"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Media’

2+2=5: The United States, Home Of “Freedom Of The Press” Ranks 46th In World On Press Freedom Index

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Oldspeak: “Appreciate the ruthlessly Orwellian irony. At a time when a fucking CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR is President.  In the nation where journalism is the only constitutionally protected profession, press freedom is being snuffed out.  With the Borg-like 1% corporate media-industrial complexs’ assimilation, evisceration & homogenization of journalism and information dissemination continuing unabated with the soon to be approved Comcast/TimeWarner merger; while respected journalists, their sources and government/corporate whistleblowers being accused of terrorism & espionage, unlawfully harassed, threatened with arrest, jailed and face decades long prison sentences, this doesn’t come as very much of a surprise. in this context it’s easy to understand how square in the middle of an unprecedented torrent of a range extreme weather events cause by anthropogenic global warming/climate change, the weather reported as sensationalized disaster porn, while global warming/climate change is rarely if ever mentioned in relation. 97% scientists sounding the alarm are ignored. it is as Neil Postman said in 1985 “Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world“. prescient words. We are literally entertaining ourselves to extinction.” -OSJ

By Conor Friedersdorf @ The Atlantic:

Every year, Reporters Without Borders ranks 180 countries in order of how well they safeguard press freedom. This year, the United States suffered a precipitous drop.

The latest Press Freedom Index ranked the U.S. 46th.

That puts us around the same place as UC Santa Barbara in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. If we were on the PGA tour we’d be Jonas Blixt of Sweden.

If we were on American Idol we’d have been sent home already.

Countries that scored better include Romania,  South Africa, Ghana, Cyprus, and Botswana. And 40 others. Put simply, it’s an embarrassing result for the country that conceived the First Amendment almost 240 years ago. These rankings are always a bit arbitrary, but we’re not anywhere close to the top tier these days. Why?

The report explains:

… the heritage of the 1776 constitution was shaken to its foundations during George W. Bush’s two terms as president by the way journalists were harassed and even imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources or surrender their files to federal judicial officials. There has been little improvement in practice under Barack Obama. Rather than pursuing journalists, the emphasis has been on going after their sources, but often using the journalist to identify them. No fewer that eight individuals have been charged under the Espionage Act since Obama became president, compared with three during Bush’s two terms. While 2012 was in part the year of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 2013 will be remember for the National Security Agency computer specialist Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass surveillance methods developed by the US intelligence agencies.

Elsewhere it notes:

US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.

Some Americans reading those critiques will object that terrorism is a real threat, and insist that national security and freedom of the press must be balanced. Even if you agree in principle, consider the countries that rank highest on the 2014 Press Freedom Index. Here are the top 10: Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, and Sweden.

Raise your hand if you’re afraid to visit any of those countries.

Does anyone truly believe that the way they treat the press is imperiling their security, or that America couldn’t prosper even if it was as friendly to the press as Finland? Does Team Obama believe that the terrorists are going to win in Sweden, New Zealand, and Iceland because their balance is too press-freedom friendly?

Take it from Lee Greenwood. “I’m proud to be an American because at least I know I’m freer than 47th-ranked Haiti” just doesn’t have the same exceptionalist ring to it.

The index methodology is here. Having looked it over, I still want the U.S. to be on top next year. How about you?

The “Looming Fiscal Cliff” Is a Hoax: Tax Reform As Wealth Privatization Scam & The Phony Crisis Industry

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Oldspeak:”Nothing’s “looming.” Nothing. There’s just some language in a law Congress passed last year. If they don’t want it to happen they can un-pass that law. It’s a simple as that. And do you want to know something? They don’t want it to happen. It’s a part of a long-range plan to scam the public into transferring even more of its wealth to the wealthiest among us: first by giving them lower tax rates, and then by cutting a program the public has already paid into. That way there’ll be less pressure to increases taxes on the wealthy later on. (They may also want to raid Social Security’s trust fund to pay for the deficits caused) -Richard Eskow. While the President meets with senior banking corprocrats to discuss how to avoid the latest manufactured crisis, corprocrat controlled media outlets avoid discussing the obvious and easy means to avoid austerity cuts. Probably because both parties have agreed that austerity is necessary.  Especially on public programs that are not contributing to deficit like Social Security. How long will Demopublicans engage in their latest  farcical dance masquerading as “negotiations” before they decide to sell their country to the highest bidders?  “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Richard Eskow @ The Campaign For America’s Future:

They’re dashing through the corridors of power in Washington with appropriately grim expressions this week. Congressional leaders are talking about the upcoming ‘fiscal cliff,’ which journalists are dutifully describing as a “looming crisis.”

In fact, if you do a Google News search for articles containing the words “fiscal cliff” and “looming” you’ll get 72,000 hits (as of Wednesday evening). We know because we tried it.

72,000 hits.

But nothing’s “looming.” Nothing. There’s just some language in a law Congress passed last year. If they don’t want it to happen they can un-pass that law. It’s a simple as that.

And do you want to know something? They don’t want it to happen.

Nobody Move

This phony crisis is a lot like this scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, where Cleavon Little as The Sheriff pretends to take himself hostage to escape an angry crowd. You may remember the gag line, which included a word we won’t use: “Nobody move or the $^((*&^(* gets it.”

Brooks crafts his throwaway lines pretty carefully, too. Look for the earnest man who says “I think he means it,” or the woman in the crowd who says “Won’t somebody help that poor man?”

Here’s how the “fiscal cliff” scam’s being played: Congressional Republicans are holding the guns to their own heads. Democrats are the town leaders, dutifully laying their weapons down.

And the American media are the gullible townfolk, carefully writing in their notebooks about the “looming” threat to their sheriff.

Johnny Law

Viewers of MSNBC know that progressives like Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell are dutifully trying to remove the word “cliff” from the nomenclature, since the effects of this law would be gradual — more like a “slope,” as they said the other night. They’re right about the “slope” part.

But it’s a tactical mistake to even engage in this kind of discussion, because there’s really no “slope” either. There’s just a law.

John Boehner’s law.

Sure, the President agreed to that law as part of a deal to settle deficit talks last year. At the time the Republicans were about to shut down the entire government. The GOP forced this law into existence.

That means the “fiscal cliff” is theirs. They own it.

Anyone who opposes disastrous, European-style austerity measures needs to stop talking about this in urgent terms. And nobody should characterize it as anything but what it really is: A deed performed by Republicans in Congress, which the same Congress can easily reverse.

That’s not just more accurate. It also places the responsibility for this pseudo-crisis exactly where it belongs.

A Gun to the Head

The motives for the hoax are easy to understand. As a Campaign for America’s Future/Democracy Corps poll reaffirmed after the election, the public overwhelmingly opposes any of the fiscal measures being negotiated as the result of this fictitious “crisis.”  A majority of voters, cutting across party lines, opposes virtually all of the ideas being discussed – including cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, and reductions in anti-poverty programs.

Voters strongly support some steps that aren’t being debated because of this phony “crisis,” like increased investment in jobs and economic growth. These negotiations are likely have the opposite effect instead, leading to more cuts in these programs. In fact, of the many “debt deal” provisions being debated today, only tax increases for the wealthiest Americans have the majority’s approval.

No wonder Congressional Republicans are holding a gun to their own heads.

Unfortunately it’s pointed at our heads too. If Republicans get their way the entire country will be hit with austerity cuts that increase the poverty rates, hurt most people’s standard of living, and create even more unemployment.

This phony crisis is the GOP’s way of saying “Nobody move or the country gets it.” And if the public doesn’t make its voice heard, it will.

Manhattan Transfer

Here’s more proof that both the “fiscal cliff” and the “emergency” deficit talks surrounding it are a fraud: They include two issues that don’t belong in a deficit discussion at all.  One’s Social Security, which is forbidden by law from contributing to the national deficit.

The other is the scam known as tax “reform” and “tax code simplification” – which, in plain English, means a lowering of top tax rates for millionaires and billionaires – supposedly in return for reduced “tax expenditures” and increased “tax revenues” to be named at a later date.

Why would deficit talks include two ideas that won’t reduce the national debt, especially when “tax simplification” will undoubtedly increase that debt substantially? That’s an easy one: Because this phony “crisis” has nothing to do with deficits.

It’s a;; part of a long-range plan to scam the public into transferring even more of its wealth to the wealthiest among us: first by giving them lower tax rates, and then by cutting a program the public has already paid into. That way there’ll be less pressure to increases taxes on the wealthy later on. (They may also want to raid Social Security’s trust fund to pay for the deficits caused by their tax breaks.)

These “deficit” moves would transfer even more of our national treasure to the extremely rich – including those on Wall Street who created our economic crisis in the first place. That, and not a “fiscal cliff,” is what’s “looming.”

The Phony-Crisis Industry

In the past the President has sometimes seemed willing, even eager, to press for a larger “Grand Bargain.” He’s taking a tougher line today, especially about taxes on the wealthy, and should be applauded for that. He should also be urged to take an equally strong position on Medicare and Social Security, which he hasn’t done yet.

Everyone involved needs to understand that, thanks to some new fiscal and electoral math, the anti-austerity team is holding the winning hand now.

It’s true that a tougher Presidential stand would disappoint some people, especially the highly-paid professional “deficit hawks” from both parties. That includes people like former Clinton White House functionary Erskine Bowles, who ghoulishly described this artificial crisis as a “magic moment” to impose austerity measures on the American people.

Bowles is a Director of bailed-out investment bank Morgan Stanley. That means that, unlike most Americans, he would do very well under the lower tax rates proposed in these “deficit” discussions.

A repudiation of this pseudo-crisis would also embarrass professional scaremongers like Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who warned of “big financial market repercussions” if the nation goes over the “cliff.” But we haven’t seen any repercussions before.

The word for talk like that is “nonsense.” (Well, that’s one word for it.) Nobody’s going over any “cliff,” least of all the Republicans.

Dare Ya

Let’s be clear: It would be a bad thing if the provisions in this bill took effect for any length of time. But it’s time to call Boehner’s bluff. Good Democrats can’t let themselves be railroaded into austerity by this phony crisis, while the other kind – the Erskine Bowles Democrats – shouldn’t be allowed to use it as cover.

