Thursday, May 3, 2012

Soft drink advertisers want us to think that “smaller” means “small” and “fewer” means “few”

By Marc Jampole

Four large manufacturers of processed beverages—The Coca Cola Company, the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Pepsico and SunnyD—have joined forces to fight a common enemy: those small-minded people who worry that Americans are taking in way too many calories through the consumption of the sugar- and chemical-loaded concoctions.

Their weapons of choice are the typical rhetorical devices of advertisers around the world: false comparisons and misleading statements.

These four and the American Beverage Association have been sponsoring full-page print ads that tout how healthy and low calorie many of their products are compared to a few years ago, meaning that collectively, they’re selling fewer calories per container

The headline expresses the theme line of the campaign: AMERICA’S BEVERAGE COMPANIES ARE DELIVERING. Embedded in the text, each line of which is separated from the next by very wide ledding, are the three things that the beverage companies are delivering, in green caps so they stand out:  MORE CHOICES… SMALLER PORTIONS…FEWER CALORIES…

The copy brings to life this assertion by describing actions that the sodapop-mongers have recently taken to make portions smaller and provide lower calorie beverages.

At the bottom are three white delivery men and a black delivery woman, each standing behind a hand truck loaded with beverage products of one of the four sponsoring companies. Pepsico, by the way, has the black woman deliverer. Below that, in the same order as the deliverers, are the four company logos.

As usual with attempts to manipulate the public, the print ad’s call to action is to visit a website:, where you see the same image of deliverers united below the following legend: “America's Beverage Companies Are Delivering For You, Your Family And Community. We're making it easier for people to choose a beverage that's right for them with more choices, smaller portions, fewer calories and clear calorie labels.” Actually, I saw the ad in the New York Times and it told me to go to, but it’s the same website as

The website gives more details on how those who deliver soft drinks are helping to reduce obesity by offering beverage products with fewer calories and in smaller portions.  

The obvious rhetorical problem is the use of the comparative: smaller, fewer. They don’t say small. They don’t say few. And with good reason.  Soft drinks are for the most part empty calories, except those that don’t have calories, but instead provide chemicals, about which we know little except that they probably create the craving to eat more calories. In other words, no soft drink is good for you. Smaller is still bad, and so is fewer.

I’m not excited about the choices that the beverage behemoths are offering to children—fruit and vegetable juice—either! The fruit and vegetable drinks are spiked with sugar, while the real juices, healthier than the other fare offered in vending machines to be sure, are not as healthy as eating a piece of fruit or a vegetable. There’s that comparative—healthier—again! They’re also selling water, but I understand that most tap water is pretty healthy for you, and the money saved from buying the bottled water could buy a real piece of fruit.

Subtler even than the use of the comparative to make soft drinks seem healthy is the ad’s focus on “more choice.”

On the narrative level, the pop purveyors want us to thank them for adding smaller sizes, diet versions and juice drinks to their mix of offerings.  Below the surface, however, lies a message we have seen before from people wanting to foist shoddy goods on the American public: People should have the choice to smoke in public or not.  People should have the choice of buying unhealthy foods.  People should be able to have an unlimited choice in doctors even if, by limiting that choice a little bit, we can cut healthcare costs by 10% or more.  People should have the choice of charter schools, even if they have been proven in many studies to do a worse job of educating children than the public schools they replace. Employers should be able to choose if they can impose their narrow views on birth control on their employees.

Of course, more choice applies to television stations available in a cable or satellite TV package, beers on the menu and types of phones sold at your neighborhood electronics store.

Through the steady drum beat over decades of advertising that touts the benefit of more choice, we have come to think of more choice as a benefit in and of itself. When the beverage barons tell us they are offering more choice, they are depending on this association to rub off on the other messages.  In its barest form, the thought process I think they want to engender goes like this: More choice is good. Healthier beverages are good. More choice therefore makes for healthier beverages.  It’s a false syllogism, but the world of propaganda is filled with such creatures.

Let’s take the more choice principle one step further. Every single time we eat a meal or snack, we exercise choice.  We are told and have come to believe that exercising choice is good. Therefore we have done something good whatever choice we make, even if the choice is to have a 12-ounce can of Coke or Pepsi for breakfast, with or without the side of toaster tart.  It is this thought process that the beverage companies want you to have. They want you to feel good about eating their crap. If you have that can of pop and feel guilty about it enough times, pretty soon you’ll stop. 

Unless, that is, you like to feel guilty, in which case we have a lot of products for you to buy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Yahoo! poll suggests what’s really wrong with American politics—not many people really care enough to get informed

By Marc Jampole

You would guess that most senior citizens and those approaching retirement will have heard of Wisconsin Republican Congressional Representative Paul Ryan. After all, he is the architect of the budget that proposes to radically gut Medicare and Social Security.

And wouldn’t you think that most single mothers would have heard of Ryan, who after all has been an architect or loud supporter of every recent proposal to cut food stamps and medical aid to children.

And employees who currently get tax-free health care benefits from their employer—surely most of them have heard of Ryan, who has advocated ending that tax exemption on income and benefits.

And I imagine that among those 98% of Catholic women who defy the Catholic Church and use artificial birth control, there are still many who listened when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that Ryan’s budget plans would disproportionately cut programs that serve the poor and vulnerable.

