The Hot Ride

A heat bomb hit me when I slid into my Chevy today, a welcome rapture after an icy winter in upstate New York. It took me right back to the tireless Nash that was heaped among the weeds in my boyhood, nested among toads and copperheads in a bungalow colony in Peekskill.

A James Deanish boy named Leif was my summer partner in crime. He was the true grit country boy, I, the city kid learning the ropes. We were just short of teenage, and that mechanical skeleton was our rocket to the moon.

We sat in the stultifying July sun, hornets circling; our souls exulted from the dusty upholstery scents as we took turns behind the hot steering wheel, the battered speedometer feeding our imaginations. The cracked and crazed sheet metal became a time machine, taking us on far journeys through states that were as yet unknown. Our young hearts baked and burned. Turn after turn, we explored, escaped as if mapping out the rest of our lives.

I have no idea what happened to Leif after that summer. Year after year, my own soul baked on: in my father’s Studebaker, Dodge; in my first car, a 1948 Cadillac hearse. That black monolith took me to California and back twice, tracing every road I had imagined in that magical Nash.

It persists. I’ve since traveled the back roads of most states. My wife, Roxanne and I continue the journey every chance we get: Cross Creek, Savannah, New Orleans, Pueblo, Greensboro, Kansas City, Barstow, Staunton, Albuquerque. Somehow, it’s always just beginning, when the sun enwraps you behind the wheel.

America is in my blood, my bones, as evinced in my writing. Check out this raw reality in the video to my song “Miss America.”
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PR Artillery Needed in Obama’s War Room

The elephants in President Obama’s war room are so faint on the media radar-screen as to be nonexistent. What pachyderms, you say?

How about, while the Republicans hammer the press on Barry’s warrior meter — including the Christmas Day debacle and his battle terminology – the administration has failed to remind the public that it helped take out some 30 al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen just weeks before Abdulmutallab took a bathroom break over Detroit.

Not to mention the dozens of successful drone hits in the outlaw hills of the ‘stans during the president’s scant time in office. According the Washington policy group The New America Foundation, as reported in the New York Times:

More C.I.A. drone attacks have been conducted under President Obama than under President George W. Bush. The political consensus in support of the drone program, its antiseptic, high-tech appeal and its secrecy have obscured just how radical it is. For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for killing in a country where the United States is not officially at war.

Obama’s stealthy war strategy keeps the left in the dark, and opens him to jabs from the right.

Furthermore, the president should court the moderate Muslim community, which is beginning to get ink stateside, albeit buried in the noise of political skirmishes, airport jitters and bloated bank bonuses.

As Tom Friedman revealed a week ago, the battle against terrorism requires meaningful participation from moderate Muslims.

…no laws or walls we put up will ever be sufficient to protect us unless the Arab and Muslim societies from whence these suicide bombers emerge erect political, religious and moral restraints as well — starting by shaming suicide bombers and naming their actions “murder,” not “martyrdom.”

I keep saying: It takes a village. The father (of Abdulmutallab), Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, saw himself as part of a global community, based on shared values, and that is why he rang the alarm bell. Bless him for that. Unless more Muslim parents, spiritual leaders, political leaders — the village — are ready to publicly denounce suicide bombing against innocent civilians — theirs and ours — this behavior will not stop.

In fact, national newscasts included American-flag-waving Muslims speaking out against terrorism outside the courthouse during Abdulmutallab’s arraignment.

Obama should meet with prominent Muslim groups asking for their help in taking back their proud religion and way of life. He should take to the podium and call for the heads of Saudi Arabia, Jordon and other moderate Middle East states to speak out and take a leadership role.

If I were his PR man, that’s what I’d tell him.

Allen Shadow (aka Allen Kovler) is a veteran PR man, accredited by the Public Relations Society of America.
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9/11 Redux: Intelligence Fails to I.D. Plot

Blame it on bureaucracy. Blame it on inter-agency culture wars. No matter, the ball dropping in the Flight 253 case is eerily similar to intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Flight 253 on the ground in Detroit.

This unfolding story is chilling. As reported in this today’s New York Times, the National Security Agency picked chatter from Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen outlining a terrorist attack involving a Nigerian man. But various intelligence agencies failed to put the pieces together and thwart Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s aerial act over the skies of Detroit.

Furthermore, agents at National Counterterrorism Center in Washington didn’t connect those National Security Agency dots, when Abdulmutallab’s prominent banker father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, made urgent appeals to U.S. State Department officials and the C.I.A. regarding his son’s radical intentions. According to the Times:

A family cousin quoted the father as warning officials from the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in Nigeria: “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat.”

The cousin said: “They promised to look into it. They didn’t take him seriously.”

The new details help fill in the portrait of an intelligence breakdown in the months before Mr. Abdulmutallab boarded a plane in Amsterdam with the intent of blowing it up before landing in Detroit.

In some ways, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the billions of dollars spent over the last eight years to improve the intelligence flow and secret communications across the United States’ national security apparatus.

Unfortunately, these calamitous events have produced mostly political finger-pointing and posturing. And officials have rushed to save face by burdening innocent air travelers with a series of ridiculous security measures. It’s like closing the airport door after the bomber is out. The solution is simple: make the inter-agency intelligence system work. In fact, start by search any of the 550,000 on the broader watch list when they show up at an airport. Isn’t that better than overburdening tens of millions daily.

The Times’ Scott Shane did an analysis of these events as well, comparing the current events with those of Sept. 11:

The finger-pointing began in earnest on Wednesday over who in the alphabet soup of American security agencies knew what and when about the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up an airliner.

