John Stauber

Jamie Raskin boxes Republicans in before stomping the box

Guy Reschenthaler’s face looked beat up. I almost felt sorry for him. The Pennsylvania congressman was forced to explain Thursday what he and his conference were doing in the House after Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, in short order, tore three of them down.

By the time Raskin was finished with Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the carnage was so bad Reschenthaler demanded that Raskin’s word “be taken down.” That’s a House rule disciplining members who use “inappropriate words in debate.”

(In this case it was over passage of the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend Lease Act, a $33 billion aid package requested by the president to continue helping Ukraine fight and repel the invading Russian army.)

Raskin conceded that he used “unparliamentary language to make my point.” Though Raskin was scolded, it was Reschenthaler who looked warmed over. Before moving on, he explained that his conference wasn’t debating the substance of the bill. (It has majority support, he said.) His conference was merely debating the rule leading to passage.

OK then.

In truth, Elise Stefanik of New York, James Comer of Kentucky and Greene of Georgia were following a play devised by colleague Jim Jordan. The idea, according to a leaked memo, was making everything about immigration for the benefit of the viewers of rightwing media. So they were long on “open border policy” and the “invasion of the southern border” and short on anything having to do with Ukraine.

It was like Raskin saw that bullshit coming.

In what looked like a masterclass on defusing and dismantling rightwingers and their fascist rhetoric, Raskin 1) put the Republicans in a broad context with the highest of stakes, in this case Ukrainian democracy against Russian autocracy; and 2) found a Republican, in this case Marjorie Talyor Greene, who has said things you say only when your love of democracy is subordinate to your lust for power.

Raskin boxed them in.

Then he stomped the box.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of Raskin's response to statements made by Stafanik, Comer and Greene, in that order.

Responding to Elise Stefanik

I think that all of these efforts to distract us from the issue at hand are meant to cover up the very clear pro-Russian and pro-Putin faction at the heart of their side of the aisle.

Last month, the very distinguished gentlelady from Georgia went on a radio show called The Voice of Rural America. She followed Donald Trump’s sickening appeasement of Vladimir Putin and blamed Ukraine for the situation.

She said, “You see, Ukraine just kept poking the bear and poking the bear, which is Russia, and Russia invaded. There is no win for Ukraine here. Russia is successful in this invasion.

When members of Congress, who are cheerleaders for Vladimir Putin, and are voices have nothing but defeatism, fatalism and pessimism for democracy in Europe – so they try to distract us with a lot of phony rhetoric about other issues.

She also said, “NATO has been supplying the neo-Nazis in Ukraine with powerful weapons and extensive training on how to use them. What the hell is going on with these NATO Nazis?”

My friends, we got to decide which side we're on.

When Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt looked at what was happening in Europe during World War Two and they saw Nazis marching down the street, they did not see very fine people on both sides of the street.

They did not start cheerleading for Mussolini and Hitler and Franco.

Yet we have people here who speak on the side of Vladimir Putin and on the side of Russia. Let's pass this Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend Lease Act to show where America is.

We are not cheerleaders for Vladimir Putin.

We are not going to follow the Trump-Putin axis down the road towards autocracy and kleptocracy and sedition and insurrection and corruption and coups in the United States.

That's not where we're going.

This is the land of the free, the home of the brave.

We stand for democracy here.

Not Vladimir Putin.

Responding to James Comer

We're here to talk about aid to Ukraine, how to streamline and expedite aid to defend the people of Ukraine. And they will talk about anything but.

I was willing to believe the distinguished gentlelady from Georgia, and several other members, were isolated in their conference.

Now I'm starting to think maybe they're speaking for the whole conference.

I wonder if my good friend from Pennsylvania would explicitly repudiate some of these statements made by the gentlelady from Georgia.

Does the minority conference agree that NATO has been supplying “neo-Nazis in Ukraine” with powerful weapons?

Does the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania support or dissociate himself from the argument that the aid that we sent to Ukraine falls “into the hands of Nazis”? – a statement made by the gentlelady from Georgia echoing Putin’s filthy claim that his war on the sovereign democracy of Ukraine is in fact an attempt to de-Nazify the country.

We hear distinct echoes in everything that we get from the erudite gentlelady from Georgia.

Does the minority agree that Putin invaded because Ukraine repeatedly poked the bear?

I can't understand why they won't talk about defending Ukraine. That's what this legislation is about. That's what this rule is about.

They want to talk about anything other than that. We can debate all of those other important issues in other contexts at the right time. This is how the House of Representatives works.

But why are they covering up for the pro-Putin faction within their conference? I would like them to dissociate themselves from the people who were blaming Ukraine for Russia's bloody imperial invasion and war of human rights violations and atrocities against the people.

Responding to Marjorie Taylor Greene

Mr. Speaker, the United States of America just witnessed the most astonishing spectacle.

We are here to debate aid to the people of Ukraine defending themselves against a massive invasion by Vladimir Putin and his army.

Then, the minority puts up the distinguished gentlelady from Georgia who does not mention Ukraine once. She does not mention the thousands of Ukrainian civilians who’ve been slaughtered by Putin's army.

She does not mention more than 100 Ukrainian children who've been shot and killed by the [Russian] army.

Instead, she talks about a massive invasion at the border, a massive invasion which their own speakers have said today hundreds of thousands of people have been apprehended in.

That's very different from a military invasion.

The one in Ukraine, of course, the gentlelady is not going to talk about that.

She had a lot to say the other day when she heckled me continuously. When I came to the floor, it was like the Rocky Horror Picture Show in here with her chanting about the Russia hoax and Russia this and Russia that.

Now she has the opportunity to tell the world what her views about Russia are. I put them out there, exactly what she said.

She said that the aid that the taxpayers of America are sending to the people of Ukraine to defend themselves against Vladimir Putin and the Russian Army falls into the hands of Nazis.

I want to see her proof.

Where's her evidence?

She talks about NATO Nazis.

Does the minority believe our allies in NATO, who are trying to defend the people of Ukraine, are Nazis?

Has to come to this?

Gentlelady talks about a massive invasion – we had a massive invasion of our own chamber.

She continued to be a cheerleader for the insurrection.

The Mad Cow Cover-Up Begins to Unravel

The US government's elaborate cover-up of mad cow dangers in the United States has begun to unravel. Twenty-four hours after our successful protest with Organic Consumers Association of a US Department of Agriculture mad cow safety stunt in St. Paul, USDA Secretary Johanns was forced to admit that a cow tested last year and declared safe in fact DID have mad cow disease.

I've often charged that the USDA is hiding US cases of mad cow by using the wrong testing procedures and by failing to conduct food safety tests on millions of animals and this announcement proves it. USDA finally used the correct test -- the Western Blot test -- on this suspect animal and it has proven to be a case of mad cow disease.

