NDN Blog

Conservatives, military in open rebellion over "stay the course"

We begin this final weekend with two new, remarkable stories that show what is at stake in Tuesday's elections.  A new Vanity Fair piece has two of the War's neocon architects opening up on Bush and the "failure" in Iraq; and on Monday, four leading military newspapers will publish a joint editorial calling for Rumsfeld to step down. 

Driving this unexpected criticism is the growing sense of how out of control and dangerous Iraq has become for our security interests.  As the now famous NIE from earlier this year reported Iraq is now fueling the spread of global jihadism, not containing it, meaning, to paraphrase Bush, our time in Iraq is making it more likely we will be fighting them here than over there. 

The "blowback" now inevitable from Iraq is why the historical analogy America needs to be focusing on is not Vietnam, but the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.  In that lost war the global Soviet brand was significantly damaged, a new generation of jihadists including Bin Laden where born, and the Soviet pull out left behind a nation that became the global breeding ground for jihadism which is still a virulent force in the world today. 

My own sense is that the charade of the Saddam verdict tomorrow will only help to reinforce what a farce our occupation of Iraq has become, and why so many seem in open rebellion against the majority party these days.  What is the positive spin from the Saddam verdict? That we got him again, and we were right to go into Iraq? We all know the guy was a bad guy, and essentially he had been tried and convicted in our minds along time ago.  But that is not the issue now, and trumpeting his demise again will only reinforce how little we have to show for the money, the lives, the time and prestige we've lost in our time in Iraq.

More evidence of the decline of live, broadcast TV

The Times has an important story today detailing the extraordinary impact DVRs are having on television:

..."Only 52.7 percent of DVR users who watched prime-time shows on CBS tuned in during the live broadcast in the last week of September. An additional 19.4 percent of viewers watched their recorded CBS shows later that day; about 8 percent one day later; 7 percent 2 days later; nearly 4.7 percent tuned in after 3 days; the rest watched even later.

Until yesterday Nielsen planned to release commercial ratings for DVR viewers based on three lengths of time: viewers who watched the original broadcast; viewers who watch either the original broadcast or who watch it later the same day; and those who watched it within a week.

TV networks would like all viewers who watch the program within one week to be counted, but ad agencies say many of their commercials are time-sensitive because they feature sales or events planned within a few days..."

The implications for all this for politics are very significant.  By 2008 DVR penetration in the US is expected to be a third of all television households, which may translate into as many as half of all voters.  We've already seen an extraordinary migration in recent years from broadcast to cable, as only about 45% of anyone watching TV at a given time today are watching the traditional over the air live broadcast television networks.  With this trend continuing, and DVR penetration at least doubling in the next 24 months, it is reasonable to assume that only a third of all TV viewers by 2008 will be watching live, over the air broadcast networks at any given time. 

The debate detailed in this story is whether the owners of television will allow Nielsen to track how people watch TV commercials.  The current system allows tracking of the watching of the show itself.  But with half of all consumers in this study watching a recorded version of the program, allowing of course for the skipping of the TV ads, it becomes essential to understand whether in the watching of these shows folks are watching ads any longer, and which ads they are watching. 

As Alan Wurtzel, chief of research at NBC says in the piece, “As the DVR penetration increases, the way people watch TV is simply going to change,”  

Those using only broadcast - which is still the pre-eminent way people in politics spend their money - will clearly be at a tremendous disadvantage.  As I wrote yesterday, it is clearly time for a big re-think of how we do media on the progressive side. 

I need your help today

As a friend of NDN, you know we only ask for money when we really need it. And today is one of those days. We need your help today both to end this political season strongly and to move immediately to build for the future and engage in what will be a critical period in our nation's history.  

Your support will help us expand our powerful, Spanish-language media campaigns – running since May – at this pivotal time.

But while the elections are drawing to a close, as an advocacy organization, our primary mission is to fight for our optimistic agenda, and that work will continue with new intensity on November 8th.

Your support today will ensure that NDN will have the resources to work closely with our allies on the Hill and across the nation to engage, advocate, and help shape the direction of the nation at this extraordinarily important time. Your support will allow us to:

  1. Make one final push with our multi-state, Spanish-language media campaigns, and develop additional modern strategies to successfully engage the fastest growing part of the American population, Hispanics.
  2. Fight for our communities shared values and core principles, best embodied by NDN's optimistic, innovative and effective agenda, A Commitment to Hope and Progress
  3. Develop and advocate for a new strategy to ensure broad-based prosperity in a changing global era, as well as bring our vital daily commentary on the affairs of the nation to more people through strategic investments in our marketing capacity.
  4. Work with our allies to deal with the challenges left unmet by conservative government, to enact Federal legislation to raise the minimum wage and create a sensible solution to the immigration challenge.
  5. Continue to imagine and invest in next generation progressive institutions, like the Democracy Alliance, Democracy Journal and Media Matters.
  6. Help progressives master the ever-changing and exciting new tools offered by advances in new media and technology, and work towards a new 21st century progressive majority coalition, though our widely-heralded market research and studies on the new demography of America.