Boehner knows he’s in a weak position, which is why Republicans have quietly been looking for ways to delay the “cliff.”  Democrats should take note of that and recognize the motives behind it.

The President should go on television and say to Congress: If you won’t accept the will of the people, undo your reckless law. Democrats on the Hill should insist on up-or-down votes for provisions that the public wants. This charade won’t stop until the GOP’s bluff is called.

Boehner insists that Congressional Republicans, along with everybody else, are standing on a “cliff.” It’s time somebody dared them to jump.

Noam Chomsky – Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In A Democratic Society (1989)

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Oldspeak:”Rationality belongs to the cool observer, but because of the stupidity of the average man he follows not reason, but faith and this naïve faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent over simplifications which are provided by the “mythmaker” to keep the “ordinary” person on course.” -Reinhold Niebuhr  ‎”The day labourers and tradesmen, the spinsters and dairy maids must be told what to think. The greatest part cannot know, and therefore they must believe.” -John Locke Professor Chomsky’s remarks are drawn from his book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (co-authored with Edward S. Herman), which deals with how the press’ interpretation of events shapes societal views. Chomsky released a book entitled Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies based on his 1988 Massey lectures. Fascinating talk on propaganda, censorship, mass media manipulation and the public mind. MUST SEE TV.

By Noam Chomsky:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propaganda and the Fear Factor(y)

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Oldspeak:In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” -Dr. Gary Allen Scott “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Video:

Noam Chomsky: Necessary Illusions – Thought Control in a Democratic Society Part 1 (1989)

 

By Dr. Gary Allen Scott @ Common Dreams:

Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.
George Gerbner (Former Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania)

It is the merest truism that thought-control is unnecessary in totalitarian societies. A one-party rule and the repression of freedoms render irrelevant what people think. But in a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.

As Robert Dahl has shown in his book How Democratic is the American Constitution?, our Constitution provides several mechanisms for insuring rule by a minority. One is the great disparity in the value of the suffrage. Voters in sparsely populated states, such as Wyoming, elect two senators that represent about 500,000 people. In California, the two senators represent some 35,000,000 people. This means that the weight of one’s vote in Wyoming is far greater (by 70 times!) than the weight of one’s vote in California. And in a Senate vote, the two Senators from Wyoming can negate the votes of California’s two Senators. Another such mechanism is the electoral college, which is another way in which losers can still win. The electoral college came into play most recently and most decisively in the 2000 presidential election. A third mechanism is the “first past the post”, or “winner take all” systems that afford no proportional share of votes to the second, third, or fourth place finisher in an election.

Notwithstanding these three mechanisms, the appearance of popular democracy must be preserved. So the rich and well connected must also still find ways to maintain the appearance of real democracy, even while they are greatly outnumbered by a factor of 50-60 to 1. Therefore, the ruling elite must find other ways of making up for being vastly outnumbered at the polls. This is why it is so important for such elites to shape the public mind. A recent example of this phenomenon occurred when the wealthiest Americans succeeded in repealing an “estate” or “inheritance tax” levied only on several thousand of the richest families in America by dubbing it a “death tax”, whose repeal generated popular support, in the wake of millions of dollars spent to shape public opinion. (This amazing feat is largely a result of the belief that every American has a chance to become rich, despite all the evidence to the contrary. As Bill Moyers said recently, “the surest way to become rich is to choose your parents well“. So even poor people supported the repeal in the fanciful belief that they might one day need this “tax relief”.)

Huge public opinion and marketing machines, along with the advertising industry provide commercial forms of propaganda. Their success flows from their ability to keep people self-indulgent, to keep people consuming, to keep them on the debt treadmill, and to keep them complacent, self-absorbed, and hedonistic.

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World  for a while, now is a good time to pick them up and re-read them. I submit that American society today seamlessly blends the self-satisfaction of Huxley’s Soma with Orwell’s ubiquitous telescreens and the thought-control they engender. When people are afraid, they need the Soma all the more: fear produces anxiety and hysteria; Soma provides the escapism. It is a powerful 1-2 punch. In the remainder of this essay, I shall attempt to offer some antidotes to what is ailing American society today.

Here are a few steps people might take to liberate themselves from fear and propaganda:

1. Turn off the television! 
Never forget this simple principle: The more television one watches, the more dangerous the world will seem to be. The author of the quote at the top of this article taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications for more than 30 years, and he believed that fearful people may even be lured to television precisely on account of their fear. Frightening images of house break-ins, car-jackings, murders, rapes, terrorists, viruses, natural disasters, and all manner of hysteria-producing hobgoblins have a seductive power to keep people watching and to keep people afraid, even paranoid.I remember when Fox launched its network with programs with titles like “When Good Dogs Go Bad” and “When Animals Attack”. Now they’ve refined their “fair and balanced” programs to feature human animals attacking, from Bill O’Reilly, to Chris Matthews to the steady stream of screamers who do not really engage in discussion or debate, but simply shout at one another and call each other names. Turn it off. There are other ways of keeping informed and the medium, to quote Marshall McLuhan, really is the message. In contrast to television, which McLuhan termed a “hot” medium, reading engages a different part of oneself, allowing critical thinking and analytic reasoning. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but that is exactly why images are able to continue to scare us, long after the initial impression has been made. Turn off the television and pick up a book, such as Gavin de Becker’s “Fear Less” or Ropeik and Gray’s book “Risk: A Practical Guide for Determining What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You”. Radio, too, supplies news and analysis without the frightening images. Listen to National Public Radio, Pacifica (especially “Democracy Now!”) and the BBC and the CBC online or on the radio.

2. Once one has taken this giant step, one may want to continue reading by digging into American history. I do not have in mind here the typical, sanitized history of the indoctrinating textbooks that present America as the shining city on a hill and its people as perpetually honorable innocents. I recommend instead some alternative histories that examine the underbelly of both our remote and recent past. I would recommend beginning with three books: WWII pilot and longtime Boston University professor, Howard Zinn’s “A Peoples History of the United States”; then go on to William S. Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?”; and finally, read M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival?”. It may be interesting to explore a particular question, such as: How does a country’s rulers mobilize people (over and over again) to lay down their lives for some cause or other, while the rich and powerful are asked to make little or no sacrifice at all. Heck, George W. Bush started a war in Iraq and then pushed through not one but two sets of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Such tax cuts when “the country is at war “(as he loves to say) is unprecedented in U.S. history. Indeed, one may come to learn that this same rich and powerful elite are making huge profits while poor, ‘average’ people are dying in droves. Think for a moment about the corporate mission of a Lockheed-Martin or any other manufacturer of weapons and weapons systems: Is it not clear that they make money on other people’s deaths? And is it not such powerful lobbies for the largest arms sellers in the world (the United States) who promote policies that would keep the country in perpetual war precisely because it is so good for their business?

3. Take a course in self-defense. 
I’m not talking about physical self-defense; I’m talking about intellectual self-defense, a self-defense course for the mind! Intellectual self-defense involves learning to think critically, to keep your eyes and ears open, and to flush those eyes and ears with a healthy dose of skepticism. If 100% or nearly 100% of media outlets are parroting the same line, saying the same thing about any issue, it is well to remember that even a small group of friends is likely to experience some disagreement on just about any issue, so why are all the pundits saying the same thing? Chances are, what you’re hearing is propaganda and spin.

4. Look beneath the surface.
Try to evaluate claims that people make. Learn to distinguish an assertion from an argument, a claim from proof, and learn to identify logical fallacies in what people say; then ask, Who benefits and who may be harmed? Dig into the matter and look for a reason, a warrant, a justification, and if you can’t find a convincing one, be skeptical. Don’t believe everything you hear. It will take much longer to be worn down by the constant repetition of the spin-meisters half-truths and outright falsehoods once one has turned off the television and cultivated a healthy skepticism. Most people are simply too trusting, and this stems from two main deficiencies: not knowing history (as Howard Zinn has recently argued) and failing to think critically or to be doggedly skeptical. (I note with great disappointment that neither of these qualities are possessed by the mainstream media in the U.S. today, as Tom Engelhardt has shown convincingly.) Let me offer a prime example to illustrate the point.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the American people were told over and over again (both explicitly and obliquely) that Iraq possessed chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. It was asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed not only the chemical weapons with which the U.S. supplied him during the 1980′s Iran-Iraq War (the same ones he used on the Kurds in 1991), but that he had also developed a nuclear program under ten years of sanctions and under a rigorous inspection regime that had found no evidence of such weapons. The American people were told that such a nuclear weapons program was “not an assertion” but a fact. The water was carried here principally by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell. Rice speculated about a ‘mushroom cloud’, a statement George W. Bush repeated publicly. Colin Powell helped out by putting on a dog-and-pony show at the U.N. Based on this hype, Iraq was deemed a ‘imminent threat’ to U.S. security.

Now, if one were skeptical, one might have pulled out a map and noticed that Iraq shares a border with six countries. One might then have deferred judgment to the people closest to this dangerous and imminent threat. So now one might have done a little digging on the Internet and found polls that showed that none of the populations of these six neighboring countries (who would be the closest targets if the allegations of WMD possession had been true) were in favor of the U.S. starting a war with Iraq. Nor were the European countries in favor of the U.S. attack, even though they were all much closer to Iraq than is the U.S. In fact, most countries (including Mexico and Canada) believed that the U.S. presented a greater threat to world security than either al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Only America and the United Kingdom were able to thoroughly dupe their citizenry.

That’s quite a feat, and it is an embarrassing testament to our collective irrationality and, therefore, our gullibility. But this is the way propaganda works. It relies upon simple slogans, however illogical they may be (such as, “We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them at home.” Obviously, these two alternatives are not mutually exclusive! One may in fact have noticed that there seem now to be a whole lot more ‘terrorists’ than there were before the invasion of Iraq! Propaganda also relies on hatred and racism to promote its group-think. And there is little doubt that propaganda is a largely stealth weapon; it flies under the radar of reason and is usually not even identified as propaganda. Above all, it plays on our fears, because the more frightened people are, the more illogical their reasoning becomes.