But the harshest spotlight fell on the very agency created to make sure intelligence dots were always connected: the National Counterterrorism Center. The crown jewel of intelligence reform after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the center was the hub whose mission was to unite every scrap of data on threats and suspects, to make sure an extremist like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be bomber, would never penetrate the United States’ defenses.

“It’s totally frustrating,” said Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the national Sept. 11 commission. “It’s almost like the words being used to describe what went wrong are exactly the same.”

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Homeland Security Homer Simpson Style

Here’s today’s terrorist watch-list quiz:

Create a “red flag” by combining any two of the following items regarding a potential terror suspect:

  • has no luggage
  • buys one-way ticket
  • pays cash for ticket
  • visa recently denied by Britain
  • prominent father reports son as potential terrorist to U.S. State Department
  • history traveling to Yemen

D’oh, and we have a winnah! It’s Homer Simpson. It’s also 99 percent of the American public and several classes of orangutans.

Yet the genius bureaucrats who clog up the works of our homeland security system all failed. The biggest loser: Janet Napolitano. She’s the master proctor for this exam, and she failed to even know how to grade it. As she told the Sunday morning talk circuit: “the system worked.” Her Monday morning backpedaling didn’t fill the bill either, and it took her boss’ eventual appearance at the podium to at least set the record straight, terming the homeland security affair a “systemic failure.”

For more coverage, check the following New York Times pieces: “Early Signs…” on today’s front page; today’s editorial on the subject; Clark Kent (no, not Superman) Ervin on the Op-Ed page; and, for laughs, master lampoonist Maureen Dowd who invokes cartoon logic to give perspective to these confounding events:

Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

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The War Wages on in the Media Biz

If there’s any doubt about the disarray and desperation afoot in the music business, just check out the Internet’s affect on the media business – music, print and broadcast – overall over the past decade. A recent article in the New York Times covers the waterfront on this issue quite well.

While the devastation of digital democracy vis-à-vis the Web made its first blitz through the belly of the music biz, the print media was next in line, and the battlefield there rivals Antietam.

As a journalist and PR man – in addition to my music career – I’ve felt the devastation first hand. I’m intimately involved in the newspaper field and have seen dozens of friends and colleagues tossed out on the street as media chains have filed Chapter 11 and newspapers large and small have folded. Some first class writers and photographers I know can’t get arrested in their field right now. Personally, it makes me sad. Professionally, it brings home the realities of what us music artists face as we search for a viable business model.

And it brings to mind post on Music Think Tank by Derek Sivers entitled “Unlearning.” In it, he claims everyone who says they know what the future music model is is simply “full of shit.” What’s significant about his colorful observation isn’t so much its tude as its truth.

Sivers has been around enough to know (even what he doesn’t). And his recent read on our industry resonates through the Times article cited above, from Rupert Murdoch’s shaky search-engine trial to the uncertain, even timid efforts of Time Inc. and the New York Times itself.

With the new decade upon us, we can only hope that a less bloody battlefield lies ahead.
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Turning the ‘Tide’ on Terrorism and Stupidity

The so called Tide list of some 550,000 wasn’t enough to detain — let alone stop — suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Flight 253 on Christmas Day as reported in the New York Times. The tip from his prominent banker father to U.S. Embassy officials wasn’t enough. And, as Britain’s Sunday Times reported, having his UK visa request refused this past May wasn’t enough either. Well, enough is enough.

The confounding practices surrounding information-sharing in the Abdulmutallab case are reminiscent of the ominous events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks, when tips and red flags were bound in red tape.

To his credit, President Obama has called for an investigation of current practices regarding such lists as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide), Terrorist Screening Data Base, no-fly, and selectee. To his discredit, the President has yet to step up to the podium to quell fears and set the record straight on mistakes behind the Flight 253 incident.

Certainly, the Sunday morning talk-show comments of Janet Napolitano and Robert Gibbs were laughable, and gave the impression of an administration that just doesn’t get it. Napolitano actually said, “the system worked.” It’s an insult to Americans’ intelligence that makes the administration look stupid, if not out of touch.

Rumors swirl that Obama will find a podium today or tomorrow. That would be smart, but regaining our “intelligence” is going to be an uphill slog following this Keystone Cops affair.
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Mr. President, You’re Flunking Crisis Management 101

Mr. President, you need to find a podium, and fast. Even college freshman in PR 101 know that major crises require transparency and truth, all from the mouth of the CEO, and pronto.

Sending Napolitano and Gibbs out on such a mission is a joke, plain and simple, and a recipe for PR, even political, disaster.

Napolitano on WABC-TV “This Week” this morning said some confounding things:

That Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was on some list, but there was nothing else to indicate he was a threat. Oh yeah, how about his distinguished banker father who weeks ago told U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria that his son may be in the process of a terrorist act against the U.S.

Defying logic again, she had the gall to say: “everybody did what they were supposed to,” and that the government practices for exactly this type of event. Oh yeah! Even the commentator, Jake Tapper, to his credit, reminded her that the only folks who did what they were supposed to were the regular folks on that flight and the crew.

Robert Gibbs also buried the obvious failures in bureaucrat-speak about the alphabet-soup methodology of lists (i.e.: Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, Terrorist Screening Data Base, “no-fly,” and “selectee”).

Mark my words, the ham-handed handling of this historic event on behalf of the administration will go down in PR-blunder history along with Bhopal and Exxon Valdez. This will serve as a textbook example for instructors of crisis management who will use it to point out everything not to do.

And PR aside, just wait till Leno and Letterman take to their respective podiums this week.
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