Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Political TV Commercial as a Pivotal Component in American Presidential Politics and National Leadership by Q Score

            Ever since Madison Avenue advertising man Rosser Reeves convinced Dwight Eisenhower to use him and TV commercials to run for the presidency in 1952, the political TV commercial has become a pivotal component in American presidential politics.
Four years earlier Reeves tried to interest the then Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, in the approach. But Dewey “did not buy the idea of lowering himself to the commercial environment of a toothpaste ad,” related Robert Spero in his 1980 book The Duping of the American Voter, Dishonesty & Deception in Presidential Television Advertising.
The Eisenhower commercials were coordinated with the campaign’s slogan—“I Like Ike.” 
Indeed, one spot featured a song especially written by Irving Berlin titled “I Like Ike.”  
            There was an early understanding by Reeves that television best communicates feeling and emotion, not information. TV, as media theorists later described it, is a “non-cognitive medium.” Thus the Eisenhower ads—stressing Eisenhower’s likeability – involved feeling and emotion, making the strongest use of the TV medium.
I recall, as a kid, seeing the TV image of Eisenhower back then, grinning.
The intellectual Democrat candidate, Adlai Stevenson, tried to counter the blitz of 15-second Eisenhower spots. Stevenson embarked on a series of half-hour TV presentations, reiterating and expanding on themes he struck in his convention acceptance speech. These lectures, essentially, didn’t work.
With television, as Joe McGinniss wrote in his seminal 1969 The Selling of the President, “it matters less” that a politician “does not have ideas. His personality is what the viewers want to share. The TV measured...not against a standard of performance established by two centuries of democracy—but against Mike Douglas. How well does he handle himself? Does he mumble, does he twitch, does he make me laugh?  Do I feel warm inside? Style becomes substance. The medium is the massage and the masseur gets the votes.”
            TV talk show personality Mike Douglas is dead. But the dynamic McGinniss described continues—indeed has expanded politically.
As observed Richard Reeves in a 1980 television report,  “ABC News Closeup: Lights, Cameras...Politics,” realizing TV “transmits feelings and emotion better than it transmits consultants tried to motivate Americans to vote the same way that they were motivated to buy toothpaste: with little entertainments.”
He cited as an early example of this the infamous spot put together in 1964 by Tony Schwartz for Lyndon Johnson.  A little girl plucks petals from a daisy, counting up to nine and then a man’s voice counts down from ten to zero—and suddenly the TV screen fills with the super-scary footage of a hydrogen bomb, and Johnson’s voice states: “The stakes are too high...We must either love each other or we must die.”
Schwartz later wrote in his book The Responsive Chord: “The task of a media specialist is not to reveal a candidate’s stand on issues, so much as to help communicate those personal qualities of a candidate that are likely to win votes.” This spot and the strong emotion it was designed to impart were aimed at leaving the viewer feeling that Lyndon Johnson was a person of responsibility, and his opponent, Barry Goldwater, something else.
Further, with this spot, the TV political attack ad, the emotionally-laden negative political TV commercial, had arrived—to become a mainstay of election advertising.
 By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had become a model for TV-based presidential TV commercials—and politics.  Many voters might have disliked his policies, but a substantial number “liked” Reagan—based on the image he projected through television. 
With the ability to performing on television having become a necessary attribute of a presidential candidate, the Republican Party had chosen an actor to run for president. Reagan had been governor of California but, importantly, Reagan for eight years before that was a TV performer, host of General Electric Theatre, after his Hollywood career hit the skids.
It had come to a point at which Newsday columnist Robert Weimer declared in 1980: “Why bother with the arduous, uncertain and expensive process of casting ballots at all? Why not simply put presidential candidates into a head-to-head, prime-time competition on election night and let the ratings decide the contest....It’s not hard to understand why the candidates have settled on television as their main mode of communication. It reaches the most people with the most impact, even if it does tend to sell only gross attributes. Audience perception of a smile, for example, can determine the outcome of a presidential race...Television is essentially a medium that appeals more to spinal than cerebral receptors. The message that gets through is spare: Ronald Reagan is affable.”
We can now analyze presidential candidate after candidate through the prism of political TV commercials and television performance.
It can be very unsettling. Consider what was widely described as a great problem for Al Gore when he ran against George W. Bush in 2000: most folks would rather, it was said, go out for a beer with Bush than Gore. Gore’s persona as transmitted through TV was said to be wooden, lacking charisma, Bush somehow connected better. And we got Bush.
Our current president, Barack Obama, is a master of performing on television. As Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen complained on Politico this past February, “The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on ‘The View.’”
And today, television—and particularly political TV commercials—are vital to the rise and continuance  in office of candidates for, not just for president, but for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, governorships, mayoral positions, and seats in state legislatures and on city councils.
A political era of dueling political TV commercials is firmly here.
Meanwhile, the notion of the “Q Score” or “Q rating” has arrived.
The term “Q Score” was coined in 1963 by Jack Landis who founded a company Marketing Evaluations, Inc. in Roslyn, N.Y. which continues to use the concept as the central measure in its opinion polling and market research work. “Q rating”—defined by Merriam-Webster as a “scale measuring the popularity of a person or thing”—is said by those dictionary people as having its “first known use” in 1977.
They mean roughly the same: they’re measures of likeability. They are the standard for how TV reporters keep their jobs these days, why TV programs are renewed, how products are promoted as well as how would-be holders of the presidency and other offices in the U.S.—and increasingly leaders in nations around the world—are selected.
The basis for “I Like Ike” is now widely applied.
And we are left to wonder what kind of “Q Score” or “Q rating” Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson might have had?  What have we lost—and what have we gained?



