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Fooled by Astroturf

The Dec. 18 issue of the Independent printed a letter titled "Bush and Trees" from a Mr. Michael E. Terry. The letter makes the case for the administration's "Healthy Forests Restoration act of 2003" and its many virtues.

The letter is also a textbook example of a relatively new tactic of the conservative propaganda machine known in Internet blogging circles as "Astroturf."

It goes something like this: A conservative Web site prints on its pages examples of language that can be used in support of current administration policy initiatives. The site encourages the reader to write a letter to the editor of the newspapers of their choice, using said language. Some provide a form for the reader to use and even e-mail the "letter" for them. All you need to do is a little cutting and pasting. No thinking required. Perfect for thought-challenged wing nuts all around the country! Succeed in getting enough of these form letters published in papers throughout the country and -- presto! -- instant, phony, grass-roots public opinion!

Check it out. The text of Mr. Terry's letter can be found, intact and practically verbatim, submitted as another "letter to the editor" to the Hattiesburg American at http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/news/stories/20031208/opinion /856.html.

What Web site provided the words for these two letters? (And how many others?) Have a look at

www.georgewbush.com /GetActive/ WriteNewspapers.aspx?aid=102 .Yup, its the president's own campaign site!

I don't have a problem with Mr. Terry, or anyone else, supporting the president's agenda. That is certainly his right. But there is something creepy and unsettling about the president's political machine writing policy opinion letters for ordinary citizens to copy, paste and pass off on newspapers as their own compositions. I seem to remember a military commander in Iraq who caught some flak for using form letters in support of the war for his troops to sign and mail home in an effort to influence public opinion.

But the real question is, do newspapers have a responsibility to use more due diligence in vetting the letters that are submitted to them in order to avoid publishing such "Astroturf" and, in turn, avoid becoming unwitting accomplices in the spread of the president's or, anyone else's, political propaganda?

-- Bud Taber

Colorado Springs

More on spam

RE: The Bush Administration's Astroturf Campaign

You've heard of grass-roots campaigns, right? Well, the Bush re-election Web site features an "Astroturf" version of the grass-roots campaign -- a feature that spams newspaper editors, such as yourselves, with pre-written letters. Much of Mr. Terry's letter was written by the site. Judge for yourself -- do you want more of this kind of mail, or less?

Warm regards,

-- Emmanuel Goldstein

USAF Academy

At face value

In the article "Falling through the cracks" by Kathryn Eastburn in the Dec. 18-24 edition of the Independent, a lot of "facts" where thrown about all with the same dismal theme -- that the needy can't get even basic assistance in Colorado. Among these "facts" were many claims made by Steve Phare including one that, "We have no dental care at all in Montrose, Delta, Ouray, San Miguel County." That seemed like a pretty wild claim -- one that you would think would have raised a red flag in Ms. Eastburn's eyes and one that might have caught at least one editor's notice as something that should be verified, especially since it would be a simple matter to see if a dentist could be readily located in any of those four counties. Perhaps the Independent is simply too willing to accept the premise of ultra-primitive conditions on the Western Slope.

So, in a moment of editorial fact checking that is apparently beyond the abilities of the Independent's staff, I hit the Internet and on the first attempt found the name, address, and phone number of a periondontist located in the town of Montrose. My second attempt, using qwestdex.com, immediately yielded seven more dentists in Montrose and four in Delta on just the first page of results.

Like most people, because checking most "facts" in an article is beyond my ability to do easily, I tend to accept "facts" presented in an article at face value unless some red flag signals that a more skeptical look is in order, though I admit that experience has taught me to look pretty diligently for any red flags that might exist. So when such a glaring falsehood as this is made and goes unchecked by both the author and the editors, I lose all confidence in any of the claims made in that article and the general credibility of the newspaper as a whole suffers as well.

-- William Bahn

Colorado Springs

Editor's note: In the context of the article, Mr. Phare's quote was in reference to the lack of available dental care for people without insurance and in need of services on the Western Slope. Our apologies to those who interpreted his comment otherwise.

Paunchy and wrinkled

This is my commentary on Kathryn Eastburn's overly kind and dispassionate review of What Gives. [Film, Dec. 25-31 issue] Obviously, Kathryn must fall into the age category of the 20- to 30-year-old girls in this flick that simply drool over a extremely paunchy, seriously overweight, exceedingly wrinkled Jack Nicholson. Of course, the plot describes him as rich, intelligent and profound, which in the script isn't made obvious to this "over-60" lady.

However, in our capitalistic society the "rich entrepreneur" description rides above the fact that this gent is just a PIG who has lost control of his appetite. I was particularly captivated by the slits one normally calls eyes, which he had great trouble opening to peer at his prey, Diane Keaton. Each time his whole forehead lurched upward in an effort to bare those orbs in that pile of corpulence.

I hate to be the one to tell you, Kathryn, that the emperor has no clothes, but so be it. The reason this old man must be the predator of the younger woman is that a mature lady not in pursuit of his wealth wouldn't listen to his travails of past or impending impotence.