Dr. Gary Alan Scott is an associate professor of philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland and he is currently the Director of Loyola’s International Study Abroad Program in Leuven, Belgium. He welcomes your comments or questions atgaryalanscott@yahoo.com.

Christmas Co-Opted: Today Show And Wal-Mart Cloak Poverty, Homelessness, Unemployment In Meaningless Commercial Consumerism

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Oldspeak: ” ‘Offering hope to a family in crisis‘ Yes because what a broke, homeless, unemployed  and health care-less family needs most are laptops, a kindle and big screen TV at Wal-Mart and to meet Matt Lauer and Ann Curry on a segment of “The Today Show” sponsored by Wal-Mart, in what amounted to commercial for Wal-Mart.  Not food, or shelter or heath care or anything like that…  O_o This is how corporations show they care! By graciously giving desperately poor, homeless and unemployed people opportunities to consume shit they don’t need, and meet people who don’t really care about them or helping to alleviate their conditions. The poor, homeless and unemployed are reduced to consumable content, to be presented in a ‘positive’ light, to fleetingly acknowledge the devastating national epidemics of poverty, homelessness, inequality, and lack of access to heath insurance. ‘America’s problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that “I’m-not-one-of-those-losers” frisson.’ -Greg Palast “Ignorance is Strength”

By Greg Palast @ Dissident Voice:

I don’t usually watch Today or any American TV because my reports appear on the British Broadcasting Corporation, a network run by highly-educated America-haters.

But there I was, last Friday, in this hotel room in Atlanta, a city pretending there’s no Depression, chewing my complimentary morning donut, and Today is telling us about the “new face of American poverty.”

“More than 49 million Americans now live below the poverty line and a number of them like the family you’re about to meet propelled into bankruptcy by a one-two punch of job loss and a catastrophic health crisis.”

Wow! US television finally grabs the Big Issue.

This white suburban family called the Kleins have lost their home to eviction. They’re completely broke, because one of their kids got a tumor in her face. They have no insurance so the $100,000-plus medical bills wiped them out.

They live with neighbors and they hoped to at least get their kids a couple pair of underwear as a Christmas gift.

But if you think America doesn’t give a crap about the cancerous growth of poverty, just keep watching: The Today reporter takes the white family to WalMart where the bubbly journalist gushes, “The wonderful people of WalMart opened up their stores and their aisles and their hearts. The store is your oyster, Michelle!”

Then some WalMartian PR person tells the bankrupt mom to address the issue of long-term unemployment, “Let’s go shopping!”

And you thought America was cold-hearted, just because the Republicans tried to block unemployment insurance this Christmas for three million families.

On their free shopping spree, the Kleins got laptops and a Kindle, and a big-ass TV and all the good things that WalMart can provide.

And if you think WalMart has shown how selfless and caring Americans are, just wait until you find out what the Today show is giving America’s desperate poor: Simply the best-est gift ever …

“We saved the best for last!” The reporter tells the Kleins that NBC is flying them to New York, “to be on the Today show, to be on our set with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry!”

Matt and Ann! Both of them! Well, I bet they wouldn’t do that in North Korea or Sweden! Only in America!

Mr. Klein is so happy he’s meeting Ann that he doesn’t seem care anymore that he lost his job at Ford Motor. He just has his family. In some other family’s house, of course. But that’s a detail.

And if you thought this was just some cheap publicity stunt by WalMart, dig this, Mr. Cynical: WalMart is going to pay for all the Klein’s medical bills for a full year! And to pay for it, WalMart’s 1.4 million employees will not have all their medical bills covered for the year. Now, that’s generosity!

(This heartwarming segment of the Today show about the Klein kids, by the way, is sponsored by — no points for guessing: WalMart.)

But then I thought: wait a minute. What about ObamaCare? Once the plan is in place, no American can be denied insurance, even someone with a tumor in their face.

Americans love to hate ObamaCare. But isn’t that more valuable to the Kleins than a TV screen with no house to put it in?

Now, many of my friends will be surprised to hear me say this, as I’ve been quite skeptical about the accomplishments of the Pope of Hope. But let’s admit that Barack Obama tried to save the Kleins from medical-bill devastation, that he is trying to get them some unemployment insurance, trying (if on sketchy terms) to save the auto industry, all in the face of resistance of America’s hatred of Socialist Government.

Maybe we don’t need Santa Claus. Maybe we need Anti-Claus: A skinny ‘Muslim’ from Kenya squirming down your chimney!

America’s problem seems to be that it can only be cruel 364 days a year. Christmas is that time of year when the United States of Scrooge takes a vacation from heartless profiteering and the nasty joy Americans get, that “I’m-not-one-of-those-losers” frisson.

Listen to Rick and Newt and Mitt and Michele and Ron and what you get is the Great American F***’em! They lost their jobs? F***’em! Their kid has a tumor and they don’t have health insurance? F***’em!

Unless, of course, it’s Christmas and you have to look at the tumor on TV. Then, it’s like, Someone buy them a big-screen television so we don’t feel bad.

Santa’s erstaz elf, Bill O’Reilly, keeps talking about the “War on Christmas.” Because one day a year he has to dress up in Good Will to All Men drag. He can deck his halls with bags of bullshit make-believe kindness.

The rest of the year, he’s jerking off while talking dirty to his horrified female producers and raking in millions from the yahoos who haven’t lost their jobs yet.

So that’s it: for me, no more chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My chestnuts have gone down with my Lehman bonds, anyway. I’m declaring war on Christmas.

Don’t like that, O’Reilly? Then eat my shorts — with cranberry sauce.

Surgery for kids with cancer, a house to live in that’s not a relatives’ basement, and a job making something other than “financial products”… These are rights, not gifts. They don’t come down the chimney, they come from a community that can set aside its bred-in-the-bone meanness for more than one day a year.

 

***** 

And to all a good night.

Merry, um, Festivus, from the Palast Investigative Team.

Greg Palast studied healthcare economics at the Center for Hospital Administration Studies at the University of Chicago. His investigative reports can be seen on BBC Television’s NewsnightRead other articles by Greg, or visit Greg’s website.

Internet Censorship Bills Up For Vote Dec 5th – “Stop Online Piracy Act” & “Protect IP” Garner Enthusiastic Bi-Partisan Support In Congress

In Uncategorized on November 30, 2011 at 10:53 am

Oldspeak:“If there’s one thing this latest do-nothing Congress does well it’s draft bills to take things away from you. On the heels of a bill to indefinitely detain Americans without cause or charge , we have a bill that won’t do what it’s supposed to do, (fight piracy), but will put American internet censorship at the same level it is in CHINA. ‘Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.’-Mike MasnickYou can be found “dedicated to the theft of US property” if the core functionality of your site “enables or facilitates” infringement. The core functionality of nearly EVERY internet website that involves user generated content enables and facilitates infringement. THE ENTIRE INTERNET ITSELF ENABLES OR FACILITATES INFRINGMENT.’-Joan McCarter Under the oft used guise of “security”, media corporations; ‘intellectual property’ owners like Viacom, Universal, Paramount, and Monster Cable will get to compile lists of “rogue sites” “dedicated to infringement”, to be targeted for shutdown,  while providing no substantive evidence of infringement. In reality, the goal is to stifle free speech and competition. Censorship. As American as apple pie.

Related Video:

Wyden Call To Arms — Ask Him To Read Your Name During Filibuster Of SOPA/PIPA Censorship Bills

By Joan McCarter @ The Daily Kos:

Because forcing austerity on the nation isn’t enough to keep Congress occupied and off the streets, they’re also plotting against the internet with SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and PROTECT IP in the Senate (BANANAS alert if you click that link). In a generally deadlocked body, this one seems to be on the fast track, potentially coming up for a vote in the Senate as soon as Dec. 5.

ArsTechnica provides the background.

Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website’s online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.It’s the world envisioned by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) in today’s introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives. This isn’t some off-the-wall piece of legislation with no chance of passing, either; it’s the House equivalent to the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act, which would officially bring Internet censorship to the US as a matter of law.

Calling its plan a “market-based system to protect US customers and prevent US funding of sites dedicated to theft of US property,” the new bill gives broad powers to private actors. Any holder of intellectual property rights could simply send a letter to ad network operators like Google and to payment processors like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal, demanding these companies cut off access to any site the IP holder names as an infringer.

If that sounds a little alarmist, it isn’t. Mike Masnick at Techdirt, in the “definitive post on why SOPA and Protect IP are bad, bad ideas” walks through the extensive list of problems with the bills.

The real fear is the massive collateral damage these bills will have to jobs, the economy and innovation.

  • The broad definitions in the bill create tremendous uncertainty for nearly every site online.  This sounds like hyperbole, but it is not.  Defenders of the bill like to claim that it is “narrowly focused” on foreign rogue infringing sites.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While PIPA targets only foreign sites, the mechanism by which it does so is to put tremendous compliance and liability on third party service providers in the US.  SOPA goes even further in expanding the private right of action to domestic sites as well.  We’ve already seen how such laws can be abused by looking at how frequently false takedown claims are made under the existing DMCA.  Of course, under the DMCA, just the content is blocked.  Under SOPA all money to a site can be cut off.  Under PIPA sites will just end up in court. Or, with both laws, an Attorney General can take action leading US companies to have to effectively act as network nannies trying to keep infringement from being accessible.  None of this is good for anyone building a startup company these days. [...] And the definitions are ridiculously broad. Under SOPA, you can be found “dedicated to the theft of US property” if the core functionality of your site “enables or facilitates” infringement. The core functionality of nearly every internet website that involves user generated content enables and facilitates infringement. The entire internet itself enables or facilitates infringement. Email enables or facilitates infringement. [...]
  • The risk of these broad definitions on perfectly legitimate companies is not theoretical: Defenders of both bills continue to insist that they’re only meant to deal with the worst of the worst.  If that were really true, the definitions would be a lot tighter and a lot more specific.  Even if this is the intention of the authors of both bills, the simple fact is that the very broad definitions in the bill, mean that any entrepreneur today will need to take significant compliance costs just to avoid the possible appearance of fitting the criteria. [...]
  • The risk of these broad definitions on perfectly legitimate companies is not theoretical: Defenders of both bills continue to insist that they’re only meant to deal with the worst of the worst.  If that were really true, the definitions would be a lot tighter and a lot more specific.  Even if this is the intention of the authors of both bills, the simple fact is that the very broad definitions in the bill, mean that any entrepreneur today will need to take significant compliance costs just to avoid the possible appearance of fitting the criteria. [...]
  • That uncertainty has extreme and quantifiable effects on investment in new startups.  A very detailed look at the uncertainty in the cloud computing space, prior to and after the decision in the Comedy Central v. Cablevision case, which effectively set the framework for the legality of cloud computing, showedmuch greater investment when the law was clarified to be in favor of letting these new services thrive.  Take that away, and investment in this engine of growth likely would be much lower. [...]
  • Broadly expanding secondary liability is a dream for trial lawyers, but will be a disaster for business.  There’s been a move, associated with these bills to somehow demonize important concepts of safe harbors from secondary liability.  The suggestion is that secondary liability somehow “allows” bad activity.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Illegal activity is still illegal.  The point of safe harbors from secondary liability is blaming the party actually doing the action that breaks the law. [...]
  • Going down the slippery slope of censorship is fraught with peril, both domestically and abroad.  Supporters of the law get angry any time people bring up censorship, but as law professor Derek Bambauer has made clear, any effort to block content is a form of censorship. [...]