I am proud of how far we’ve come and how much we have achieved. Now, we must work hard together to seize this historic opportunity to restore the promise of this great nation that we love. I hope you’ll join us in that work, today.

The way we do media is ready for a big re-think

A great deal of thinking has been done in recent years about a building a 21st century progressive infrastructure.  New institutions like Center for American Progress, Media Matters, Democracy Journal, Copernicus, Platform Equity, the Blue Fund, Catalist and Air America has all benefited from political venture capitial meeting progressive entreprenuers eager to build a new and better capacities to bring our values and ideas to the American people. 

We've always believed that an area that needed an immediate and critical re-think is the way we market, brand and sell our movement, institutions, ideas/values, leaders and candidates.  It is not just about adopting and experimenting with all the new and game-changing tools becoming available today, it is about the content of the paid advertising itself.  As the Washington Post points out today in a very good front page article, paid advertising is where most of our money goes in the progressive movement, and along with the impression people get through the media of how we govern, is the primary way people understand who we are and what we are about.  And I for one am not convinced the way we communicate is as modern and or effective as it can be:

...."The Republican and Democratic parties dumped tens of millions of dollars this week on dozens of congressional races, locking up broadcast time yesterday for a blizzard of new advertising that will saturate the airwaves over the final weekend of the midterm campaign season.

Candidates rushed out more than 600 new television ads ahead of network deadlines for the weekend, with many Republicans trying to shift attention from Iraq and President Bush to local issues such as the environment, taxes and immigration. This final thrust will boost spending on political and issue advertising past $2 billion in this campaign, or $400 million more than in the 2004 presidential campaign, according to Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"Politics is probably the only business in the world where they spend the most money when they have the least number of available customers to pitch to," Tracey said..."

I wrote earlier this week about how tv ads have changed this cycle, as our practioners are coming to terms with how broadcast tv norms have become exhausted and are experimenting with new ways to connect.  This is becoming all the more urgent, as the speed in which we are leaving the broadcast era is increasing.  Consider that over the next few years: half of all voters will come to own a DVR, making it likely they will skip a very high portion of tv ads; live, over-the-air broadcast TV will continue its dramatic decline, and reach perhaps only a third of all people watching TV on any given day; this year Google will sell as many search ads this year as ABC will TV ads; the kind of one to one marketing invisioned by Copernicus and Catalist will become commonplace; and a third of all voters will have broadband video on their phones, radically increasing the importance of viral video and other bottom-up, citizen-led viral networks. 

I will have more on all this over the next few days, and will talk about how the three major media campaigns our community has funded in recent years have been built with all these transformations in mind. 

Lots to think about.  But that's what we do here at NDN and NPI.  Your thoughts, as always, are welcome. 

WPost: Scandals alone could cost GOP their majority

Lot of news this morning.  Bush says Rumsfeld and Cheney will be there through 2009.  Republican House leader John Boehner says the troubles in Iraq are the military's fault, and not Rumsfeld's.  Of course more signs of disintegration Iraq. The NYTimes has a poll showing that the American people believe Democrats will significantly change our strategy in Iraq....

But to me the most remarkable story of the day is a lead story in the Washington Post that reminds all of us what a mess the Republicans have made of the government in recent years:

..."Indictments, investigations and allegations of wrongdoing have helped put at least 15 Republican House seats in jeopardy, enough to swing control to the Democrats on Tuesday even before the larger issues of war, economic unease and President Bush are invoked.

With just five days left before Election Day, allegations are springing up like brushfires. Four GOP House seats have been tarred by lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scandal. Five have been adversely affected by then-Rep. Mark Foley's unseemly contacts with teenage male House pages. The remaining half a dozen or so could turn on controversies including offshore tax dodging, sexual misconduct and shady land deals.

Not since the House bank check-kiting scandal of the early 1990s have so many seats been affected by scandals, and not since the Abscam bribery cases of the 1970s have the charges been so serious. But this year's combination of breadth and severity may be unprecedented, suggested Julian E. Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University.