-- Mary Hafner

Colorado Springs

Covering all bases

I feel obliged to say something in a world gone mad. The Fellowship of the Ring was a terrible movie (and I'd wager that the two sequels were similar). The music is a pounding headache. (Howard Shore knows better.) The sentimentality is as awful as E.T. The camera shaking is a cheap effect that reminds me of low-budget horror movies made decades ago in the Philippines.

Overbearing, sentimental, and cheap. I guess that covers it.

-- Greg Weeks

Colorado Springs

Try compassion

Ms. Eastburn's Dec. 18 Domestic Bliss about Christmas was well written, but it would be kind if she did not use the word "schizophrenia" to describe the holiday.

Schizophrenia is a devastating neurobiological disorder, although advances in the last 20 years have enabled patients to function normally. It's not acceptable to use insulting language in reference to minorities or the physically disabled, and I long for the day when we treat the mentally ill with the same compassion.

-- Alison Whiteman

Tacoma, Wash.

5 stars for Cleaver

Contrary to the stuffy letter writer (December 18-24 issue), it's 5 stars [*****] for Ken Cleaver, the Consumer Correspondent.

He has an edge, bite and anger, not to mention a sense of humor, all of which are very short supply today in Fatherland.

Please don't publish without him. And please consider, too, relocating Jim Hightower back up front (not tucked away in the woodshed) where he and all your many excellent writers belong.

Very truly yours,

-- Denis Hanlon

Colorado Springs

Keeps on giving

RE: Your March 15, 2001 cover piece on guitar legend Johnny Smith -- alive and well in Colorado Springs:

I read this story about Johnny Smith on Christmas night, 2003. The reading of it made a beautiful time elegant. Praise to Johnny Smith for having lived his life the way he did, and cheers to Bob Campbell for his telling of it. It was ... "Christmasy." Thank you to the Independent, to Mr. Campbell, and, of course, to Johnny Smith.

--Ben Solimine

Peckville, PA.

Editor's note: Though it has been nearly two years since the article on the guitar legend appeared, we continue to receive mail regularly from Johnny Smith's grateful fans across the world. The article can be read online at www.csindy.com/csindy/2001-03-15/cover.html.

The real Ponzi scheme

Chris Messner, who compared Social Security to a federal Ponzi scheme in a Dec. 24 letter to the editor, misses the point. He insists on his own 2 percent of the SS "pie" but doesn't realize that by taking it he'll torpedo Social Security for everyone else.

For starters, take the "base pension." Once PSAs (personal security accounts) are established, the base pension would be the maximum monthly allotment one can receive in the absence of any other investment. It's estimated to be roughly $410 a month.

The problem is that this pitiful amount is even lower than the poverty threshold. This despite the fact that 40 percent of Social Security recipients depend on that income alone to keep them out of poverty.

Another little item ignored by Messner (and numerous millions of blinkered, brainwashed others) is the cost of carving personal accounts from the existing system. Contrary to the hoopla, this is a zero sum financial game.

Even a 2 percent reduction carved from current SS revenues to set up personal accounts would mightily accelerate the downfall of the traditional system. Conservative estimates indicate $1 trillion will be drained from Social Security over the next 10 years. This is why no less than Daniel Moynihan and Richard Parsons -- original members of The Bush Commission on Social Security Privatization -- called for benefits cuts ranging from 25 percent to 40 percent to partly compensate for the reduced revenue available.

And we won't even begin to go into the REAL "Ponzi scheme" -- Wall Street and the stock market -- where numerous shyster sharks and financial predators salivate at the prospect of making a killing off Social Security sheep via commissions and high expenses.

For Messner's benefit, there are much saner, more sober ways to preserve intact the system that has delivered dignity to our seniors. One of these is to increase FICA deductions for Social Security taxes beyond the current $87,000 income limit.

Meanwhile, if you want to save on your own, use IRAs or 401ks already there for that purpose. And thank Bush for pissing away trillions in tax cuts that might have been used to finance transition to a stable privatized system that doesn't wreck the existing one.

-- Phil Stahl

Colorado Springs

Saddam revisited

How fantastic to see Saddam Hussein in custody! I can't stop laughing about that dental exam. Congratulations to our troops in their valiant effort.

None of this, of course, changes the facts surrounding our failed foreign policy that put this maniac in power, supported and armed him, and created the present situation. None of this changes the facts about the 771 military export licenses issued to Iraq by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Bush senior from the Reagan White House in the '80s. None of this changes the fact that we sold anthrax, botulinum, and brucellosis to this sadist.

We must be certain we aren't repeating our past mistakes in foreign policy like with the Shah in Iran, Marcos in the Philippines, Batista in Cuba, Pinochet in Chile, Somoza in Nicaragua, and Noriega in Panama.

Yes, I'm talking about our puppet and indicted embezzler, Chalabi, and his gang of Iraqi National Congress members. Yes, I'm talking about our support of the regime of former UNOCAL employee Karzai in Afghanistan, and his cabinet of warlords and despots like Dostum. Yes, I'm talking about our continued support of the feudal kingdoms and corrupt royal families in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

If we make these foreign policy mistakes again in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will decrease our security, destroy our economy, and continue to put our troops in harm's way to remove these despots from power when they get off the leash.

-- Mark Lewis

Colorado Springs

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