That’s just a handful of the problems with these bills Masnick highlights. It’s worth the read and worth taking the time to find out about this legislation, again because it seems to be action Congress is intent upon taking. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will filibuster the bill if it comes to the Senate floor, and will do it the old-fashioned way. He’ll read the names of censorship opponents from the floor of the Senate, from the list of people who sign the petition at http://stopcensorship.org/. Here he is talking about his efforts:

It’s possible that with enough support for the filibuster, leadership gives up on bringing this to the floor in the near future. After all, they’ve got an awful lot to get through between now and Christmas and if Wyden can find several senators to support him, they can threaten to tie things in the Senate up enough that the vote has to be postponed. That, along with Microsoft’s opposition to it, might just do the trick.

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Oldspeak:” If a movement pretends to have no leaders, then it is the corporate media, themselves controlled by Wall Street, who will choose the leaders. A few days ago, a Wall Street protester named Kelly Heresy was anointed as principal honcho by Keith Olbermann, who used to work for the hedge fund called General Electric, and who now works for Al Gore. This is no way to select leaders. The organizers of the Wall Street action say they want to imitate recent protests in other countries. Their favorite is the Tahrir Square agitation in Egypt in February. But if you go to Cairo today, veterans of those demonstrations will tell you that these efforts accomplished relatively little, and mainly had the effect of ousting an oppressive civilian government in favor of an even more oppressive military government of weak CIA puppets which is still operating under martial law, even as benighted religious fanatics gather strength. In a severe world economic depression of the kind we have today, mere protest is not enough. Desperate populations are looking for political leadership with solutions capable of solving the life or death issues facing nations today. A movement which is incapable of specifying what it intends to fight for is an immature movement which no intelligent person will take seriously. The secret of a mass strike upsurge is that crisis conditions will propel many apolitical people into activism. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation by demagogues, including those of the extreme right. The mass strike upsurge by itself solves nothing. The question is whether any coherent group of people can intervene into the mass upsurge and push aside bankrupt and failed leaders with the kind of radical reform program that can actually get the society out of the crisis. The masses cannot discover this program on their own – they are too busy with the struggle for daily existence. College students therefore have a special responsibility to provide ideas for the benefit of the entire society. If an adequate program becomes dominant, the nation can survive. Otherwise, nothing guarantees that civilization itself will not collapse – look at the Tea Party if you don’t believe this. Soros, Koch, and the other finance capitalists have a good working understanding of how these things work, which is why they are sending in their operatives to make sure that this movement will have only the vaguest demands, or no demands at all, to fight for. Let that happen, and Wall Street will rule the day once again. Despite what Michael Moore may think, the political power of Wall Street is considerable, and an effective attack on the bankers will demand the unified efforts of key sectors of the population. This unity must be expressed in the program itself. Students must broaden the sociological scope of the movement to include all walks of life.”-Webster G. Tarpley Something to keep in mind in the nascent stages of this anti-corporate action. The gatekeepers of the status quo are always at work, sabotaging, flummoxing, co-opting, radical movements for change which pose a credible threat to continued operation of the Great Happiness Machine that is Casino Capitalism. Relentlessly grinding up individuality, critical thoughts, hopes and dreams amid gauzy and sensuous clouds of greed, consumption, self-absorption, hedonism, un-reality based entertainment, faux patriotism, faux populism, and infinite variations of pro-corporate education and propaganda.” “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Webster G. Tarpley @ Tarpley.net:

An Emergency Program for Anti-Wall Street Protestors: Don’t Let Soros Hijack the Movement

Political mass strike dynamics have been at work in the United States since the Wisconsin and Ohio mobilizations of February and March. Now, there are demonstrations in lower Manhattan and Boston specifically directed against the Wall Street banks. Another protest demonstration is scheduled for Washington, DC, starting on October 6. Good: a political challenge to Wall Street is indeed long overdue.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are skeptical in regard to Obama. There is no sizable constituency for Ron Paul, and the crackpot Austrian school of economics is hardly represented. Above all, there is a desire to break the power of Wall Street. This much is promising, but still not enough to win.

The demonstrations appear initially as leaderless groups, engaged in an organic process of discussion from which specific demands are supposed to emerge. But so far, these demonstrations have put forth no specific demands, reforms, or concrete measures whatsoever to fight Wall Street. This is a fatal political weakness. A movement that attempts to go forward with vague slogans like “Freedom” or “Abolish capitalism” is likely to become easy prey for foundation-funded operatives on the left wing of the Democratic Party.

If a movement pretends to have no leaders, then it is the corporate media, themselves controlled by Wall Street, who will choose the leaders. A few days ago, a Wall Street protester named Kelly Heresy was anointed as principal honcho by Keith Olbermann, who used to work for the hedge fund called General Electric, and who now works for Al Gore. This is no way to select leaders.

The demonstrations may appear spontaneous, but it is easy to see gatekeepers and countergangs operating in their midst, often with a frank counterinsurgency agenda. Occupy Wall Street in particular shows the heavy influence of union bureaucrats from the Service Employees International Union, as well as Acorn – both parts of the Obama machine. The goal of these operatives is to keep the focus of the protests vague and diffuse, so that no demands emerge that might be embarrassing to the Wall Street puppet Obama and his reelection campaign. Their ultimate goal is to absorb the protests as the left wing of the Obama 2012 effort. That means supporting an administration which not only refuses to fight Wall Street, but which is packed with Wall Street executives in its highest positions.

Dubious Hollywood figures like Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore are attempting to gain publicity for themselves by showing up at the demonstrations. Michael Moore, who is not very popular with the demonstrators, was instrumental in leading the antiwar and impeachment movements of the past decade back into the Democratic Party to support Obama. Journalist Matt Taibbi, another newly minted expert on the movement, is remembered for his hatchet jobs in favor of the Bush administration theory of terrorism.

The organizers of the Wall Street action say they want to imitate recent protests in other countries. Their favorite is the Tahrir Square agitation in Egypt in February. But if you go to Cairo today, veterans of those demonstrations will tell you that these efforts accomplished relatively little, and mainly had the effect of ousting an oppressive civilian government in favor of an even more oppressive military government of weak CIA puppets which is still operating under martial law, even as benighted religious fanatics gather strength. In Greece, it is true that the trade unions have mounted a dozen general strikes, but all of these have failed to oust Prime Minister Papandreou, the main enforcer of austerity cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund, and so the brutal austerity continues. The same thing applies to Spain, where the indignados became so self-absorbed in their discussion and consensus process that they never put forward a program to save Spanish society from the bankers. In Iceland too, the anti-bank movement was never able to go beyond mere protest to advance a series of concrete measures that would allow them to contend for power, take power, and hold onto it for the public good.

The lesson of all of these situations is that, in a severe world economic depression of the kind we have today, mere protest is not enough. Desperate populations are looking for political leadership with solutions capable of solving the life or death issues facing nations today. A movement which is incapable of specifying what it intends to fight for is an immature movement which no intelligent person will take seriously.

The secret of a mass strike upsurge is that crisis conditions will propel many apolitical people into activism. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation by demagogues, including those of the extreme right. The mass strike upsurge by itself solves nothing. The question is whether any coherent group of people can intervene into the mass upsurge and push aside bankrupt and failed leaders with the kind of radical reform program that can actually get the society out of the crisis. The masses cannot discover this program on their own – they are too busy with the struggle for daily existence. College students therefore have a special responsibility to provide ideas for the benefit of the entire society. If an adequate program becomes dominant, the nation can survive. Otherwise, nothing guarantees that civilization itself will not collapse – look at the Tea Party if you don’t believe this. Soros, Koch, and the other finance capitalists have a good working understanding of how these things work, which is why they are sending in their operatives to make sure that this movement will have only the vaguest demands, or no demands at all, to fight for. Let that happen, and Wall Street will rule the day once again.

Despite what Michael Moore may think, the political power of Wall Street is considerable, and an effective attack on the bankers will demand the unified efforts of key sectors of the population. This unity must be expressed in the program itself. Students must broaden the sociological scope of the movement to include all walks of life.

In order to fight Wall Street, it is necessary for the American people to understand the basic idea of shifting the cost of the world economic depression off of the backs of working people and the poor where it is now, and onto Wall Street banks and super-rich speculators. Depressions are very expensive. Who should pay for the current depression? The bankers demand that the American people must pay. We want the bankers to pay, and we must specify how. A movement that wants to defend working people against the class warfare of the bankers has the responsibility of putting forward a program to defend middle-class and other working people. In order to win, the anti-Wall Street protests must agitate for a series of demands including the following:

1. Student Loan Amnesty. The common experience of many of the protesters is that of being crushed by an outrageous burden of high interest student loans. Today it is common for graduating seniors to carry $50,000, $75,000, or even $100,000 of debt. Add the costs of an advanced degree in teaching, law, or medicine, and the debt burden becomes astronomical. The exorbitant cost of a college education reflects the increasing immiseration of the United States over the past 40 years, as the overall standard of living has declined by two thirds or more in terms of real wages and other considerations. These debts are owed to the same zombie bankers who cashed in on the Bush bailout of 2008, and the even larger loans issued by Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve over recent years. This is a system of brutal primitive accumulation against the life chances everyone who knows that they need a college degree to be employable in the 21st century. Total students loan indebtedness is now approaching $1 trillion. This grinding debt is destroying the futures, the lives, and the hopes of college students and recent graduates.
When a debtor country like Greece is unable to pay its debts, it is normal to hear talk of a haircut for the bondholders and bankers. It is time for the Wall Street zombie banks to take a haircut on student loan debt. Most of this debt cannot be paid off, but an entire generation can be ruined by a futile attempt to pay it back.