For more than a year, Democrats have tried to gain political advantage from what they called "a culture of corruption" in Republican-controlled Washington. Republican campaign officials insist the theme has not caught on with the public, but even they concede that many individual races have been hit hard.

"So many different kinds of scandals going on at the same time, that's pretty unique," Zelizer said. "There were scandals throughout the '70s, multiple scandals, but the number of stories now are almost overwhelming...."

Responding to Kerry: A desperate act, a failed government, a new era

Within several hours of John Kerry's slip of the tongue, the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, found time to rush to the mikes to somehow, perhaps, to change the subject from how badly they've botched just about everything. 

As James Carville said "Kerry may have blown a joke.  Bush has blown a war."

I'm not really worried about the Kerry remark.  Yes the right-wing spin machine will grab and toss it hard into the debate.  Yes the news organizations will oblige, and pick it up for a day or so.  But at the end of the day, the uncommon good sense of the common people will prevail.  For they have already decided that this election will not be about nothing, but will be about the future of our country. 

The people have already come to believe that the nation has gone off track.  That our foreign policy has failed.  That our occupation of Iraq needs a new path.  That Bin Laden is still on the loose, and Al Qaeda is growing again.  That Katrina showed we are not ready.  That we cannot balance our books, and borrow too much from abroad. That it has become harder to get ahead.  That college has become too expensive, health insurance too uncertain, retirement an extraordinary struggle.  That global climate change has turned from science fiction to fact, and that we have done nothing to lessen our dependence on foreign energy sources.   That the governing party has become too corrupt, and more concerned about their power than America's success. 

The American people understand that this is a serious time, one where important choices must be made.  They are looking for firm, honest, leadership.  The President of the United States, in his insistence that Iraq is doing fine, that the economy is strong and that Democrats are not to be trusted is only serving to remind the American people how tired they've grown of the Republican's commitment to politics over governing; and will in these final days do what is necessary to usher in a new and better era for the great country we love.

The Republican Plan for Victory in Iraq

On the stump these days the President says his Party is trying to win the "war" in Iraq.  Last week they offered a new "plan," which even the Iraqi PM called a political stunt.  Remarkably this new plan includes no political talks, no attempts to work through the political disagreements driving a great deal of the current unrest.  Of course, this new plan focuses almost entirely on how we will better deploy force, with more American troops in the short term and eventually a turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi military and police.  

This continued emphasis on force, already discredited, is further so in the Post today as local politics has already eliminated the reliability of one of the two pillars of the new "plan," the Iraqi police:

..."BAGHDAD -- The signs of the militias are everywhere at the Sholeh police station.

Posters celebrating Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army militia, dot the building's walls. The police chief sometimes remarks that Shiite militias should wipe out all Sunnis. Visitors to this violent neighborhood in the Iraqi capital whisper that nearly all the police officers have split loyalties.

And then one rainy night this month, the Sholeh police set up an ambush and killed Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., a 20-year-old budding journalist, his unit said. At the time, Stanton and other members of the unit had been trailing a group of Sholeh police escorting known Mahdi Army members.

"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion, a Washington-based unit charged with overseeing training of all Iraqi police in western Baghdad. "To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we're ever going to have police here that are free of the militia influence."

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., predicted last week that Iraqi security forces would be able to take control of the country in 12 to 18 months. But several days spent with American units training the Iraqi police illustrated why those soldiers on the ground believe it may take decades longer than Casey's assessment.

Seventy percent of the Iraqi police force has been infiltrated by militias, primarily the Mahdi Army, according to Shaw and other military police trainers. Police officers are too terrified to patrol enormous swaths of the capital. And while there are some good cops, many have been assassinated or are considering quitting the force.

"None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better," said Brig. Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad. "They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket.....""

The Times demolishes the GOP's immigration strategy

In a tough and accurate editorial today, The New York Times demolishes the Republican's approach to immigration reform:

"President Bush signed a bill to authorize a 700-mile border fence last week, thus enshrining into federal law a key part of the Republicans’ midterm election strategy. The party of the Iraq war and family values desperately needs you to forget about dead soldiers and randy congressmen, and to think instead about the bad things immigrants will do to us if we don’t wall them out. Hence the fence, and the ad campaigns around it.

Across the country, candidates are trying to stir up a voter frenzy using immigrants for bait. They accuse their opponents of being amnesty-loving fence-haters, and offer themselves as jut-jawed defenders of the homeland because they want the fence. But the fence is the product of a can’t-do, won’t-do approach to a serious national problem. And the ads are built on a foundation of lies...."

