Archive for category Social
Vanity Revealed: Facebook Is A Mirror And Twitter A Megaphone
June 12, 2013
Image Credit: B & T Media Group Inc. / Shutterstock
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Though they are both social networks, Facebook and Twitter could not be more different in many ways. One is packed full of games, pictures and relationships. The other is filled with links and short bursts of information and opinions. Yet as social networks, they have both had significant effects on how we communicate and, ultimately, how we view ourselves.
Now a new study from the University of Michigan (UM) has quantified why different age groups use these mediums and how they use them. To put it plainly, the UM research team claim that Facebook is a mirror and Twitter a megaphone, though different age groups use them in different ways.
“Among young adult college students, we found that those who scored higher in certain types of narcissismposted more often on Twitter,” said Elliot Panek, who recently received a doctorate from UM. “But among middle-aged adults from the general population, narcissists posted more frequent status updates on Facebook.”
Adult narcissists on the other hand prefer to use Facebook to let others know more about them — how they feel, what they think, and what they’re up to. The research team found that Facebook is better used by these adults because they already have their social circles defined. Therefore they curate the ideal image they’d like to have for themselves and rather then send off short 140-character rants about their beliefs, likes and dislikes, they prefer to maintain the reputation they’ve already earned from their peers and gain social acceptance.
Younger narcissists, such as college students, prefer to use Twitter as a megaphone. Here they can broadcast their feelings to the world while finding other social circles of like-minded individuals and join in on going conversations about whatever they feel is important.
“Young people may overevaluate the importance of their own opinions,” Panek said. “Through Twitter, they’re trying to broaden their social circles and broadcast their views about a wide range of topics and issues.”
The researchers were also curious if the participants in the study were growing more narcissistic as a result of their social networking usage, or if they were only looking for an outlet for their self-centered ways.
To conduct their research, Panek and team found 486 undergraduates, the majority of which were female around 19-years old. These participants answered questions about their use of social media and took a personality survey to assess their narcissism, self-sufficiency, exploitativeness and other traits. Next, the researchers found another group of 93 adults, mostly white females aged 35-years old and asked them to complete a survey.
After compiling the data, Panek says adults ultimately use social networks to display their narcissism, albeit in different ways.
“It’s important to analyze how often social media users actually post updates on sites, along with how much time they spend reading the posts and comments of others,” he said.
As for whether social networks lead to narcissism or vice versa, Panek’s study was inconclusive.
This study is now published online in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Panek was joined in his research by fellow UM researchers Yioryos Nardis and Sara Konrath.
- Facebook, Twitter Amplify Growing Levels of Narcissism (hispanicbusiness.com)
- You’re so vain: Study links social media use and narcissism (sciencedaily.com)
- Do Narcissists Use Twitter and Facebook More Than Other People? (news.health.com)
- You’re so vain: Study links narcissism and social media use (jsonline.com)
- You’re so vain: U-M study links social media and narcissism (psypost.org)
- You’re so vain: U-M study links social media and narcissism (eurekalert.org)
- Study: Facebook, Twitter Amplify Narcissism (hispanicbusiness.com)
- You’re so vain: U-M study links social media and narcissism (esciencenews.com)
- Are You A Narcissist Just Because You Like To Talk About Yourself Online? (detroit.cbslocal.com)
- New Research: University of Michigan Study Links Social Media and Narcissism (infodocket.com)
By Bryce Covert on May 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm
Credit: Associated Press
The highest Powerball jackpot in history, $590.5 million, is waiting to be claimed by the winner in the small town of Zephyrhills, Florida. While the lucky winner may feel a sense of exhilaration, there can be huge down sides of the lottery for those who play, those who win, and the state governments that rely on the revenues.
With odds stacked sky high against actually winning a jackpot, lottery players lose an average of 47 cents on the dollar for each ticket. With such low payouts, tickets act as an implicit tax of 38 percent.
Yet poor people are far more likely to buy tickets than their wealthier counterparts. They spend a larger percentage of their income on the lottery, and many studies of state lotteries have found that low-income Americans account for most of the sales and that sales are highest in the poorest areas. One study found that a reason for this is that “lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals’ desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations.” The loss in income of buying tickets that provide no reward is harder to bear on a slim budget.
Those who win may not be much better off, however. The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that as much as 70 percent of those who land sudden windfalls lose the money within several years. Lottery winnings have led some to drugs, bankruptcy, and family fractures.
The revenues from lottery tickets act as a regressive tax because states use them to fund many public services, such as education. Lotteries netted 11 states more revenue than their corporate income tax in in 2009. But states don’t fare well either in the long run. While states that have lotteries increased per-capita spending on education at first, after some time they ended up decreasing overall spending, while states without them increased investment. One study found that “nonlottery states spend, on average, 10 percent more of their budgets on education than lottery states.” In fact, lottery revenues may not end up increasing funds and could actually increase budget imbalances. There are only so many tickets that a state’s population can buy, making it a short or medium term fix but not a long term source of revenue.
The chances of winning the Powerball jackpot were very low at just 1 in 175.2 million. One person has likely won it and will now face the challenges of managing a huge influx of new money. The rest of the residents and the state’s revenues are not likely to fare as well.
- Winner in Boerne: Powerball ticket gets five numbers right for $1 million (khou.com)
- How Lotteries Are Bad For Players, Winners, And States (thinkprogress.org.feedsportal.com)
- Powerball winner sold in Florida (wptv.com)
- One winner of record $590m US lottery jackpot (irishtimes.com)
- One winning Powerball lottery ticket sold in Florida (fox6now.com)
- Winning Powerball numbers are… (cnn.com)
- $590 million Powerball ticket bought in Zephyrhills (TBO.com)
- Florida Powerball lottery winner has Powerball winning numbers for $590M jackpot (examiner.com)
- Winner of $590M US lotto jackpot remains a mystery (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- Small Fla. city wonders who won Powerball jackpot (kansascity.com)
Are People Really Asking for Credit Scores on their First Dates?
“Scoring on the first date” takes on a whole new meaning.
December 26, 2012
American dating culture just reached a new, almost inconceivable low. According to the New York Times, young singles have a new number they are using to evaluate potential partners: their credit scores.
Apparently, a host of Web sites have sprung up catering to singles looking for a good-credit-wielding mate, including Creditscoredating.com and datemycreditscore.com; while an increasing number of young people have confessed to asking a potential partner’s score on the first date. A bad score, some say, can tank a fledgling relationship. A high score, on the other hand, can fast-track one’s dating application—I mean, er, insert phrase that makes young daters sound less like a mortgage lending company.
