Mike Koltak: “Propaganda works better than you think. The major reason ‘America’ and especially ‘Middle Class America’ is opposing health care (and many other issues), is that the Republicans have a better marketing department than the Democrats.”

☞ Mike is referring to last week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to, essentially, buy the House and Senate even more than they already do, and he offers this fascinating article from USA Today on how effective advertising really is.

In short part:

[P]sychologists have shown that people respond far more readily to propaganda, otherwise known as advertising, than they are willing to believe:

• Just giving medical students pens with a drug’s name on them made the students significantly more favorably disposed toward the medication than otherwise, despite their immersion in classes aimed at letting them rationally evaluate drug benefits, found a 2009 Archives of Internal Medicine report.

• Remember shaking hands with Bugs Bunny at Disneyland? Roughly a third of people presented with a fake ad depicting a visit to Disneyland that featured a handshake with Bugs later remembered or knew the meet up with the ‘wascally wabbit’ had happened to them, according to a 2001 University of Washington study. Even though Bugs is owned by Warner Brothers and verboten at a Disney facility, so it couldn’t have happened.

• In a famous 1951 experiment led by Swarthmore’s Solomon Asch, 76% of people conformed at least once to what they heard other people arguing was the correct length of a line on a scale right in front of their face, even though it was plainly wrong. The people arguing for the incorrect measurement were all plants, but overall, 33% of participants went along with the group, even though they were spouting nonsense. A follow-up study in a 1955 Journal of Abnormal Psychology report found even under anonymous conditions, about 23% of people preferred to believe what people were saying about the line rather than the evidence in front of their own eyes.

“If you are inclined to believe that people do all their thinking rationally, then you might accept that more information is better, and that eventually the good information will drive out the bad,” says journalist Shankar Vedantam, author of the just-released The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives. “Unfortunately, there is a small warehouse full of research showing it is an error to believe we live according to reason. Rather we make decisions with our unconscious.”

☞ Which brings me back to my earlier assertion, that “the taller candidate usually wins,” which some of you found offensive but was my shorthand for: the electoral decision process is not entirely rational or well informed. E.g., 70% of Bush voters – including Sarah Palin, we learn from Game Change – believed Iraq attacked us on 9/11.

THOUGHTS FROM MILAN: HEALTH CARE

Nicoletta: “I am an American who lives in Milan. I came here 10 years ago to work as an independent contractor in IT for banks. Over the last few years I have developed metastatic breast cancer and have been treated by the excellent Italian health system, rated the second best in the world. It is a big LIE what some say that the European (and Canadian) health systems are second rate. I have gone thru two surgeries (one very complex brain surgery), chemotherapy, radiation surgery, a complex set of tests every three months, all with the most up to date technology and excellent doctors. The system isn’t perfect, higher taxes (of course), and a bit more bureaucracy, but it is worth it. Never was I asked to pay a penny out of my pocket and I’ve always been made to feel that I, the patient, comes first. The system is very compassionate and humane. I’m feeling fine now and have been cancer free for an entire year. Now here’s the thing. For the last few years I have really wanted to return to my home town of Chicago, my parents are aging, I have a chronic disease and really want to be with family, and I want my son to grow up in America. But, I CANNOT GET HEALTH INSURANCE BECAUSE I HAVE A PREEXISTING CONDITION. The only way is to give up my small business and become an employee of some company, something I don’t want to do. So even though I can afford to buy my own insurance, I just remain in Italy and wait for the system to improve. I love my country and really believe that we can do better! We need universal health care! We really need to make this clear to everyone that will listen. Shout from the rooftops. We need universal health care! We need universal health care! We need universal health care!”

THOUGHTS FROM DOWN UNDER: DONE IN

Miles Jaffe, Harvard College, Yale Law School, is a retired attorney who winters with his wife in New Zealand. Lots of sheep, little to do but think. And here is what he thinks:

THE REPUBLICAN HEIST
By Miles Jaffe

I, like millions of others, watched the eight years of GWB government, appalled by its errant policies, incompetence and greed, but, I confess, I entirely misunderstood the plot. This was not the gang that couldn’t shoot straight; this was the most highly competent group of bank robbers since the Lavender Hill Mob.

They not only robbed the bank. They changed the bank so that even under new management, it would not detect future heists. Moreover, the bank would not have the ability to redesign its security, nor to undo changes that make future heists themselves a part of the bank’s business itself.

The Bush Administration succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. While leaving the opposition in control, it created “favorable” economic and political circumstances that even its most clever architect, Karl Rove, could not have intended.

I, of course, am aware of the “starve the beast” theory that holds that Republicans have run up huge deficits intentionally to make “Liberal” domestic programs “irresponsible.” This is only a tiny fraction of the scheme.

I owed this revelation to Thomas Frank and the publication of his recent book: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. The mass firing of federal prosecutors, the placement of industry insiders in posts that regulate those industries, “the pallets of shrink-wrapped cash ‘misplaced’ in Iraq,” the outsourcing of traditional government work to private contractors and the broad practice of awarding contracts without bids, are the products not of incompetence but of deliberate, core conservative policies. This was not the “flood of mismanagement as part of a culture of corruption” as Democrats might have it, nor was it the product of a “few bad apples,” as Republicans might suggest. “This spectacular episode of misrule has coincided with both the political triumph of conservatism and the rise of the Washington area to the richest rank of American metropolises.”

The Bush Administration not only rewarded its buddies with policies favoring oil, with no-bid contracts to its friends: it created a fiscal situation that makes private outsourcing a necessity in the future. The bank is open for business and the large corporations will be first in line using their strong elbows to prevent major competition.

As almost a sidelight, Frank points to an ironic aspect of the scheme: not only have the conservatives devised ways to reward their corporate supporters. They have developed a political process in which the participants (talking heads, news outlets, lobbyists) themselves become rich. Conservatives, formerly bored by or indifferent to politics and to life in Washington, can now participate in politics as entrepreneurs! Politics has become like oil: a fecund soil for profitable businesses. (See Fox News) Thus conservatives are drawn to Washington to influence government while in and out of power, making Washington, as Frank notes, America’s richest city.

Frank concludes:

“The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.”

Even the Iraq war has done yeoman service in keeping the bank open for future corporate plundering and government incapacity. It has increased the power and importance of the military but more importantly, right out of Orwellian fantasy, it has created conditions for the “Long War” to which Republicans are so devoted. It has established in practice the Orwellian ideal of a war that has no ending and can never be evaluated. And who benefits from an endless war? And what institution is crippled by its continuance?

Then one might talk about the closure rules in the United States Senate where we now have learned that states with 11 percent of the population can control 41 votes to prevent any significant policy change.

And perhaps the final nail, the ultimate product of the Bush Administration: The Supreme Court five member majority in last week’s ruling in Citizens United has invalidated restrictions on corporate political speech. The Chief Justice has given up all claims to taking a narrow approach to matters coming before the court. Under his leadership, the Court has stretched its reach to throw out 100 years—if not 200 years—of distinguishing between human and corporate political speech. Even Karl Rove did not dream of this, I presume.

So the conservatives have taken the money and left the bank, leaving the bank both destitute and encumbered with endless, unchangeable obligations. And upon looking back at the bank, these same conservatives are venting their feigned anger at the inability of new management to rebuild the structure, not even acknowledging their role in its incapacity. And the final irony: the other bank customers are angry at new management and apparently oblivious to the existence of a heist. Some of us might ask, with reference to Frank’s earlier book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, what’s the matter with America?

 

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