Their editorial follows the same logic as our major statement on the Fence and immigration released Thursday.  For more on NDN's work on immigration, visit www.ndn.org/immigration.

TV ads feel different this cycle, and are

Alessandra Stanley has an interesting essay in today’s Times Week in Review section that looks at the humor in many political TV ads this season, suggesting that

 “In a culture where growing numbers of viewers say they get their news from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” and at a time when anything shocking or amusing on television can be downloaded and e-mailed instantly, candidates are co-opting the YouTube revolution.”

She is on to something here.  Surveying the ads this cycle it is clear that many more of the most memorable ads we’ve seen is a candidate, or other “real” people, speaking directly to camera.  Think of Harold Ford's great ads, or the Tester/Schweitzer ad mentioned in Stanley's piece, the wonderful ads from Women's Voices Women Vote or Michael J Fox. They are attempting to be more real, more intimate, more authentic.  And they connect. I think humor has been used this cycle not as an end in itself, but as a way of connoting that the message is real, and “not political.”

This new attempt to connect to people in more meaningful ways I think has come for two reasons.  First, as she suggests, the broadcast era of political communications is exhausted, and a new rapidly changing digital and personal age is emerging.  This new age is still very nascent, and what we are seeing is the first of a new wave of efforts to connect to an audience that is no longer as open to traditional 30 second spots or broadcast media norms.   These direct to camera ads are in essence an acknowledgement that it is getting much harder “to break through.”

Second, people are deeply unhappy with the current direction of the country, are seeking a “new direction,” and want to better understand what is happening to the country they love.  The Bush era, with its failed government, extraordinary spin (lying) and disconnect from what people perceive to be the reality of the day, is leaving people wanting “straight talk,” authenticity, realness, leveling.  They want to better understand what is happening, and are looking for leaders to show them the way – and not manipulate them.

Both of these trends taken together would lead one to believe that what voters want more than anything else these next few years is a more direct, honest, authentic politics.  They know the country has gone off course, and are looking for a real and better path forward, and leaders who can take us there.  The Bush era has also given them new tools to detect “truthiness,” or the appearance of authenticity and realness as opposed to its actual existence.

Above all else I believe what this means is that in the next few years the two parties and their leaders will need to say what they believe and believe what they say, or will suffer their own “macaca” moment – a moment when the mask comes off, reveals the true person underneath and shows that it has all been a big show.  “Political positioning,” or playing to the polls, isn’t gonna cut it in what Stanley calls the “YouTube revolution.”  This is a time for real vision, leadership and powerfully held beliefs. 

KBR/Haliburton should be forbidden from getting future government contracts

The stories just keep coming about KBR's malfeasance in Iraq.  The NYTimes has a new one, showing how KBR has systemically hidden simple data from the government. 

..."A Halliburton subsidiary that has been subjected to numerous investigations for billions of dollars in contracts it received for work in Iraq has systematically misused federal rules to withhold basic information on its practices from American officials, a federal oversight agency said yesterday.

The contracts awarded to the company, KBR, formerly named Kellogg Brown & Root, are for housing, food, fuel and other necessities for American troops and government officials in Iraq, and for restoring that country’s crucial oil infrastructure. The contracts total about $20 billion.

The oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, said KBR had refused to disclose information as basic as how many people are fed each day in its dining facilities and how many gallons of fuel are delivered to foreign embassies in Iraq, claiming that the data was proprietary, meaning it would unfairly help its business competitors.

Although KBR has been subjected to a growing number of specific investigations and paid substantial penalties, this is the first time the federal government has weighed in and accused it of systematically engaging in a practice aimed at veiling its business practices in Iraq.

The allegations come at a critical time for the company, as Halliburton is trying to spin off the subsidiary. And in July, the Army announced that it would terminate KBR’s largest contract with the government, and the company says that it will compete to regain some of that business when the government calls for new bids.

Proprietary information is protected by the so-called federal acquisition regulations, known as FAR. But the agency said KBR routinely stamped nearly all of the data it collects on its work as proprietary, impeding not only the investigations into the company’s activities but also things as simple as managerial oversight of the work.

“The use of proprietary data markings on reports and information submitted by KBR to the government is an abuse of the FAR and the procurement system,” says a memo released yesterday by the special inspector general...."

 Given how close to this group is to the Vice President, who had a hand in deciding who got what contracts in Iraq, they should have kept their nose cleaner than clean.  Given the strategic intent behind a great deal of their out of bounds behavior, we can only guess that they believed that normal, simple rules no longer applied to them. 

Their remarkable, systemic and strategic betrayal of the public trust should cause them to be barred from ever receiving a government contract again. 

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