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'Talking points' know no bounds

May 18, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" - saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" - in every speech they give for the department.

"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began.

The e-mail provided language "being sent to you for inclusion in your speeches." The (e-mail) attachments show how easy it is to work a little Iraq happy talk into just about anything. There's a sample introduction: "Several topics I'd like to talk about today - Farm Bill, trade with Japan, WTO, avian flu ... but before I do, let me touch on a subject people always ask about ... progress in Iraq." See? Smooth as silk. - Excerpted from Al Kamen's column in the May 8 Washington Post.

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Smooth, but I like to think I am smoother. So - bet you didn't see this coming - your job is now to read the following six suggested "speech transitions" and figure out which were written by the government and which were written by a zonked-out humor columnist:

1. As many of you in the audience this afternoon are aware, on Nov. 1, 2005, President Bush announced the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, a comprehensive approach to the rising threat of avian flu. The strategy provides clear and detailed objectives for an integrated governmental response to pandemic influenza and directs federal agencies to carry out 324 critical actions within prescribed periods of time.

But before I outline the essential elements of the strategy, I'd like to talk about another pandemic, the pandemic of global terror, and the president's strategy to bring an end to the uprisings in Iraq.

2. I'm here to talk about civil rights, which is one of the fundamental tenants of democracy. In the United States, a democracy that has been evolving for 230 years, we are still conscious of our shortcomings, and still working to become a more perfect union, with true equality for all our citizens.

So before I begin talking about the civil rights climate at the USDA, I'd like to address the situation in another nation that is just now forging the path to democracy.

3. One year ago, the USDA released the MyPyramid food guidance system, a tool which is helping nutrition specialists such as yourselves assist Americans in making healthy food choices in their daily lives. MyPyramid recognizes that individuals have different needs and dietary requirements, and addresses those needs through a personalized, interactive approach to food selection.

But today we are concerned about the nutritional needs, not just of Americans, but of people across the globe. So before I report to you on the progress MyPyramid has made in its inaugural year, I would like to say a few words about nutritional progress in a nation where people have not always had access to the abundance that Americans enjoy every day.

4. Today's modern cropduster bears little resemblance to the goggled, leather-capped biplane pilots of old, and today we come to salute an underappreciated profession that has come a long way in its 80-year history.

But if you think it was rough being a cropduster in America, you should try being a cropduster in, oh I don't know, let's say, Iraq, just to pull the name of a country out of the air. Boy howdy, I mean it's rough enough being a regular pilot open to surface-to-air Stingers, but when you're flying low over a turnip patch, any 10-year-old Baathist can take you out with a hunk of sandstone, know what I'm saying? But it is President Bush's steadfast resolve to make Iraqi skies safe for cropdusters of all religious affiliations and - sorry, I just couldn't stay in character for that one.

5. I'm looking forward to walking through the exhibit hall after our breakfast this morning, and seeing all of your agricultural products and services displayed in such abundance. American agriculture had a great year in 2005, as events like this demonstrate.

But before I begin discussing the productivity of American agriculture, I'd like to talk about a nation that is just now beginning to rebuild its own agricultural production.

6. This year, "Food for Progress" is funding 38 programs. They'll reach out to vulnerable populations, to farmers and agribusiness with technical assistance, infrastructure and other development activities. This $250 million investment will help build a sustainable future.

And USDA-donated corn and soybean meal is now helping to revitalize the Iraqi poultry industry. This is the kind or work that rebuilds livelihoods, lives and nations and contributes to the U.S. efforts in the global war on terror.

For the record, the government's were 2, 5 and 6. If you missed more than a couple, be very afraid.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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