We at the Center for Media and Democracy will continue to work hard on this issue until the US goes beyond lip-service and does what the EU countries and Japan have done: implement a science-based food-safety testing program that tests millions of cattle a year. And, the US must put in place a REAL "fire-wall feed ban" that would stop the current feeding of billions of pounds of blood, meat, bone meal, animal fat and poultry feces to cattle in the US. These on-going feed practices amplify and spread mad cow disease.

The US news media has mostly failed to expose mad cow risks in the US. Instead, as with so many other issues, the corporate media has become an echo chamber for industry and government, confusing the public into thinking that the correct steps have been taken. The June 12 New York Times contains two relevant articles that I'll use to make my point.

The New York Times article on mad cow disease refers (without mentioning names of us and other critics) to ongoing condemnation of US policies, something that Sheldon Rampton and I began in 1997 with our prescient book Mad Cow USA. Our book correctly predicted that mad cow disease would appear here because rather than take the steps necessary to stop it, government and industry were (and are) merely misleading the media and the public with spin and deception. The New York Times could and should run a front page expose' revealing the gross failures of US animal feeding and testing policies and the ongoing risks they pose to both the US food and blood supply. But instead this New York Times article makes it sound like the USDA is behaving responsibly rather than engaging in an ongoing cover-up.

The second New York Times article looks at lobbyist Rick Berman's PR front groups. Rick Berman fuels his pro-industry activism with millions of dollars from the food, booze and tobacco industries]. His major websites are Activist Cash and Consumer Freedom. The New York Times used our SourceWatch website to research Berman and cites our exclusive report on his funding sources.

Berman's front group has smeared and attacked us for years, as in this December 2003 news release: "Reckless activists including John Stauber are already using the USDA's mad-cow disease announcement as a hook to create panic over America's food supply. Minutes after USDA Secretary Ann Veneman's Tuesday news conference, Stauber declared on CNN: 'My presumption is that mad cow disease is spread throughout North America ... There are more cases. No doubt about it.' "

At least Berman quoted me correctly. Typically his information is riddled with factual errors and out-of-context quotes but this time he got it right.

Learning from the Winners

One of the biggest mistakes made by the Democratic Party during the recent election is that, once again, it "misunderestimated" George W. Bush.

Rather than focusing on the big picture – the growing power of the conservative movement in the United States – much of the liberal rhetoric during the campaign focused on Bush's incompetence, his character flaws and the failings of his administration. These themes found expression in books with titles such as "The Lies of George W. Bush," the "I Hate Bush Reader" and the "Bush Hater's Handbook." In "Fahrenheit: 9/11," Michael Moore dwelt on Bush's rich-kid background, his frequent vacations, his Saudi connections and the frozen, deer-in-the-headlights way he continued reading "My Pet Goat" to schoolchildren after he first heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center towers.

The implicit message was that Bush was a uniquely flawed individual and that literally "anybody but Bush" would be an improvement. The flaw in this argument is that it really isn't true. The problem with George W. Bush is that he isn't unique. He sits atop a political movement that has been building for 30 years. In 2002, the Republican Party won majority control of every branch of the federal government for the first time since 1932: both houses of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Presidency – not to mention most state legislatures and governor's offices. The 2004 elections didn't just give Bush four more years. It also consolidated Republican majorities in every other branch of government.

Our own contribution to the sea of election-year books was titled "Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America into a One Party State." Rather than Bush-bashing, we looked at how conservatives have succeeded in building a dominant political juggernaut. The reality, which progressives need to face if they wish to turn the tide, is that the right wing has simply done a better job than anyone else of organizing from the grassroots up. This isn't because their ideas are more popular or palatable – they aren't – but because the right has been serious and strategic in its commitment to winning and wielding power.

Republican successes have not come quickly or easily. For more than four decades, conservatives have worked to build a network of grassroots organizations and think tanks that formulate and promote their ideas. They are now enjoying the fruits of this long-term investment. Unhappy with what they regard as the "liberal bias" of the news media, they have attacked from both the outside and the inside, building their own, unabashedly conservative media such as Fox News and talk radio at the same time that they have systematically set about promoting the careers of conservatives within the mainstream media. They have built ideological alliances between industry, government and regulatory agencies. And although entertainers like Barbra Streisand or Martin Sheen may be more liberal than the leading figures in, say, the tobacco or construction industries, Republicans have been more effective than Democrats at capitalizing on the ways entertainment has transformed politics – last year's election of Arnold Schwarzenegger being a case in point.

Conservatives have also understood that politics involves more than dominating the news cycle or influencing public opinion, and they have not hesitated to use hardball tactics in pursuit of power. Blacks and other minorities consistently vote Democratics, so conservatives have developed techniques for suppressing voter turnout or have used old-fashioned gerrymandering to effectively marginalize minority votes.

What progressives are facing, in short, is a sophisticated, many-faceted strategy.

The good news for progressives during the 2004 election is that they showed more vigor than we have seen in a long time. During the Democratic primary, the Howard Dean campaign pioneered successful new methods of grassroots fundraising. Air America proved that liberal talk radio could compete with conservative talk radio, while the MoveOn.org Voter Education Fund and other 527 organizations showed that Democrats could use the internet successfully to raise funds, disseminate their message, and mobilize grassroots activism.

The outstanding question, however, is whether this flurry of election-year activism will translate into a longer-term commitment to building institutions and movements that can successfully challenge the right's dominance. Conservatives understand very well that elections are only one aspect of a successful organizing strategy. They are already hard at work planning campaigns for the 2006 elections and beyond. Before progressives can seriously hope to turn the tide, they will need to show similar foresight and discipline.

And what should that foresight be? Share your views with AlterNet.

Have Someone Else Say It

One of the differences between liberals and conservatives in the United States is that liberals tend to see politics as a debate over issues and policies, whereas conservatives view politics as "the continuation of war by other means." The recent attacks on John Kerry by the GOP-front "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" is a fine example of this philosophy in action.

There is an old saying that "all's fair in love and war," and this is certainly true of the communications strategies employed by propagandists engaged in war, whether it be actual battlefield combat or political warfare. Consider, for example, the leaflets that airplanes drop on enemy soldiers, telling them that they are fighting in a lost cause and will die unless they surrender. Maybe this is true, maybe not. From the point of the propagandist, the question of whether it is true doesn't really matter. The point is simply to influence the behavior of the enemy soldiers who read the leaflets.