A leading demand must therefore be a total cancellation of all outstanding student loan debt, meaning a total and immediate forgiveness of all payments of principal and interest coming from this category of borrowing. Carter granted Vietnam draft resisters an amnesty. If Obama wants to keep his job, he must deliver a student loan amnesty to save not just a single generation, but the entire future of the United States and beyond. Otherwise, dump Obama in 2012! The zombie bankers have been pampered enough. It is time for them to take a bath, so that a generation might live. This is also the best stimulus program possible.

2. Stop Foreclosures. Since students alone will never be enough to make a revolution, it is necessary to put forward additional measures to defend other parts of the population from the depredations of Wall Street. In the area of home foreclosures, the bankers have trampled on the law to seize millions of homes, some of which never had a mortgage, and many of which were current in their payments. The banks have used corrupt robo-signers, robo-cops, and robo-judges to carry out these fraudclosure thefts. The answer is to make foreclosure a federal crime, so that anyone who throws an American family out on the street will end up in Leavenworth. Again, the zombie bankers can eat the losses, which are unavoidable in any case. This is not an impossible demand: under the New Deal, the Frazier-Lemke Act stopped all foreclosures on homes, provided only that the owners could get a minimal payment plan approved by any judge in any court. With the help of popular pressure and public opinion, foreclosures virtually came to a halt. This is what we need to be demanding today.

3. Defend and fully fund the social safety net. Wall Street and Washington elites agree that the American people ought to be subjected to genocidal austerity – cuts so draconian that they will kill people. The goal is obviously to fund bigger and better bailouts of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase when they go bankrupt the next time around. Real unemployment in the United States is now about 25%, meaning that 30 million people cannot find work, and many have been looking for years. Therefore, we need to extend jobless benefits to all unemployed, including those who have been out of a job for 99 weeks and more. 46 million Americans are now surviving thanks to Food Stamps, but the reactionary Republicans are demanding savage cuts, and Obama is more than likely to cave. We also need to defend programs that specifically help children and young. These include S-CHIP, which gives health care to poor children; Head Start, which provides breakfast and preschool for poor kids; and WIC, which provides high-protein meals for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants. Older people have special problems, including that Wall Street speculators have destroyed the value of their 401(k) and IRA retirement plans. This means that Social Security pensions should be increased, and not cut, as the Republicans and Obama both want. Obama has already cut $500 billion out of Medicare, but he wants to cut it even more, and the Tea Party is eager to help him. The best healthcare would be to open Medicare to all Americans, while making the investments needed to maintain quality. Medicaid gives healthcare to poor people of any age, and these payments must be maintained.

4. Pay for healthcare and social services with a 1% Wall Street Sales Tax. When they hear demands like these, Fox news commentators will demand to know how these programs can be paid for. The answer is simple: the Tobin tax or Wall Street sales tax. Today the total financial turnover of the banksters in terms of buying, selling, and other trading comes to well over three quadrillion dollars yearly – that’s more than 3,000 trillion dollars. The rest of us pay sales tax on most purchases, often including the groceries, but Wall Street zombie bankers and hedge fund hyenas pay absolutely zero on that colossal sum. The most unfair aspect of the entire US tax system is that Wall Street pays virtually no taxes. It is time for the bankers to cough up 1% of every stock, bond, and derivatives transaction, be it program trading, high frequency trading, or computerized flash trading at the rate of one million transactions per second. The total revenue could be split between the federal government and the states, and would amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps even trillions – depending on how determined the speculators are to keep up their dirty deals. There is nothing impossible about this demand: the federal government had a financial transaction tax from the time of World War I in 1967. And even today, the largely right wing governments of the European Union are about to enact their own Tobin tax. Why can’t it be done here as well?

These are immediate agitational demands that can be readily understood by any person. They can form the leading edge of a struggle to break the political power of Wall Street. In addition, a full recovery from depression and the attainment of full employment for the first time since 1945 will require the nationalization of the Federal Reserve, and the issuing of successive tranches of $1 trillion of 0%, very long-term Federal credit for the building of infrastructure, with a goal of creating 30 million new productive jobs with adequate capital investment per job.

Another essential point is that Wall Street is the biggest nest of warmongers anywhere in the world. Anyone seeking to gain influence over the anti-Wall Street movement should be willing to condemn and denounce Obama’s wanton aggression against Libya, as well as to call for an immediate pullout of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Anyone who refuses to do this should be regarded with grave suspicion.

The alternative to such concrete demands is, whether we like it or not, to remain in the orbit of Obama’s Democratic Party. Earlier this year, students, workers, and others occupied the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin in response to attacks on working people coming from the fascist governor, Walker. The resistance against Walker was betrayed first of all by the Democratic Party, which announced that it would not fight for wages and benefits, but only for trade union rights in the abstract. That is a good program for trade union bureaucrats, but not so good for working people, who bore the brunt of Walker’s austerity. A president who was on the side of the people would have gone immediately to Madison, Wisconsin to hold a town hall on the occupied grounds of the state capitol, an event that would have looked much different than the canned, pre-screened teleprompter town halls Obama likes to address. A real president would have taken Attorney General Holder and Labor Secretary Solis along to investigate the denial of civil rights and labor violations by Walker. Obama did none of these things. Rather, he damned the movement with a few words of faint praise, and cut it loose. The lesson is that the Democratic Party is more than willing to sell out mass struggles anytime it can. And it is only by having your own program of anti-Wall Street demands that you can become independent of the rotten two-party system.

What If The Tea Party Occupied Wall Street?

In Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 at 4:50 pm

You wouldn't know much about the continued occupation of Wall Street by thousands of activists from the corporate media--outlets that seem much more interested in protests of the Tea Party variety. (photo: pweiskel08) The anti-corporate protests have been lightly covered.

Oldspeak:” “People are down on Wall Street right now, holding a sit-in and a camp-in down there–virtually no news about this protest.” -Michael Moore. “So five days of clogging downtown Manhattan, protesting corporate control of the economy, and you haven’t heard a word about it on the news? If that’s a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street about Ben Bernanke…it’s the lead story on every network newscast.” -Keith Olberman. Not atal a shocker that anti-corporate protests are largely ignored in corporate media. Corporate media focuses its attention on corporate funded anti-government protests like those of the tea party, with the goal of diverting the people’s attention away from real and deep flaws with a hopelessly corrupt financial system, coincidentally controlled, owned and operated by the corporatocracy.” “Freedom is Slavery”

By Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

In an action called Occupy Wall Street, thousands of activists took to the streets of Lower Manhattan on September 17.

The protests are continuing, with demonstrators camped out on the Financial District’s Liberty Street in support of U.S. democratization and against corporate domination of politics (Adbusters9/19/11).

But you wouldn’t know much about any of this from the corporate media–outlets that seem much more interested in protests of the Tea Party variety.

The anti-corporate protests have been lightly covered in the hometown New York Times: One piece (9/18/11) largely about how the police blocked access to Wall Street, and one photo (9/22/11) with the caption “Wall Street Protest Whirls On.”

The protests have been treated with brief mentions on CNN, like this one from host Wolf Blitzer (9/19/11): “Protests here in New York on Wall Street entering a third day. Should New Yorkers be worried at all about what’s going on?”

From the ABCCBS and NBC network news, we could find nothing at all in the Nexis news database. On the PBS NewsHour (9/19/11), the protests got a brief reference, tacked on to the end of the stock market report:

Away from the trading floor, some 200 protesters marched for a third day, charging the financial system favors corporations. At least six people were arrested.
Some voices in the media have noted the lack of coverage. On the Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC9/19/11), Michael Moore said, “People are down on Wall Street right now, holding a sit-in and a camp-in down there–virtually no news about this protest.”

At the top of his Current TV show (9/21/11), Keith Olberman said:

So five days of clogging downtown Manhattan, protesting corporate control of the economy, and you haven’t heard a word about it on the news?
He later remarked, “If that’s a Tea Party protest in front of Wall Street about Ben Bernanke…it’s the lead story on every network newscast.”

The media preference for Tea Party gatherings over progressive activism is well-documented. A September 2009 Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., garnered far more coverage than a similar gay rights rally the following month (Extra!12/09). Thousands of activists at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in June 2010 did not merit anywhere near the coverage accorded to 600 attendees at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville (Extra!9/10). The One Nation Working Together rally (10/2/10) brought thousands to Washington– but little media attention (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/6/10).

And even the size of a given Tea Party gathering does not seem to much matter. When about 200 Tea Partiers gathered in Washington earlier this year (FAIR Blog4/1/11), an account in Slate (3/31/11) noted, “There was at least one reporter for every three or four activists.”

The answer to the problem of non-coverage would seem to be simple: If the people occupying Wall Street want more media attention, they should just call themselves Tea Party activists.

ACTION:
Ask the nightly newscasts why they have decided to give little to no coverage to the Occupy Wall Street protests– especially given their interest in Tea Party demonstrations.

