of their relentless, pounding, wall-to-wall tactics, are opting for an insidious new strategy that don’t just blur the lines between advertising and life, it erases them.
In order to breach a consumer’s “initial headset barrier” against advertising, he said, the sales pitch must be “embedded” in something more palatable, such as a TV show, a sporting event, a video game. It must woo with charm and empathy. [President and chief executive of the National Assn. of Advertisers Robert] Liodice laid out the strategy: “First, capture the consumer’s attention in human, intriguing and emotional ways. Then, embrace the consumer. Get him or her to feel comfortable with you. Finally, make the sale without really selling. Let the consumer know, hey, we’re always there when they need us.”
In fact, advertising is more deeply embedded in our culture than ever before. Almost nothing is excluded from branding — not our cities, our museums, our schools. Even our private lives are being co-opted by corporations desperate to reframe their images as “authentic.”
“Stealth” strategies are essential to disarm our cynicism, advertisers say. So teenagers are hired to study trends among their peers and develop ways to reach them — known as “peer-to-peer” or “viral” marketing. Actors are hired to shill product while posing as consumers in Internet chat rooms or on city streets — in the name of creating “organic” brand awareness. Logos and slogans are “seamlessly” integrated into the story lines of films, video games, even textbooks.
Consumer activists call this “ad creep” and predict an Orwellian corporate takeover of society. But advertisers herald this movement as the future. Soon, they say, advertising will so effectively impersonate the ideas we use to define ourselves that we won’t even consider it selling.
“Advertising,” says Jeff Hicks of the Crispin Porter + Bogusky agency, “will disappear.”
And, consequently, virtually no experience will be commercial-free.
If you’re wondering what they meant by that, here’s an example: Remember that nice Japanese couple you met in Seattle who asked you to take their picture with their cel-phone and then told you all about it? Plants.
[Sony's ad agency hired actors to play] “tourists” in Manhattan and Seattle asking passersby to photograph them with their new Sony Ericsson camera phones.
The ‘rap group’ you saw in the Frisco BART that you were suspicious of because they were turning Beatles’ lyrics into an ad jingle for AT&T? Or the ‘spoken-word poets’ who performed along with a Nissan commercial you had to sit through in that Santa Monica movie theater you payed big bucks to get into? Yup: more plants. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott imagined a future where advertising was plastered over every available surface. We reached that plateau a decade ago.
Advertisers are hiring companies that do nothing but “outsource the influencer,” which means finding the hippest person on every block and sending “street teams” to “seed product” to them, creating “organic” buzz. Magazines are hosting branding events — celebrity parties, concerts and fashion shows — paid for by their advertisers, whose products end up in the hands of the “cultural influencers” attending.
Brands are also creating their own product-themed content. BMW, American Express and Nike have produced short films, often broadcast online, and hired major Hollywood filmmakers to direct them. Jeep has created more than 20 video games, two network reality shows and a magazine.
As arts funding disappears and tax cuts threaten local governments, advertisers are paying to brand institutions once considered sacrosanct. New York City has declared Snapple its “official soft drink.” Coca-Cola is the “proud sponsor” of the National PTA. Orkin has sponsored an exhibit — the O. Orkin Insect Zoo — at the Smithsonian Institution. And at Walt Disney Concert Hall, an auditorium is named for the Ron Burkle Ralphs/Food 4 Less Foundation.
Now they’re turning people into ads–and ads into people–
In this reality, brands are personified. They are “living, breathing entities that have DNA,” says Jeep’s vice president of marketing, Jeff Bell, who describes his company’s brand as “more of the singer-songwriter, but it also feels great on the beach…. It’s the only brand I know of that’s very, very comfortable in camouflage fatigues and also at Woodstock.”
Ad agencies develop “ethnographic” and “psychographic” profiles of their brands — whether snack crackers or luxury cars — before conceptualizing the campaigns. Once the “personality” is determined, a series of decisions follows, such as which events to sponsor, which celebrities to sign as spokespeople, which genre of movie to be featured in.
‘Shame’ has never been in Mad Ave’s vocabulary. As LAT reporter Gina Piccalo points out, this latest trend in advertising privacy invasion began…in our schools.