Similarly, there is very little reason to believe that the Swift Boat veterans and their handlers seriously believe the charges that they have recently made against Kerry's conduct as a soldier in Vietnam. Swift Boater George Elliott, author of an affidavit publicly criticizing Kerry's conduct and the merits of his Silver Star, is the same man who, as Kerry's commander, recommended him for a Bronze Star in 1969 and wrote several evaluation reports that praised Kerry as "highly courageous in the face of enemy fire," someone whose "independent, decisive action" was "unsurpassed," and "the acknowledged leader in his peer group. His bearing and appearance are above reproach." Roy Hoffmann, another Swift Boater and harsh Kerry critic, also seems to have conveniently forgotten his praise back in 1969, when he wrote glowingly that Kerry had provided a "shining example of completely overwhelming the enemy."

The Swift Boaters' main grievance against Kerry has nothing to do with his actions in Vietnam, but rather with Kerry's public opposition to the war after he returned to the United States. But even in this regard, the Swift Boat Veterans are fighting a war against the truth, not for it. They resent Kerry for having testified before Congress about war crimes committed in Vietnam by U.S. soldiers, but the historical record is quite clear that war crimes were committed. (Kerry gave his testimony shortly after Lieutenant William Calley's court martial for the My Lai massacre.)

The point to all of these attacks is not, as the Swift Boat Veterans pretend, concern for "the truth." Rather, they are engaged in a propaganda campaign aimed at influencing the behavior of a "target population" – in this case, voters.

The Swift Boat attack on Kerry uses a classic propaganda tactic: have PR professionals organize and launch a well-funded smear attack, an ad hominem barrage against Kerry's integrity, and do it through a front group with enough separation from the Bush campaign to pretend independence. Then use the right-wing echo chamber to keep the issue alive and churning, spitting plenty of mud and confusion. It's a strategy that is virtually guaranteed to hurt Kerry in the polls.

What seems surprising is that the Kerry campaign was so unprepared for this attack, especially since this standard tactic has been used for decades by Bush's political mentor, Karl Rove. According to Dallas Morning News political writer Wayne Slater, "It's amazing how similar this type of attack is to the pattern of attacks I have seen over two decades – in some cases involving Bush's campaigns, in other cases they involved campaigns in which Karl Rove was a participant. In every case, the approach is the same: You have a surrogate group of allies, independent of the Bush campaign, raising questions not about the opponent's weakness but directly about the opponent's strength. In every case, it works."

One example of this strategy occurred in 1994, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas against Ann Richards. The Bush campaign benefited then from a seemingly "independent" whisper campaign criticizing her appointments of gays and lesbians to state positions, thus turning one of her greatest strengths – the inclusiveness of her administration – into a political liability.

During the Republican presidential primary in 2000, other "independent" Bush supporters ferociously attacked John McCain (another Vietnam veteran in the U.S. Senate), questioning McCain's commitment to veterans. Yet another front group, calling itself "Republicans for a Clean Environment," spent $2.5 million (covertly provided by Dallas billionaires Sam and Charles Wyly, investment bankers and friends of Bush) to run TV ads in California, Ohio and New York attacking McCain's environmental politicies. Bush distanced himself personally from the attacks on McCain while letting the "independents" do his dirty work for him – the same stance he has taken recently with respect to the Swift Boat attacks on Kerry.

The attack on Kerry is merely the latest incarnation of this standing Bush strategy. The Swift Boat Veterans even use some of the same personnel: people like Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communications, a public relations professional with deep Republican ties who served as the spokeswoman for "Republicans for a Clean Environment"; Benjamin Ginsberg, an attorney who represented the Bush campaign during the 2000 Florida recount debacle and was also counsel for the Bush 2004 re-election campaign; and Chris LaCivita of the DCI Group, a Republican lobbying firm with ties to Karl Rove.

The "third party technique" is a standard PR tactic, and is at the heart of the Bush campaign's successes. As one PR pro describes it, the technique is fairly simple: "Put your message in someone else's mouth" – the mouth of someone the public will believe, or at least who will be believed sufficiently to influence the opinions of your "target audience."

We examined the third party technique at length in our 2001 book, "Trust Us, We're Experts!" The technique offers several advantages for the propagandists out there:

Camouflage:

It helps hide the vested interest that lurks behind a message. If George W. Bush were to come out himself and attack Kerry's battle record in Vietnam, the message would be quickly dismissed, and in fact would backfire in light of Bush's inability to prove that he even showed up for National Guard duty back when Kerry was patrolling the Mekong Delta. By putting the attack in the mouths of Vietnam veterans, the Bush campaign has given its message a degree of credibility that it would not otherwise enjoy.

Emotions Over Facts:

It replaces factual discourse with emotion-laden symbolism. Sometimes the identity of the third-party messenger becomes more important than the content of the message itself. The Swift Boat Veterans are designed to symbolize "veterans versus Kerry," evoking associations and emotions that are difficult to address through logic or debate. For the Bush campaign, evoking these emotions provides a welcome distraction from rational discussions about policies on health, the environment, the economy or foreign policy.

None of these attacks would work, of course, if the news media did their job and provided careful fact-checking to help separate fact from fiction. Professional journalists are supposed to act as information filters as well as information providers, but their ability to do this has been undermined by the 24-hour news cycle and the orchestrated propaganda campaigns of the right-wing echo chamber – the combined voices of websites such as the Drudge Report, right-wing talk radio and Fox News – which work in concert to push Republican talking points into the mainstream media.

What's needed, therefore, is some new way of filtering the news by exposing the propagandists behind the scenes who manipulate the news. If traditional media aren't doing their job, perhaps the Internet can help the public do it ourselves.

A year ago we launched a new website to help track front groups. We call it the "Disinfopedia." Among other things, it is an experiment in citizen journalism, using web-based "wiki" technology that invites visitors to not just read the information they find there, but to also edit and add to it. Our online editor, Bob Burton, helps us root out vandal attacks and misinformation, as does a growing community of online journalists who use the Disinfopedia.

John Kerry was slow to respond to what he eventually branded a "front group" for Bush, but the Disinfopedia wasn't. By the time "Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth" started to make front-page headlines with their dishonest attacks on Kerry, Disinfopedia contributors had compiled an impressively detailed article about the group.

We like to think that the Disinfopedia is one reason why, unlike cable TV, the print reporting on this topic has been relatively good. Journalists who start with a Google search for "Swift Boat Veterans" will see the Disinfopedia link at the top and have the opportunity to avail themselves of the research on that page.

When the Swift Boat Veterans story exploded in August, we thought it was interesting to see how the right wing responded to the Disinfopedia. Since anyone can contribute, conservatives attempted to edit the article along with everyone else. Rather than fact-checking or adding new facts, however, most of their contributions consisted of trivial attempts at vandalism, such as deleting facts that they found embarrassing or even deleting the entire article and replacing it with profanity, insults or invitations to worship Jesus.