First things first: For anyone who has been living under the rock of delusion for the last five years, a credit score is a numerical analysis of a person’s debt history that is supposed to predict how likely he or she will be to pay back a loan. Under the most popular measure, FICO, the magic number ranges from 300-850 — with 850 being the Moby Dick of all credit scores, and anything below 400 being analogous to scoring 200 on the SATs simply for writing one’s name.
So, in other words, more and more young people are choosing potential partners not because of shared interests or values, expressions of love and respect, or even a shallow appreciation for someone’s bangin’ body—but because of how able they’ve been to pay back their past debts.
In terms of sheer inhumanity, evaluating a potential partner based on his or her credit score surpasses other absurd metrics, such as the illusive size 0 dress or size 16 dress shoes.
First, it reflects the almost insane levels of control and power that lenders wield in a highly debt financed economy. Since 1980, individual debt has increased steadily as housing prices soared, wages remained stagnant and everything became so damn expensive that Americans increasingly relied on cheap credit simply to put roofs over their heads, food in their mouths and their kids through college. Remember the era when Henry Ford priced his cars cheap enough for his workers to buy a Model T outright? Today, the total auto debt stands at just under $1 trillion, dwarfed, of course, by mortgage debt at a staggering $8 trillion. The average college student who graduated in 2011 carries nearly $27,00 in student loan debt alone.
The fact that whether or not people are able to pay back these debts has become a measure of romantic eligibility reflects how shockingly acceptable we think this debt-based economic system is—and how much we’ve been tricked into thinking that one’s finances are a measure of his or her moral and ethical character.
Even more disturbing, credit scores — particularly in the wake of the highly racialized subprime-lending crisis — is far from an objective, color-blind number. As the Washington Post reports: “The implosion of the subprime lending market has left a scar on the finances of black Americans—one that not only has wiped out a generation of economic progress but could leave them at a financial disadvantage for decades…. credit scores of black Americans have been systematically damaged, haunting their financial futures.”
It’s a well-proven fact that nearly all of the major mortgage companies discriminated in their subprime lending based on race. Three of the largest lending companies–Wells Fargo, Bank of America and SunTrust—have already settled with the U.S. Department of Justice over charges of racial discrimination in mortgage lending. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, this discrimination held true even when the home buyers had good credit scores.
“Among borrowers with a FICO score of over 660 (indicating good credit), African Americans and Latinos received a high interest rate loan more than three times as often as white borrowers,” explains the Center For Responsible Lending’s 2011 report.
To judge potential dating partners based on credit score, therefore, means African Americans and other people of color that got screwed by the mortgage industry now won’t get screwed in the bedroom. That seems from fair, doesn’t it? It’s almost like the financial industry was able to boil down white privilege into a single number, and then pretend it has nothing to do with race, then sell it to single Americans as a measure of other people’s self-worth and future eligibility. No wait… that’s exactly what it’s like.
Luckily, not everyone — or even most people — are buying (literally) into this trend piece. As one commenter on the Times’ Web site wrote:
This article is so insane on so many levels that I don’t know where to start or even why to start…Unfortunately, it portrays our society with values somewhere on par with a pack of piranhas. It is sad to see these sort of values presented as “normal” and ‘conventional”. And we wonder why our society is so sick.
Why am I not surprised to find something like this in the business section? This article is better than a major ad campaign for the credit scoring companies.
Anyone willing to bet $20* that this man would make a perfectly fine romantic partner — regardless of his credit score?
- Are People REALLY Asking for Credit Scores on their First Dates? (alternet.org)
- Are People Really Asking for Credit Scores on their First Dates? (alternet.org)
- Paying off debt – credit score (reniacarsillo.net)
- Even Cupid wants to know your credit score (profit.ndtv.com)
- A Review And An Alternative To The Credit Score Simulator (freecreditcounselingblog.typepad.com)
- Credit Score Rating Video Answers Important Credit Score Questions (consumer.einnews.com)
- Stop Worrying So Much About Your Credit Score And Focus On Your Finances (consumerist.com)
- Holiday Spending may Harm Credit Scores (prweb.com)
- Couple contend I-Pass malfunction hurt their credit score (posttrib.suntimes.com)
- Why Don’t Banks Always Offer Free Credit Scores? (helpwithdebtnow.com)
Don’t Cut Social Security — Double It
Fiscal cliff chatter about slashing the venerable program ignores its fundamental potential and underlying strength.
December 27, 2012
As the nation tiptoes closer to the fiscal cliff, a frightening number of leaders on both sides of the political aisle seem ready to push poor, beleaguered Social Security over the edge. Not only would that be a huge mistake for the nation’s future, but these leaders show a dreadful misunderstanding of the new challenges faced by the U.S. retirement system. Particularly in the aftermath of the largest economic collapse since the Great Depression, none of the proposals on the table are grappling with some stark economic realities. How we settle this New Deal legacy will decide fundamental questions about what kind of society America will be for generations to come.
Here’s the dilemma that the United States faces. Since World War II, individual retirement has been based on a “three-legged stool,” with the three legs being Social Security, pensions, and personal savings (the latter primarily centered around home ownership). But two out of three of these legs have been chopped back to blunted pegs, leaving the retirement stool as an unstable, one-legged oddity.
Pensions have always been the least broadly distributed asset, with only a third of elderly Americans (those 65 and over) earning pension income, a percentage which has been declining dramatically in recent years. A bit over a majority of these older Americans have income from personal savings, most of that residing in the value of their homes. But 86 percent receive Social Security payments (see Figure 1).
Even before the Great Recession, 40 percent of middle-income and 53 percent of lower-income Americans already were at risk of having insufficient retirement funds. But the economic collapse has taken its toll on two out of three of Americans’ primary retirement resources: pensions and savings/investment in a home.
Already Off the Cliff: Pensions, Private and Public
American pensions were some of the hardest hit in the world by the Great Recession, falling in value by over a quarter in 2008, with only modest recovery since then. But private pensions already had become a less steady leg of retirement security prior to the recent recession. Since the early 1980s, businesses have gradually shifted responsibility for pensions onto workers, with predictable results. In 1981, approximately 60 percent of private sector workers were covered by a pension with a guaranteed payout. Today only about 10 percent of private sector workers have guaranteed payout pensions. Meanwhile, 401(k)-type retirement contribution plans have gone from covering only about 17 percent of the private workforce to about 65 percent today (see Figure 3).
401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans have turned out to be an unreliable pillar of retirement security, not only because they don’t provide as secure a net but because many Americans are pretty lousy at managing their investments. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that more than one-quarter of baby boomer households thought “hardly at all” about retirement and that financial literacy among boomers was “alarmingly low.” Half could not do a simple math calculation (divide $2 million by five) and fewer than 20 percent could calculate compound interest.
