Morning Report 2/7/05
Empty Propaganda

Spreading virtual democracy in Iraq and at home

Mime troops: Iraqi civil defense trainees (above) demonstrate "interval patrol training" at Camp Claiborne in Mosul on January 27, 2004, while U.S. pasha Jerry Bremer (below, wearing the civvies and a stunned expression on his face) watches. (DOD photos)

A dozen cops were blown up today near a hospital in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the BBC reports, and 13 more people were reported killed in the bombing of a police station northeast of Baghdad, as U.S.-style democracy continued to spread over Iraq.

We continue to pay the price for dismantling the Iraqi army back in 2003 and failing to train cops. Now the new State Department, under Bush factotum Condoleezza Rice, is covering up that debacle. Luckily, the U.S. propaganda budget is soaring.

Until just a few weeks ago, the U.S. government's Iraq Weekly Status Reports (issued by the Defense Department until late last year and now by State) listed a detailed breakdown of the number of "security forces" needed, being trained, already trained, on duty, and so on. Just before the Iraq election, that breakdown disappeared from the weekly reports, replaced by totals.

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Despite that coverup, the figures are stunning.

The report for last June 15, around the time when we "handed over" sovereignty to the Allawi puppet regime, listed a detailed breakdown of Iraqi security forces. The number of Iraqi police "on duty" was 88,998. The number "required" was 89,369. The vast majority were untrained.

Move forward six months, and the detailed breakdown no longer exists. There are just two categories: "trained/on hand" and "required." The numbers are ridiculous. The December 22 report says 135,000 police are "required" but that 51,712 are "trained/on hand." How many of those were actually trained? You can't tell from this coverup.

The grand totals for all Iraqi security forces are listed as 272,689 required and 118,009 on hand. The only unit even close to meeting its "required" target is the Bureau of Dignitary Protection, with 500 required and 484 trained/on hand.

Move forward a month and a half, and the report is even more obtuse. There's only one category in the February 2 report: "trained & equipped." The number of police? A rousing 57,290. And there's an asterisk: "Unauthorized absences personnel are included in these numbers." As I noted on December 3, the situation is right out of Monty Python—except for the death and grief, of course.

So we have 32,000 fewer Iraqi cops on duty than we had last June, and that doesn't even count the number of Iraqi cops who have gone AWOL. And to make up for that blunder, we're sacrificing American kids to clamp down on the country?

That kind of numbers-juggling in the State Department reports doesn't really cost anything. You just tell your flunkies what not to include. But real propaganda costs real money. On the home front, the Bush regime is carrying out a less violent, but more deadly, assault, and mounting a propaganda campaign to justify that unwarranted invasion will cost some money. George W. Bush's new budget, to be released in the next 24 hours, calls for massive cuts in social programs. And then there's the attack on Social Security.

Aside from the $7 billion a month we're spending on Iraq, the Bush regime is paying for more and more propaganda. It's going to cost increasing amounts of money to make people swallow the fact that our troops will be in Iraq for a long time. And the Bush regime is going to have to pay a lot of money to promote its radical agenda on the home front, as well. That spending is happening as we speak.

A report by Henry Waxman's House Committee on Government Reform minority crew says federal public relations spending has doubled. The Bush regime spent a record $88 million on government-funded public relations contracts in 2004; that's a 128 percent increase since 2000.

And that's not really the whole story, of course. Waxman and other Democrats have called on Bush to "release all contracts for secret publicity campaigns to promote administration policies."

Good luck with that. The Ministry of Truth will outspend the Democrats, for sure. But Waxman's report at least does a good job of rounding up some of the more egregious and recent episodes of secret propaganda campaigns, noting:

    For over 50 years, annual federal appropriations laws have prohibited the expenditure of appropriated funds on "publicity and propaganda," unless authorized by Congress. This longstanding prohibition has been interpreted by the Government Accountability Office to prohibit covert propaganda that does not identify the government as the source, information intended for "self-aggrandizement" or "puffery," and materials that serve a solely partisan purpose.

    The prohibition reflects the principle that the federal government should not use its vast resources to influence public opinion on political and policy issues.

    In two recent incidents, the Government Accountability Office has found that federal agencies violated the prohibition on publicity and propaganda by hiring a public relations firm to produce "covert propaganda." In May 2004, GAO found that video news releases distributed to television stations for the Department of Health and Human Services constituted illegal covert propaganda because they did not reveal the source of the information. These releases featured paid contractors posing as reporters who spoke in positive terms about the newly enacted changes to Medicare. In January 2005, in a separate investigation, GAO made a similar finding regarding fabricated video news releases produced by a contractor and distributed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Waxman's report cites a USA Today story that "revealed another example of covert propaganda":

    The Department of Education hired a public relations agency, Ketchum Incorporated, to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. As part of this contract, Ketchum entered into a subcontract to pay Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his radio and television appearances. The contract with Mr. Williams specifically provided that Mr. Williams would "regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts." Neither Mr. Williams nor the Department of Education disclosed these payments.

And the report also noted another example:

    A recent investigation by the Washington Post found that syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, who frequently wrote on the President's $300 million initiative encouraging marriage, had received a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services. The contract called on Ms. Gallagher to draft an article for Department officials and draft brochures for the Department promoting the marriage initiative. Neither Ms. Gallagher nor the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed these payments.

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