Baskin the Truth

baskin Jonathan Salem Baskin, pictured at right, is a marketing consultant. Today, he voiced the system, ala Fred Taylor and Eric Schmidt, on Advertising Age:

Our snooping puts the National Security Agency to shame.

From the level of the internet service provider, through to social-media platforms and websites, and including apps, ads and clickable content (like videos), we collect a vast amount of information on consumers’ online behavior (and their geophysical location), then use it to tee-up search results, info and ads to millions of people millions of times every day … ideally to each one of them uniquely so. We don’t do it to keep anybody safe, however. We do it to sell stuff. It’s the mercenary make-money benefit we gain through all of that non-commercial friending and conversing we do with consumers.

We call it “improving user experience,” and not only are entire business monetization plans based on it (like Facebook), it’s the driver of our hopes for Big Data selling things to people who no longer want to be sold to. Yet the only time we talk about it is when we ask consumers to accept usage terms, and then only in the dense secret code of mouseprint that is to disclosure what James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is to clarity. We tell them little, hope they’ll understand even less, and then we have the audacity to claim that they’re OK with it when we ask them.

Our hope is that they’ll stay unaware of the information they give away or, at worst, maintain a belief that it’s worth doing so in exchange for ads and other content that’s somewhat pre-qualified to be interesting to them. But there’s a fine line between convenience and manipulation, and the foundational idea of “consumer choice” loses its meaning if that choice isn’t truly free.

That’s some serious honesty there, folks.

And, while he certainly doesn’t favor the proper answer — public ire and public enterprise — arriving, Baskin isn’t entirely foolish about the prospects, either:

If we didn’t think that blurring that line was a potential bomb, why are we so shy about discussing it, and almost congenitally incapable of making sure that consumers understand the breadth and depth (and outcomes) of our snooping?

Just like the NSA’s programs, it can’t stay secret forever. Imagine if a commercially-savvy whistle-blower emerged with detailed proof of how user data were collected, shared and then exploited by a variety of businesses and, somehow, connected it back to illustrate the ways consumer choices are limited, while unfairly promoting purchases. What if The Yes Men, AdBusters, or some other, new culture-busting group chose to attack data tools with publicity stunts and videos that got peoples’ attention?

Baskin’s proposal is, of course, to use marketing to market marketing:

We marketers don’t talk about this issue much, probably because it’s so complicated and thorny. But it haunts our best hopes for the future. And, while people may let Snowden’s tale end up a somewhat distant espionage adventure, the scarier story is what’s done to every consumer in the name of efficient commerce. Without a far more creative and strategic approach to telling it, I fear others (or other events) will tell it for brands.

That story doesn’t have a happy ending.

If all this is not a script for action, I don’t know what is…

This Gun Shoots Sideways

Much ado about the “outrage” of the U.S. Senate blocking a couple of extremely moderate gun control laws. As always in this society, both the corporate news and the corporate politics are confined to silliness. Hence, “In the end, the Senate voted largely along party lines this week to kill even the most modest new gun-control measures,” and so on and so forth.

Tommyrot. The Senate, which assigns Wyoming and California — with the latter having 66x the population of the former — the same voting weight, voted as it was designed to vote — in favor of the rural minority. The fact that this is not the overwhelming lead in this story tells you much about how “politics” and “journalism” happen in this market-totalitarian empire.

For those TCTers who share my interest in the continuing frequent decency and political impotence/irrelevance of the U.S. public, here is a pretty good depiction of basic facts. As usual, these opinions were forged and held with virtually no serious leadership involved, and against intense rightist flak.


Charging the Windmill

The climate “movement” held their great rally today. Their target? A pipeline that nobody outside their PR machine seriously believes will make any major difference in the expanding extraction and combustion of Alberta tar sands. Those sands are simply going to get burnt, barring serious alteration in the demand for petroleum — meaning serious movement to end the reign of corporate capitalism’s core commodity, the private automobile.

Meanwhile, it will certainly be interesting to see what these Obama fans — dig the naked use of Obie’s marketing logos and slogans here — do when Zero, perhaps in the midst of new blowback or some newsworthy danger stemming from yet another heightening of the ongoing U.S. war against Iran, slaps them away.

Obama Logo

The key demand in this movement is also very telling about its chances at success. You can see the core demand there on the protester’s very expensively and professionally-made placard: “clean energy.” As if there could be any such thing, without huge alterations in the infrastructure of the country, including, once again, a sharp move away from the reign of the private automobile. To call for “clean energy” without mentioning the level of energy use is like SNCC asking for “tasty lunches” while saying nothing about segregation. It is liberal practicality in all its evasive, stillborn glory.