In the public sector, most workers still are covered by guaranteed payout pensions, but the number of public sector workers has declined dramatically in recent years, accelerating as a result of the Great Recession. There are now a million fewer federal employees than when Ronald Reagan left office, and public sector employment is at a 30-year low.
In addition, states have funded only about 80 percent of their pension liability, leaving a $3.32 trillion funding gap. Ohio and Rhode Island are in the worst shape, having underfunded their pensions by almost 50 percent of their gross state product. Other liabilities, such as retiree health and dental insurance, also are underfunded. City governments similarly are plagued by underfunded pensions, with Los Angeles underfunding its public pension liabilities by $3.53 billion, with an additional $2.43 billion owed for other employment benefits such as healthcare. As of June 2009, New York City public pension programs had liabilities that exceeded their assets by $39.9 billion with an additional $65.5 billion owed for other benefits.
So both the private and public components of the U.S. pension system are under severe strain, as the Great Recession combined with pre-recession patterns of rising inequality and a diminishing social contract have taken their toll. With fewer workers covered by pensions, this leg of the three-legged stool of retirement security is too short — and growing shorter.
Already Off the Cliff II: Home Ownership and Personal Savings
Now let’s examine the second leg of retirement well-being, personal savings centered around homeownership. For tens of millions of Americans, security in their elderly years has been directly linked to the value of their homes. Yet the rupture of the housing bubble illustrated in dramatic fashion the danger of over-reliance upon ever-rising home values for retirement security.
The Federal Reserve has estimated that homeowners lost approximately $8 trillion in home equity during the Great Recession, a 53 percent drop in the overall value of the national homeownership stock. About 14 million Americans — about 28 percent of all homeowners — are still underwater today, owing more on their mortgage than their home is worth. These homeowners are, in effect, flat broke if they have no other accumulated savings or retirement vehicle (see Figure 6, which shows the percentage of mortgages that are underwater).
This has been devastating for Americans’ retirement well-being because home ownership accounts for a large proportion of assets for so much of the population. As of 2008, only the top two income quartiles had accumulated enough equity from financial assets and pensions to weather the bursting housing bubble. The bottom 50 percent had not saved enough outside their homeownership to avoid severe wreckage to their retirement plans.
Thus, the second leg of the three-legged retirement stool has been broken down to a nub. And with home prices unlikely to recover soon, this loss in equity has significantly reduced the economic security of the lower and middle classes, which are less likely to have pensions and other assets such as private savings (beyond homeownership) to sustain them. Indeed, the bottom two income quartiles for those aged 65 and over depend on Social Security for at least 80 percent of their income, but even the second richest quartile still depends on Social Security for over 50 percent of its retirement income (see Figure 7).
In short, the collapse of the housing bubble when combined with the slow erosion of America’s pension system has hacked away two of the three legs of the retirement stool. In the future, the vast majority of baby boomers and other retirees will be almost completely dependent on the single leg of Social Security for their retirement. The retirement stool no longer is stable and secure, and suddenly Social Security, which always has been viewed as a supplement to private savings, is the only leg left for hundreds of millions of Americans.
Financial experts say it will take a monthly retirement income of about 70 to 80 percent of pre-retirement income levels — as well as $200,000 to $300,000 in personal savings — for the average American to have a secure retirement. Yet most older Americans have saved only a fraction of that. In 2010, 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement age had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. About half of all Americans are at risk of not having sufficient retirement income, and three-fifths of low-income households are at risk of not having sufficient income to maintain their pre-retirement standards of living at age 65 (see Figure 9).
A single legged stool might be sufficient if that single leg was robust enough to stand on its own. But Social Security currently provides much less than the 70 to 80 percent of pre-retirement income needed to maintain pre-retirement standards of living. It is estimated to replace only about 33 to 40 percent of pre-retirement income for the average wage earner, compared to other nations like Germany or France where it replaces 70 percent (see Figure 10).
So the one-legged stool of the U.S. retirement system is looking like a rather odd piece of furniture, one that is increasingly unstable. For more and more Americans, the dream of a secure retirement is threatened. New solutions are needed to provide security to retiring Americans, both now and in the future.
The Solution: “Social Security Plus”– Expanding Social Security
An expansion of the Social Security retirement system — one of the most successful and popular social programs in American history — that converts it into a more robust retirement system would build upon the most stable component of the current system. Social Security already provides the major means of support for two-thirds of America’s retirees. Since its New Deal inception in the 1930s, and gradual expansion in subsequent decades, Social Security has become a mainstay of retirement security, firmly rooted in America’s cultural and economic landscape (as leaders like President George W. Bush discovered when he tried to privatize it).
The real problem with Social Security is not, as its critics say, that it is underfunded. Contrary to gloomy predictions, the program is on solid financial footing, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting that Social Security can pay all scheduled benefits out of its own tax revenue stream through at least 2037. The bigger problem is that Social Security’s payouts are so meager — far too low for the program’s new role as America’s de facto national retirement system. It only replaces about 33 to 40 percent of a retiree’s average final wage, which is simply not enough money to live on when it is your primary — perhaps your only — source of retirement income.
The gritty reality that the Obama administration and House Republicans must face is that the vast majority of America’s retirees cannot afford to watch them hack off part of the only leg that remains of the three-legged stool. Quite the contrary, we should make that leg more robust by doubling the current Social Security payout, and turning it into a true national retirement system called “Social Security Plus.” Doing so not only would be good for American retirees, but also would be good for the greater macro economy.
Doubling Social Security’s individual payout would cost about $650 billion annually for the approximately 53 million Americans who receive benefits. Here’s how to pay for it.
Step 1. Lift Social Security’s payroll cap that favors the wealthy.
Currently Social Security only taxes wages up to $106,800 a year, and any income earned above that is not taxed. The net result is that poor, middle class, and even moderately upper middle class Americans are taxed 12.4 percent (split between employee and employer) on 100 percent of their income, but the wealthy pay a much lower percentage. Millionaire bankers effectively pay a paltry 1.2 percent.
Making all income levels pay the same percentage — which is how Medicare works — is popular with Americans according to opinion polls, and would raise about $377 billion toward the $650 billion needed to double the Social Security payout. As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama stated that he supported raising the cap on the Social Security tax to help fund the program.
Step 2. Cut out the business deduction for employees’ retirement plans.
With all Americans receiving Social Security Plus, employer-based pensions would be redundant, so businesses no longer would need the substantial federal deductions they currently receive for providing employees’ retirement plans. These deductions total a substantial $126 billion annually.
These two steps alone would provide three-fourths of the revenue needed to double Social Security’s payout.
Step 3. Cut or reduce other deductions that disproportionately benefit top income earners.
