The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

FINGER POINTING

Mother once gave me a lecture on politeness which included the phrase, “It’s very rude to point your finger at someone.”  Apparently, those who are the copy writers for political ads and those candidates who conclude them by saying, “I’m So and So and I approve this message,” never got the same talking to from their own parents.  More’s the pity.

When people brought Barack Obama into the White House in 2008 it was on a theme of “Hope and Change”.  Things were tough.  We knew they were tough.  The newly elected President campaigned on the theme that while things were tough, he was going to fix all that.

Simply put, he didn’t.  In fact, by many metrics, those things that were tough have gotten even tougher.  The current mantra of the President’s ads is that things are actually getting better; that he has a plan which needs time to work; and that we should stick with him for another term.  It is an ad featuring a far less confrontational Obama than we have seen during the last four years.

Much of the hyperbole about why things are tough and it’s going to take longer than he thought to get everything working again, is his predecessor, President George W. Bush.  Apparently, virtually everything that has gone awry in the universe since the Big Bang is the fault of this misanthrope from Texas.  But let’s examine the facts for a moment – that is for those of you who think that facts matter.

Yesterday the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided the Unemployment Report for September.  It showed that from the previous month, the rate of unemployment went from 7.8% to 7.9%.  I have attached the link to this report for you to review.  No matter how we garner our information, I believe that it is essential for the intelligent individual to do her or his own research and make sure that the sources on which they are relying are honest and factual.  That is one of the reasons I seldom listen to the popular media for my news.

http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/lauhsthl.htm

There are two items on the report that leap off the page at me.  The first is then candidate Obama’s claim that he would bring unemployment down to a mere 5.2%.  There is only one state in which that is the case, Iowa which can boast the lowest unemployment rate in the country with only 5.2%.

I guess that there a lot of ways that you can spin this – and which all the President’s men will spin it – if they choose to acknowledge it at all.  But my take on this is that for those residents of 49 of the 50 states, Obama has failed to deliver on this specific promise.  Because I always like to hear alternative views, please feel free to leave a comment should you have a different interpretation.

The second item that appears obvious from this report is that under President Bush’s watch, 35 out of the 50 states enjoyed the lowest levels of unemployment since they started recording these statistics.  Check the list out for yourself to verify this statement.  And what was the average rate of unemployment in those states during those awful years while Bush was in charge?  The answer – 2.91%.  In other words, going from the years in which we enjoyed the lowest unemployment rates under President Bush to the current statistics under President Obama, we have seen a 271% rise in the rate of unemployment.

The President’s most recent kinder gentler ad suggests that his “plan” is working and we should just stick with him.  As does another ad that is narrated by Morgan Freeman that beings, “Every President inherits challenges..”.  Well, back to our old nemesis President Bush.

There is no question that President Bush’s policies gave rise to a substantial increase in the National Debt.  Part of that was financing wars which he deemed in our “national interest” and part of that was accompanying those with tax reductions, best known as the “Bush tax cuts”.  Every householder knows that if you reduce your income and spend more than you take in, eventually you’ll run out of money.  And we have.

Sadly, President Bush was a mere novice in delivering a message of under-earning and overspending which is why under President Obama we have seen an increase in the official National Debt of $6 Trillion, a 60% increase in a mere four years to a record $16 Trillion.  Part of that increase is certainly due to the tax cuts that were put in place in 2001/2003 and which are set to expire on December 31st of this year.

Did you notice the dates when those decreases were enacted?  They became effective eleven years ago.  Mitt Romney has argued in favor of continuing them as they currently stand on the books – at least until such the time that the economy really begins humming.  This is his plan to “benefit the rich by slashing their taxes $200,000 per year” of which he is accused in almost every Obama ad.  We have been living with this plan for over a decade – so I hardly think that Gov. Romney deserves either credit or opprobrium for thinking it up.