FWIW, TCT favors approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, on the condition that it be accompanied by a huge and immediate expansion of funding for all the nation’s public transit agencies, including Amtrak, so that they might rise from their present state of near-bankruptcy and start seriously competing against car ownership.

That, of course, won’t happen without — ahem — a social movement pushing in that direction…

TCT‘s prediction? As pretty obviously signaled in this year’s State of the Union speech, Zerobama will approve the pipeline and link it to a call for more “clean energy” research and subsidy. The “movement” that met today will then face a severe crisis, and probably dissolve, having built their flimsy little tent on a hill of sand.

That, of course, may actually be less of a defeat than if Zero somehow decides to grant their wishes and block the pipeline. If he were to do so, what would the next steps of the movement be? To declare victory and start asking for “clean energy” research? At least a tasty lunch was an actual possibility in Greensboro, North Carolina…

The Truth Remains Unspeakable

The New York Times yesterday profiled inequality researchers Saez and Piketty. In doing so, the paper of record says, regarding the country’s basic economic history, “income inequality in the United States fell after World War II.”

This familiar liberal trope is complete jive, as we TCTers know:

income chart

As this elementary graph, built from the data of none other than Saez and Picketty themselves, shows, income inequality has only ever seen a meaningful decline during, during, DURING World War II! I mean how fricking stupid can these apologists get? The basic fact literally screams in your face. Left to its own devices, corporate capitalism never equalizes the income distribution. The best it can do on that front is tread water for a couple decades after a freak intervention by the public.

This, of course, should come as no surprise. Capitalists obtained the right to run their affairs via oligopolies in order to maximize their own ROI, not to improve society.

Wealth Secrets: Warren Buffett’s Public Subsidy

buffett The Province of British Columbia provides its residents the ability to buy public, not-for-profit automobile insurance.

In the United States, where public insurance is more aggressively opposed by the overclass, publicly provided automotive coverage is entirely unavailable.  Consequently, the insurance is inferior and the premiums higher.  And the record profits of U.S. insurance companies, which Advertising Age reports “reached $26.7 billion in the first nine months of 2010” — where do those go?

Largely to folks like Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway empire owns Geico.

The basis for all those private-sector profits?  Sheer waste:  To promote brand awareness, Geico and its “competitors” engage in saturation advertising of their private monopoly-protected inferior product.  According to Ad Age, advertising expenditure by insurers more than doubled between 2000 and 2009.

The overall sales strategy in pure Pavlov.  With few differences between companies’ policies and no competition from the public sector, repetition-implanted name recall is everything:

[T]he average shopper can name just four insurance brands off the top of their head, according to J.D. Power. And the way to get on that list is to advertise — all the time. “There’s enormous overlap between the companies that advertise a lot and the companies that are growing faster,” Mr. Shields said. “It seems very much to work.” (Ad Age, February 21, 2011)

Such are the glorious “efficiencies” of capitalism.

Al Gore Manifesto

human-history Stuart Staniford, who tracks peak energy problems, today suggests that those of us who hope to help engineer soft landings ought to abandon socialism in favor of Al Gore.  Speaking of human history, Staniford proposes that, “at least until we decide to engineer better human beings, a decent society will have an economic elite.”  To try to combat elites, in Staniford’s view, is to deny human nature.  The best we can do, he suggests, is to accept and nurture our overclass, in hopes of convincing “them, like Al Gore, to use a portion of their undoubted economic privilege in an attempt to move society in a direction of lower impact and less emissions.”

FWIW, I replied thusly:

If you are going to appeal to big history, I would suggest you stick with it. 5,500 years ago, permanent elites figured out how to keep surplus wealth for themselves as “property.” That, as you note, was the beginning of the end for egalitarian kinship societies.

Fair enough.

But when did anybody start making a serious attempt to check ruling classes and their stories of biological superiority? 1776/1789. Less than 250 years ago, on a 5,500-year timeline.

And when did socialists start trying to extend democracy to economic affairs? 150 years ago. And they also did so while making the mistake of dismissing existing democracy as mere bourgeois illusion. So, socialism 2.0 has barely started, here in the latest 20 years on that 5,500-year timeline.

And here you are, talking about the naturalness of elites? I don’t buy it, either as history or strategy.

The point of leftism is not absolute monetary equality. It is the extension of democracy over macro-economic choices.

Of course, the impending energy/eco crash is going to make modern wealth levels and our range of macro-economic options a lot smaller.

Capitalists, meanwhile, are militant ostriches and obstacles, like it or not, because they are trying to retain what is utterly unkeepable. Al Gore thinks electric cars are a sufficient answer.