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DropletCoca-Cola is running a stealth advertising campaign.

Stealth? Yes, it's a nationwide product promotion that's being run below the public radar! Why would a corporation as ad-dependent as Coke spend big bucks on advertising that it doesn't want consumers to notice? Shhhh — because the campaign is a surreptitious ploy to enlist restaurants in a marketing conspiracy that targets you, your children, and — of course — your wallet.

Coke calls its covert gambit "Cap the Tap," urging restaurateurs to stop offering plain old tap water to customers: "Every time your business fills a cup or glass with tap water, it pours potential profits down the drain." Cap the Tap can put a stop to that, says Coke, "by teaching (your) crew members or waitstaff suggestive selling techniques to convert requests for tap water into orders for revenue-generating beverages."

The program provides a guide for restaurant managers who agree to direct Coke's sneak attack on customers. It also supplies a handy backroom poster to remind waitstaff "when and how to suggestively sell beverages," plus a participant's guide to put "suggestive selling" foremost in mind as staff confronts the enemy... uh, I mean customers. Tactics include outflanking those recalcitrant customers who insist on water. Just switch the sales pitch to bottled water — remember, Coca-Cola also owns Dasani, one of the top-selling brands of bottled water in the U.S.

Early in its Cap the Tap scheme, the beverage behemoth offered two incentive programs for waitstaff: "Suggest More and Score" and "Get Your Fill." Both were competitions meant to spur servers to push more Coke on American restaurant-goers.

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 12 December 2013 07:44

Nuclear Disarmament: Beyond Iran


BombCloudIran! So long our enemy-in-waiting, just asking for it, y'know?

No wonder Americans are confused about the idea of maybe not going to war with that country one of these days, at least according to USA Today, which reported: "The White House and Iran face an uphill selling job to convince Americans to embrace the interim nuclear pact negotiated with Tehran last month."

Two out of three Americans who have actually heard something about the accord don't trust it, the paper explains, because, in essence, Iran took American hostages that one time (for no reason) and have been uncooperative toward our interests ever since. Thus, however hopeful or problematic the Geneva agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 nations (the U.S., Russia, China, France, U.K. and Germany) may be, here in the land of all-that-is-exceptional, pop culture and superficial opinion polls rule and cynical ignorance counts as news.

Not only did the story fail to address or even hint at the history of U.S.-Iranian relations back to, let us say, 1953, and the CIA's involvement in the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, followed by the installation of the hated (but West-compliant) shah, it overlooked — this seems to be a requirement of mainstream journalism — the glaringly obvious fact that the P5 powers, adamant in their determination to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal, actually possesses thousands upon thousands of nuclear weapons themselves.

Even without Iran's joining the nuclear club, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is set at five minutes to midnight. We're as much in danger of destroying ourselves as we've ever been. Why isn't this relevant?

Published in Guest Commentary


IowaCapitolThe far-right American Legislative Exchange Council claims that every member of the state legislature in two states is a member of their organization.

Recently leaked documents from the "ALEC Board Meeting, August 6, 2013, Chicago, Illinois," list the number and percentage of each state's legislature that have signed onto ALEC; and, under "# of Legislators," and "# of ALEC Members," Iowa has 150 in each column, and South Dakota has 105 in each column. The third column, for both states, shows the "% of ALEC Membership in Legislature" as being "100%." At the opposite end, the lowest percentage is 1%, in New York. The second-lowest is New Jersey, 2%. The third and fourth-lowest, tied, are just 4%, shown in both Maine and Vermont. The fifth-lowest is New Hampshire, 6%.

That table appears on page 39 of their report.

Page 20 presents the text of the oath of office that the leading ALEC member in each state must swear to in order to win or retain his position: "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization [ALEC] first." ALEC's Senior Director of Public Affairs told Britain's Guardian, when asked about this: "All legislators are beholden to their constituents' interests first - if they are not, they will be held accountable at the ballot box." In other words: the only thing that ALEC's lead legislator in any state might stand to lose if he violates his oath to ALEC is the vast contributions from the corporations that fund ALEC, which will then probably stop throwing more money into his campaigns. Of course, the purpose of those mega-corporate campaign donations is, for each such state leader, to make sure that he "will be held accountable at the ballot box," if he violates his pledge to ALEC. In other words: ALEC survives simply by fooling conservative voters to vote for the stooges that the corporations that fund ALEC want to write the laws for them.

In some countries, this is called "corruption," or even "fascism," but in the United States, it's called merely "politics," or even (by the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court) "freedom of speech."