Friday, October 25, 2013

Island of Secrets

             Michael Carroll, author of the best-selling book, “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory,” was back on the East Coast, vacationing with his family, and amazed over recent developments concerning Plum Island.
Carroll, an attorney from Long Island who worked seven years on “Lab 257” which became a best-seller after its 2004 publication, has since moved to California where he and his wife, a California native, established a law practice.
Back on Long Island, where he is a native, Carroll finds as astonishing Representative Tim Bishop’s fight against the plan of the federal government to shut down its Plum Island Animal Disease Center and shift its operations to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility it would build in Manhattan Kansas. Bishop, of Southampton, is mainly concerned about the loss of 200 federal jobs at the center which is in his eastern Long Island Congressional district.
“It is utter foolishness to try to save 200 jobs at the price of protecting the entire region from this island and the threat it represents,” said Carroll in a recent interview. An outbreak of disease agents worked with on Plum Island—notably those affecting both animals and people—in the heavily populated area off which the island sits could be “devastating.” Plum Island is just off and midway between the New York-Boston megalopolis and its millions of people, Carroll pointed out. The 843-acre island is a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point in Southold Town on the North Fork of Long Island. Connecticut is less than 10 miles to the north.
A spokesperson for Bishop, Oliver Longwell, responded that Bishop’s “position on the island is indistinguishable from every other elected official who represents Southold Town at all levels of government.”
As to the call by a grouping of Long Island environmentalists for preservation of the island as opposed to the federal government’s consideration of having housing developed on it,  Carroll said that making the island a preserve is all that could be done with Plum Island—but, he emphasized, it will need to be a preserve closed to people. “You can’t let anybody on it,” he said.   
“The island is an environmental disaster,” said Carroll. “Every effort to decontaminate Lab 257, the1950s-era germ warfare building on it, has failed,” said Carroll. “They can’t get that building clean.” (Subsequently, a new laboratory building was constructed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department took control of the island from the U.S. Army,)
“There is contamination all over the island,” said Carroll. He noted that up until recent years, nothing was ever removed from the island—everything was disposed on it, much of it buried. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have brought charges through the years in connection with the Plum Island waste, cases cited in his book, he went on. “If this was a private business, it immediately would have been shut down,” said Carroll. But only “nominal” fines were meted out.
As to a shift of Plum Island operations to Kansas, that’s “going out of the frying pan into the fire,” said Carroll. “Is there is no better place to study foreign animal diseases than in the middle of America’s farm belt?”
“What research that needs to be conducted should be done nowhere near a human population center or a food production center,” said Carroll.
As for Plum Island, “There’s no way that island can be made fit for human habitation,” declared Carroll.” The island needs to be “forsaken. It’s very sad.”
The federal government, however, believes Plum Island can be habitable as evidenced by it contemplating housing on it with the center’s closing. And real estate mogul Donald Trump has jumped into the situation by saying he would like to buy the island and, he said last month, develop a “really beautiful, world-class golf course” on it.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has written to the General Services Administration, which would manage the planned sale, and the Department of Homeland Security, which after the 9/11 attack took over the island from the Department of Agriculture, calling for a “comprehensive investigation” of Plum Island by the state DEC, and a clean-up plan. This would include “the need to properly close Building 257.” Discussing his letter at a recent appearance at Orient Beach State Park, Cuomo called Plum Island “the island of secrets.”
The Cuomo family is very familiar with Plum Island. Andrew’s father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, with whom Carroll worked as a lawyer in New York City, is quoted on the jacket of “Lab 257” as calling the book a “carefully researched, chilling expose of a potential catastrophe.”
Carroll’s “Lab 257” also documents a Nazi connection to the original establishment of a U.S. laboratory on Plum Island. According to the book, Erich Traub, a scientist who worked for the Third Reich doing biological warfare, was the force behind its founding.
During World War II,  “as lab chief of Insel Riems—a secret Nazi biological warfare laboratory on a crescent-shaped island in the Baltic Sea—Traub worked for Adolph Hitler’s second-in-charge, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, on live germ trials,” states “Lab 257." The mission was to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union. This included infecting cattle and reindeer with foot-and-mouth disease.
