The Watering Hole, Monday, May 21st, 2012: DoD Noise Machine?

PROPAGANDA:prop·a·gan·da: [prop-uh-gan-duh]
1. publicity to promote something: information put out by an organization or government to promote a policy, idea, or cause
2. misleading publicity: deceptive or distorted information that is systematically spread

(Synonyms: slanted, distorted, one-sided, polemical, partisan, extremist, manipulative)

While perusing the recent threads at ThinkProgress, I came across this brief piece with the disturbing headline: “Congressmen seek to ‘legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences.”

The piece referenced an article from BuzzFeed, part of which states:

“In a little noticed press release earlier in the week — buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations — Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

[Note: While every article that I found on this issue used the phrase, “…in a little-noticed press release…”, not one article linked to the press release itself; so, here is the press release from co-sponsor Rep. Mac Thornberry’s (R-Texas) website.]

The text of the bill, H.R. 5736, (an amendment to the NDAA) co-sponsord by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), can be found here. I confess to be somewhat confused about the conflicting wording in Section 208, “CLARIFICATION ON DOMESTIC DISTRIBUTION OF PROGRAM MATERIAL.”

`(a) In General- No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States. This section shall apply only to programs carried out pursuant to the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1431 et seq.), the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465 et seq.), and the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465aa et seq.). This section shall not prohibit or delay the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from providing information about its operations, policies, programs, or program material, or making such available, to the media, public, or Congress, in accordance with other applicable law.

`(b) Rule of Construction- Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure…”

According to a Daily Kos piece,

““It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

Another article that I came across during my search mentions:

“The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already, and it was recently revealed by USA Today the DoD spent $202 million on information operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.”

[Makes ya wonder where the rest of the $350+ billion is spent “to sway public opinion.”]

Mediaite, Dan Abrams’ website, has an article about this as well, along with a related article which states:

“United States Central Command (Centcom) is working with a California-based company, called Ntrepid, to produce new software that would help military service people create fake online accounts (known as “sock puppets”) with the intent of spreading pro-America propaganda (or, alternately, quash anti-American sentiment) across various online comment threads, such those found on blogs or message boards. The military has said that the accounts won’t publish comments for American audiences (as that would be illegal) or even in English, but, rather, in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. The accounts would also steer clear of U.S.-based social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

[Oh, goody, they’re creating more sockpuppets and trolls?

It already bothers me that our country has been using propaganda overseas for, well, forever; it already bothers me that taxpayer money pays for such bullshit. But taxpayers having to pay to be lied to by our own military? I realize that this occurs already, with so many TV commercials encouraging young men and women to join the armed services, but this amendment appears to want to broaden those efforts to a scope closer to indoctrination than simple recruitment.

We were already lied to far too many times by the Bush administration in order to fulfill Dubya’s wet dream of invading Iraq. We already hear enough lies from politicians, corporations and other interest groups; whether through various news outlets, media commercial advertising, or opinionated pundits. It is hard enough now to sort through and fight all of the lies, both of commission and omission, that permeate our ‘news’ media. With so few real investigative journalists of integrity out there, how much of the truth will still be able to get through to citizens and voters?

This is our daily open thread — feel free to discuss this topic, or whatever’s on your mind!

Sunday Roast, December 4th: Spreading Ignorance Via Email

As I mentioned in my Thursday post, here is the second right-wing e-mail my friend sent me. As you can see, it’s short on facts and long on opinion, but this is what passes for an intellectual argument on the right.

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, “OK”, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan…All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will do better than anyone else…(substituting grades for dollars – something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little.

The second test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.

As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

To their great surprise, ALL FAILED, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed…Could not be any simpler than that.

Pass this on…remember there IS a test coming up…the 2012 Elections!

These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person received without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, this is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Can you think of a reason for not sharing this? Neither could I.

Actually, I could think of a few reasons for not sharing this. For starters, it never happened. It’s the kind of thing Jon Kyl would use to defend his position on the Senate floor, after which he would claim it was “Not intended to be a factual statement.” If a teacher ever tried to grade a class in this way, he or she would be fired.

Second, the right likes to call anything short of unregulated Capitalism “Socialism.” If they were paying attention, they would know that some of President Obama’s policies have contributed to the income disparity in this country.

Lastly, I really wish right-wingers would try to use common sense and fact-check these kinds of e-mails before sending them off to everyone they know.

So, what else can you find wrong with this e-mail? Or you can talk about anything else you want.

This is our open thread — Discuss!

The Watering Hole, Thursday, December 1st: A Picture Worth Nothing

I’ve never been terribly tolerant of people who refuse to use their brains, but these days what little tolerance I had is now being stretched to the breaking point.  At work, of course, most of us deal with teh stupid at some point or other throughout their day, and, since my job entails speaking with lots of different types of customers all over the country, encounters are inevitable.  And driving, even short trips, has its own special brand of stupid laying in wait to ambush and aggravate the unsuspecting commuter.