Other possible revenue streams should include ones that would reduce or eliminate unfair deductions in the tax code which currently allow the top 20 percent of income earners to reap generous deductions that barely help most low and moderate income Americans. These include deductions for private retirement savings, health care, homeownership and education.
Only higher income individuals have enough earnings to divert for savings or investments that allow them the luxury of enjoying considerable tax deductions for their 401(k)s, IRAs and pensions. The poor and middle class rarely can take advantage of these sorts of deductions because they don’t make enough income to benefit from itemizing deductions on their tax returns. As Josh Freedman pointed out recently in The Atlantic, in 2011 less than 30 percent of all filers itemized their taxes, and more than 80 percent of the benefits from itemized deductions went to individuals in the highest income quintile.
The same goes for the much vaunted home mortgage interest deduction. Those with annual incomes over $100,000 dollars received nearly 75 percent of the benefit from the home mortgage interest deduction in total dollars. Most middle class individuals would not see any increase in their taxes if the mortgage interest deduction were eliminated. Instead of buying a home as part of their retirement plan — which we now realize can be a risky undertaking — more people could put their money into Social Security Plus. Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction would raise another $100 billion to pay for Social Security Plus, and eliminating the other deductions would bring us close to the $650 billion mark.
An expansion of Social Security not only would be good for America’s retirees, it also would be good for the broader macroeconomy. It would act as an “automatic stabilizer” during economic downturns, keeping money in retirees’ pockets and stimulating consumer demand, especially since low and middle income people are more likely to spend an extra dollar on goods and services than are affluent individuals. Social Security Plus also would help American businesses trying to compete with foreign companies that don’t have to provide pensions to their employees, since those countries already have national retirement plans.
Moreover, unlike private pensions, Social Security benefits are portable when changing from one job to another. Every worker could contribute to her or his own retirement pension no matter where she or he worked. Those savings could be directed into a Social Security Plus system with investments restricted to Treasuries, instead of handing it over to mutual or pension fund managers who gamble on the volatile stock market with future retirees’ money (there is no evidence that the typical investment fund manager consistently beats the average return on Treasuries). And this system would be broadly fair, since even those higher income Americans who are having some of their tax deductions reduced would see part of it returned to them in the form of a greater Social Security payout.
In short, Social Security Plus would provide a stable, secure retirement for every American and contribute greatly toward a solid foundation from which to build a strong and vibrant 21st century economy. All Americans should have retirement benefits they can count on, not the crumbling casino of retirement overseen by the same Wall Street bankers and financial managers who drove the U.S. economy off the cliff.
- Stories of the Elderly Remind Us of the Pain of Cutting Social Security Payments | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- 6 Reasons the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Don’t Cut Social Security — Double It (alternet.org)
- Orcs v. Goblins: Crazed Republicans Turn on Each Other in Ugly Fiscal Cliff Battle | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- 3 Things You Have to Know About the Bogus ‘Fiscal Cliff’ | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Social security told not to suspend pension payments (antiguaobserver.com)
- Look who wants to curtail Social Security (prairieweather.typepad.com)
- A Pension Deficit Disorder: The Massive CEO Retirement Funds and Underfunded Worker Pensions at Firms Pushing Social Security Cuts (ips-dc.org)
- The Giant Lie Trotted Out by Fiscal Conservatives Trying to Shred Social Security (nakedcapitalism.com)
- What You Should Know about the Campaign to Fix the Debt and the CEOs Involved in Deficit Talks (jonathanturley.org)
As First Graders and Firefighters Are Gunned Down, the NRA Calls for More Firearms
The NRA’s post-Newtown sabre rattling is not the first time it has responded to massacres by reaffirming its More! Faster! Bigger! Stronger! Better! firearm extremism.
December 25, 2012
After the murder of 20 first graders in the days before Christmas, the US gun lobby, the NRA, has called for more guns. Hours after its belligerent refusal to take responsibility for the 6 and 7-year-olds’ deaths, fire fighters were shot and killed on Christmas Eve Day by another nut armed by guns-for-everyone lobbying. Merry Christmas from the NRA.
The NRA’s post-Newtown sabre rattling is not the first time it has responded to massacres by reaffirming its More! Faster! Bigger! Stronger! Better! firearm extremism. During the spring of 2009 when 50 victims were shot in rapid succession–14 in Binghamton, NY, 8 at a Carthage, NC nursing home, 6 in Santa Clara, CA, 5 in Miami, 10 in Alabama (by a gun “collector”), 2 policemen in Oakland, and 5 policeman in Pittsburgh (by a man armed with a semi-automatic AK-47-style rifle, a shotgun and three handguns–a .357 Magnum revolver, a .380-caliber handgun and a .45-caliber handgun, wearing a bulletproof vest)– the NRA said, lawmakers shouldn’t legislate “on the fresh graves of tragedy.” And they didn’t!
Three years ago, like now, the NRA said we need more guns not less to protect ourselves against the bad guy criminals the gun lobby arms. How does it arm the bad guys? Through patty cake background checks that many, perhaps most mass shooters pass. Through obstructing background check laws governing private sales and gun shows which account for 40 percent of weapons sold. And through obstructing “one firearm a month” sale limits which give green lights to straw buyers to arm the “bad guys” and keep illegal guns on the street.
It is almost like the NRA is working for the bad guys! Who realizes the gun lobby has put “Tiahrt restrictions” on the books that literally obstruct prosecution of criminals with illegal guns by restricting law enforcement officials from fully accessing and using Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) gun trace data, which can show where illegal guns come from, who buys them and how they get trafficked across state lines and into our communities.
The gun makers also seem to be working for the bad guys. Three years ago in Connecticut, where the first graders were killed this month, they defeated a “microstamping” bill that would require new markers on guns to make them easier to trace. Gun makers routinely tell state officials if gun legislation is passed, they’ll move their operations to another state, taking the jobs with them. Are they including the jobs they create in emergency rooms, operating rooms, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and morgues?
The NRA’s lobbying also lets criminals carry concealed weapons. More than 1,400 probable felons in Florida were granted valid concealed weapon licenses reported the Sun-Sentinel a few years ago, including a man who shot his girlfriend in the head as she cooked breakfast, a pizza deliveryman wanted for fatally shooting a 15-year-old over a stolen order of chicken wings, and six registered sex offenders. Lest someone should go unarmed just because they are a violent criminal, the NRA also got a program passed to help people whose gun purchasing rights were revoked petition for them to be restored as part of a provision for states to share more illegal firearm information with the federal government. What?
Wild eyed and his voice croaking, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference last week, “The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them.” Was someone holding up a mirror?
