Friday, December 02, 2005

Cross at Randy

It’s late but I just have to say that Randy Cross sucks.  I hate watching a game that this guy calls, especially when it’s the Broncos.  He doesn’t have any respect for them and wastes no opportunity questioning their abilities.  I’d rather listen to Phil Simms.  At least he’s funny.

O'Reilly Update

As my random commenter points out, the O’Reilly “holiday” ornament has been renamed the O’Reilly “Christmas” ornament.  And you thought George Orwell made this kind of stuff up…

Of course, since they changed the website, the link in my last post now makes no sense.  Note to self:  Next time, get a screenshot.  History can be rewritten, but it cannot be changed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Happy Holidays Bill O'Reilly

I had to send Bill O’Reilly an e-mail today. For those who pay attention to Bill (and I admit to being one of them, though I would hardly call myself a “fan”), he’s been harping on about the “War on Christmas.” Last year, the city of Denver wouldn’t allow one of those corporate mega-churches to have a float in the annual Parade of Lights (because space was limited and admit one church, admit them all, right?), so O’Reilly threw a fit. He doesn’t like it when stores prefer to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and he doesn’t like it when baby Jesus must be accompanied by Santa Claus in public displays.

Now, for one, this is a completely invented problem. There is no grand conspiracy to take the Christ out of Christmas. For one thing, “Christmas” was derived from a pagan tradition, so Christians can’t claim the celebration that we now know as “Christmas” as their own anyway. They have no clue when Jesus was born, but it’s very probable that it wasn’t on December 25th.

Not only that, but it’s in the economic interests of the marketing machines behind American industry to extend the “holidays” beyond Christmas, including Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, and New Years. That’s why they say “Happy Holidays,” not because they’re a bunch of atheist Jesus-haters. In almost every store in America, especially the ones that say “Happy Holidays,” you will see rows and rows of Christmas stuff, all red and shiny and on sale.

Even Bill O’Reilly has got into the game, with his own O’Reilly Factor Christmas Ornament. Ahem. I mean “holiday” ornament.

My e-mail to him, tongue planted firmly in cheek:


Why is Fox News waging war on Christmas? Look at this, from the Fox News Shop: “ The O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament - Product #:FOX21001200 Put your holiday tree in "The No Spin Zone" with this silver glass "O'Reilly Factor" ornament.”

Holiday tree? Holiday Ornament? WTF? I’ll don’t think the O’Reilly Factor “Holiday” Ornament will have any place on my Christmas tree.

James Pearce
Aurora, CO

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

War Ensemble

Wow, I agree with President Bush on something.  Today, he said, “"We've heard some people say pull them out right now. That's a huge mistake. It'd be a terrible mistake.”  He’s right about that.  The “cut and run” strategy proposed by Cindy Sheehan and some in the anti-war crowd would be a huge mistake, bigger than Bush Sr leaving Saddam in power after the Gulf War, bigger than Clinton pulling the troops out of Somalia.  

However, I disagree with the President’s reasons why:  “It sends a bad message to our troops. And it sends a bad message to our enemy. And it sends a bad message to the Iraqis."  War is not intended to send “messages” to anyone.  War is intended to create strategic outcomes.  Removing our troops from Iraq right now would be a strategic disaster, leaving a power vacuum that would most likely be filled with the baser elements of Iraqi society.  

We made a mistake invading and trying to occupy Iraq.  We made a mistake thinking we could do it with so few men and so few diplomatic options.  We made a mistake with our attitude, with some of our actions, and in the process, we made a huge mess of Iraq.  Along the way, we also made some progress:  getting rid of Saddam, fashioning at least the semblance of a government, and probably, in the long run, changing their society for the better.

And although at this point it is obvious that we cannot “stay the course,” we cannot “cut and run” either.  We are already seeing some signs that things may be winding down.  The Iraqis have asked us to set a timetable to leave.  We have people in our own government saying the same thing.  (Not an immediate withdrawal, mind you, but a withdrawal mapped on a flexible schedule.)  I agree with Rep. Murtha that this thing can’t be won militarily.  The military portion, the fall of Baghdad and removal of the regime, is completed.  Now we must enter a more diplomatic phase, one that isn’t characterized by using “extreme methods” like….torture, or overly brutal tactics like dropping Willie Pete in urban areas.  In other words, we need to chill.  