But there is a further point that I would like to make.  Those who have been employed during the past decade, as a result of the Bush tax cuts, received an average additional amount of take home income of about $50 per week.

The first time your paycheck reflected this increase, do you recall either saying yourself or hearing a co-worker say, “You know, I’m kind of worried.  If we keep spending more than we’re taking in, we might run into trouble six or seven years down the road.”  Or did you happily accept the increase, take your wife out for a nice dinner, buy a couple of new electronic gizmos and trade up to a newer model car?

“Give the people what they want.”  It’s an old political saying.  And Americans want and believe we’re entitled to a lot – perhaps more than we truly deserve.  It’s really a pity that when it comes to electing people who are going either to run the country or run it into the ground, we have expectations that are far lower.

And I guess that if I have to point a finger at anyone, (sorry Mom) it would be at those of us who think this is an acceptable way to run a country – or anything else.

HOW TO CONVINCE YOUR FRIENDS THAT YOU SHOULD BE COMMITTED.

I decided to take a few weeks off from blogging.  There was simply too much noise in the ether – and there still is.  But I think the ultimate catalyst was an anonymous email I received.  The title was “Get 3500 channels of TV – FOR FREE!”

I have to be honest and tell my dear readers that I didn’t open it – although I stared at the message for about five minutes before hitting the delete key.

As I looked at the title of this unsolicited missive strange and bizarre thoughts began ruminating.  I began counting up the number of subjects with which I was familiar and the smaller number in which I had an interest.  I don’t think I made it very far past 30 when I was running out of ammo.

I mean has someone invented a television channel devoted to discussions of gall stones; or one that extolls the virtues of exemplary professional athletes; or is there now a chess channel?  I imagine that if these exist, there is a great deal of time that can be devoted to commercials – with which I am already overwhelmed.

Fortunately, for most of this time, I have been enjoying Gracie’s and the three golden retrievers’ company which has enabled me to maintain some sense of semblance and sanity.  But it was because of them that I am writing this post (and another ten or so to follow which I have been mulling around during my blogging absence).

The five of us were at the dog park a few mornings ago when we ran into our friends who gather in the wee hours, just after the park opens at six o’clock a.m.  After the kids took care of business, we merged into the gathering when I realized that the conversation had turned to a discussion of various ways that we could receive our television broadcasts.

One of the members of the group turned to me and asked, “Who do you use for your television service?”  I responded, “Right now I have Cox Cable – but I’m thinking about cancelling it after the election.”

“Oh, are you going to go with DISH Network?”

“No, actually, I’m seriously thinking about cancelling it and not replacing it with anything.”

Despite the fact that the park has grass, the lull that came over every member of the group was so profound that you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.  I have never seen a group of people who were so dumbstruck.  Apparently they felt that anyone who chose not to spend their life watching television was at worst a cretin and at best mentally impaired.  Because they are, by and large, a charitable group of people, I think they gave me the benefit of the doubt and put me in the second category.

I hope that none of my readers is too aghast at the concept that there is life beyond television.  Sure there are a few things I might miss – but I suspect I will have more time to discover new and far more valuable ones.  Books, music, nature and all sorts of other wonders in our wondrous world.

In the meanwhile I’ll just enjoy the tripe that bombards all of us (with special emphasis on the political ads).  That should keep my blood pressure at fever pitch and my dopamine levels at record lows.

Go ahead, call me crazy.  I know my friends at the park are thinking that anyway – and I kind of like the appellation.  But remember, “Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean that you have to be stupid.”

BILL CLINTON SPEAKS

As the second most elder statesman of the Democratic Party (Jimmy Carter holding the place of honor at the top), former President Bill Clinton has made an ad for President Obama.  I suspect that you might have seen it as it has been aired a great deal.

