Barking Up the Wrong Trees

bark wrong tree Given that they haven’t yet bothered to think through the basic labels and human relationships involved, it’s no surprise that “consumer” activists have a positive talent for hatching profoundly silly attempts at combating the big business marketing juggernaut.

The latest such windmill-tilt is the effort to support new regulations on advertising food to children.  The New York Times reports:

Lucky Charms. Froot Loops. Cocoa Pebbles. A ConAgra frozen dinner with corn dog and fries. McDonald’s Happy Meals.

These foods might make a nutritionist cringe, but all of them have been identified by food companies as healthy choices they can advertise to children under a three-year-old initiative by the food industry to fight childhood obesity.

Now a hard-nosed effort by the federal government to forge tougher advertising standards that favor more healthful products has become stalled amid industry opposition and deep divisions among regulators.

Of course, the new rules are being written by the U.S. Congress, so their arrival is long overdue, as the assembled representatives perform their duty and let their major donors nibble away at the proposed rules.

Meanwhile, always the naivest crowd in the room, “Some advocates fear the delay could result in the measure being stripped of its toughest provisions,” observes The Times.

How long have you been asleep, Activist Van Winkle?  This is what Congress does.  It represents money.

At the same time, the whole thing is a blatant play-acting farce in the first place.  Advertising junk food to kids, which the new regulations might possibly mildly impede but certainly not stop, explains at most 10 percent of the modern obesity epidemic.  A far larger chunk (pun intended) results from rampant addiction to television and televisual “new media,” all massively and aggressively sponsored by corporate capitalist marketing.  Another, also much bigger cause of obesity is cars-first transportation, without which corporate capitalism would implode.

There’s also something slippery about the gambit of trying to respond to fight all this by limiting what advertisers can say.  The First Amendment is not a toy.

A real response to corporate capitalist lying and killing would involve advocating aggressively competitive public media and public enterprise.  Quadruple the budgets of PBS and the NEA, and charge them with voicing the public interest, free from the need to keep private sponsors happy.  Launch public, non-profit enterprises that make and sell products designed to be cheaper and better and healthier than the most harmful corporate wares.  Fight for a program of radical reconstruction of the nation’s town and cities, to de-emphasize televisual addictions and cars-first travel.

These are serious, potentially meaningful answers.  Hoping that Congress will stop one particular advertising claim about junk food is a tempest in a very, very small teapot.  Given our moment in human history, it is simply a joke, coverage in The New York Times notwithstanding (or perhaps confirming).

“Market” Discipline

capitalistpig In the department of nuff said, a quotation from this morning’s edition of The New York Times:

[I]nsurance companies have never wavered. Starting two weeks after the 2008 election, they have said they would accept greater federal regulation of their market practices if Congress also required everyone to have [private-sector] health insurance.

Note the Times‘ de rigueur omission of the crucial phrase “private-sector.”  Nuff said x 2.

Ah, the Mighty NHTSA…

mousedish The mouse that doesn’t even squeak, the Orwellian sop to Naderian special pleading, the organization that dares put “highway traffic” and “safety” not just together, but together in its very name…

So, let’s say the Congress wanted to find a way to give away some free money to help further bail out car capitalists by encouraging commoners to step up their anemic, Great Depression III automotive purchasing rates.  Which governmental agency would one expect the money to be managed by?  The Commerce Department, perhaps?

In reality, can you guess where the conduit lies for the federal government’s new Car Allowance Rebate System, a.k.a. “C.A.R.S.”, a.k.a. “cash-for-guzzlers” program?

Yep:  In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration!

This fact speaks volumes in several directions, not least as proof that the NHTSA, both by design and established practice, does nothing serious to make personal mobility safer in this market-totalitarian society.  It is a cover, a shield, a deflector for our massively deadly, dangerous, and irrational cars-first arrangement.  Hence, in a nation where 35,000-55,000 people die in car crashes each and every year, the NHTSA in the year 2009 has the time and staff to administer a complex program for passing out free money for even more cars!

Footnote:  If you watch any TV, you’ll have already noticed that, in local auto dealers’ aggressive come-on advertising, “cash-for-guzzlers” is most certainly not being explained in any substantial degree.  Judging from these ads, which (at least in my “market” of Portland, Oregon) are blatantly mis-labeling the program “cash-for-clunkers,” any reasonable person would conclude there are no requirements for obtaining money other than owning a clunker.

In reality, there are narrow rules based on vehicle age and gas-mileage ratings.

Hence, the actual main effect of the “cash-for-guzzlers reimbursement system” is to serve as a publicly-sponsored marketing platform for a new round of bait-and-switch selling on the nation’s car lots.  “Now that you’re here…”

Department of Cats and Bags

catbag Two items pertaining to the real nature of “the free market.”

Item 1: Existing Business Markets Depend on State Suppression of Basic Information

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel.

They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress.

On Tuesday, the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents. The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen provided a copy to The New York Times, which is publishing the documents on its Web site.

Item 2: Corporate Capitalists Know Private Enterprise is Often Inferior to Public Enterprise

A government-run public [medical insurance] plan would have “unfair advantage over private plans, eventually crowding out private plans from the marketplace,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Helping Homeowners”: Behind the Bullshit

From the February 23, 2009 issue of Business Week:

1. Number of refinancings facilitated by Hope for Homeowners, the “program” created by Congress last July to “help” 1 million late payers: 25 (not a typo: twenty-five only)

2. Findings of a study of 21,219 recent mortgage modifications:

Percent leading to lower monthly payments = 35
Percent leading to unchanged monthly payments = 18
Percent leading to higher monthly payments = 47

BW: “The reason for this strange result: Lenders and loan servicers are tacking on missed payments, taxes, and big fees.”

“Strange” indeed…

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration proposes to re-loosen lending rules!

The Problem Isn’t the Oil Companies…

Whenever corporate executives are summoned to testify on Capitol Hill, you can bet it’s for the wrong reason.

The recent testimony of Big Oil executives is a classic case-in-point. Marketed to the public as a stern interrogation of those mainly responsible for the nation’s rapidly deepening energy crisis, the whole thing was utterly faux, a true dog-and-pony show.

Here’s why:

Continue reading “The Problem Isn’t the Oil Companies…”