These vandalisms are easy to fix, since the Disinfopedia keeps a history of each editorial revision. What the experience demonstrated, though, is that when a forum like the Disinfopedia requires contributors to present evidence and logic in support of their political positions, right-wing attackers are left helpless. They have become very good at waging political war, but they've forgotten how to engage in civil discourse. There will always be propaganda and deception, but Disinfopedia is proving a powerful tool for getting to the truth.

The Wrong Crowd

Ralph Nader's run for the presidency of the United States has brought him some strange right-wing bedfellows, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, who hope his candidacy will lead to the election of George Bush by drawing votes from John Kerry. CSE has been working hard to place Nader on the presidential ballot in Oregon, and will do so too in Wisconsin and other states, according to press accounts describing them as a conservative anti-tax organization. Such a description is a little like saying Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are Christian ministers.

We reveal much more about Citizens for a Sound Economy in our new book Banana Republicans: How the Right is Turning America into a One-Party State.
To understand CSE, you have to know a little about their founding benefactors Charles G. and David H. Koch who each has a net worth of $4 billion apiece, earning them separate spots in the Forbes list of the 50 richest people in America. Like their father, Fred Koch, an oil-and-gas entrepreneur who was a founding member of the far-right John Birch Society in 1958, they have used their wealth in concert with a handful of other extraordinarily wealthy individuals to build a political machine that spreads their ideas about law, culture, politics, and economics throughout the political and media establishment. The Kochs are part of a network of conservative benefactors that support industry-friendly think tanks, experts, and subsidized media that repeat, embellish, and reinforce their core message that corporations are good while government regulations, labor unions, environmentalists, liberal Democrats, and anything else that might restrict corporate behavior are bad. They have lavished tens of millions of dollars on "free market" advocacy in and around Washington. According to their filings with the Internal Revenue Service, they gave away more than $9 million in 2001 alone, almost all of it to conservative groups such as the libertarian Cato Institute (which Charles co-founded in 1977), Citizens for a Sound Economy (which David helped launch in 1986), the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Reason Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Landmark Legal Foundation, and Young America's Foundation.
Citizens for a Sound Economy describes itself as an organization of "grassroots citizens dedicated to free markets and limited government," but according to internal documents leaked to the Washington Post in January 2000, the bulk of its revenues ($15.5 million in 1998) came not from its 250,000 members but from contributions of $250,000 and up from large corporations. CSE is co-chaired by former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey and C. Boyden Gray, a Washington attorney who served as counsel to former president George H.W. Bush. The Koch Family Foundations continue to provide some of CSE's funding, but the bulk of its income now comes from corporations including Allied Signal, Archer Daniels Midland, DaimlerChrysler, Emerson Electric Company, Enron, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Philip Morris, and U.S. West. Other funding comes from the same conservative foundations that finance other conservative think tanks: Castle Rock, Earhart, JM, Olin, Bradley, McKenna, and Scaife.
CSE's activities have ranged from a major press and public relations campaign to defeat the Clinton administration's 1993 proposal for an energy tax to filing "friend of the court" briefs in 1999 that sought to declare the Clean Air Act unconstitutional. It produces more than 100 policy papers each year, delivering them to every single congressional office, while also distributing its message via direct mail, advertising, placements of op-ed pieces and outreach to journalists that generates thousands of news articles in print, radio and television. CSE argues that "environmental conservation requires a commonsense approach that limits the scope of government," acid rain is a "so-called threat [that] is largely nonexistent," and global warming is "a verdict in search of evidence." CSE also engages in "grassroots" lobbying, sending out activists to collect signatures on petitions for its various causes.
Although tax-exempt nonprofit organizations are supposed to refrain from endorsing specific legislation or candidates, CSE has intervened in elections on occasion, as in 1999 when it worked during the primary election to defeat Joseph Negron, a Republican running for the Florida state assembly. CSE ran a series of television ads blasting Negron, funded by $460,000 from major corporate donors including rent-a-car companies and Associated Industries of Florida, which represents 10,000 Florida businesses and opposed Negron's position on tort reform. "Our political department orchestrated the whole thing," said Jon L. Shebel, the president of Associated Industries. "We called CSE and said here's the plan, can you do something? They did TV. We did radio, direct mail and all the analytical work."
On other occasions as well, CSE has acted as a conveyor belt for the views of its funders. In 1998, it launched a project to derail a multibillion-dollar plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore the Florida Everglades. In news releases and other publicity materials, CSE claimed that the project would cost every household in Florida $120 and cost the state nearly 3,000 jobs. Shortly after launching the project, CSE received $700,000 in contributions from Florida sugar companies, which stood to lose thousands of acres of land if the federal plan went into effect. As the Washington Post reported in January 2000, this was only one of several occasions on which CSE has taken money from specific corporate interests while lobbying on their behalf. It received more than $1 million from Philip Morris while opposing cigarette taxes, and another $1 million from the U.S. West phone company while it pushed a deregulation plan that would let U.S. West offer long-distance service. CSE president Paul Beckner dismissed warnings about global warming as "junk science," shortly before receiving $175,000 from ExxonMobil to fund its work on "global climate" issues. Another $380,000 came in from Microsoft while CSE was lobbying in Congress to limit the Justice Department's budget for antitrust enforcement against the software giant.

The Center for Media and Democracy investigates and follows the work of corporate front groups including CSE through our Disinfopedia website at www.disinfopedia.org. There you can find out the latest and help us report and keep tabs on CSE and other corporate fronts. You never know what they might be up to, even helping their sworn nemesis Ralph Nader.

March of the Banana Republicans

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from 'Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing Is Turning America into a One-Party State' (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin) by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.

bookIn a democracy, Alexander Hamilton believed: "The differences of opinion, and the jarrings of parties . . . often promote deliberation and circumspection; and serve to check the excesses of the majority." Although these jarrings and clashings sometimes seem messy, contentious and wasteful, in fact they are one of the great strengths of democracy in both peacetime and wartime.

If, however, a single viewpoint or party is able to drown out or suppress the views of others, a different dynamic sets in. One-party dominated states and hierarchical, command-driven social systems are notorious for their tendency to make disastrous decisions, in the areas of both domestic and foreign policy. China's cultural revolution and the Soviet Union's failed economic development plans are among the most extreme but not the only cases in point. In the field of foreign affairs, Napoleon and Hitler both disdained dissenting advice and found doom attacking Russia. Saddam Hussein met a similar fate when, after fighting a debilitating war with Iran, he invaded Kuwait and triggered the wrath of other nations. As we detailed in our previous book, Weapons of Mass Deception, the Bush administration seems to have made the same mistake when it believed its own propaganda promoting war with Iraq.

The U.S. military has a term for this type of information system: "incestuous amplification," which Jane's Defense Weekly defines as "a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation." Psychologists have a similar term: "group polarization," which describes the tendency for like-minded people, talking only with one another, to end up believing a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk.