I will say that the ad is a substantial improvement over other ads of the Obama campaign.  There is no mention of Bain Capital (which Clinton told Obama to leave alone), no mention of Mitt Romney causing people’s death by denying them health insurance benefits, just a generally positive and, on the surface reasoned ad why the former President feels we should entrust our vote to giving the incumbent another four years in the White House.  At least that’s how it starts out.

The ad begins with Clinton saying, “To me this election about who is most likely to get us back to full employment.”  My ears perked up the first time I heard this opening line.  Had Clinton gone over to the Romney camp?

Well, that’s about as much as the former President has to say about why he supports an Obama second term until the end where he talks about “Obama’s plan – rebuilding America from the ground up and investing in education and innovation.”  For some reason, when I heard that line an image of Nuremberg, Germany after the British bombing came to mind.  In order to build it “from the ground up” you have first to destroy what is already there.

NurnbergBombDamage[1]

President Obama is well on his way to accomplishing the destructive part during his first term in office.  Perhaps President Clinton has more faith in his “plan”  to accomplish the second part if given another four years than the evidence would suggest.

The body of the ad contains an assertion that attacks, although more subtly than other Obama ads, Gov. Romney’s “plan” to ease the tax burden on the wealthy than is now the case and to do so at the expense of the middle class.  Of course, that statement is simply untruthful.

Governor Romney’s plan is merely to leave tax rates unchanged for ALL taxpayers.  Those rates, commonly known as the Bush tax cuts, have been extended several times by both Democrat and Republican majorities in Congress and signed into law.

The truth is that President Obama’s tax plan is merely to increase taxes on our wealthiest tax payers without any consequent reduction in taxes on the middle class or anyone else.  And as everyone knows, this is a great campaign point but it serves to accomplish nothing in terms of actually balancing the Federal budget.

If you were to confiscate 100% of the income of the wealthiest tax payers representing the top 10% of all personal income reported, it would be insufficient to balance the budget.  And even Obama hasn’t come up with that proposal – yet.

Additional tax revenues would help balance the budget.  A growing, rather than the stagnant Obomaconomy which we have had delivered to us by the man in the White House would naturally increase the amount of revenue the Federal government received – whatever the rate at which it would be taxed.

But at the same time, we have to make cuts to the money that we spend – deep cuts – in order to get back to a place of fiscal order and responsibility.  It amazes me that with every economist from the far left to the far right in agreement on this point, it seems to escape President Obama’s attention and the attention of Democrat legislators in general.

Sadly, government has a very bad habit.  No matter how much money it receives it finds a way to spend more.  That can work for awhile, but eventually you run out of people who are willing to lend you money.  Check out modern Greece for an example from current events.

I do appreciate the fact that this ad is, as I have said, more subtle in its attack approach than the previous efforts from team Obama.  The President has apparently come to the realization that as Dinesh D’Souza points out in his movie, “2016, Obama’s America,” that the greatest asset he has is that he is likeable and that people want to help him.

I’d like to help him too – by allowing him to find a new job for which he is better qualified.  The removal of his meandering and indecisive policies would be the biggest shot in the arm that America could receive.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

A graveyard.

Some believe it is a testament to the end.  Others believe it is the marker of a new beginning.    Without doubt, in the wink of an eye, we will all find out the truth, or not, depending on which view is correct.  In this matter there is uncertainty.

But about one thing there is no such lack of clarity.

History teaches us that when a people and those in political power abandon principle and virtue and morality; when common courtesy and compassion have no bearing on the way they conduct themselves; when truth is something that can be manipulated and falsehood is something that falls from everyone’s lips, it is a sign of the beginning of the end.

It happened in Rome, the Byzantine and Ottoman and Mogul Empires.  And now is it happening in America?

That is a disturbing question and not one that I pose easily.  It is or at least should be disquieting to every thoughtful American.  Indeed, I believe that every thoughtful American recognizes the potential for disaster should we continue down our present path.  But how many among us are there who consider the perils ahead – and how many simply go through their lives, persuaded by the mass psychology and desire to be part of the group and, like the lemmings follow each other over the cliff – taking down the rest of us with them?