The Channel One Network, owned by New York-based Primedia Inc. and produced in L.A., pioneered this approach in 1990 and now beams news and commercials via satellite to 8 million teens in America’s middle and high schools. Late last year, ABC partnered with MindShare North America to create programs showcasing the agency’s clients, including Sears and Unilever; the first program, “The Days,” debuted in July. And GE Healthcare Systems and NBC’s Patient Channel, a 24-hour network broadcast in hospital rooms, delivers a captive audience of 6 million patients and their visitors to drug makers.
The Channel One Network (or CON–for once an accurate acronym, if unintentionally so) is more than a cultural embarrassment, it’s an evil encroachment in territory where it doesn’t belong. There are schools where their contract stipulates that CON can’t be turned off in the cafeteria or the tv monitors in the halls as long as school is in session. Teachers still control whether or not to use it in their classrooms, but for how long? CON is pushing a new stipulation that would require teachers to use at least one CON program a week per class.
There’s a reason why it started there. Everybody over the mental age of 13 knows enough these days not to go into a movie until the previews are on so they don’t have to sit through the ads. Adults get pissed about paying to see advertising; kids don’t know any better. To them, it has always been this way. When I was a lot younger, back in The Old Days, the desirable audience for advertisers was 25-55. The low end was desirable because they were starting families and could be convinced that they needed to ‘buy stuff’ for ‘a good life’; the upper end because they actually had money to spend. Now the target audience is 18-29.
The advertising industry has offered a lot of explanations for why they made the switch but there are two compelling reasons they don’t talk about: 1) consumers over 30 have been so bombarded with ads for so long that they simply tune them out. They’ve learned how to ignore even onslaughts of ads; kids haven’t. The age that is still vulnerable to advertising is sinking lower and lower, and advertising is sinking with it, aiming more and more of its pitches at younger and younger kids; and 2) if adults are themselves highly resistant to insistent advertising, as parents they’re highly vulnerable to their kids–who aren’t. Robert Bernstein, the inventor of the McDonald’s Happy Meal, was even bragging about it on the HM’s 25th Anniversary the other day.
Happy Meals lure millions of children to McDonald’s restaurants and also bring in sales from parents who pick up a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets for themselves when they stop in. Happy Meals are served at 31,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and have made McDonald’s the world’s biggest distributor of toys.
Marketing experts agree that it was brilliant.
“Happy Meals proved that you could actually ‘brand’ a meal and make kids harass their parents for it,” said Adam Hanft, president of Hanft Raboy & Partners, a New York advertising and marketing firm.
Exactly as Bernstein had planned.
“My feeling was if you get the children to think about McDonald’s, mom would bring them there,” he said. (emphasis added)
From the LAT again:
Advertisers bank on teenagers being “brand loyal” by age 15, hence campaigns such as McDonald’s “McKids” clothing and videos for toddlers, and sixth-grade math textbooks published by McGraw-Hill that feature references to Nike and Gatorade. (Branded textbooks were banned in California in 1999.)
The problem with all this–besides its unethical manipulation and total disregard for any human value that doesn’t have a $ attached to it–is that they’ve taken it about as far as it can go. From here on, everything they try to sneak into our lives risks a major consumer backlash from people old enough to have had enough, and that age is shrinking, too. The brightest teenagers, leaders on the streets and in the schools, are seeing their music, their clothes, their preferences in film, tv, fashion and even speech, co-opted by a corporate culture bent on turning everything into profits, and they’re getting as cynical as their parents–more cynical. That’s what punk and grunge were about; that’s what tattoos and body piercing were about; that’s what the shindogu phenomenon in Japan was about–trying to find a self-identifier that was so far out that the hordes of merciless corporate omnivores would be incapable of subsuming it. They all learned a valuable lesson–the hard way: there’s no such thing. And they’re angry.
“Advertisers are plainly getting more aggressive in their deployment of advertising in every nook and cranny of our culture,” says Gary Ruskin, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Commercial Alert. “And people are getting more angry at that.”
“There is an underside to this strategy,” says Kalle Lasn, founder of the aggressively anti-corporate Adbusters Media Foundation and Adbusters magazine. “You may have success, but bit by bit by bit you’re painting yourself into a corner…. Many of the real street kids, the real activist types, for them, it is further proof that their culture is so easily being hijacked…. It’s a technique whose success is in diminishing returns and is actually creating more cynicism.”
That anger is forcing them further and further underground. Ad agency execs are turning into covert operatives, spying on us and reporting back to HQ.