The Republican Party's philosophy and political organizing strategies have been remarkably successful at helping the party achieve and consolidate power in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Simultaneously, however, they have created conditions that make incestuous amplification and group polarization more likely in disparate areas of America's political arena.

The Revolving Door

Shortly after President Bush took office, one of his most trusted campaign advisors, Ed Gillespie, took a brief break from heading up his own lobbying and PR firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates. Gillespie, whose clients have included Microsoft, Enron and Verizon, as well as the steel and logging industries, went to work for a few days as acting director of public affairs for the U.S. Commerce Department, where he assisted Secretary Donald Evans with the agency's reorganization under the newly elected Bush administration. Among his other activities, Gillespie arranged for the department to hire as its press secretary one of his own employees at Quinn Gillespie, Jim Dyke. Gillespie finished his work at the Commerce Department on February 15, 2001, and the following day he was back at work in his own office.

"Federal law requires departing government officials to wait one year to lobby agencies that employed them," observed Wall Street Journal reporter Jim VandeHei. "But that doesn't apply to Mr. Gillespie; his brief, 15-day tenure made him a temporary worker exempt from the cooling-off period. As a result, Mr. Gillespie is free to contact Mr. Evans on behalf of clients."

Gillespie was not alone. More than 150 Republican lobbyists worked on Bush's transition team. Diane Steed of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice, which was created by the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers of America to fight against higher fuel efficiency standards, advised the Department of Transportation. Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist for Indian gambling, advised the Interior Department.

Many of Bush's permanent employees have also come from an inner circle of party-affiliated industry lobbyists. For the number-three spot at the Department of Labor, for example, Bush tapped Eugene Scalia, the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a labor lawyer who has specialized in representing management in labor disputes related to worker safety, especially the dangers of repetitive-stress injuries.

With regard to environmental-policy jobs, virtually all of Bush's appointees have consisted of attorneys and lobbyists for the very industries they were appointed to oversee. Timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey became assistant secretary for agriculture with responsibility for national forests. Steven Griles, a leading lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries, became deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior. A lobbyist for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge went to work as the Interior's envoy to Alaska. At the U.S. Justice Department, Wyoming attorney Tom Sansonetti -- a Republican activist who has lobbied on behalf of coal-mining operations -- was appointed to head the enforcement of environmental and natural-resource laws.

The revolving door between private lobbyists and government officials existed, of course, long before George W. Bush became president -- but Bush has taken it to new levels. When Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, people who assisted with his presidential transition were barred from lobbying agencies they helped for six months. The Bush administration, by contrast, saw no problem with having someone like Gillespie work for the White House one day and literally go to work as a lobbyist on the following one. "Helping out this administration is good for the country," Gillespie told the Wall Street Journal. "Anything we can do to help President Bush initially or from here on out we are happy to do."

Send My Regards to K Street

Much of the real power and influence peddling in Washington, DC begins on K Street, a nondescript corridor of office buildings located a few blocks north of the White House. K Street is where the big lobbying firms and corporate trade associations have their headquarters. It is sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government. Many of the top K Street lobbyists are, in fact, former government officials -- senators, congressmen and their staffs that, after retiring from office (or after losing their last election) go to work as hired advocates for companies and industries. Their ability to influence government policy comes in part from the personal relationships they have with their former colleagues, and from the campaign contributions that corporations can channel to politicians who do their bidding. Lobbyists, as columnist Michael Kinsley has observed, are "a group of people who charge a lot of money to give disproportionate influence in our democracy to people with even more money."

Historically, however, the power of corporate lobbyists has been somewhat mitigated by the two-party system. Since the party in power could vary from one election to the next, K Street had to hire top names from both major parties as a way of ensuring access. Ideological differences between the parties therefore limited the ability of corporations to control the policy agenda. In addition to corporations, the Democratic Party needed to appeal to constituencies including the labor movement, minorities, environmentalists and other liberals who have historically turned out as voters and activists in support of the party's candidates.

As Nicholas Confessore observed in the July/August 2003 issue of the Washingtonian, the relationship between Democrats and lobbyists contained an "inherent tension": "For the most part, K Street groups supported Democrats because they had to and Republicans because they wanted to. The Democrats needed corporate money to stay competitive, but were limited by the pull of their liberal, labor-oriented base. Although the party became generally more pro-business during the 1980s, it had few natural constituencies on K Street." After Republicans achieved control over all sectors of the federal government in the early 21st century, however, corporate lobbyists were happy to jettison bipartisanship and throw their weight solidly behind the Republican machine, which targeted control of K Street by pressuring the major lobbying firms to hire only Republicans.

Party strategist Grover Norquist is one of the leading masterminds of this strategy. Working with Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, he launched the K Street Project in 1995 to compile a database of lobbyists. The database lists lobbyists' names, where they work, which party they belong to, where they have worked politically and how much money they have contributed to the candidates and causes of both parties. The purpose of the list is to decide who "deserves" access to the White House, Congress and federal agencies. Contributions to the wrong party can "buy you enemies," explained Congressman Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. According to Marshall Wittmann, a former Christian Coalition staffer who now works for Senator John McCain, the pressure on lobbyists has made Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay "the Dirty Harry of Capitol Hill, the bad cop. Every K Street lobbyist is shaking in their boots because K Street lives on access, and DeLay can shut off their oxygen."

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is another key player in the K Street Project. In the months following the 2000 elections that gave Republicans the White House, Santorum began convening a private meeting each Tuesday morning of Republican lobbyists, attended sometimes by representatives from the White House and other senators. Democrats and journalists were not invited.

"The chief purpose of these gatherings is to discuss jobs -- specifically, the top one or two positions at the biggest and most important industry trade associations and corporate offices," Confessore reported. "Every week, the lobbyists present pass around a list of the jobs available and discuss whom to support. Santorum's responsibility is to make sure each one is filled by a loyal Republican -- a senator's chief of staff, for instance, or a top White House aide, or another lobbyist whose reliability has been demonstrated. After Santorum settles on a candidate, the lobbyists present make sure it is known whom the Republican leadership favors."

Republican dominance on K Street has further enhanced the party's fundraising advantage over Democrats. "An analysis of political donations by industry groups shows that over the past decade, 19 major sectors have shifted from a roughly 50-50 split between the two main parties -- or in some cases, a slightly pro-Democratic tilt -- to a solid alignment with the Republican Party, which now enjoys advantages exceeding 5 to 1 in some of these sectors," the Washington Post reported in November 2002.