There is a specific phenomenon which caused me to write this post.  That is the campaign ads which are currently being broadcast – specifically, some of the President’s ads.

I realize that in any campaign the opponents are going to manipulate facts to their own personal advantage.  Although I don’t like that I do expect it.  But when outright lies about an opponent are broadcast it is time for any and every person of conscience to cry out – STOP!  THIS IS TOO MUCH.

Sadly, there are very few in the Peanut Gallery shouting that.

There is a reason for that – a sad reason.  We elect people whom we think of as being like ourselves – who thus will be able to represent us and our interests.  So if we as individuals have abandoned principle and decency – if that is how we conduct our personal lives – it is only reasonable to expect that we will vote for people of the same ilk.  And we have.

The President’s camp quickly distanced itself from a PAC ad which accused Governor Romney of indirectly causing the death of a woman to cancer by denying her health insurance benefits.

(First fact, we lose thousands of people a year to cancer who are fully covered with insurance benefits).

“The Obama campaign didn’t write that ad or have knowledge of it.”

(Second fact, they met with the husband of the deceased several months earlier and heard his story – which has changed a few times in the telling).

Is there no longer a requirement to report news events honestly?

(Third fact, this is one of the worst examples of “yellow journalism” and any reporter who published this sort of unsubstantiated story would well deserve to be fired by the editor of his newspaper).

This sort of campaign is one that small, spiteful people, bullies conduct.  Find a victim, run in and throw a few stones and then run back into hiding, denying any knowledge of how the victim got her bruises.

It is the same response we would expect from a person at a party to exhibit who suffered from flatulence, releasing the gas in his body and then looking around the room to see who is the source of the odor.

This is not the campaign of a statesman.  It might not even qualify to meet the low standards of a politician.  It is the campaign of a self-absorbed thug who has no greater goal than to achieve his own objectives, whatever the cost or by whatever the means.  It is unworthy of a person who either holds or aspires to the office of President of the United States.

Rome, the Byzantine, Ottoman and Mogul Empires and now, perhaps, America?

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for you and me.”

SPAM ME–SPAM ME NOT

Those of us who maintain our blogs on WordPress are fortunate.  We are provided with a spam protection device known as Akismet.  This program reviews the comments we receive and helps reduce the amount of spam in our comment notifications.

Although I receive a lot of comments, my spam comments which Akismet has caught are starting to rev up in number and are getting close to totaling as many as the legitimate comments I receive from my readers.  About 80% of them have one thing in common.

They are designed to get us to click on them so that they can show us the product they have for sale.  And what is that product?  Prescription pharmaceuticals.

Today alone I received eight solicitations.  None originated within the United States but came from  locations in Mexico, Spain, Ireland and Italy.  The drugs they had to offer included Viagra, Cialis, doxycycline and clomid, so we have two drugs for erectile dysfunction, one that treats Lyme disease and one to increase female fertility.  Now I’m beginning to question my own orientation and I’m definitely going to cut down on my walks through the woods where tics might be present.

In April last year, the Department of Justice cracked down on several large sites that were located overseas which offered people the opportunity to play poker on-line.   Apparently, these sites will soon be able to offer their services again to American players of the game.  (I guess they’ve figured out a way to tax any profits Americans might make).

The settlement calls for the three on-line companies to pay $731 Million, a portion of which is to be reimbursed to U. S. players whose funds were used to pay the board members and owners of one of the sites, instead of being held in segregated accounts as they claimed.  I’m glad these players will get their money back – or at least most of it.

But let’s put the vigor which the government put into its effort with on-line poker into perspective.  $731 Million is a lot of money in anyone’s book.  Heck, I would accept less and still have a fun weekend at Disneyland.  But when we compare that to the total of worldwide sales of pharmaceuticals for last year it pales by comparison.