However, the latest assault of teh stupid that really started the anger ball rolling with me came via two conservative propaganda emails that a good friend sent to me and several other people.  Now, my friend is conservative and we both know enough not to discuss politics together for more than five minutes, so I was a bit blindsided by the two emails.

The first one, titled “A Picture Worth a Trillion Dollars“, had this photo, with a “letter” starting with “My Dear Friends:  This is what goes on in Washington DC all the time.  House Minority Leader pictured standing, far right, speaks while colleagues play solitaire as the House convened to vote on a new budget.

Alleged House Meeting

Alleged House Meeting

Now, my first thought was “I don’t recognize anyone in this picture, and if that’s House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi with the microphone, then I’m the Queen of the Faeries.”  The email continued,

The guy sitting in the row in front of these two….he’s on Facebook, and the guy behind Hennessy [emphasis is mine] is checking out the baseball scores.  These are the folks that couldn’t get the budget out by Oct. 1, and are about to control your health care, cap and trade, and the list goes on and on… Should we buy them larger screen computers – or – a ticket home, permanently?  This is one of their 3-DAY WORK WEEKS that we all pay for (salary is about $179,000 per year).”

It went on to list the salaries of the President, the “House/Senate members”, the Speaker of the House, and “Majority and Minority leaders”, adding after each that the salaries listed were “FOR LIFE!” It finished with “I think we found where the [budget] cuts should be made! If you agree… Pass it on!”

The first thing that I did was to take a stab at finding this “Hennessy” guy, so I plugged in “Representative Hennessy” into the Googles, and came up with this from the Hartford Courant, about the State of Connecticut State Representative Jack Hennessy. So just to start off, the photo had absolutely nothing to do with “…what goes on in Washington DC…” It took all of about 15 minutes to fact-check the rest of the purported ‘facts’, including comparing the Congressional work-week.of the 2011 session vs the 2009 Congress; the salaries mentioned (some were incorrect) and debunking the “FOR LIFE!” crap, particularly in the case of the President of the United States (the “Former Presidents Act” states that ‘each former president is paid a lifetime, taxable pension that is equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the head of an executive federal department – $199,700 in 2011.’)
On the other hand, it took me several days to decide whether or not I should send a response to the whole email group to whom my friend sent it, or just to my friend, or to not respond at all.  I finally decided to respond just to my friend, so I annotated her email to me and provided links and quotes.  Her response?

“Thanks for fact checking….I personally don’t believe that anyone is Washington DC is doing a good job for the hard working tax payers of the good old US of A and I do believe that our tax dollars are being wasted on the people who have been elected. I know you are a stickler for “accuracy” in whatever is sent by email but the jest [sic] of the email, in my humble opinion as slanted as it may be, was that the Senate, Congress, President, Legislators, etc, etc, are playing games with our welfare & our money. So, if some of the people are mislabled, well I’m sorry but one has to look at the state of our country and wonder “WHY” and also wonder “what are they doing for us & our well being”?”

AAARRGGHH!  While she’s right in some respects, the whole point of my response, that she dismissed in its entirety, was the thought with which I ended my email to her:  “I think that the 2012 elections are important enough that people ought to get real information about current events and politics, and most of the time that real information is not found in chain emails.”

The second conservative propaganda email deserves its own post, which will follow in a few days.

This is our open thread – have at it!

17 States Reported McCain Robocalls

I received mine the other day and was horrified when this message was left :  “Hello. I’m calling for John McCain and the RNC,” – “need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist, Bill Ayers, whose organization bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge’s home, and killed Americans.”  These propaganda tactics should not be allowed.  What this causes is a myth to be perpetuated and some people believe these lies to be true.  Which leads to what we see in the video below by The Young Turks.

The McCain-Palin Campaign and the Republican National Committee has launched a massive campaign on Thursday, more on this from Huffington Post.

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Will Bush Sign Bill That Prohibits Pentagon Propaganda?

In the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill, it included language in response to criticism about the promotion of propaganda that has been going on with the media military analysts, the Pentagon and the defense contractors – according to Media Matters. The bill has been sitting on President Bush’s desk since Monday, any word from the media on this important matter “crickets” or is the media saying move along – nothing to see here folks.

The Congressional Members responsible for the inclusion of this provision are Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND)-which was brought to the forefront by an article in The New York Times.

A subsequent analysis by Media Matters documented more than 4,500 appearances of military analysts in the media, many of whom worked for or had clients with companies that have an interest in obtaining Pentagon contracts.

The bill includes the following provisions:

1.) Prohibits taxpayer money from being used for “publicity or propaganda purposes” by the Department of Defense.

2.) Requires the Department of Defense Inspector General to investigate the media analysts program and report the findings back to Congress 90 days after the bill is enacted.