Key industries that have shifted Republican include accounting, aerospace, alcoholic beverages, commercial banking, defense, health care and pharmaceuticals. "Just like the Democrats get a 90-10 split from the trial lawyers and labor, we will have 90-10 in the staffing on K Street and 90-10 business giving," Grover Norquist gloated in November 2002. But trial lawyers and labor give only a fraction of the amount that corporations donate to election campaigns. In 2002, contributions from businesses accounted for 73 percent of all election giving, compared to only 7 percent for labor. (Most of the remainder came from "ideological" or "other" donors, such as environmental groups, the National Rifle Association, clergy or nonprofit organizations.)

In place of the "inherent tension" that existed between Democratic politicians and K Street lobbyists, their ideological closeness with Republicans has made the party and its corporate supporters virtually indistinguishable. "Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, and others have set up a K Street patronage operation that effectively obliterates the distinction between conservatives and corporatists," conservative columnist David Brooks observed in June 2002. "And remember, when they brag about the growing merger between conservatives and the business community, they are talking about something akin to a merger between Sam's Video Shack and Blockbuster. The culture of the corporate community is bound to dominate the culture of conservatism, not the other way around."

Another indicator of the growing closeness of the corporate-conservative relationship is that corporations and their trade lobbies have gone beyond merely trying to influence politicians in Washington and have become propaganda machines that work to sell the Bush administration's policies to the general public.

"Beginning in the 1990s, Washington's corporate offices and trade associations began to resemble miniature campaign committees, replete with pollsters and message consultants," Confessore writes. "To supplement PAC [Political Action Committee] giving, which is limited by federal election laws, corporations vastly increased their advocacy budgets, with trade organizations spending millions of dollars in soft money on issue ad campaigns in congressional districts. And thanks to the growing number of associations whose executives are beholden to DeLay or Santorum, these campaigns are increasingly put in the service of GOP candidates and causes."

During the Iraq war, for example, radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications had its stations sponsor pro-war rallies nationwide and even banned the Dixie Chicks from their playlist after one band member criticized Bush. Companies such as General Motors, Verizon and Morgan Stanley have lobbied their stockholders and customers to promote Bush administration tax cuts, and the pharmaceutical industry both helped write and promote Bush's Medicare plan.

Double Standard

While Bill Clinton occupied the White House, the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity stirred a major public scandal when it obtained a list of White House guests and found that Democratic Party donors and fundraisers, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, were among the guests who spent nights at the historic Lincoln bedroom. The CPI's 1996 report, titled "Fat Cat Hotel," sparked a Republican-led Senate investigation and became the topic of thousands of news reports and critical editorials, with headlines such as "Clinton's Cash Hunt," "Lincoln Bedroom Becomes Another Soiled Symbol," "Dozing for Dollars," and "Anatomy of a Scandal."

By contrast, there was almost no reporting -- let alone outrage or Senate investigation -- when the CPI reported, seven months after Bush took office, that the "fat cat hotel" was "still open for business." According to a list released by the White House, many of the new administration's guests had been major political donors, including at least six "Bush Pioneers" -- people who raised more than $100,000 for his presidential campaign. In a Republican-dominated political climate, no one raised an eyebrow about this sort of thing, because the investigating body -- the U.S. Senate -- was controlled by the same political party that ran the hotel.

Haley Barbour, who was elected governor of Mississippi in 2003, exemplifies the synergistic relationship between lobbying and fundraising. Barbour is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and also owns his own lobby shop, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which represents 50 major clients, including representatives of the tobacco, automobile, pharmaceutical, health care and transportation industries. Shortly after Bush took office, the company was named by Fortune magazine as the number one lobbying firm in Washington. It is also all male and all Republican. "Even receptionists and secretaries have to be Republican to be hired," noted the New York Times in a July 2001 profile.

Barbour is also the man in charge of raising money for Republican Senate campaigns. For some of them, including Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, he has raised millions of dollars, much of it coming in the form of large contributions from Barbour's own clients. Not surprisingly, money translates into influence. According to Charles Lewis, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, Barbour gave his corporate clients "a pipeline into Republican members of the Senate," and Barbour himself pretty much agrees. "People in the Senate have already made up their mind about me," he says. "I can't improve on my standing with these guys. I've worked closely with them over the years. They've been nice to me, and doors open to me, and they are willing to listen to my opinion on issues that they are dealing with on behalf of my clients. If you called anyone in town, they would tell you I cannot improve my standing with these senators."

Barbour's company is also closely tied to another firm, New Bridge Strategies, which was set up in June 2003 to help companies get the sweetest contracts for rebuilding Iraq. The president of New Bridge is Joe Allbaugh, a longtime close advisor of President Bush and a member of the so-called "iron triangle" of advisors -- himself, Karen Hughes and Karl Rove -- who have formed Bush's inner circle since he first ran for governor in 1994. The other top officers at New Bridge Strategies are Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith -- Barbour's partners at Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, where Allbaugh's wife Diane also happens to work as an attorney. You might think these guys waste a lot of time shuttling back and forth between their jobs at BG&R and their jobs at New Bridge. Fortunately, that's not much of a problem, because they all share office space on the same floor of the same building, a couple of blocks from the White House.

And Barbour isn't the only well-connected Republican with one foot in government and the other in the Iraq contracting business. Douglas Feith is the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense and one of the most influential advocates within the Bush administration for war with Iraq. Feith is currently in charge of reconstruction at the Pentagon, while his former law partner, Marc Zell, is "assisting regional construction and logistics firms to collaborate with contractors from the United States and other coalition countries" through their former law firm -- previously called Feith & Zell, now rechristened Zell, Goldberg & Co.

With this kind of Republican clout, it isn't terribly surprising that the actual contracts for rebuilding Iraq have also gone to companies that give big donations to the Republicans. Weeks before the first bombs dropped in Iraq, the Bush administration began its plans for rebuilding the country. The plans were developed in secret, according to ABC News, with only a handful of companies allowed to bid on contracts for the reconstruction of Iraqi schools, airports, roads, bridges, hospitals and power plants. The companies allowed to bid were all generous political donors, mostly to Republicans: Bechtel, Fluor, Parsons, the Washington Group and Halliburton -- Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm.

In October 2003, the Center for Public Integrity tallied the contracts that had been awarded by then to projects in Iraq and found that the recipient companies "donated more money to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush -- a little over $500,000 -- than to any other politician over the last dozen years." The biggest winner by far was KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. KBR got $2.3 billion in Iraq contracts, followed by Bechtel ($1 billion) and International American Products ($527 million).

The pattern is this: Companies like Halliburton give money to support Republican politicians, who in turn use their clout to ensure that the companies get fat contracts, who in turn give a portion of their profits to keep Republicans in power. Around and around the circle goes, and everybody gets a piece -- except, of course, for the rest of the American people, who pay the bill for all this fun with their tax dollars and the mounting federal deficit.