“Ironically, Traub spent the prewar period of his scientific career on a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, perfecting his skills in viruses and bacteria under the tutelage of American experts before returning to Nazi Germany on the eve of war,” says “Lab 257.”  While in the U.S. in the 1930s, too, relates the book, Traub was a member of the Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund which was involved in pro-Nazi rallies held weekly in Yaphank on Long Island.
With the end of the war, Traub came back to the United States under Project Paperclip, a U.S. program under which Nazi scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, were brought to America.
“Traub’s detailed explanation of the secret operation on Insel Riems” given to officials at Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Army’s biological warfare headquarters, and to the CIA, “laid the groundwater for Fort Detrick’s offshore germ warfare animal disease lab on Plum Island,” says “Lab 257.” “Traub was a founding father.” And Plum Island’s purpose, says the book, became what Insel Riems had been: to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union—now that the Cold War and conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had begun.
The Long Island daily newspaper Newsday earlier documented this biological warfare mission of Plum Island. In a lead story on November 21, 1993, Newsday investigative reporter John McDonald wrote: “A 1950s military plan to cripple the Soviet economy by killing horses, cattle and swine called for making biological warfare weapons out of exotic animal diseases at a Plum Island laboratory, now-declassified Army records reveal.” A facsimile of one of the records, dated 1951, covered the front page of that issue of Newsday.
The article went on: “Documents and interviews disclose for the first time what officials have denied for years: that the mysterious and closely guarded animal lab off the East End of Long Island was originally designed to conduct top-secret research into replicating dangerous viruses that could be used to destroy enemy livestock.”
“Lab 257” has many pages about this based on documents including many that Carroll found in the National Archives.
The book also tells of why suddenly the Army transferred Plum Island to the Department of Agriculture in 1954—the U.S. military became concerned about having to feed millions of people in the Soviet Union if it destroyed their food animals.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff “found that a war with the U.S.S.R. would best be fought with conventional and nuclear means, and biological warfare against humans—not against food animals,” says “Lab 257.” “Destroying the food supply meant having to feed millions of starving Russians after winning a war”
Still, “Lab 257” questions whether there ever was a clean break.
Officials at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center have, however, insisted over the years that the center’s function is to conduct research into foreign animal diseases not found in the U.S.—especially foot-and-mouth disease—and the only biological warfare research done is of a “defensive” kind.
“Lab 257” also maintains that there is a link between the Plum Island center and the emergence of Lyme disease. It “suddenly surfaced” 10 miles from Plum Island “in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975.” Carroll cites years of experimentation with ticks on Plum Island and the possibility of an accidental or purposeful release.
“The tick is the perfect germ vector,” says “Lab 257,” “which is why it has long been fancied as a germ weapon by early biowarriors from Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan to the Soviet Union and the United States."
“A source who worked on Plum Island in the 1950s,” the book states, “recalls that animal handlers and a scientist released ticks outdoors on the island. ‘They called him the Nazi scientist, when they came in, in 1951—they were inoculating these ticks.” “Lab 257” goes on: “Dr. Traub’s World War II handiwork consisted of aerial virus sprays developed on Insel Riems and tested over occupied Russia, and of field work for Heinrich Himmler in Turkey. Indeed, his colleagues conducted bug trials by dropping live beetles from planes. An outdoor tick trial would have been de riguer for Erich Traub.”









Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nuclear Power Through the Fukushima Perspective

It started this June in California. Speaking about the problems at the troubled San Onofre nuclear plants through the perspective of the Fukushima nuclear complex catastrophe was a panel of Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan when the disaster began; Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the time; Peter Bradford, an NRC member when the Three Mile Island accident happened; and nuclear engineer and former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen.

This week the same panel of experts on nuclear technology—joined by long-time nuclear opponent Ralph Nader—was on the East Coast, in New York City and Boston, speaking about problems at the problem-riddled Indian Point nuclear plants near New York and the troubled Pilgrim plant near Boston, through the perspective on the Fukushima catastrophe.

Their presentations were powerful.

Kan, at the event Tuesday in Manhattan, told of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, which began on March 11, 2011, “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He said that in the first days of the accident it looked like an “area that included Tokyo” and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated.

“We do have accidents such as an airplane crash and so on,” said Kan, “but no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million other accident could cause such a tragedy.”