The Iraqis have already mutually agreed that the insurgency has a “legitimate right” of resistance.  Is there some way that IEDs and carbombs could be soon be replaced with sit-ins and candlelight vigils?  Not if we shoot first and ask questions later.

I talked briefly with my Uncle Jim on the phone today.  President Bush was in Denver today, pimping himself out for the GOP.  While the President was selling over-priced food to rich Republicans, there was a protest outside, appropriately kept at bay, I presume, by the DPD.  Jim hinted that he wanted to go down there and kick some protester ass.  

He was joking, of course.  I hope he was anyway.  Being a marine who served in the Gulf War, machismo comes naturally to Jim.  He’s not a Republican stooge, but I think he listens to Rush (or somebody) and can get some funny ideas in his head sometimes.  Today he chided Clinton for not taking out Saddam after the World Trade Center was bombed the first time in 93.
This gave me pause because not only is this a completely radical idea but it’s also completely baseless.  Ramzi Yousef, who planned and carried out the bombing of the World Trade Center, operated out of Pakistan, was inspired by the Palestinian cause, and didn’t even know Osama Bin Laden.  The only connection to Iraq is that he used a fake Iraqi passport (and an apparently bad one at that) to get into the US.

So it makes me wonder….where do they get these ideas?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Marketing a Deception

In case you haven't heard, some folks are mad at the President. They are saying that Bush and his people were dishonest in making the case for war in Iraq, that they manipulated and distorted the intelligence they had, ignored caveats and qualifiers. In essence they are saying "Bush lied!" I happen to be one of those people.

To me, it has been objectively proven that the Bush Administration was dishonest in making the case for war, that they did manipulate the intelligence they had. However, I'm not willing to say that they did this out of some nefarious conspiracy to annex Iraq and steal their oil or anything like that. I’m not cynical enough to question Mr. Bush’s motives, though I hope they are rooted in the American national interest. I will question his methods though.

I think the Bush Administration's deceitful selling of the war was all marketing, pure marketing. They didn't come out with completely false information, well, save for the yellowcake stuff, which even CBS wouldn't have run with, or the mobile biological weapons facilities, which turned out to be weather balloon stations. Instead, they talked up the good points (Saddam WAS a reasonable threat, not just to us but to our interests) while not even whispering the bad (pesky things like all the "maybes" in the intelligence assessments). This is more like a car salesman raving about how much storage space there is in the new Ford Explorer, but neglecting to mention that it only gets 5 miles per gallon. You play up the good, downplay the bad. It’s a page out of Shady Salesmanship 101.

But this shady sales approach is bothersome when it comes to war. One of the main functions of marketing, besides "creating awareness," is manufacturing a need, or as they say in the parlance of the field, a demand for a certain good or service. That's why you didn't know you needed a Swiffer until you saw the commercial. And that's why millions of Americans didn't know that America needed to oust Saddam Hussein and occupy Iraq until they saw the "ads" with the mushroom clouds. Creating need where there was none before is common in consumer goods, like cars and microwaves and new-fangled broom-like utensils, but when it comes to a war, my preference is that the demand is already there and doesn't need to be conjured up with marketing savvy, and sadly that was not the case with the Iraq war.

Of course, there is another facet here, and that's the honesty of the marketing itself. A certain degree of hyperbole is to be expected in any advertising, but a healthy dose of honesty must be included as well. Deceptive marketing helps no one, not the consumer, not the advertiser. How many iPods do you think Apple would sell if they claimed they would make you rich, get your slippers, and take out the trash? What if Viagra guaranteed that you would get laid? Those are absurd examples, yes, but it's not much different from the marketing hatchet job foisted on us by the Bush Administration.

Consider this chart. It compares what the intelligence at the time said, what the hastily-prepared National Intelligence Assessment (or, NIE) said, what the UN said, what the Administration said, what was found after the fact, and what the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee which investigated all of it said in its report. It's a convenient format, to be sure, and it sheds light on how dishonest the Bush Administration was during the marketing of the war in Iraq.