The danger in all of these interlocking relationships is that it breeds the "incestuous amplification" of one-sided thinking, leading to serious errors of judgment by policymakers. This helps explain how the Bush administration managed to convince itself that Iraq truly did possess awesome weapons of mass destruction, that it was closely tied to Al Qaeda, and that the people of Iraq would greet a U.S. invasion of their country as liberation.

Much of the administration's intelligence information about Iraq actually came from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an organization created and funded by the U.S. government at the behest of the first Bush administration for the purpose of creating conditions for Saddam Hussein's overthrow. Not surprisingly, the information from the INC and its head, Ahmed Chalabi, tended to reinforce the already-existing assumptions of policymakers in the second Bush administration, even when that information contradicted other reports coming from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The INC's "intelligence isn't reliable at all," said Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior CIA official and counterterrorism expert. "Much of it is propaganda. Much of it is telling the Defense Department what they want to hear. And much of it is used to support Chalabi's own presidential ambitions. They make no distinction between intelligence and propaganda, using alleged informants and defectors who say what Chalabi wants them to say, [creating] cooked information that goes right into presidential and vice-presidential speeches."

John Stauber is the founder and director of the Center for Media & Democracy. He and Sheldon Rampton write and edit the quarterly 'PR Watch: Public Interest Reporting on the PR/Public Affairs Industry.

Taking Responsibility

"I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course. Absolutely," declared President Bush during his most recent news conference. And yet weeks of debate and discussion went into parsing a mere sixteen words from Bush's State of the Union speech in which he falsely claimed to have knowledge that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Niger.

Rather than taking responsibility for his words, Bush and his advisors did everything to avoid taking responsibility. They first attempted to justify the inclusion of the Niger claim, which they knew was dubious, by attributing it to Tony Blair's government. CIA director George Tenet stepped forward to accept the blame for Bush's words and was rewarded by Bush declaring his confidence in Tenet.

The purpose behind this game of musical chairs, of course, is to muddy the waters so that no one has to take responsibility for the president's false remarks. Harry Truman had a plaque on his desk that read, "The buck stops here." If Bush had a plaque on his desk, it would say, "The buck stops with Blair, or Tenet, or Condoleeza Rice -- but I forgive them all." In addition to treating responsibility for the president's words like a hot potato, his public relations advisors have tried to pretend that expecting him to tell the truth about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction is petty quibbling over details. The subtle spin behind all this talk about a mere 16 words was the insinuation that everyone is making a mountain out of a molehill. Why make such a big deal, they implied, over a single sentence in which the president may have misspoken.

The reality is that the Bush administration's phony claims about Iraq go well beyond those mere 16 words in the State of the Union address. With respect to weapons of mass destruction alone, those falsehoods included the following:

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The Fog of War Talk

Editor's Note: This is an edited excerpt from the newly released book "Weapons of Mass Deception: the Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq", by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.

wmd"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible," George Orwell wrote in 1946. "Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

Orwell was a shrewd observer of the relationship between politics and language. He did not actually invent the term "doublespeak," but he popularized the concept, which is an amalgam of two terms that he coined in "1984," his greatest novel. Orwell used the term "doublethink" to describe a contradictory way of thinking that lets people say things that mean the opposite of what they actually think. He used the term "newspeak" to describe words "deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which not only had in every case a political implication, but were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them."

Hail the Noble Warriors

Doublespeak has accompanied war for thousands of years. English professor William Lutz has found examples as early as Julius Caesar, who described his brutal and bloody conquest of Gaul as "pacification." "The military is acutely aware that the reason for its existence is to wage war, and war means killing people and the deaths of American soldiers as well," he states. "Because the reality of war and its consequences are so harsh, the military almost instinctively turns to doublespeak when discussing war."

Doublespeak often suggests a noble cause to justify the death and destruction. Practically speaking, a democratic country cannot wage war without the popular support of its citizens. A well-constructed myth, broadcast through mass media, can deliver that support even when the noble cause itself seems dubious to the rest of the world.

Consider the now-famous phrase, "axis of evil," which was first used by President Bush in his Jan. 29, 2002 State of the Union address. The concept of an "axis," of course, evokes memories of the "Axis powers" of World War II and suggests an alliance or confederation of states that pose a significant danger precisely because of their common alignment – a menace greater than the sum of the parts. But, in fact, Iran and Iraq have been bitter adversaries for decades, and there is no pattern of collaboration between North Korea and the other two states. As for being "evil," while all three nations have been involved in horrible violations of human rights, so have many U.S.-supported nations, such as Colombia or Saudi Arabia. In reality, "axis of evil" is a term chosen to selectively stigmatize countries for the purpose of justifying military actions against them.

If the bad guys have an "axis," the good guys have a "coalition of the willing," to use the term preferred by Colin Powell and other U.S. officials and often repeated uncritically by major television news outlets. The word "coalition" attempted to evoke the feeling of international unity that existed in during the first Gulf War, when the first Bush administration persuaded the United Nations to endorse a broad international coalition of nations who came together to drive Iraq from Kuwait. At a press briefing on Mar. 20, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "This is not a unilateral action, as is being characterized in the media. Indeed, the coalition in this activity is larger than the coalition that existed during the Gulf War in 1991."

In truth, the so-called "coalition of the willing" was almost entirely a U.S.-British campaign, with virtually no military contribution from other countries except Australia.

The code names used to designate wars have also become part of the branding process through which war is made to seem noble. Rather than referring to the invasion of Panama as simply a war or invasion, it became Operation Just Cause. (Note also the way that the innocuous word "operation" becomes part of the substitute terminology for war.) The war in Afghanistan was originally named Operation Infinite Justice, a phrase that offended Muslims, who pointed out that only God can dispense infinite justice, so the military planners backed down a bit and called it Operation Enduring Freedom instead. For the invasion of Iraq, they chose Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In PR Week, columnist Paul Holmes examined the significance of the term. "It's possible, I suppose, that Iraqi freedom might be a by-product of this campaign," he wrote, "but to pretend that it's what the exercise is all about is intellectual dishonesty at its most perverse."

However, the phrase served as a powerful framing device. Television networks including Fox and MSNBC used Operation Iraqi Freedom as their tagline for the war, with the phrase appearing in swooshing, 3-D logos accompanied by imagery of flags and other symbols of patriotism. Other phrases favored by the Bush administration – "the disarmament of Iraq," "coalition forces," the "war on terror," "America strikes back" – appeared frequently in visual banners, graphics, and bottom-of-the-screen crawls, repeating and reinforcing the government's key talking points in support of war.