Published in Guest Commentary


WPAmap1For many years the American Right -- and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite -- have conducted a war on public employees.

Their campaign has taken many forms. They have tried to slash the number of public sector jobs, cut the pay and benefits of public sector workers, and do away with public employee rights to collective bargaining. They have discredited the value of the work performed by public employees -- like teachers, police and firefighters -- going so far as to argue that "real jobs" are created only by the private sector.

Last week a conservative court ruled that by going through bankruptcy the city of Detroit could rid itself of its obligation under the state constitution to make good on its pension commitments to its retirees.

It should surprise no one that the Republican Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is demanding that a budget deal with the Democrats include a 350% increase in pension contribution by all civilian federal employees. That would effectively mean a pay cut of about 2% for every federal worker. And that cut would come after a three-year pay freeze and multiple furloughs caused by the Republican "sequester."

Unbelievably, in Illinois the right wing Chicago Tribune and the state's corporate elite snookered the Democratic-controlled legislature into passing changes in that state's pension laws that slashed the pensions of its public employees. The changes affected all state employees and many of Illinois' teachers. All of them had faithfully made their required contributions to the state's pension funds for years, even though the legislature regularly failed to make its required payments so it could avoid raising taxes on the state's wealthiest citizens.

Published in Guest Commentary


MandelaVotingLast night, it was difficult to cut through the fog of reaction from current day conservatives to the death of Nelson Mandela. However, despite the kind words and the tributes, it should never be forgotten that the conservative movement in this country took great pains to condemn and demonize Mandela and the African National Congress, doing all they could to undermine the economic boycott of South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement.

Nelson Mandela and his comrades with the African National Congress were not always the toast of the town, especially in Washington, D.C.

President Ronald Reagan, who placed the ANC on the U.S. terror list in the 1980s (a designation that wasn't removed until 2008), labeled the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 as "immoral" and "utterly repugnant." Instead, the Reagan Administration adopted "a position a position of constructive engagement towards South Africa." The Nation's Sam Kleiner reported in early July.

"Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker pushed for expanded trade with Johannesburg under the belief that it was a strong ally in the Cold War. While divestment activists urged the United States to isolate the South African regime, the Reagan administration was pushing for more trade and engagement."

In 1985, Rep. Dick Cheney voted against a congressional resolution calling for the release of Mandela and the recognition of the African National Congress. North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms "turned his back during Mandela's visit to the U.S. Capitol."

Published in Guest Commentary


ConsumerismYes, it's that's time of year again when working Americans foolishly blow their hard-earned money on junk primarily because of the thousands of advertisements that tell them to do just that at an accelerated rate during the holidays.

Of course, you're not supposed to know about the mothers and children in miserable conditions that labor to make all that material stuff for a buck a day, much less think about how the Company Men exploit the poor by turning them into automatons.

Just buy the stuff—that's all that matters. If you don't, Shame, shame, Oh the power of guilt! Why do you suppose the corporate networks broadcast the shopping malls as if it were a competitive race almost every night until the end of New Year's?

Oblivious shoppers, let me tell you a thing or two, there are no glossy photos at GAP, Old Navy, Tommy Hilfiger, Macy's, Kohl's...that capture the slaves of the world, the mothers and fathers, the children in Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, around the globe, and yes, right here in the good old U.S.A., sweating over hundreds of sewing machines for 10 hours at a time, shoulder to shoulder in suffocating, smelly rooms that resemble prisons with no fire exits. And when there are fires and workers die? The retailers simply turn their backs, refusing aid and compensation.

Published in Guest Commentary


GoldenCalf'Tis the season to feel rage and heartache about the economy.

I feel hope as well, praise the Lord, thanks to Pope Francis and the alley behind my house, where nothing of value goes to waste.

I'm the kind of person who can't throw anything away, but sometimes I have to anyway — an old microwave, a sewing machine that hasn't been used in 20 years, a threadbare easy chair, tangled computer wires and other excruciating miscellany — and when I do, it's usually gone within a day, if not an hour. When I can no longer find value in what I possess, others see it as a gift from the universe.

The alley economy flows though my Chicago neighborhood 24/7, a sort of gift economy that continually revitalizes one's material possessions, in unnoticed defiance of the official, throwaway, money-profit-growth economy that has its claws around our world and is squeezing us to death. The alley economy is, in fact, part of a rudimentary social ecosystem, where forces collude for the common good and nothing is wasted.