The pharmaceutical industry last year had sales of $880 BILLION globally.

So I’d like to make this an open appeal to the FDA with a little help from their buddies in the Department of Justice.  Why don’t you look into these overseas providers who solicit Americans to buy their prescription drugs from them?

After all, the FDA doesn’t regulate the standards of manufacture of these drugs and who knows if any agency in the country of origin does either.  For that matter, who knows if they actually are real drugs or placebos?  Now there’s something into which the government could really sink its teeth.

And from a strictly selfish standpoint, I’d like to cut down on the spam in my in box.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

Recently an ad has been playing which discusses President Obama’s “Job Creation” record.  At one point in the commercial the President says that, “In the last 27 months we have created 4.3 Million jobs.  But more needs to be done.”

Two points of importance.  A few years’ ago, the administration came up with monthly figures on the number of jobs that had been created or “saved”.  I guess it would be fair to say that any American who still had a job had a job that was “saved”.  Talk about voodoo economic triple talk.  I am glad that the President has dropped that tag line.

And the President is right.  More needs to be done.  Economists whether they subscribe to the thought of John Maynard Keynes  or the Austrian school of economics, whether right or left, Republican or Democrat agree that we need to create 200,000 jobs per month.

In other words, we have been running about 40,700 jobs short monthly during the period that the President cites in his commercial.  That is just to stay even with the net number of people entering and retiring from the workforce.  Still more jobs are needed if we are to reduce the rate of unemployment.

The President’s spokesperson goes on to say that the way to get more people working is to pass “the President’s Jobs Plan – but Congress is holding it up.”  Again, I give some credit to the message.  Congress is apparently holding up everything so they can get themselves re-elected.  There’s a lot of that going around – in fact, far too much.

The Republican-controlled House has taken up portions of the President’s Jobs Bill and passed them but much of the bill goes unheard and would never gain enough votes to pass if it were considered.  For the Senate’s part, that Democrat-controlled body refuses to take up a budget and has not done so for three years.  Any realistic budget would be “politically embarrassing” this close to a General Election.

I do want to offer a positive comment on this particular commercial.  While I believe that it fails in the category of complete truthfulness, it is a relatively middle-of-the-road production.  If we could continue political commercials and conversations on this level instead of slinging mud, it would do much to promote an improved level of civility which mars most campaigns.  Here’s hoping.

When I say that the commercial is less than completely honest it is because “The President’s Jobs Plan” could have been proposed during President Obama’s first two years in office when the Democrats had an iron-clad majority in both houses.   Had the President advanced his ideas then, this whole issue might be moot.  Instead he turned his attention to other matters which have probably aggravated the slowness of job creation.

It appears that President Obama is making a bet on selling his job’s record as a positive in his efforts for re-election.  Apparently he understands that it really is all about the economy for most of us.  I think it’s a gutsy call on his part – probably the gutsiest thing he has done during his term in office.

We’ll see how that works for him.

YOU MAKE ME LAUGH

With the exception of the Super Bowl, I believe it is a fair statement that most people watch television for the content and abhor the commercials.  Isn’t that why we invented VCR’s and DVR’s – to be able to fast forward through them?

Since the time devoted to commercials runs between twenty-five percent to a third of the time that a show is broadcast they make up a significant portion of “content”.   Whether we try to tune them out or not, their constant repetition must have a least some sub-liminal effect on us.  No doubt that is the reason that so many commercials are broadcast so frequently.

It’s amazing how the human mind works.  Years ago I began a radio campaign to advertise my temporary help business.  I wrote a number of ads and they ran with a moderate amount of frequency on several Chicago radio stations.  I recorded one of these commercials and two of my employees with great “radio voices” recorded the others.

Within a week of airing the first of these commercials I received a call from an old friend.  He called about my commercial – as he recognized my voice when it was broadcast.  He congratulated me on the commercial (it was humorous and he had enjoyed it) and said that he caught it the other night on television!  I was dumbfounded. as this was an intelligent man, yet his brain told him that he had seen the commercial on television, not heard it on the radio.