Neocon Doublespeak

Sometimes language is chosen for its ability to avoid the plain meaning of what its writers are talking about. Numerous examples of this can be found in "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century," a report published in 2000 by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose members constitute much of the brain trust for the Bush administration's foreign policy. Criticized overseas as a blueprint for U.S. global domination, the report began by stating that the United States at present is a lone superpower that "faces no global rival. America's grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible." To achieve this goal, it recommended establishing permanent U.S. military bases in the Middle East and in regions of the world where they do not currently exist, including Southeast Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Of course, these ideas sound a bit radical if stated too clearly, so PNAC needed to find language that would soften their meaning. The PNAC report, hence, states that the United States needs to "perform the 'constabulary' duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions." The phrase "constabulary duties" is a vague way of transforming U.S. soldiers occupying foreign countries into friendly neighborhood cops. "Shaping the security environment" is polite language for controlling other people at gunpoint, and "critical regions" is a nice way of saying, "countries we want to control."

Similarly, U.S. nuclear weapons – which would be called "weapons of mass destruction" if someone else owned them – are described as "the U.S. nuclear deterrent," while missiles with global reach are "defenses to defend the American homeland." How do they "defend" us? They "provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world."

Doublespeak enables PNAC to be simultaneously candid and ambiguous as it speaks of establishing "an American peace" that "must have a secure foundation on unquestioned U.S. military preeminence," in which U.S. troops are stationed throughout the world as the "first line of defense" of an "American security perimeter."

Shocking and Awful War

Sometimes doublespeak can seem very vivid and candid while nevertheless obscuring the real meaning of what is being discussed. For example, "shock and awe" was the term the Bush administration used to announce its strategy of massive, high-tech air strikes on Baghdad. As doctrine of warfare, this term was introduced in a 1996 book by military strategists Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade and published by the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense of the United States. Titled "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance," the book describes shock and awe as a strategy "aimed at influencing the will, perception, and understanding of an adversary rather than simply destroying military capability." It points to several examples in which this strategy has been successful in the past, including the dropping of atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Nazi blitzkrieg strategy of World War II.

In January 2003, as the Bush administration moved toward war with Iraq, "Shock and Awe" author Harlan K. Ullman again invoked the example of Hiroshima as he explained the concept to CBS News. "You have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes," he said. "You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out. You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In two, three, four, five days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted."

Upon the onset of actual war, however, military and media pundits depicted "shock and awe" in sanitary terms, claiming that the high accuracy of laser-guided "smart bombs" would make it possible to decapitate the Iraqi military while leaving the country's infrastructure intact and limiting civilian casualties. Similar claims were made during the first war in the Persian Gulf and were later found to be exaggerated. Like other examples of doublespeak, the concept of "shock and awe" enables its users to symbolically reconcile two contradictory ideas. On the one hand, its theorists use the term to plan massive uses of deadly force. On the other hand, its focus on the psychological effect of that force makes it possible to use the term while distancing audiences from direct contemplation of the human suffering that force creates.

The Language of Imperialism

Sometimes doublespeak completely reverses the meaning of words. Paul Holmes observed that "the most Orwellian usage of all has been the recent application of the word 'relevance,' as in 'the United Nations faced a test of its relevance, and failed.' Relevance, in this context, means willingness to rubberstamp whatever demands the U.S. makes. If that sounds very much like irrelevance to you, perhaps you don't understand the might-makes-right world in which we are living."

In normal times, "diplomacy" refers to the process by which nations seek to resolve their differences peacefully, through negotiations and compromise. During the buildup to war, however, "diplomacy" became the process through which the United States attempted to pressure other nations into supporting the war. When they refused, this became the "failure of diplomacy."

Similarly, the Bush administration used the phrase "pre-emptive defense" to describe its decision to attack first, without an overt act of Iraqi provocation – a phrase that could be used to justify attacking anyone we want on the grounds that they might attack us one day. Note also the substitution of the word "defense" for "war" – a perennial use of doublespeak that dates back in the United States to 1947, when the Department of War was renamed the "Department of Defense."

Sometimes language merely fogs up the meaning of things. "Regime change," another phrase credited to the Project for the New American Century, sanitizes the imperial project of overthrowing a foreign government through a military invasion. It makes the process seem tidy, efficient, and rational. The phrase makes it possible to talk about invading Iraq without even thinking about the human consequences: assassination, occupation, or the deaths of thousands of innocents.

And indeed there was no debate in the United States about these realities prior to the war. No questions were raised in the administration or Congress about whether the social cost actually justified the military action. Of course, raising such questions does not necessarily mean you must oppose military action. It is possible to raise these issues and to still argue that the benefits of invading Iraq and overthrowing its government outweigh the costs. In the United States, however, the Bush administration never attempted to make such an argument. Instead, it used language to sidestep addressing the harms caused by war.

The Chicago Tribune's Bob Kemper reported that federal civilian employees and military personnel were told by the White House to refer to the invasion of Iraq as a "war of liberation." Iraqi paramilitary forces were to be called "death squads."

The War to Never End Wars

The idea of a "war on terrorism" is itself a form of doublespeak. It reflects a now-pervasive habit of using war as a metaphor for all sorts of things that are not really wars at all. "Do you ever notice in this country that when we have a problem with something, we always have to declare war on it?," the comedian George Carlin once quipped. "The War on Illiteracy, the War on AIDS, the War on Homelessness, the War on Drugs... We don't actually do anything about it, but we've declared war on it."

At the very beginning of the "war on terrorism," a reporter asked Donald Rumsfeld, "Sir, what constitutes a victory in this new environment? I mean, Cap Weinberger in 1987 laid down some pretty clear rules for engaging U.S. forces. One was, clear goals that are militarily achievable, that you can explain that there's an endgame. What's some of your early thinking here in terms of what constitutes victory?"

"That's a good question, as to what constitutes victory," Rumsfeld replied. "Now, what is victory? I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter that's going to be over in a month or a year or even five years. It is something that we need to do so that we can continue to live in a world with powerful weapons and with people who are willing to use those powerful weapons. And we can do that as a country. And that would be a victory, in my view."

Rumsfeld is a clever man, and figuring out the meaning behind his words requires careful reading. At first glance, you might be tempted to think that he was saying the United States would win a victory by maintaining its own possession of "powerful weapons." Actually, though, he was admitting that even as a superpower, the United States will not be able to stop the rest of the world from obtaining powerful weapons with which to "impose damage on us."

If terrorism itself cannot be ended, Rumsfeld was saying, we therefore need to change the way we think about the problem, so that we know better than to expect an "endgame" to the war on terror. His definition of victory, in short, becomes "persuading the American people" that real victory will never happen, and that the war itself may continue indefinitely.

President Bush explained the concept more succinctly in April 2003, after visiting wounded soldiers from the war in Iraq. "I reminded them and their families," he said, "that the war in Iraq is really about peace."

Now that's doublespeak.

John Stauber, executive editor of PR Watch, and Sheldon Rampton editor of PR Watch, have co-authored three previous books: "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry," "Mad Cow U.S.A.: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?" and "Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future."
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