CONTACT:

NBC Nightly News
nightly@nbc.com
212-664-4971

ABC World News
Feedback form

CBS Evening News

evening@cbsnews.com
212-975-3247

PBS NewsHour
onlineda@newshour.org
703-998-2138

NeuroFocus Uses “Neuromarketing” To Hack Your Brain

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Oldspeak:”Neuromarketing Hackers, hacking INTO YOUR BRAIN to find new and more insidious ways to sell you shit you don’t need: GOOD. “Anonymous” Hackers, hacking into computer networks to bring to light lax security of your sensitive and personal data stored on the internet: BAD. In a glowing article written in a magazine owned by marketing company Neilsen Research about a company NeuroFocus also owned by Nielsen Research, we glimpse the future of “marketing”: subconscious thought manipulation. Indeed, psychotronic warfare, like many other initially military applications (Internet, LASER, Kevlar, Radar, GPS, etc etc) has been adapted for civilian use. Only in a society of based on profit-driven overconsumption and materialism can a technology that has the potential to aid corporations in manipulating your behavior on a subconscious level be seen as a good thing. Never mind the slippery slope. What’s to stop this technology from being used to suppress undesirable behaviors, like dissent and protest? What’s to stop ‘every Wall Street banker, politician, and corporate CEO with gobs of cash and a desire to manipulate your brain?” -Paul B. Farrell.  They’re not content to bombard you with ads to entice you to buy their brand. They want to literally get inside your mind and  MAKE you choose to do so, whether your want it or not. Literally neurologically engineering your consent, creating a society of “Happiness Machines“. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Adam L. Penenberg @ Fast Company:

K. Pradeep knows what you like and why you like it. Take the sleek, slick iPad. Ask Mac lovers why they adore their tablet and they’ll say it’s the convenience, the touch screen, the design, the versatility. But Apple aficionados don’t just like their iPads; they’re preprogammed to like them. It’s in their subconscious–the curves, the way it feels in their hands, and in the hormones their brains secrete when they touch the screen. “When you move an icon on the iPad and it does what you thought it would do, you’re surprised and delighted it actually happened,” he says. “That surprise and delight turns into a dopamine squirt, and you don’t even know why you liked it.”

Pradeep is the founder and CEO of science-based consumer-research firm NeuroFocus, a Berkeley, California-based company wholly owned by Nielsen Holdings N.V. that claims to have the tools to tap into your brain (or, as Woody Allen called it, “my second favorite organ”). You might say Pradeep was born to plumb the depths of our minds. The “A.K.” in his name stands for Anantha Krishnan, which translates as “unending consciousness”; Pradeep means “illumination.” Fortunately, he doesn’t refer to himself as Unending Illuminated Consciousness, preferring, as is custom in his native region of India, a single name: Pradeep. “Like Prince or Madonna,” he explains.

On this particular spring day, he’s in New York to offer a presentation at the 75th Advertising Research Foundation conference. As he holds court on a small stage in a ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Midtown, Pradeep seems to relish the spotlight. Swizzle-stick thin and topped with unruly jet-black hair, the effusive 48-year-old is sharply dressed, from his spectacles to his black jacket and red-and-black silk shirt, and all the way down to his shiny boots. He stands out, needless to say, from the collective geekdom gathered at this egghead advertising fest.

Speaking with the speed and percussive enunciation of an auctioneer, Pradeep is at the conference today to introduce his company’s latest innovation: a product called Mynd, the world’s first portable, wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) scanner. The skullcap-size device sports dozens of sensors that rest on a subject’s head like a crown of thorns. It covers the entire area of the brain, he explains, so it can comprehensively capture synaptic waves; but unlike previous models, it doesn’t require messy gel. What’s more, users can capture, amplify, and instantaneously dispatch a subject’s brain waves in real time, via Bluetooth, to another device–a remote laptop, say, an iPhone, or that much-beloved iPad. Over the coming months, Neuro-Focus plans to give away Mynds to home panelists across the country. Consumers will be paid to wear them while they watch TV, head to movie theaters, or shop at the mall. The firm will collect the resulting streams of data and use them to analyze the participants’ deep subconscious responses to the commercials, products, brands, and messages of its clients. NeuroFocus data crunchers can then identify the products and brands that are the most appealing (and the ones whose packaging and labels are dreary turnoffs), the characters in a Hollywood film that engender the strongest emotional attachments, and the exact second viewers tune out an ad.

These corporations share the same goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire.

Pradeep and his team in Berkeley are hardly the first to make a direct connection between brain function and how it determines consumer behavior. Advertisers, marketers, and product developers have deployed social psychology for decades to influence whether you buy Coke or Pepsi, or a small or an extra-large popcorn. Like the feather weight of that mobile phone? Suddenly gravitating to a new kind of beer at the store? Inexplicably craving a bag of Cheetos? From eye-deceiving design to product placement gimmickry, advertisers and marketers have long exploited our basic human patterns, the ones that are as rudimentary and predictable as Pavlov’s slobbering dog.

NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep thinks that traditional focus groups are a Cro-Magnon form of market research.
NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep thinks that traditional focus groups are a Cro-Magnon form of market research. | Photo by Gene Lee

NeuroFocus, however, promises something deeper, with unprecedented access into the nooks and crannies of the subconscious. It’s a tantalizing claim, given that businesses spend trillions of dollars each year on advertising, marketing, and product R&D, and see, by some estimates, 80% of all their new products fail. The hope that neuroscience can provide more accurate results than traditional focus groups and other traditional market research is why Citi, Google, HP, and Microsoft, as well as soda companies, brewers, retailers, manufacturers, and media companies have all become NeuroFocus clients in the past six years. When salty-snack purveyor Frito-Lay looked to increase sales of its single-serve 100-calorie snacks to women, it tapped NeuroFocus, whose research informed new packaging and a new ad campaign. CBS partnered with the firm to measure responses to new shows and TV pilots; Arts & Entertainment (A&E) had NeuroFocus track viewers’ second-by-second neurological reactions to commercials to ensure that its programs work with the ads that fund them; and Pradeep’s team helped ESPN display the logos of its corporate advertisers more effectively on-air. California Olive Ranch had NeuroFocus test its olive-oil labels for maximum appeal. And, as we’ll see later, Intel hired the company to better understand its global branding proposition, while PayPal sought a more refined corporate identity.

These corporations vary widely, but they share a fundamental goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire. With NeuroFocus’s help, they think they can know you better than you know yourself.

Orange cheese dust. That wholly unnatural neon stuff that gloms onto your fingers when you’re mindlessly snacking on chips or doodles. The stuff you don’t think about until you realize you’ve smeared it on your shirt or couch cushions–and then keep on eating anyway, despite your better intentions. Orange cheese dust is probably not the first thing you think of when talking about how the brain functions, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes NeuroFocus, and neuromarketing in general, such a potentially huge and growing business. In 2008, Frito-Lay hired NeuroFocus to look into Cheetos, the junk-food staple. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand. Frito-Lay leveraged that information into its advertising campaign for Cheetos, which has made the most of the mess. For its efforts, NeuroFocus earned a Grand Ogilvy award for advertising research, given out by the Advertising Research Foundation, for “demonstrating the most successful use of research in the creation of superior advertising that achieves a critical business objective.”

This seemingly precise way of unveiling the brain’s inner secrets is the ultimate promise of neuromarketing, a science (or perhaps an art) that picks up electrical signals from the brain and spins them through software to analyze the responses and translate those signals into layman’s terms. While evolving in tandem with advances in neuroscience, the field owes much to a study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine in 2004 to investigate the power of brand perception on consumer taste preferences. Based on the famous Coke vs. Pepsi tests of yesteryear, volunteers had their brains scanned in an MRI as they sampled each beverage. When they didn’t know what they were drinking, half liked Coke and half liked Pepsi. When they did know, however, most preferred Coke, and their brain scans showed a great deal of activity in the cranial areas associated with memory and emotion. In other words, the power of Coke’s brand is so great that it preps your brain to enjoy its flavor–and presumably to influence your purchasing decisions when you’re in the supermarket.

Since the Baylor study, neurotesters have turned to the EEG as their standard measurement tool, rather than the MRI. For starters, the MRI is bulkier, harder to administer, and expensive. Far more important, however, is the fact that an EEG measures the brain’s electrical activity on the scalp, while an MRI records changes in blood flow inside the brain. This means that an EEG reading can be done almost in real time, while an MRI’s has a five-second delay. MRIs provide beautiful, high-resolution pictures, ideal for identifying tumors and other abnormalities, but they are useless for tracking quick-hit reactions.

For example, imagine that you are asked to generate an action verb in response to the word ball. Within 200 milliseconds, your brain has absorbed the request. Impulses move to the motor cortex and drive your articulators to respond, and you might say “throw.” This process happens far too fast for an MRI to record. But an EEG can capture virtually every neurological impulse that results from that single word: ball.

This is where modern neuromarketing exists–at the very creation of an unconscious idea, in the wisp of time between the instant your brain receives a stimulus and subconsciously reacts. There, data are unfiltered, uncorrupted by your conscious mind, which hasn’t yet had the chance to formulate and deliver a response in words or gestures. During this vital half-second, your subconscious mind is free from cultural bias, differences in language and education, and memories. Whatever happens there is neurologically pure, unlike when your conscious mind takes over and actually changes the data by putting them through myriad mental mechanisms. It’s all the action inside you before your conscious mind does the societally responsible thing and reminds you that artificially flavored and colored cheese dust laced with monosodium glutamate is, well, gross.

With the instantaneous readings of EEG sensors, neuromarketers can track electrical waves as they relate to emotion, memory, and attention from specific areas of the brain: namely, the amygdala, an almond-shaped region that plays a role in storing emotionally charged memories and helps trigger physical reactions (sweaty palms, a faster heartbeat); the hippocampus, where memory lurks; and the lateral prefrontal cortex, which governs high-level cognitive powers (one being attention). Once the brain waves are collected, complex algorithms can sift through the data to connect each reaction to a specific moment.

Neuromarketers like Pradeep argue that this testing is much more efficient, cost effective, and precise than traditional methods like focus groups. While Gallup must poll roughly a thousand people to achieve a 4% margin of error, NeuroFocus tests just two dozen subjects for its corporate clients–and even that is a sample size larger than those deployed by leading academic neuroscience labs. This is possible because people’s brains are remarkably alike, even though there are some differences between male and female brains, and between those of children and senior citizens. And NeuroFocus collects a massive amount of input, recording and analyzing billions of data points during a typical neurological testing project. This is the genius of neuromarketing, according to a booster like Pradeep. He promises an accurate read of the subconscious mind. Focus groups and surveys, on the other hand, give an imprecise measure of the conscious mind, of so-called articulated, or self-reported, responses. They are one step removed from actual emotion, inherently weak: like flashbacks in a film. They are fine for eliciting facts, less so for probing into what people really feel.