He was not the only person to exhibit this confusion.  Truly advertising has a very powerful influence over our thinking and buying decisions.

As we are about to embark on the political mud-slinging commercial season, (I have already seen an Obama ad blaming Mitt Romney for high gas prices), I thought I would devote a little time to exploring the ads that are aired by two industries – auto insurance and pharmaceuticals – which contribute more than their fair share to the advertising we see on television.  I’ll save pharmaceuticals for a later post.

You may or may not know the name, Dennis Haysbert but he is the official spokesperson for Allstate Insurance.  If you’ve seen an ad for this insurer you have undoubtedly seen or heard him.  So let’s look at one of the ads that Allstate Insurance has produced.

“Emily’s just starting out and is on a budget – like an every night Ramen Noodle budget.”  (Implication – we have a young person with limited funds who is trying to stretch her income as far as it can go).

“She didn’t think she could afford Allstate Insurance – until she heard about the ‘Value Plan’.” (Implication – Allstate Insurance is a premium product that most think comes at a premium price.  But there’s good news – there’s an affordable version of it that is available).  STOP AND HOLD THE PRESSES!

If there is a “Value Plan” then there must also be a “Non-value plan”.  Value suggests money-saving – thus Non-value must be over-priced.  Implication – anyone insuring with Allstate Insurance who is not on the “Value Plan” is being overcharged for their insurance coverage.

Now if by “value”, Allstate means that the consumer who is on a budget can select low levels of coverage and still be insured, what’s the big deal?  Virtually every auto insurer offers different levels of coverage from which the consumer can select.  The lower the levels of coverage the smaller the premiums.  Is this what Allstate means by value?

As a consumer, if that is the case, I would call this border-line deceptive.  But I am sure that Allstate and its vast number of corporate attorneys have cleared this commercial so that they do not violate any Federal Trade Commission regulations.  That is the Federal agency that is supposed to protect consumers from false advertising claims.

Moving on to another insurer we have Esurance which is admirably represented by their delightful avatar, “The General”.

One of their commercials shows a band practicing when The General enters and begins speaking with one of the members.  “Richie, why don’t you have auto insurance,?” he asks the young man in the forefront of the commercial.

Richie responds, “I have far too many moving violations and the rates are just too high.”  Implication – we have a young man who has exhibited poor regard for driving rules in the past, is a poor corporate citizen because he is violating the state requirement that he carry at least minimal levels of insurance and is one of those people who contributes to the little item on your auto insurance and mine called Uninsured/Underinsured drivers that costs each of us about $50 or more per year.

(By the way, with over 250 million registered vehicles in the U. S., this little item brings in over $1 billion per year to the auto insurers).

Well, I do like to do comparative shopping so I thought I would get a quote since they advertise their rates being as low as $39 per month.  With the spotless driving record that I have maintained for twenty plus years, I should certainly qualify for their best rate.  So I did my little on-line thing and wound up with a rate that was twenty-five percent higher than the one I am paying to my present insurer for the same coverage.

Now if Richie with all the tickets would qualify for a great rate – why shouldn’t I with an impeccable driving record?  Clearly, Esurance is appealing to the sub-standard driver who is more likely to file claims.  Logic would suggest that they would like to balance that portfolio by attracting drivers who are far less likely to be involved in accidents.  Apparently that is not the case.

Is this deceptive advertising?  I’m sure that Esurance also has a battery of corporate attorneys who have cleared these commercials – so I doubt it violates any rules the FTC has established.  But these two examples clearly point out that if we really listen to the commercials to which we are subjected, we might hear something different than what is being said.

Sadly, I did a brief check of the FTC’s advertising regulations and found that they do not apply to political ads.

Stay tuned for some good laughs this summer and fall.

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