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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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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“Robert Frank’s The Americans” at the Metropolitan

I just saw the exhibit “Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’” — centered on the photographer’s seminal book by the same name  — on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through Jan. 3.

Born in 1924 in Zurich, Switzerland, Frank took pictures in Europe and South America during his early career, but it wasn’t until he crisscrossed the seductive roads of America that Frank felt he was finally making art with his lens. With his U.S. travels in the mid-1950s, his work reached a new level, and 83 of his road images were arranged into the book “The Americans.”

It’s no surprised that Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the first U.S. edition of “The Americans (1959).” It raised eyebrows in the media for its brute black and white candor. But “The Americans,” like Kerouac’s own masterwork, “On the Road,” opened the door to the loneness of the country’s heart and spirit and, together, they inspired a generation of artists, musicians and thinkers.

Robert Frank's "U.S. 91, leaving Blackfoot, Idaho"

It’s interesting how foreign image makers like Frank, Mechelangelo Antonioni (“Zabriskie Point,” 1970), Louis Malle (“Atlantic City,” 1980) are able to capture the essence of the land better than most native auteurs. In fact, with the stir made by “The Americans,” Frank was compared to America’s original outsider observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, whose 1835 book “Democracy in America” helped to define the young nation’s unique character (Is it what America brings to you or what you bring to her?).

I believe a great artist is a conduit for “place.” His subject somehow finds him, speaks through him. The artist ultimately “sees” through time as the French photographer Eugène Atget described it. I believe such artists also see through other dimensions, some of which elude us, some of which speak through intersections of light and shadow, artifact and art, quietude and cacophony, moment and mystery.

It’s hard to describe “The Americans.” Language could illuminate it, could degrade it. Perhaps it’s like the stuff of dreams, the magic of which begins to disappear upon transfer to the conscious mind. So much spills from the bucket on its ascent from that deep, dark well.

But I try. Actually, I thought poetry might somehow have a special access pass to the world within photography. So I offer up the following images from my forthcoming chapbook “America, I’ll Have My Way With You”:

I MISS YOU ALREADY AMERICA

I miss you already America
and you’re not even gone

leave me your messages
by the grimed phone booth
how you joke of the truth
hat tossed to eternity
leave me your hay bales
in the sweat hum of the field
waiting on farm hands
and wayward girls
leave me your Ford grillwork
idle at the company house
preaching at the two lane

leave me your truck’s whine
at the crossroads
singing that heaven
is elsewhere in the night
leave me your green trailer
singular at the corner
monument to guts
leave me your shag heart
dusting the television night
with boredom and blood

You might view the video of my song “Miss America,” too.

I was surprised and pleased to see Frank himself link the worlds of photography and poetry in his description of his work:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.

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Obama and Oslo: A Tough President for Tough Times

In Oslo, President Obama showed that he is more about humility than hubris and, in so doing, demonstrated why the committee gave him the Nobel Peace Prize, even if in Obama’s own characterization it could be viewed as premature:

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King, Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight.

Yet, Obama has demonstrated how a world leader can be strong both militarily and diplomatically, without turning the free world against America as George W. did.

What surprises our politicians on both sides of the aisle is how tough this president is. He’s no wimp when it comes to using military force. In fact, he has been criticized, from the left, for sounding hawkish.

But he came to his “surge” decision in Afghanistan with the professorial scrutiny — contrary to W. — for which he is famous.
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Mignini Fiddled While Rome Burned

My wife just pointed out the ironic contrast between Amanda Knox prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. While Mignini reaped the rotten fruits of his distorted moral play against Amanda Knox, a million demonstrators took to the Roman streets asking for their corrupt leader’s political head. An excerpt from an Agence France-Presse report:

Former minister Rosy Bindi said she took part as a “simple citizen” and not as a representative of the Democratic Party (PD).

“It is significant that a large part of the country is reacting against and getting angry at a prime minister who doesn’t want to be judged and isn’t solving problems,” she told AFP.