After years of media overload, today’s consumers have become just as marketing savvy as the folks here. If they catch a whiff of commercialism, they tune out. So advertisers are turning to the experts — psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, neuroscientists — and employing a sensitivity and intuitiveness that most of us don’t expect from our own families, let alone our favorite brand of soap.
They’re going deeper into our psyches than ever before, analyzing such banal rituals as the amount of time we steep our tea bags, the type of mouse pad we prefer or the source of nostalgia behind our choice of soft drink. They’re identifying how the feminist revolution and our parents’ divorces influence our choice of dog food or sports car or Internet service provider.
“The intellectual side of what we do is becoming more and more complex and more and more necessary,” says Suzanne Powers, director of account planning. “Anthropologically speaking, we’re digging into a brand’s roots as well as society’s roots.”
In other words, they’ve learned to lead by following. It’s invidious and culture-destroying and they’ve only just begun. They have brought those same techniques to political advertising: poll heavily, figure out what people want to hear and then sell it to them as if it were your idea. Rove used that approach with great success in Junior’s 2000 campaign; it may have been the only reason the election was close enough to steal. Stealth advertising leads to stealth political campaigning and stealth candidates.
But just as Lasn said, the irony for ad agencies–and politicians–to beware of is that their tactics for bypassing this rising rage are only going to create even more rage, even more cynicism, even more resistance. The radical right is facing the same dilemma–even as they exploit our anger to divide us into blocks opposing each other, a resistance to that devisiveness is building up under the surface. All it needs is the right spark and that anger will explode
Got a match, John?
Just for the record.
Every time Bush has been asked to denounce the vicious and slanderous attacks on Kerry’s Viet Nam record by the so-called ‘Swift Boat Veterans’, whose allegations have been thoroughly debunked and whose lack of credibility is second only to Junior’s, he has responded by denouncing not the SBV but all 527 groups. All of his spokesmen, including Scott McClellan do the same; all the B/C’04 spokesmen do likewise. The corporate media Echo Chamber, needless to say, copies both.
This seems to be taken as an attempt to sidestep the B/C campaign’s ultimate responsibility for both the group and its ad, which we now know were each bought and paid for by Bush Buddy and multi-millionaire (that’s redundant, isn’t it) Bob Perry. It isn’t, at least not primarily. If it were, the many voices of the Mighty Wurlitzer would be in full attack mode against SBV critics, and they aren’t. No, the Admin is responding as it is because that’s a sizable chunk of the point for them. It’s part of the plan.
It isn’t hard to figure that Rove is behind this–it’s a fairly standard tactic he’s used with great success the last few years: libel the opposition with outrageous, attention-getting, corporate media-loving lies and then turn all that attention toward the real target. In this case, the real target is the 527 groups who have neutralized the Rich Man’s Party’s fund-raising advantages and closed a lot of glaring loopholes in the Democrats’ spending strategy. Remember, these are people who went before the Supreme Court and argued that ‘money=free speech’. SG Olson said at one point that people were entitled to as much free speech as they could afford to buy. Now that stance has come back to bite them in the form of 527 groups like MoveOn.org who have been extremely successful doing just that. The last thing Karl needs is for the left and center to exercise that right, a right that conservatives accept as Gospel, and remove the RMP’s only real weapon–the staggering sums the rich (and those they control) can and do donate to Republican campaigns.
Rove is perfectly aware that that the RMP has nothing and does nothing that the mass of American voters wants from them, that in fact most of the RMP agenda is anathema to them. That’s why so much energy goes into governing in secret, that’s why they tell so many lies, that’s why they distort, deny, and spin the facts at every turn. If people knew and understood what they were doing, their hold on power wouldn’t last five minutes, and preventing that means controlling the debate. Controlling the debate means spending huge sums of money your opponents can’t hope to match. In other words, they can’t win elections so they buy them.
Liberal and progressive 527′s endanger that control by going a long way to level the monetary playing field, so Rove is using the SBV to build a wall of opinion against all 527′s. It’s the ancient lawyer’s trick of attacking the credibility of the witness when you can’t attack his testimony on its merits. While we’re arguing about the SBV’s credibility, Rove is using them to convince the country that 527′s are anti-democratic, laying the groundwork for outlawing them later.
Misdirection: Palm the coin while everybody’s watching the fluttering bird.
Don’t fall for it.