- As First Graders and Firefighters Are Gunned Down, the NRA Calls for More Firearms (alternet.org)
- As First Graders and Fire Fighters Are Gunned Down, the NRA Calls for More Firearms (alternet.org)
- Today’s fringy NRA, out-of-step with America and gun owners (dailykos.com)
- NRA Hides Truth About Gun Violence (drudge.com)
- House Democrat pushes gun reforms backed by NRA members (thehill.com)
- How Should A Social Entrepreneur Repond to the NRA After #Newtown? (forbes.com)
- Is the NRA doing for Gun Rights what the WBC is doing for Christianity? (politicalirony.com)
- Voice of Russia Exclusive: Hypocrisy Found at Heart of NRA’s Media Blame Game (voicerussia.com)
- Gun control advocates lash out at NRA after felon shoots firefighters (twitchy.com)
- Hey, liberals: Ignore the NRA for now (mbcalyn.com)
The Hell of Online Shopping
By DELIA EPHRON
Published: December 23, 2012
A few days ago, I got an e-mail from my sister Amy in Los Angeles saying she and her husband had received boxes from J. Crew. Christmas presents from me, she assumed, since I had ordered them online and told her to expect them.
But for whom, she asked? The cards were buried deep in the packaging, and one of them was missing. Nothing was gift-wrapped, either (although I had requested and paid for it). The boxes contained two pairs of shoes (although I had ordered only one pair), a man’s pullover and a sparkly pink woman’s sweater. The sweater was for a friend who also lives in Los Angeles, but somehow ended up being sent to Amy’s husband.
I called J. Crew to complain, and what followed was tedious and time-consuming, as all Internet dramas are, involving a review of numerous e-mails — “your order has been received,” “your order has been shipped” — in this case to the wrong place and in the wrong ways, some of which I might have prevented if I’d been vigilant tracking the flurry of e-mails.
The customer-service representative, consulting records, assured me that the box for my friend had been delivered. It had been left at the front door, she said, and gave me the address, which turned out to be not my sister and her husband’s house but my friend’s office, a gigantic building in Beverly Hills. “Left outside the front door? Are you sure?”
“Yes,” she said, and, as an apology, she would send me a $50 gift card. I e-mailed my friend. Had she received a box from J. Crew? “No,” she said.
My sister offered to gift-wrap and deliver my friend’s present. This was especially kind because traffic in Los Angeles is awful, as bad as New York’s during the holidays, which is one reason I order on the Web. But rather than make life easier, Web shopping only complicates it in new, more frustrating ways.
My husband, in charge of buying for all the children in our life, announced one evening that he had bought all his presents. To be done with Christmas shopping was so exciting that you’d think he’d used up some calories to do it, when in fact he’d never left his desk. The next morning he got an e-mail from Hammacher Schlemmer saying the item was out of stock and would ship after Jan. 1. So he had to phone and cancel the order. He then had to Web-shop all over again.
When I ordered the presents on the J. Crew Web site and checked a box for the gift-wrapping, I received a message back that J. Crew did not wrap shoes, my sister’s present. As Amy and I were sorting things out, I wondered why in the world I thought it was O.K. to send a Christmas present that wasn’t gift-wrapped.
It seems to me — a fact I had completely forgotten — that a Christmas present should be wrapped in pretty paper, maybe with some Santas dancing across it, maybe something glossy and glamorous. Shouldn’t the tag be handwritten? Shouldn’t the ribbon be made of paper that curls when you whip it across a scissor blade? A present should beckon you. Who wants a Christmas tree with a bunch of U.P.S. boxes under it?
Last week a U.P.S. box arrived. I opened it, and inside, unwrapped, was a slate cheese board and a gift card that said, in computer script, “Merry Christmas Julia and Jerry, love Anna.”
Anna is my niece. Jerry is my husband. I assume that I am Julia.
Precious holiday giving cannot be entrusted to a Web site. A gift shouldn’t be something you open by accident — hello, what is this? — ripping open the cardboard outer box with a knife, and then having your present fall out naked.
Ordering Christmas presents on the Web, regardless of the dubious ease, has obliterated the idea that there should be some grace to a present, some beauty, and that the receiver should experience it. Instead it’s become as mundane and problematic as all our Web purchases, which in my family include paper towels and toilet paper.
All this joy of Internet shopping was accompanied by our phone ringing several times a day: a computer voice from Virgin America insisting that my husband owes $70 — a $50 credit-card fee and $20 interest for not paying it. My husband has never had a Virgin America credit card. But to “proceed,” as in clear the problem up, the electronic voice asked him to identify himself by giving the number of the credit card that he does not possess. The telephone, which used to symbolize “reach out and touch someone” — remember that tear-jerking TV ad? — has become a disembodied voice reaching out to drive us crazy.
But I digress. Or do I? It all seems related. Intimacy replaced by expedience.
So this is my New Year’s resolution: I am never ordering another Christmas present on the Web again. Next year I am wrapping all my gifts myself and standing in line at the local post office for an hour or two to mail them. It’s the least I can do for the people I love.
- Suffer. Spend. Repeat. – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- New York Times Column Rips Online Shopping For Destroying Gift-Giving (businessinsider.com)
- Why the ‘More Guns’ Argument Doesn’t Make Sense – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- ‘This Is 40,’ From Judd Apatow and Starring Paul Rudd – NYTimes.com (drweb.typepad.com)
- Enter To Win A Logitech Online Shopping Survival Kit – $635 Value (2wired2tired.com)
- In Aiding Quake-Battered Haiti, Lofty Hopes and Hard Truths – NYTimes.com (wfoster2011.wordpress.com)
- Online Christmas Shopping in Europe (blogs.adobe.com)
- Local Shops Trying to Attract Online Shoppers (krextv.com)
- Smart online shopping (thehimalayantimes.com)
- How To Maximize Your Online-Shopping Savings (dailysavings.allyou.com)
Superintendent: Drawings Of Weapons Led To New Jersey Student’s Arrest
By Jenn Bernstein, Steve Beck
December 19, 2012
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) – Every school in America is on edge this week, but behavior by a student at Cedar Creek High School Tuesday had school officials on alert.
The Superintendent of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District said around 2 pm Tuesday, a 16 year old student demonstrated behavior that caused concern.
A teacher noticed drawings of what appeared to be weapons in his notebook. School officials made the decision to contact authorities.
Police removed the 16-year-old boy from Cedar Creek High School in Galloway Township Tuesday afternoon after school officials became concerned about his behavior.
The student was taken to the Galloway Township Police Department.
Police then searched the boy’s home on the 300 block of East Spencer Lane and found several electronic parts and several types of chemicals that when mixed together, could cause an explosion, police say.