Bush and Cheney have recently been going around telling people that this same Senate Intelligence Committee report exonerates them from charges that they lied. However, as it has been pointed out in carefully couched terms, the report didn't address how the Bush Admin used the intelligence; they merely reported there was no evidence that Bush and Co pressured the intelligence community to reach incorrect conclusions. This is a slight distinction, but it's a distinction nonetheless that in no way bolsters the "Bush was honest" case.

In fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee report, if you read it, shows unequivocally that the intelligence was manipulated and misleading. Consider this little nugget about Iraq reconstituting their nuclear weapons program after 1998. The Senate Intelligence Committee Report is quite clear on this one:

After reviewing all of the intelligence provided by the Intelligence Community and additional information requested by the Committee, the Committee believes that the judgment in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program, was not supported by the intelligence. The Committee agrees with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) alternative view that the available intelligence "does not add up to a compelling case for reconstitution."

Translation: The NIE was wrong.

In March of 2003, Dick Cheney went on Meet the Press and said:

We know that based on intelligence that he has been very, very good at hiding these kinds of efforts. He’s had years to get good at it and we know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong.

(Note: Mr. ElBaradei was not wrong, and later he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.)

Now the question here is this: Did Dick Cheney simply repeat some mistaken intelligence he saw in the now discredited NIE, which is the current Bush Administration mea culpa, or did he know what he was saying was wrong?

Remember the yellowcake story and those 16 words that should have never been in Bush's State of the Union speech? The Administration issued an "oops" there, too, but not an "oops, we screwed up" but an "oops, we got caught." The Administration was aware that the Niger story had been discredited. Nothing of the sort had been mentioned in any of the pre-2002 intelligence reports, then the IAEA had revealed the "evidence" to be forgeries. The CIA even sent Joe Wilson to look into it and he came back shaking his head. Yet, the yellowcake story made it's way into the NIE, which stated that "Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake," and then the State of the Union. The SIC, however, concluded that this "overstated what the Intelligence Community knew about Iraq's possible procurement attempts." Frankly the CIA just didn't know if it was true or not and they exaggerated what they did know.

The Bush Administration didn't produce the October 2002 NIE on Iraq's WMD program. That came from the Intelligence Community, an alphabet soup of agencies, including the CIA. Unfortunately, a lot of what was in the NIE was just plain wrong. While NIEs usually take several months to prepare, the one for Iraq's WMD programs came together in three short weeks, a pace that contributed to the sloppiness of the report. However the consensus is that more time would have resulted simply in more polish, not different conclusions.

And it's the conclusions which are the big issue here. The NIE, as we now know, was "almost all wrong," to use the words of weapons inspector David Kay. The SIC report indicates in minute detail exactly how wrong, but it does not exonerate the Bush Administration in any way shape or form. It's quite clear to me, and I'm just a civilian, that some of the "intelligence" seized upon by the President and his men was little more than unverified conjecture or, in some cases, gossip. If they didn’t suppress inconvenient facts, they ignored them. Providing the flawed intelligence can be blamed on the Intelligence Community. The responsibility for acting on it, though, lies squarely on Bush's shoulders.

In any case, I don’t believe it was the NIE or any other piece of intelligence that convinced Bush to go to war with Iraq. War with Iraq was inevitable with Bush in the White House. Saddam Hussein was too much of a prick to avoid any kind of confrontation and Bush wasn’t going to stand for any bullshit. Bush has said repeatedly that 9-11 changed everything, that he wasn’t going to sit back and wait for some dangerous tyrant (ala Saddam Hussein) to attack us again. He was going to be proactive, or as they say pre-emptive, and address the gathering threat before it could really do us harm. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein is more threatening as an idea, the roguish dictator in the heart of the oil-rich Middle East, than a reality, an absurd gangster terrorizing a society crumbling from thirty years under his rule.

The intelligence, all the WMD stuff, the Al Qaida-Saddam canoodling, all of that was just icing on the cake. It was the stuff they would take to the UN to get them to play. It was the stuff they would say on Fox News and the Sunday talk show circuit to market the war to a willing populace still stinging from 9-11. They didn’t trust the American people, or the world, to judge Bush’s grand plan on the merits of his intention, which was to improve the conditions in the Middle East by getting rid of Hussein. So they told tall tales, all the more chilling for their believability, and now they are being called on it.

Does that mean “Bush lied?” Quibble on the technicalities if you must, but to me that’s incredibly dishonest.