Antonio di Pietro, a former anti-corruption judge and now leader of the Italy of Values party, denounced “the Berlusconi government’s great electoral, political, judicial and media swindle”.

Participants ranged from film director Nanni Moretti, who condemned Berlusconi’s domination of Italian television, to ecologists opposed to a planned bridge across the Straits of Messina and immigrant defense groups.

Protesters shouted “mafioso” at effigies of the billionaire prime minister, referring to a Mafia hitman who testified at a trial in Turin that his boss alleged Berlusconi had aided organised crime.

In league with the Italian mafia, Berlusconi recently vowed to strangle his detractors:

If I find out who is the maker of the nine seasons of ‘The Octopus’ and who has written books on the mafia, which give such a bad image to Italy across the world, I swear that I will strangle them.

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Knox, Knox. Who’s There?

Injustice.

If you have a daughter or son in college who may spend a year studying abroad, you’re likely shaken over the Amanda Knox case.

Perugia prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is himself under investigation for serious transgressions regarding abuse of power, which includes heavy-handed tactics against journalists. Florence prosecutor Luca Turco recently called for his judicial colleague Mignini to be jailed for ten months, according to a report in Britain’s The Daily Mail.

In fact, weigh in with most any American journalist who covers the case — Vanity Fair’s Judy Bachrach and West Seattle Herald’s Steve Shay, who appeared recently on CNN or Seattle Times reporters — and you’ll discover disturbing practices of jurisprudence. It becomes clear that the fathers of Perugia, a conservative city in central Italy, had it in for a free-spirited American who simply didn’t act like the locals. Couple that with a veracious tabloid press, an unvetted jury that is permitted to read and view all manner of whacky media accounts, and you have a formula for disaster. Oh, throw in the fact that the defense was not permitted to challenge suspect DNA evidence with its own experts. Talk about having the jury stacked against you.

At this point, the Knox family and Washington State Sen. Maria Cantwell are making entreaties with the state department via Hillary Clinton. The appeals process will likely commence in October. The likelihood of an appellate turnover Italian-style depends on who you talk to. I spent time in Italy as a college student. While I didn’t run up against the law, I did run into a bureaucracy that makes Washington look like a walk in the park, and I was just registering my Fiat 500.

Hopefully, appeals and pressure from the U.S. State Department and European diplomats will help tip the scales of injustice.
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‘In the Heat of the Night’ Italian Style: the Amanda Knox Verdict

Fast forward to the past, the American South of old: small town justice, small town sheriff, justice by prejudice. Only now it’s Perugia, the conservative, provincial Italian town, and the victim is Amanda Knox, the “angel faced” American college student plowed under by a railroad of bad press, bad judgment and bad practices in jurisprudence.

Here are a few good sources for this disturbing story:

  1. Vanity Fair contributing editor Judy Bachrach, who lived in Italy for four years and covered the Knox trial gavel to gavel. As she explained last night on CNN, the small-town Italian justice system derives directly from “the ancient inquisition.” The Knox prosecutor is himself the subject of an inquiry regarding other recent heavy-handed practices. Also, the Italian trial system is devoid of jury vetting and defense challenges to evidence, among other primitive processes.
  2. Such Knox family members as aunt Janet Huff. Huff has an astute understanding of the Perugia phenomenon, which includes gross prejudices fueled by a paparazzi-style Italian tabloid press that distorted innocent behavior and drew false conclusions from the get-go. See Huff’s video statement.
  3. West Seattle Herald reporter Steve Shay, who draws the same conclusions as Bachrach and Knox, from his independent investigation. He commented last night on CNN, with Jim Moret who was sitting in for Larry King.

Meanwhile, as Knox’s family pursues the painful appeals process overseas, Maria Cantwell, a U.S. senator from Knox’s home state of Washington, issued the following statement:

I am saddened by the verdict. I have serious questions about the Italian justice system and whether anti-Americanism tainted this trial. I will be conveying my concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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