This is the opposite of the official economy, where everything except growth and profit are held in contempt and the environmental and human commons are simultaneously exploited and polluted. Those who benefit from this system are just as trapped in it as the ones who are victimized by it, and will ultimately come tumbling down when sustainability collapses along with the rest of us, but in the meantime they are forced both to serve its perpetuation and ignore its hellish cost.

That last part — the tacit ignoring of what's wrong, the blurred distinction between news and advertising, the erosion of integrity in most forms of public communication — is particularly distressing, because without clarity of discussion we can't begin to address what's wrong and begin making crucial changes, even if they benefit everyone.

Published in Guest Commentary


HolyLandThemeParkPaul Crouch, once one of the most powerful men in the world of televangelism, has died at 79 after a ten-year battle with degenerative heart disease. Crouch, co-founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network with his wife Janice, was a master at pitching the "prosperity gospel," and prosperity surely came his way. Crouch and Janice had "matching his-and-her mansions in Newport Beach, Calif., and used multimillion dollar corporate jets," entertainment.time.com pointed out.

Crouch's wealth not only grew out of the power of his own preaching and fundraising solicitations, it also came from selling time on his network to many of the world's best known preachers. And, the Crouches were ultimate survivors, having, as Religion Dispatches' Sarah Posner recently pointed out, "survived many a media exposé."

The Trinity Broadcasting Network, founded in 1973 -- well before the rise of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and a decade after Pat Robertson founded his Christian Broadcasting Network -- has been called the world's largest Christian broadcasting network. According to the Associated Press, the Costa Mesa, California-based TBN has "84 satellite channels and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates as well as a Christian amusement park in Orlando."

AP reported that "Crouch began his broadcasting career while studying theology at Central Bible Institute and Seminary in his native Missouri by helping build the campus' radio station. He moved to California in the early 1960s to manage the movie and television unit of the Assemblies of God before founding Trinity Broadcast Network in 1973 with his wife."

Published in Guest Commentary
Tuesday, 03 December 2013 06:44

Eugene Robinson | Obama's Immoral Drone War


CombatDroneU.S. drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries may be militarily effective, but they are killing innocent civilians in a way that is obscene and immoral. I'm afraid that ignoring this ugly fact makes Americans complicit in murder.

It is understandable why President Obama has made drone attacks his go-to weapon in the fight against terrorists and the Taliban. Armed, pilotless aircraft allow the CIA and the military to target individuals in enemy strongholds without putting U.S. lives at risk. But efficacy is not legitimacy, and I don't see how drone strikes can be considered a wholly legitimate way to wage war.

This is an unpopular view in Washington -- especially at the White House, where Obama and his aides have done much to erase the stain on the nation's honor left by the excesses of George W. Bush's Global War on Terrorism. It is to his great credit that Obama ended torture, shut down the CIA's secret overseas prisons and made a good-faith effort to close the detention center at Guantanamo.

But Obama has greatly expanded the use of drones, and his version of the terror war looks a lot like a campaign of assassination.

Even if the intelligence agents and military officers who operate the drones have perfect knowledge -- meaning they are absolutely certain the target is a dangerous enemy -- and fire the drones' missiles with perfect accuracy, this amounts to summary execution. Is such killing morally defensible?

Published in Guest Commentary


ChicagoFire"The only premise of the book was to just go out and listen."

And the book, edited by Miles Harvey, who is quoted above, is remarkable. It's one of a kind, as far as I know – How Long Will I Cry? – the first publication of a newly formed nonprofit organization called Big Shoulders Books, which is affiliated with Chicago's DePaul University. It's available free of charge, because . . . how could a cry in the wilderness be otherwise?

It's a cry in the wilderness punctuated by gunfire. Usually all we hear is the gunfire, emanating from "those" neighborhoods, the violent ones, "so physically and spiritually isolated from the rest of us," as Alex Kotlowitz describes them in his foreword. How Long Will I Cry? is an attempt – no, I mean a beginning – at ending that isolation.

It's the dream and collaboration of lots of people who live in and love Chicago, cultural mecca and, in recent years, "murder capital" of America. This book begins telling the city's untold story, which is the untold story of so much of the country. It lets loose the voices of children, teenagers, adults who have been wounded by the violence that is the shadow side of American and human culture: the voices of those who have lost their children and their friends to it; the voices of those who have grown up with it; the voices of those who have participated in it and been dragged into it.

There are 35 interviews in all. Together they convey the complex dynamic of poverty, despair and hope beyond hope. We need to listen. We need to find a collective resolve to end the violence.

Published in Guest Commentary
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