Ray Poynter of the Future Place saves his harshest criticism for neuromarketers: “They are overclaiming massively.”

Not everyone agrees that neuromarketing is the next great thing, of course. Because its research has been primarily corporate funded and its tangible results primarily anecdotal, neuromarketing is not without detractors, who tend to lump it in with the array of businesses, like biometrics or facial mapping, that promise all sorts of new-wave marketing breakthroughs. Ray Poynter, founder of the Future Place, a social-media consultancy in Nottingham, England, colors himself a skeptic on all of them but saves his harshest criticism for neuromarketers. He believes they offer far more hype than science. “Neuromarketers are overclaiming massively,” he says. “While it is likely to reduce the number of bad mistakes, and slightly increase the chance of good things happening, it’s all a matter of degree.”

Even so, it’s hard to imagine neuromarketing proving less reliable than traditional market research. For decades, marketers have relied on focus groups and surveys to divine what consumers want, using these methods to solicit feedback on their attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and perceptions about an advertisement, a product and its packaging, or a service. Each year, hundreds of thousands of focus groups are organized around the world, and about $4.5 billion is spent globally on qualitative market research.

This kind of “mother-in-law research,” as ad exec Kirk Cheyfitz calls it, has all manner of shortcomings. It’s not statistically significant, so it’s risky to graft your findings onto the population at large. One or two blowhards may hijack an entire panel, and researchers can, without knowing it, influence participants. The world has changed, and yet so much market research is still conducted the same old way.

Brain Eaters

Companies try to keep their neuromarketing efforts secret. Here are six that we flushed out.

Illustration by Superexpresso

[Illustration by Superexpresso]

“I bet you, long ago if you looked at cave paintings, there were a bunch of Cro-Magnon men and women sitting around a fire in focus groups wondering whether to go hunt mastodon that night,” Pradeep says. “Today, our focus groups are no different.” In the tale of our inner lives, we have always been unreliable narrators. Pradeep believes he can get at the truth.

When David Ginsberg joined Intel in 2009 as the company’s director of insights and market research, he was something of an expert on the slippery nature of “truth,” having spent 15 years working on political campaigns for John Edwards, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. Ginsberg was downright skeptical of neuromarketing, or, as he calls it, “nonconscious-based research.” He thought it had more to do with science fiction than reality. But he also knew that Intel had been conducting market research as if it were still 1965, with surveys that were the equivalent of sending Gallup off to knock on thousands of doors. That may have worked decently in the days when a person bought a computer based on specs–processing speed, RAM, etc. But in an age where virtually every computer is sold with power to spare, Ginsberg knew that the rationale for buying a certain computer was as much emotional as it was rational. To compete in this new market, Intel the company had to understand how people felt about Intel the brand.

“If you ask people if they know Intel, something like 90% will say they know Intel,” Ginsberg says. “Ask if they like Intel, a huge percentage will say they like Intel. Ask them [to rank or name] tech leaders, however, and we come out much lower on the list.” Ginsberg felt that he needed to understand consumers’ feelings at a deeper level: What words did consumers associate with Intel? Were these associations altered by one’s culture? Ginsberg decided to run pilot tests with a number of market-research firms, and despite his sense of neuromarketing as mumbo jumbo, he included NeuroFocus. What he learned surprised him and turned him into a believer.

NeuroFocus structured its test for Intel as it does most of its market research, patterning it after something called the Evoked Response Potential test, a staple of neuroscience. Test subjects were paid to come to a NeuroFocus lab and put on a cap with 64 sensors that would measure electrical activity across the brain. Because the U.S. and China are two very important markets for Intel, NeuroFocus tested groups of 24 consumers (half men, half women) in Berkeley and in a midsize city in China’s Sichuan Province.

In a quiet room, each test subject was shown the words “achieve,” “possibilities,” “explore,” “opportunity,” “potentiality,” “identify,” “discover,” “resolves,” and “solves problems.” Each flitted by on a TV screen at half-second intervals. The subject was instructed to press a button whenever she saw a word with a letter underscored by a red dot. After several minutes of this subconscious-priming word test, she was shown a few Intel ads. Following this, the words were again presented on the screen, this time without the dots.

The exercise served two functions: First, the red dots focused the subject’s attention; second, they gave NeuroFocus a baseline measure of the brain’s response, since each time a test subject saw the red dot, her brain went “A-ha! There’s a word with a red dot.” Click.

Pradeep knows how to read your mind--so long as you put on that device first.
Pradeep knows how to read your mind–so long as you put on that device first. | Photo by Gene Lee

When NeuroFocus later analyzed the EEG readings, it looked for those same “a-ha” moments from the period during which the subject had viewed the Intel ads. The words that provoked the most such responses were “achieve” and “opportunity.” Interestingly, women in the U.S. and in China had virtually the same response post-advertisements, as did American men and Chinese men. The differences were in the genders; on both sides of the pond, men and women had strikingly different reactions. “Achieve” prompted the most intense reaction among women, while men gravitated toward “opportunity. “

Says Ginsberg: “This was incredibly fascinating to us. There seem to be fundamental values across humanity.” He believes that Intel would have never learned this through traditional market research and focus groups, where cultural biases come into play. He also concluded that there are differences in how men and women think, and that these differences cross cultural boundaries. This is not news to Pradeep, who points out that male and female brains are different, and not in a Larry Summers women-aren’t-as-good-at-math-and-science-as-men-are kind of way. The female brain is our default brain when we are in the womb. But at week eight, about half of all fetuses are bathed in testosterone. These now-male brains close down certain communication centers in the brain while opening up others geared toward sex and aggression. In female brains, meanwhile, the communication pathways continue to evolve, intricate neural routes are constructed across both hemispheres, and areas dedicated to emotion blossom. Life seems to imitate a beer commercial, doesn’t it?

Now Intel is changing its marketing strategy. “A brand that helps people achieve and offers opportunity has a phenomenal brand attribute,” Ginsberg says. “It gives you a new perspective on things, to understand your consumer better.” The NeuroFocus findings have informed the next round of creative advertising you’ll see from Intel, due to emerge later this year. “I guarantee when you see these ads you’ll see a straight line,” Ginsberg adds. “The study gave us fresh insights to talk about things we didn’t have permission to talk about before.”

It is conceivable that Intel could have redirected its advertising toward achievement and opportunity with the help of focus groups. But Ginsberg feels, and Pradeep fervently believes, that neuromarketing has a much better shot at getting closer to the unconscious truth, and therefore proving more effective. Still, the difference between the two forms of research sometimes seems to be just a matter of degrees.

Barry Herstein left American Express to join PayPal in October 2007 as global chief marketing officer with the goal of giving eBay’s transaction-processing division a coherent marketing strategy. After the first few weeks, he knew just how difficult the task would be. Almost every time he asked a PayPal employee, “What’s the big idea behind PayPal?” the following response came back: “Safe, simple, wow!”

“Safe, simple, wow?” Herstein scoffs. “That’s not a big idea. It’s a tagline.” It didn’t even make sense. Wasn’t any payment product supposed to be safe and simple? He supposed that software engineers might know that paying for things was complicated, but having worked at American Express and Citi, he knew that the consumer didn’t think that was the case. And “wow”? He cringed. Then, after a series of brainstorming sessions and conversations with a broad range of customers, he hired NeuroFocus to help him figure out the basic concepts around which he could build a new global identity for PayPal.

As part of its standard methodology, NeuroFocus captures the subconscious resonance consumers have for seven brand attributes: form, function, and benefits, as well as feelings (the emotional connection a brand elicits from consumers), values (what it represents), metaphors (aspirations, challenges, lessons, or life events that seem connected to the product), and extensions (the unexpected and perhaps illogical feelings it inspires). Based on his earlier brainstorming sessions, Herstein asked NeuroFocus to home in on three attributes and create three phrases for testing within each. For function he offered “convenient,” “fast,” and “secure”; for feelings, “confident,” “hassle-free,” and “in the know”; and for benefits, “new opportunity,” “on my side,” and “empowering.” The 21-person panel had 11 men and 10 women and was also segmented into regular, light, and non-PayPal shoppers.

According to NeuroFocus, “fast” ranked the highest in the function category. (Notably, “fast” was not acknowledged in any way by “safe, simple, wow.”) In fact, according to the brain heat map that NeuroFocus created from the aggregated data, speed is a huge advantage that sets off extremely positive feelings, especially from regular users. The more people use PayPal, it seems, the more they appreciate how quickly they can close transactions. For the feelings category, “in the know” resonated best, and in benefits, “on my side” won out.

Examining brand attributes is a standard of traditional market testing, of course. Herstein ran a parallel, more conventional track at the same time as his NeuroFocus study, creating a conventional online survey. The results were significantly different. While the word “fast” resonated with this group, the phrase “on my side” wound up at the bottom of the benefits category, which was topped instead by “confident”–a word that had finished dead last among men in the NeuroFocus study.

Herstein trusted the NeuroFocus results, though, and set out to create a coherent global image for the company based on them. That image would humanize PayPal by emphasizing the outcomes it delivers, not the act of paying; nowhere in the new marketing would you find any dreaded, dreary images of two people hovering around a computer. “People don’t want to see that,” Herstein says. “They want to see people enjoying either what they just bought or the time that it gives them by paying fast.”

Not everyone at the company was sold on his new approach. The heads of some foreign markets–Herstein declined to name which– predicted that the new campaign would bomb. Herstein says that his boss, PayPal president Scott Thompson, told him he was crazy–but Herstein was willing to stake his reputation on the new approach.

What happened? According to Herstein, when he changed PayPal’s visual and verbal identity across the company’s email and web pages, click-through and response rates increased three to four times. “I’m telling you, in the world of direct marketing, the words ’400% improvement’ don’t exist,” he says. “If you can go from 1.2% response rate to 1.3%, you’ll get a promotion, right? And if you can take something from a 4% response rate to 16%? Unheard of.”