The unidentified teen was charged with possession of a weapon an explosive device and the juvenile was placed in Harbor Fields.
The Superintendent, Dr. Steven Ciccariello put a phone message out to parents Wednesday morning.
“This is a perfect example of a teacher implementing her training. She saw drawings that appeared disturbing to her and alerted school officials,” he told Eyewitness News.
The New Jersey Education Association said teachers are now routinely trained to watch for these kinds of warning signs.
“Without the proper training, things can slip through the cracks,” said NJEA Spokesperson Kathy Coulibali, “If somebody feels insecure about whether or not is this really something that should be reported, we don’t want that kind of gray area.”
As a precaution, bomb-sniffing dogs swept the school, but nothing was found. Authorities say that students and teachers at the school were never in any danger nor were any threats made.
The student was placed in Haborfields Juvenile Detention Center.
- Drawings of Weapons Led To New Jersey Student’s Arrest (yro.slashdot.org)
- Authorities Arrest Two Wanted Fugitives, Seize Cash, Guns and Drugs (gloucestercitynews.net)
- Newark man indicted in car-crash that killed friend in Galloway Township (nj.com)
- Student Arrested, Charged With Weapon Possession In Atlantic County (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- Galloway Township Police Report Nov. 19 through Nov. 25 | cnbnews.net (gloucestercitynews.net)
- GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP POLICE REPORT Nov. 13 through Nov. 18 | cnbnews.net (gloucestercitynews.net)
- Woodbury Heights new chief school administrator to meet with teachers Tuesday (nj.com)
- Bucks high school closed over threats (triblive.com)
- Bucks high school closed after student makes threats (philly.com)
- Cops: Teen said he’d shoot Pa. school, guns found (seattletimes.com)
Stories of the Elderly Remind Us of the Pain of Cutting Social Security Payments
Altering the formula for Social Security payouts is not innocuous, it will have grave human costs.
December 19, 2012
When I was a young organizer for Iowa Citizen Action Network, we were doing a lot of work on utility rate hikes. I met an elderly woman, maybe late 70s, who was living on her Social Security check. As utility prices went through the roof, her cost of living increase in that check wasn’t coming anywhere close to covering the costs she had. She was extremely worried, because as frugal as she was she couldn’t figure out how to keep her heat on, pay her rent, and buy a few meager groceries. She thought the utilities might end up shutting her heat off. I suggested a social services agency she could go to, and that she might check with neighborhood churches to see if they had funds that could help. And I promised that I would do everything I could to fight for her. I pushed hard on the local utility companies to try and shame them away from turning the heat off the dead of an Iowa winter, which didn’t work very well because the utility companies had no shame. And my organization pushed in the legislature to get a bill passed that would prohibit utility shutoffs in the wintertime, which didn’t pass the first year but did the second year we worked on it. But it didn’t pass in time to save the woman I met. Reading the Cedar Rapids Gazette one day that winter, I saw that the woman I met had been found dead in her apartment of hypothermia after the utility company had turned off her heat.
When we got the bill passed in the next session, I thought of her. I was proud that no one would die in the coming years in Iowa because of having their heat turned off, but I was also mourning that we were too late to save her. And I vowed to keep my promise to her as long as I lived, that I would keep fighting for her and people like her.
It’s 30 years later, but I still have promises to keep, as do all Democrats who claim to be on the side of the middle class and poor. As Dean Baker makes clear, if the President’s apparent offer of changing the CPI formula is part of the budget deal, it will be a very hard blow for generations to come for seniors who will be unlikely to have decent pensions or much in the way of savings to cushion the blow of these cuts. And with prices for necessities (utility prices, gas, groceries, health care) tending to go up more than the inflation rate in general, this is the absolute worst kind of cut to be making.
I have been having some interesting conversations with Democrats over the last 24 hours about what being a loyal Democrat means with the President seeming likely to go forward with this deal. The point has been made that the Republicans are far worse than Obama on these issues, as all they want to do is to gut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs for the poor, and that is definitely true. The fact that the President is, according to the Washington Post, proposing to exclude SSI disability payments and provide a bump-up in benefits for those 85 and older is a good thing and much appreciated. People have said to me that the President’s heart is in the right place, and that he is working hard to get the best deal he thinks he can get, which may well be true- I gave up judging politicians’ motives long ago. And I have been told I should be a loyal Democrat, that the President is our party’s leader, and we should be unified in supporting him.
But here’s the deal: I didn’t get into politics to help the Democratic party. I came to the Democratic party because they more often wanted to help the people I cared about helping- the poor, the disabled, the middle class folks fighting for a decent life for them and their families. When forced to choose, as it looks like I will in this case, I will choose the people I got into this work to fight for.
My first loyalties are to my middle class family, who will depend heavily on Social Security because they mostly won’t have lots of savings or generous pensions; to the kids I grew up with in a working class part of Lincoln, NE, who are getting ready to retire and mostly don’t have those savings or pensions either; to the people like my late brother Kevin who have lived with serious disabilities, who may or may not be taken care of depending on what is negotiated away next; and to the poor people and seniors who I got to know as a young organizer, like the elderly woman I made a promise to that I would keep fighting for her.
If the President decides to give into Republican demands to cut this kind of deal, thinking that launching a civil war with people like me who were part of his winning coalition in the election is better for the country and worth the trade-off, he will do what feels like he should. The DC pundits will be ecstatic (“the President is so brave to take on those seniors and cut Social Security”). Wall Street will be thrilled, they have been wanting to cut middle class benefits and the Social Security system for years. But on behalf of those people to whom I owe my first loyalties, I will do whatever I can to fight the kind of plan being described in news accounts today. I hope the rest of the progressive movement that has pledged to fight this kind of deal will fight the good fight along with me. The President will do what he thinks is best. The rest of us need to as well. If the deal goes down, it will be quite a way to start the President’s second term, an ugly fight with the people who fought by his side to elect him. We’ll see what’s ahead.
- 6 Reasons the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- 6 Reasons the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam | Alternet (johnny99america.wordpress.com)
- 3 Things You Have to Know About the Bogus ‘Fiscal Cliff’ | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Many older Californians rely on Social Security (sacbee.com)
- New Poverty Statistics Show Need for Bigger, Not Smaller, Social Security Benefits (news.firedoglake.com)
- Who’s Not Bargaining in Good Faith? (realclearpolitics.com)
- Don’t let Republicans Cut Your Social Security! (point4counterpoint.wordpress.com)
- Did you hear … that some memebers of Congress plan to cut Social Security? (point4counterpoint.wordpress.com)
- Senators Caucus Vows To Protect Social Security, Medicare (crooksandliars.com)
- Don’t Eliminate the Link between Social Security Contributions and Benefits (economistsview.typepad.com)
4 Secrets Republicans Are Keeping About Medicare to Convince Us That $600 Billion in Cuts Are Necessary | Alternet
4 Secrets Republicans Are Keeping About Medicare to Convince Us That $600 Billion in Cuts Are Necessary
This entire Medicare debate’s being held under false pretenses.
