The Design of Everyday Briefings

Presidential Daily BriefingsGreg Storey posted an interesting and thoughtful exercise on information design last month over at Airbag.ca, in which he suggests that a better sense of design might have benefitted the Bush administration in August of 2001, when they apparently underestimated — or wantonly disregarded — a series of warnings that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda had intentions to attack the United States.

His post is altogether earnest and well-intentioned, and I applaud him for it. The point he’s making is a good one that designers have been trying to get the world at large to understand — and with increasing seriousness — over the past few years: good design can have monumental impact on the effectiveness of information. Still, I can’t help but be a smartass about it.

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The Gift of Gab

President Bush’s News ConferenceAmongst all the obfuscation, double-talk, evasions, stuttering, awkward pauses, rote repetitions of talking points and tongue-tied sputtering in President Bush’s news conference this evening — only his third ever prime time conference, by the way — I think my absolute favorite line came during an answer to a reporter’s question about… I don’t even remember what it was about. But Bush went down some long, confusing tunnel of rhetoric and, in seeking to illustrate his assertion that America, apparently, has been charged by God with spreading freedom all over the world, he uttered this lovely gem: “I think the American people will find it interesting that we’re providing food for the North Korea people who starve.” I don’t even know what that means.

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What He Said

Richard A. ClarkeThese are the articles that I read this morning about former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard A. Clarke’s claims in his new book that President Bush had a fixation on invading Iraq and that he pressured his aides to produce connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Al Qaeda: an overview of the scenario in the Times, as well as that paper’s analysis of the accusations’ political impact: “At the worst possible moment, it undercuts Mr. Bush on the issue that he has made the unapologetic centerpiece of his administration and a linchpin of his re-election campaign: his handling of the global war on terror.”

In his regular column, Paul Krugman places this incident in the context of the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy and obfuscation. Similarly, in the Washington Post, Richard Cohen examines the administration’s habit of casting aspersion on its critics: “ The White House has opened its guns on Clarke. He is being contradicted and soon, as with poor [former Treasury Secretary Paul] O’Neill, his sanity and probity will be questioned.”

That paper also gives some background on Clarke’s character, noting that he is a registered Republican. The L.A. Times takes a more detailed look at the White House’s coordinated and notably aggressive attack against Clarke, and includes notes from an interview that Clarke gave the paper on Monday.

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The Tangled Web They Weaved

Donald RumsfeldIt just seems to me that a pretty clear case can be made against the credibility of the Bush administration if one just takes a clear, objective look at what they’ve said. The increasingly well-known MoveOn.org has demonstrated how powerful this approach can be with this commercial that features Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” trying somewhat lamely to discredit the notion that anyone in the Bush Administration ever used the term “immediate threat” in the run-up to the war in Iraq. For once, CBS avails itself of its responsibilities as broadcasters and as a news organization and calls Rumsfeld on his blatant untruth. The effect is very, very potent.

The shame doesn’t end there; Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has commissioned a report on all the misleading statements made by the five most prominent war supporters in the Bush Administration, from George W. on down. The results are again incredibly damning, and they are available not only in PDF form, but as a searchable online database, which lets anyone plainly see what specific statements have been made about Saddam Hussein’s danger to the United States. In the end, I just hope the public pays attention to all of this.

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How to Chart Untruths

In his New York Times column today, Paul Krugman published a damning, evidentiary indictment of the Bush administration’s wantonly optimistic — and highly inaccurate — jobs forecasting. It’s wonderfully concise, to the point, and heavily reliant on a powerful graphic that charts predictions that the White House has made for “nonfarm payroll employment” in 2002, 2003 and 2004 against the actual data provided in a joint report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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Fellow Countrymen

Mr. Viet DinhThere’s a special if perhaps unfair sense of shame that I feel for knowing that the USA Patriot Act was authored by a fellow Vietnamese immigrant. When I first saw Viet Dinh speaking about this legislation in 2002, a shock and a deep, hot flush came over me, and since then I’ve mostly tried to put it out of my mind, only periodically recalling the private embarrassment of my highly tentative and peripheral connection to this landmark abridgment of civil liberties. Anyway, for a beginner’s primer on Mr. Dinh’s position on the USA Patriot Act, you can have a look at the rather facile interview he recently gave to Wired.

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Kerry That Wait

John KerryThe way the race for the Democratic nomination has turned out, I feel that my “amateur pundit’s license should be revoked,” as a friend of mine put it in reference to his own opinions on recent events. Certainly, I had no idea that the last men standing would be Senator John Kerry, he of Central Casting Presidentiality, and retiring Senator John Edwards, graduate of the Alex P. Keaton School of Law and Grooming. Who woulda thunk it?

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Reading the Unsteady State

Unsteady StateThere’s still no way to get online access to archives of The New Yorker’s rich bounty of essays, articles, reviews and humor — not even if you’re a subscriber, nor even if you want to pay for it — so you’d better hurry over there and read Hendrik Hertzberg’s contribution to this week’s Talk of the Town section before it’s no longer available. The piece is called “Unsteady State,” and it nicely wraps up President Bush’s troubled first few weeks of 2004, bookended by his weak and disingenuous attempt at re-igniting the space race and the partisan polticking of his State of the Union speech.

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Shake ’n’ Bake

New Hampshire PrimaryThe good news is that there’s less than a year to go in the disastrous, one-term presidency of George W. Bush. Next 20 Jan a new president will be sworn in, a Democrat, and we’ll finally put an end to the far right’s ideological foreign policy and avaricious economic roadmap.

Granted, here after the New Hampshire primary, I have very little idea of who that Democrat’s going to be, except to say that it won’t be Joseph Lieberman or Wes Clark — the former is dogged but pathetic, and the latter has proven to be too ill-prepared a candidate to last the long haul.

It just goes to show that I know jack shit about politics, because I am perplexed by the underwhelming nature of John Kerry’s momentum — in spite of his convincing win this evening, there’s still a fragile quality to his candidacy, as if that stony face would crumble under just a few degrees more of intense scrutiny.

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How to Get Ahead in Iowa without Really Trying

The Iowa CaucusesFor someone who has been more or less rooting for Howard Dean since last summer, the sudden tightening of polling data in the Iowa caucuses this weekend is somewhat worrisome. In fact, when I first heard that a Zogby poll put Senator John Kerry in the lead, I scoffed at the absurdity of the idea and loudly called into question the dependency of Zogby in general. I was talking out of my ass of course, basing my reaction more on my investment in the idea that this race has had an air of predestination for months than on any attention paid to the very recent events in Iowa. To paraphrase a friend’s characterization of my inability to focus on the primaries of late: “It’s a tough week to have a job and be a political junkie.”

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