I’m guessing that the majority of people in the United States should have a reason to dislike Ryan, who currently serves as leading spokesperson for the right-wing’s low-tax, no-government social philosophy.

That’s why I am so completely floored by the results of yesterday’s poll by Yahoo! on its home page asking if Paul Ryan will boost or hurt Mitt Romney’s chances of unseating President Obama.

As of 3:30 pm yesterday afternoon, more than 100,000 had voted. Here’s what they said:
  • Yes, he'll boost Romney's chances: 24%
  • No, he'll hurt Romney's chances: 22%
  • I don't know who he is: 53%

That’s right, a majority of the people who voted in the survey had never heard of Paul Ryan. The news is depressing, even if we assume that people who respond to Yahoo! home page surveys are dramatically different in their reading of the news from the general electorate. But I’m guessing that people reading the Yahoo! home page get more news than the average person, because Yahoo! puts news on its home page. In fact, it has plastered photos of Ryan on its rotating box and put his name in many news headlines over the past two years.

And yet, more people have never heard of him than have formed an opinion about him, negative or positive.

And therein lies the biggest problem facing American society: the complete ignorance and apathy of a large number of voters and potential voters.

We can complain about the way that real news gets drowned out by non-news such as celebrity news and gossip, political bloopers, features about stuff and services to buy, sports and reductions of issues to personality spats. After all, a Google search reveals only 3.7 million hits for “Paul Ryan budget” and 400 million hits for Lady Gaga, who is only one of many celebrities fueling celebrity mania. Or take Delmon Young, a semi-decent baseball player who got crocked and issued some anti-Semitic slurs, thereby producing 5.7 million hits in a Google search.  

But we can’t just blame the news media. There are still many stories about Ryan and most of them make the top of the news. We have only to blame ourselves for becoming so distracted by earning bread and watching circuses that we don’t even realize how much into the muck of ignorance we have slipped.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ryan's Budget Soaks the Poor and Middle Class

Click on image to enlarge. Graphics by Kevin Kreneck

President Obama's Budget

Click on art to enlarge. Graphics by Kevin Kreneck

Both Obama and Republicans play misdirection games with the anniversary of bin Laden’s killing

By Marc Jampole

Both President Obama and the Republicans are playing misdirection games on the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, using pseudo-issues to keep our minds off what should be our central concerns as we contemplate the capture and then illegal assassination of the symbol of anti-American terrorism.

Obama was happy to get into a spat with Mitt Romney aboutwho as president would or would not have authorized the raid that captured bin Laden. That way no one was debating the real issue: instead of killing bin Laden, should we instead have upheld the due process principle of our rule of law and transported him back to the United States for a trial? No one in the main stream media is even whispering that question.

The Republican’s misdirection involves torture.  Once again, Republican torchbearers are making the incredibly inaccurate statement that enhanced interrogation techniques—their polite word for torture—produced information that led to identifying bin Laden’s location in Pakistan. In this case, the former director of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., revived the lie in a new memoir, Hard Measures, and with an appearance Sunday night on the CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Once again, those in the know like Senators Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, are correcting the lie by reminding us that all information leading to the identification of bin Laden’s location came from traditional, legal and non-painful interrogation.

But what do the Republicans care if they are called on the lie? They still will have moved the country away from asking and answering the questions, “Is torture legal?” and “Is torture right?” Instead, we are focused on the question of efficacy: “Does torture work?” Asking if it works implies that its use is accepted, at least conditionally.

The torture misdirection helps the Democrats as much as it helps the Republicans. The Obama Administration doesn’t mind if we pose the torture question in a way that appears to give proponents at least a chance of winning, as long as we’re talking about torture. That way we won’t be talking about the continued existence of Guantanamo and its dozens of prisoners mired in a legal no-man’s land. That way we won’t talk about assassinating U.S. citizens without the benefit of due process. That way we won’t talk about increased raiding of state-legal medical marijuana operations or signing the bill to reauthorize the indefinite detention in military custody of US citizens. I could drone on about civil rights abuses by the centrist Obama Administration….Speaking of drones…

We should not be talking about torture at all, except to pronounce prison sentences on Bush II, Cheney, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Addington and the other architects of the illegal American torture gulag. We should have moved on to a wholesale reevaluation of the increased security measures we implemented after the 9/11 attack that have led to a reduction in civil rights of our citizens and others.

But then again, we should not be talking about the legality of abortion almost 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

And we shouldn’t still be debating the merits of offering birth control to women as part of healthcare insurance.

We should not be talking about if the theory of evolution is valid.

We should not be talking about if the earth is rapidly and dangerously warming, another pieceof misdirection that the Times continues to support with its vetting today of the already disproven theory that clouds will absorb excess warmth and prevent us from enduring the perils of climate change.

And it’s truly amazing that we’re still talking about soldiers in Afghanistan.

And how could we possibly still be debating poll taxes, which in my mind is anything for which you have to pay to be able to exercise your right to vote.

So maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising to me that someone in the world is still defending the use of torture. The persistence of false ideas takes our attention away from what must be done: for example, to reinstate tradition civil rights for everyone; educate our children in understanding and using the scientific method; and reduce human generation of carbon-based emissions.