“The mystique is that there’s a way to turn consumers into robots to buy products. That’s simply not the case,” says one neuromarketer.

Herstein has left PayPal to join Snapfish and now sits on NeuroFocus’s board as an unpaid adviser. While eBay confirms the basics of his account, it won’t confirm his description of the outcomes from the marketing campaign he created; a spokesman repeatedly asked Fast Company not to include this information in our story.

This bid for secrecy is entirely in keeping with the aura around neuromarketing, an industry that is both highly confident about what it can deliver and very nervous about its perception in the broader world. Several neuromarketing firms were approached for this story, but the only one that would do more than provide vague descriptions of its work was NeuroFocus, which is by all accounts the industry leader. Out of dozens of its corporate clients, very few would agree to discuss their work with the firm.

Neuromarketing outfits are afraid of being branded as trendy voodoo science, no more trustworthy than palm readers. Such a perception, they believe, will wither with good results. Perhaps more worrying is the other end of the speculative spectrum, which posits that corporations armed with our neurological data will be able to push a secret “buy button” in our brains. This is a fear promulgated by, among others, Paul B. Farrell, a columnist for Dow Jones and author of The Millionaire Code. He calls this buy button your brain’s “true decision-making processor,” a “weapon of mass delusion.” You end up like a computer “without virus protection” and “exposed to every Wall Street banker, politician, and corporate CEO with gobs of cash and a desire to manipulate your brain.”

“There’s still this mystique that there’s a way to control consumers and turn them into robots to purchase products,” says Ron Wright, president and CEO of Sands Research, a rival neuromarketing firm based in El Paso, Texas. “That is simply not the case.” Nevertheless, after spending time with Pradeep, you get the feeling we’ve only just begun to tap the potential of this new movement. Pradeep is not a neuroscientist. He’s a former GE engineer and consultant who became fascinated by neuromarketing after a conversation with a neuroscientist who sat next to him on a cross-continental flight. After seven years at the helm of NeuroFocus, he sees every product relationship in terms of the brain, like a virtuoso musician who hears music in everyday sounds, from the clackety noise of a woman’s heels on a wooden floor to the melange of notes from a car engine.

On a sun-drenched afternoon in Berkeley, we tour the shops at the local mall. We stop in front of a Victoria’s Secret plate-glass window and Pradeep points out the ambiguous expression of a lingerie model on one of its posters. He explains that the brain is constantly looking out for our survival and as part of that is always ready to measure another person’s intent. Is that stranger happy? Angry? Sad? When an expression is not easy to decipher, we do a database search through our collection of faces–curious, worried, nervous, threatening–to choose which is closest to the one we see, and match it. “If the expression is easy to decipher, I hardly glance,” he says. “But if the expression is relatively hard to decipher, she makes me open the cupboard of memory.” Contrast this with the nearby Bebe store, where Pradeep shakes his head at the headless mannequins in the window. “Now that’s what I call a crime against humanity. Money down the drain.”

At the Apple store, we pause at a desktop computer and he explains why it’s always better to put images on the left side of the screen and text on the right: “That’s how the brain likes to see it,” he says. “If you flip it around, the right frontal looks at the words and has to flip it over the corpus callosum to the left frontal lobe. You make the brain do one extra step, and the brain hates you for that.” Pradeep loves Apple, and he loves to talk about Apple, in part because Steve Jobs never has been and probably never will be a client. (Apple doesn’t even use focus groups. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s top designer, famously said they lead to bland products designed to offend no one.) But the real reason he loves talking about Apple is that he believes the company has elevated basic design to high art, a hugely successful strategy that Pradeep thinks is justified by our most basic neurological underpinnings.

Which brings us back to that iPad. Pradeep claims the brain loves curves but detests sharp edges, which set off an avoidance response in our subconscious. In the same way our ancestors stood clear of sticks or jagged stones fashioned into weapons, we avoid sharp angles, viewing them as potential threats. NeuroFocus has performed several studies for retailers and food manufacturers and found that test subjects prefer in-store displays with rounded edges over those with sharper edges. In one instance, when these new rounded displays were rolled out to replace traditional store shelving, sales rose 15%.

But curved edges are only one reason for the iPad’s success. We also like how the tablet feels, how sleek and well balanced it is. Signals generated by our palms and fingers, along with lips and genitals, take up the most surface area within our brain’s sensory zone. The way a product feels in our hands can be a major selling point. It’s why we prefer glass bottles to cans, which NeuroFocus product-consumption studies bear out, although it’s not just the material, it’s also the slender curve of the bottle and the ridges in it. The touch screen, too, is a mental magnet and can induce those hormonal secretions Pradeep likes describing.

Why we like these curves no one knows for sure. Perhaps our brains correlate curves with nourishment–that is to say, mommy. (Calling Dr. Freud.) In men, it could be sexual. One study asked men to view before-and-after pictures of naked women who underwent cosmetic surgery to shrink their waists and add to their derrieres. The men’s brains responded as if they had been rewarded with drugs and alcohol. But this response to curves may be even more primal than sex, or beer. Another study suggested that men seek women with curves because women’s hips and thighs contain higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids, which nurture babies’ brains and lead to healthier offspring.

This is the flip side to our fears of neuromarketing: the potential to look at our choices in a new way that blends science, psychology, and history. Lately, NeuroFocus has been moving into product development, providing research to companies that will influence how products look, feel, and function before they hit the market. That’s what the firm is doing with its Mynd crown of sensors. But Pradeep has visions that go far beyond testing products, packaging, and commercials. He imagines neurotesting as ideal for court-room trials: A defense attorney could pretest opening and closing arguments for emotional resonance with mock juries. And while NeuroFocus is not getting involved in politics, he says that competitors of his helped Republican politicians shape their messages for the 2010 midterm elections.

One stunning application of neurotesting is the work of Robert Knight, Pradeep’s chief science officer, and a host of other neuroscience researchers who are trying to develop a way for quadriplegics to control their wheel-chairs just by thinking alone. When you watch someone move a hand to grab a can of soda, mirror neurons in your brain react as if you were grasping it yourself. Knight is studying which brain signals can be translated into software commands to drive a wheelchair. To further this research, Knight, part of the team that invented the Mynd, plans to give it away to scientists and labs around the world. And the next iteration, he promises, will be a big step up, with eye-tracking capability, a built-in video camera, and three times as many sensors for greater brain coverage. “If our limbs will not respond to the beauty of your thinking or your feeling, that is a horror beyond horrors,” Pradeep says. “Restoring a little bit of gesture, a little bit of movement, a little bit of control to that beautiful mind is an extraordinary thing to do.”

He seems sincere, passionate even, though of course I cannot read his mind.

A version of this article appears in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company.

Correction: Neurofocus is owned by Nielsen Holdings N.V., not Nielsen Research as stated in the original article.

 

Corporate Media Admits They Censor Candidates Who Challenge The Status Quo

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 at 11:20 am

Oldspeak:We are in the business of kicking candidates out of the race.’- Howard Kurtz, CNNLiberals shouldn’t ignore the corporate media’s censoring of Ron Paul’s popularity in the Iowa straw polls because he’s “on the right”. Many progressive candidates have been shut out of political races by corporate media.” (i.e. Dennis Kucinich, Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader) The Corporatocracy is so secure in its iron grip on U.S. Government and news media that it’s talking heads now openly talk about ignoring candidates, as though that’s just the way is it. If you’re not bought and paid for, call for the end of wars, call for meaningful regulation/legislation, or challenge oligarchs, you’re “unelectable”. Corporate ‘Media promotes those who sound emphatic…but will serve the status quo’. With these facts concretely articulated, how do We The People regain control of a government so completely beholden to its “rich” and “powerful” corporate overseers? The time will come when all of us will have to seriously consider that question.

By Washington’s Blog:

Corporate Media Admit They Censor Ron Paul

CNN and Politico admit that the mainstream media is in the business of picking candidates:

The big media simply delete Ron Paul from their polls, even though Paul scored very highly in the Ames Iowa straw poll – and virtually every poll taken recently.

Indeed, CNN noted in May that Paul had the best chance of any Republican of beating Obama.

“Not Electable” Is Code for “Challenges the Powers-That-Be”

The pundits claim they are only censoring candidates who are “not electable”. But just as “not politically feasible” is code for “the powers-that-be don’t want it”, “not electable” simply means that the candidate would champion the interests of the little guy, and challenge the powers-that-be: the large defense contractors, the giant banks, big pharma or the mega-energy producers.

As Kara Miller notes, the media won’t cover Ron Paul:

because he doesn’t fit the media narrative. He’s anti-war and pro-small government …. Heavily influenced by each other, media outlets have sidelined Paul and embraced Bachmann ….

Corporate Media Always Serves the Rich and Powerful, And Acts As A Booster for War

In fact, the corporate media have long been presstitutes for the rich and powerful, and knee-jerk in supporters of all wars.

They have always shut out candidates from either the left or right who challenge America’s imperial wars, America’s imbalanced policy towards Israel, the perpetual bailouts of the giant banks, Federal Reserve policy, or the inherent right of big corporations to do get all of the benefits of corporate personhood, without any of the responsibilities of being a person.

The corporate media is owned by a handful of giant defense contractors. As I’ve previouslynoted:

The government has allowed tremendous consolidation in ownership of the airwaves during the past decade.

Dan Rather has slammed media consolidation:

Likening media consolidation to that of the banking industry, Rather claimed that “roughly 80 percent” of the media is controlled by no more than six, and possibly as few as four, corporations.

This is documented by the following must-see charts prepared by:

And check out this list of interlocking directorates of big media companies from Fairness and Accuracy in Media, and this resource from the Columbia Journalism Review to research a particular company.

This image gives a sense of the decline in diversity in media ownership over the last couple of decades:

Big Media Promotes Those Who Sound Empathic … But Will Serve the Status Quo

These handful of giant corporations wield enormous power. Just think Rupert Murdoch.
The last thing they want is a candidate who will shake things up.

The people’s wishes? They are wholly irrelevant to these media behemoths. Indeed, these big companies have a vested interest in picking candidates who are good at acting like they care about the little guy, but who actually couldn’t care less about the average American, and have no problem picking his pocket at the first opportunity.

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