3.) Directs the Comptroller General of the GAO to issue a legal opinion to Congress on whether the media analysts program violated the law within 120 days of enactment.

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U.S. Spending $300M For Propaganda In Iraq

The DOD has decided to drop $300 million to produce news stories and public service advertisements in Iraq to support pro-America messages and themes. The pentagon has awarded three year deals to private U.S. contractors-last week to four companies- which means this could last long after our withdrawal from Iraq.

This will expand and consolidate what the U.S. military calls “information/psychological operations” in Iraq far into the future, even as violence appears to be abating and U.S. troops have begun drawing down.

The military’s role in the war of ideas has been fundamentally transformed in recent years, the result of both the Pentagon’s outsized resources and a counterinsurgency doctrine in which information control is considered key to success. Uniformed communications specialists and contractors are now an integral part of U.S. military operations from Eastern Europe to Afghanistan and beyond.

Iraq, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on such contracts, has been the proving ground for the transformation. “The tools they’re using, the means, the robustness of this activity has just skyrocketed since 2003. In the past, a lot of this stuff was just some guy’s dreams,” said a senior U.S. military official, one of several who discussed the sensitive defense program on the condition of anonymity.

See the Pentagon is trying to compete with the propaganda market dominated by al-Qaeda, as Secretary Gates puts it “We’re being out-communicated by a guy in a cave.” So basically, the government is admitting that anyone with a Web site is doing better than they are at spinning their doctrine. Psst..that might not be a good thing to tell the American people.

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McCain’s Propaganda Machine

John McCain has opted to enlist a group of foreign nationals to write positive letters to the editors to “get out a positive message” about John McCain and Sarah Palin. Phil Tuchman, a McCain campaign worker, tells his ghostwriting team that they can be whomever they choose to be when writing these letters. It matters not. Just write something positive about McCain and have several people send out similar letters to various editors around the country.

Salon reports this from one of those ghostwriters, Margriet Oostveen, who is Dutch.

“You can be whoever you want to be,” says an inviting Phil Tuchman. “You can be a beggar or a millionaire. A mom or a husband. Whatever. You decide!”

Today he is training six ghostwriters. What on earth is the appeal of McCain for the former Soviet bloc? Last time I was here, an exuberant Polish guy was phone banking next to me. Today, a Russian in yellow suspenders is shimmering at the same table, looking just like an actor who is famous in the Netherlands for star turns as a genius who suppresses his dark side with painstaking self-control.

The assignment is simple: We are going to write letters to the editor and we are allowed to make up whatever we want — as long as it adds to the campaign. After today we are supposed to use our free moments at home to create a flow of fictional fan mail for McCain. “Your letters,” says Phil Tuchman, “will be sent to our campaign offices in battle states. Ohio. Pennsylvania. Virginia. New Hampshire. There we’ll place them in local newspapers.”

Place them? I may be wrong, but I thought that in the USA only a newspaper’s editors decided that.

“We will show your letters to our supporters in those states,” explains Phil. “If they say: ‘Yeah, he/she is right!’ then we ask them to sign your letter. And then we send that letter to the local newspaper. That’s how we send dozens of letters at once.”

No newspaper can refuse a stream of articulate expressions of support, is the thought behind it. “This way, we will always get into some letters column.”

It is the day after Sarah Palin’s speech at the Republican convention. Today, she is our main subject. The others are already enthusiastically hammering their keyboards. I am struggling with a tiny writer’s block. “Dear Editor …”

(snip)

“That is why Senator John McCain could count on my vote from day one.”

“With Sarah Palin, I have even more reason to trust in victory. She represents my heart.”

“Sincerely …” I leave the dots for somebody else’s signature.

Phil bends over my computer screen and reads. This takes a while. I am expecting roars of laughter or to be kicked out. Then he says drily: “I like that. It appeals to the hearts of people. Can you write more letters?”

It worked when the Pentagon sent paid generals out en masse to the media to sell the war. It worked when Ronald Reagan enlisted a small group of people (three to be exact) to start a big-name organization (the George C. Marshall Institute) to counter all of the scientific complaints about his beloved Star Wars defense system…along with the other propaganda Reagan espoused. This is the basis for how Global Warming deniers operate today.

A small group of psudo-scientists get equal time against a mass of real scientists. Ironically, it was the Fairness Doctrine which allowed this to begin. The George C. Marshall Institute started with three members who were vocal, wrote letters to the editors en masse (just as McCain is doing) and threatened to sue, under the Fairness Doctrine, if their viewpoint was not heard. Then, one of these three “scientists” with an agenda, was given one-to-one airtime with a scientist who represented more than six thousand scientific voices (at that time, relating to Star Wars). We see the exact same thing playing out today in relation to Global Warming.

Since McCain has taken to lying about everything and anything, why not enlist a group of foreign nationals to a propaganda campaign of his very own.

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