December 10, 2012
The Republicans are demanding $600 billion in Medicare cuts over the next ten years. Their only concrete proposal is to deny Medicare coverage to Americans during what is now their first two years of eligibility, at ages 65 and 66. But their official offer isn’t even that specific. It just throws out that figure: $600 billion. But you can’t get there from here.
At least you can’t do it their way – not without causing enormous hardship, and not without costing the public twice as much from other sources as would be saved in government spending.
In fact, there are only two paths to $600 billion in savings. One’s macabre and morbid, and is offered here only to make as a Swiftian ”modest proposal.” The other would take a chunk out of corporate profits.
Which path do you think the GOP would prefer?
This entire Medicare debate’s being held under false pretenses. Here are four multibillion-dollar Medicare secrets they don’t want you to know – along with that funereal “modest proposal”:
1. Runaway corporate profits are squeezing medicare.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker echoed the party line today when he said that cutting “entitlements” was needed in order to “save the nation.” But benefit cuts aren’t where the money is: profits are. We did some rough calculations to show you just how much profit’s involved:
Roughly $200 billion in Medicare spending will go to drug company profits in the next 10 years. (We got that figure by averaging the profit margins for large pharmaceutical corporations by projected Medicare drug expenditures.) And yet the Republicans have blocked legislation that would allow the government to use its purchasing power to negotiate for a better deal. So the drug companies can charge us whatever they want – and we pay it.
Medicare has reportedly underpaid for hospital services at times. But for-profit hospitals have an average profit margin of 5.5 percent. What they’re not receiving from Medicare is ‘cost-shifting’ to private health insurance. We pay for that, too – in insurance premiums and tax concessions for employer-sponsored coverage. With Medicare hospital expenditures likely to approach $2.5 trillion in the next ten years, that’s costing society a fortune.
And that doesn’t include high margins in the non-profit hospital field, where CEOs frequently earn more than a million dollars as a reward for maximizing revenue. Nor do these figures include the profits received by all sorts of other for-profit health providers ranging from diagnostic centers to ambulatory surgery clinics.
2. We receive far too much unnecessary care, and are often fraudulently billed for the care that is given.
Then there’s what may be the most expensive effect that greed has on Medicare: overtreatment. A series of exposés (some of which we discussed in “Sick Money,” a review of Bain Capital’s health investments) have revealed gross patterns of fraudulent Medicare overcharging.
Even worse tis the overtreatment that’s done to boost profits. Unnecessary procedures are difficult and uncomfortable at best, and at worst they can lead to pain, disability, even death. This overtreatment’s been documented in both academic studies (John Wennberg’s Dartmouth Atlas is a great resource) and some excellent journalism.
And it’s getting worse. Now hospitals are buying physician practices and exerting financial pressure on doctors to perform more surgeries. But the truth is that doctors have always been under financial pressure to overtreat. They graduate from medical school with tons of debt and must then maintain a profitable practice, including everything from equipment to office staff.
And yet Republicans have beaten back attempts to control this overtreatment with their “death panel” hoax. That myth is only slightly less believable than “black helicopters.” There are death panels – but they’re manned by insurance executives, not bureaucrats. Republicans have fought Medicare by telling us that doctors shouldn’t be “employees” of the government. Now they’re employed by MBAs who want a fat bonus.
Does overtreatment research interfere with our right to choose our own care? I want to make an informedchoice – and I don’t want anybody cutting me open if it isn’t absolutely necessary.
3. Seniors are already being hit hard by medical costs.
People who aren’t covered by Medicare and don’t know much about it often assume it covers all, or most, medical expenses. But the average person on Medicare pays roughly $4,600 per year in out-of-pocket medical costs, and that figure can be much higher for those who are severely or chronically ill or who have suffered a serious injury.
Boehner’s figure of $600 billion over 10 years is a reduction of approximately 7.8 percent from current projections. But Medicare enrollment will increase from 49 million people to 85 million over the same period. Assuming that these Republican cuts are made permanent, that means that Medicare’s per-person budget will have been cut by more than 15 percent by the year 2022.
4. Chronic conditions and end of life illnesses are extraordinarily expensive.
They’re not proposing to do anything about Medicare’s biggest cost problem: the care that’s provided to the severely ill, especially in the final year of life. As the Dartmouth Atlas reports, “Patients with chronic illness in their last two years of life account for about 32% of total Medicare spending.” That comes to nearly 2.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years, based on current projects. And yet the GOP is proposing to slash, not increase, funding for research that might help us provide end-of-life care more effectively and humanely.
The elderly are particularly prone to other costly chronic conditions like cancer and diabetes, which can be treated much more effectively – and much less expensively – if they are caught early. Instead, their plan to deny Medicare to people aged 65 and 66 will lead to less early diagnosis and intervention, making us sicker and driving up Medicare’s costs.
It’s Your Funeral
That leads us to our “modest proposal.” Any way you look at it, we’re going to be seeing an increase in the number of funerals if Medicare benefits are cut. Research has shown that the survival for seniors in this country increased by 13 percent when Medicare was introduced in the 1960s.
It’s reasonable to assume that those survival rates will begin to fall again – and death rates will rise – if we impose mindless benefit cuts, instead of taking an intelligent cost management approach that focuses on expense drivers such as overtreatment, overbilling, and excessive profiteering.
The Republicans want drastic cost reductions without disturbing corporate profits. Using their logic, they shouldn’t take away our first two years of Medicare coverage. They should take away the last two years. That would cut Medicare expenditures by more than a third.
And what do they care about one more funeral here or there – as long as it’s not theirs?
- 4 Secrets Republicans Are Keeping About Medicare to Convince Us That $600 Billion in Cuts Are Necessary (alternet.org)
- Richard (RJ) Eskow: Four Republican Medicare Secrets … and a $600 Billion Funeral (huffingtonpost.com)
- Four Medicare Secrets … and a $600 Billion Funeral (ourfuture.org)
- Four Medicare Secrets and a $600 Billion Funeral (nationofchange.org)
- Richard (RJ) Eskow: 4 Republican Medicare Secrets … and a $600 Billion Funeral (huffingtonpost.com)
- “The Austerity Trap”: What Raising The Medicare Eligibility Age Really Means (bell-book-candle.com)
- It’s immoral to cut Medicare to pay for George Bush’s lies (americablog.com)
- You: Q&A: What would it mean to raise Medicare’s eligibility age? (latimes.com)
- Where things really stand in the fiscal cliff negotiations (washingtonpost.com)
- Republicans Spread the Holiday Hate by Trying to Kill Medicare for Christmas (politicususa.com)
Suffer. Spend. Repeat.
By OLIVER BURKEMAN
Published: December 8, 2012
IN these final weeks before Christmas, it may strike you that retailers have gone out of their way to make holiday shopping as unpleasant an experience as possible. The odd truth is that they probably have. And there’s a reason for that: evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend.
So stores crank up music, repeat the same songs, over and over again, pipe in smells, race shoppers around to far-flung points of purchase and clog their heads with confusing offers. All of which makes it more likely we’ll part more readily with more money.
Take those Christmas songs — the ones that begin to playin stores in November and last for what seems like eternity. Few of us would claim to love listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” over and over; just last month, customer complaints reached such heights in Canada that Shoppers Drug Mart, the country’s largest pharmacy chain, caved to consumer pressure and announced it would switch off Christmas music “until further notice.”
But what we love or don’t love isn’t really the point. (The Canadian chain’s ban lasted only a couple of weeks.) Music played at high volumes, for example, may be irritating, but researchers from Penn State and the National Universityof Singapore concluded it was one of several factors that leads to overstimulation and “a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.”
Those who create shopping environments really don’t care what music you like to listen to. A classic 1982 study by the marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman, now at Western Kentucky University, found that slower tempos make it more likely that shoppers will linger inside stores — and spend more money. If “White Christmas” keeps you in the store, who cares whether you like its languid phrasings?
Not that faster music slows spending. The researchers at Penn State and in Singapore found that upbeat music can, in fact, overstimulate shoppers and prompt impulsive purchases. Other studies suggest that classical music incites more spending than Top 40 tunes when played in wine stores and that songs with “pro-social” lyrics result in higher tips for restaurant staff.
Smell is another part of the retailer’s arsenal. Like music, smells are selected to encourage spending, not to make your shopping experience more comfortable.
Eric Spangenberg, a Washington State University professor who specializes in the marketing power of scent, explains how retailers try to fill stores with what he calls “congruent” smells, meaning aromas that customers connect with the season or seasonal products.
“Just because people prefer something doesn’t necessarily make it effective for commercial purposes,” Mr. Spangenberg adds. Cinnamon, for example, may smell like holiday time and family togetherness, even to those of us who have never cared for cinnamon. Deploying the same olfactory reasoning, the British toy-store chain Hamleys filled its aisles with the aroma of piña coladas a few summers ago, evidently on the theory that piña colada says “vacation” — if not to children, then to the parents who pay for their toys.
Customer inconvenience can also work to retailers’ advantage. It’s well known that staples like bread and milk are often found at opposite ends of the supermarket, because this forces shoppers to travel the length of the store, past shelves of tempting nonessentials. In a department store, the same logic may guide designers to create store layouts that make it impossible for customers to move far without stopping — to let others pass, for example — thereby increasing the chances that their eyes will come to rest on products they can’t resist. Products that seem conveniently placed, including low-cost items in bins near the entrance, are probably there to coax you through the initial “deliberation phase” of shopping.
According to the theory of “shopping momentum,” as explained by researchers from Stanford, Yale and Duke Universities, we fret far more about whether to buy the first item we purchase during a trip than we do subsequent ones.
PERHAPS the subtlest technique in the salesclerk’s repertory, and a reliable way to turn negative emotions into sales, is known as “disrupt-then-reframe.” The idea is to confuse a potential customer, so as to evoke uncertainty, then rush in and offer a reassuring path through the resulting confusion. In a vivid demonstration of the effect in 1999, the psychologists Barbara Price Davis and Eric W. Knowles sent researchers door to door, selling holiday cards for charity. When they described the price as $3 for one package of cards, 35 percent of people decided to buy. But when they described the same offer in terms of “300 pennies,” and then added a clarifying coda — “It’s a bargain!” — their success rate shot up to 65 percent.
We hunger for what psychologists call “cognitive closure,” and if spending is the solution, so be it.
To stretch the idea slightly, might we think of most holiday shopping ploys as a large-scale exercise in “disrupt-then-reframe”? The music’s too loud, the lights are too bright, the streets, subways and buses are sardine tins. The relentless sensory overload — from the cinnamon smells to the Salvation Army bells — fuels agitation and an impulse to escape. How convenient, then, that there appears to be one obvious route through the chaos: buy that Nintendo Wii or that iPad or that designer perfume — whatever you’ve been wavering over — and be done with it.
We might, and probably should, rail against such techniques. We could choose to shop online, as millions do. But we might also turn our attention within, to ask why it is we’re so bothered by the lights and the crowds, so disturbed by anxiety that we’ll shop in order to make it go away. An alternative might be to cultivate what Buddhists call “nonattachment” — and if the earliest Buddhists tended to practice this in beautiful natural settings, perhaps that’s only because they lacked shopping malls. Stand on a busy downtown street at dusk on a pre-Christmas Saturday with this in mind, and decline to be swayed by the exhortations to spend, and it suddenly becomes a purely exhilarating spectacle, as breathtaking, in its own way, as any waterfall or mountain panorama.
A final truth about holiday shopping and happiness: even those of us who don’t enjoy the experience might be forced to admit that we enjoy disliking it. After all, nobody is forced to wait till December to buy gifts, yet every year we do so in droves, plunging with abandon into the precisely choreographed awfulness the retailers work so hard to perfect. I’m not quite ready to go as far as the poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht, who writes that holiday shopping fulfills “an ancient need to gather and tithe, and serves as a modern-day ritual of renewal.” I won’t claim that “The Little Drummer Boy” actually improves my holiday season. But things would feel very strange without him.
- Suffer. Spend. Repeat. (nytimes.com)
- Shoppers Drug Mart suspends Christmas music after customers said it was too soon (vancouversun.com)
- Shoppers Drug Mart suspends Christmas music after customers said it was too soon (calgaryherald.com)
- Shoppers Drug Mart turns off Christmas music ‘until further notice’ after complaints (o.canada.com)
- Shoppers Drug Mart suspends Christmas music after customers complain (ctvnews.ca)
- Shoppers Drug Mart nixes Christmas music from stores (metronews.ca)
- Shoppers Drug Mart says it is turning off its Christmas music, for now (news.nationalpost.com)
- Discounts Greet Shoppers As Christmas Nears (wnyc.org)
- Do you hear what I hear? Your brain on Christmas music (bodyodd.nbcnews.com)
- It’s too early for Christmas music, Canadian drugstore chain says (news.blogs.cnn.com)
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