All 54 nuclear plants in Japan have now been closed, Kan said. And “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands.” Meanwhile, in the two-plus years since the disaster began, Japan has tripled its use of solar energy—a jump in solar power production that is the equivalent of the electricity that would be produced by three nuclear plants, he said. He pointed to Germany as a model in its commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having “all its power supplied by renewable power” by 2050. The entire world, said Kan, could do this. “If humanity really would work together...we could generate all our energy through renewable energy.”

Jaczko said that the Fukushima disaster exploded several myths about nuclear power including those involving the purported prowess of U.S. nuclear technology. The General Electric technology of the Fukushima nuclear plants “came from the U.S.,” he noted. And, it exploded the myth that “severe accidents wouldn’t happen.” Said the former top nuclear official in the United States: “Severe accidents can and will happen.”

And what the Fukushima accident “is telling us is society does not accept the consequences of these accidents,” said Jaczko, who was pressured out of his position on the NRC after charging that the agency was not considering the “lessons” of the Fukushima disaster.  In monetary cost alone, Jaczko said, the cost of the Fukushima accident is estimated at $500 billion by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Nuclear engineer Gundersen, formerly a nuclear industry senior vice president, noted that the NRC “says the chance of a nuclear accident is one in a million,” that an accident would happen “every 2,500 years.” This is predicated, he said, on what the NRC terms a probabilistic  risk assessment or PRA. “I’d like to refer to it as PRAY.” The lesson of “real life,” said Gundersen, is that there have been five nuclear plant meltdowns in the past 35 years—Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and the three at Fukushima Daiichi complex. That breaks down to an accident “every seven years.”

“This is a technology that can have 40 good years that can be wiped out in one bad day,” said Gundersen. He drew a parallel between Fukushima Daiichi “120 miles from Tokyo” and the Indian Point nuclear plant complex “26 miles from New York City.” He said that “in many ways Indian Point is worse than Fukushima was before the accident.”  One element: the Fukushima accident resulted from an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The two operating plants at Indian Point are also adjacent to an earthquake fault, said Gundersen. New York City “faces one bad day like Japan, one sad day.” He also spoke of the “arrogance and hubris” of the nuclear industry and how the NRC has consistently complied with the desires of the industry.

Bradford said that that the “the bubble” that the nuclear industry once termed “the nuclear renaissance” has burst. As to a main nuclear industry claim in this promotion to revive nuclear power—that atomic energy is necessary in “mitigating climate change”—this has been shown to be false. It would take tripling of the 440 total of nuclear plants now in the world to reduce greenhouse gasses by but 10 percent. Other sources of power are here as well as energy efficiency that could combat climate change. Meanwhile, the price of electricity from any new nuclear plants built has gone to a non-competitive 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour while “renewables are falling in price.”

Bradford also sharply criticized the agency of which he was once a member, the NRC, charging among other things that it has in recent years discouraged citizen participation. Also, as to Fukushima, the “accident really isn’t over,” said Bradford who, in addition to his role at the NRC has chaired the utility commissions of Maine and New York State.

Nader said that with nuclear power and the radioactivity it produces “we are dealing with a silent cumulative form of violence.” He said nuclear power is “unnecessary, unsafe, and uninsurable...undemocratic.” And constructing new words that begin with “un,” it is also “unevacuatable, unfinanceable, unregulatable.”

Nader said nuclear power is unnecessary because there are many energy alternatives—led by solar and wind. It is unsafe because catastrophic accidents can and will happen. He noted how the former U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in a 1960s report projected that a major nuclear accident could irradiate an area “the size of Pennsylvania.” He asked: “Is this the kind of gamble we want to take to boil water?”

Nuclear power is extremely expensive and thus uneconomic, he went on. It is uninsurable with the original scheme for nuclear power in the U.S. based on the federal Price-Anderson Act which limits a utility’s liability to a “fraction” of the cost of damages from an accident. That law remains, extended by Congress “every ten years or so.”

As for being “unevacuable,” NRC evacuation plans are “fantasy” documents,” said Nader. The U.S. advised Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate. Some 20 million people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point plants and New Yorkers “can hardly get out” of the city during a normal rush hour.” Nuclear power is “unfinancable,” he said, depending on government fiscal support through tax dollars. And it is “unregulatable” with the NRC taking a “promotional attitude.”  And, “above all it is undemocratic,” said Nader, “a technology born in secrecy” which continues. Meanwhile, said Nader, “as the orders dry up in developed nations” for nuclear plants, the nuclear industry is pushing to build new plants in the developing world.

Also at the event in New York City, moderated by Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay and held at the 92nd Street Y, a segment of a new video documentary on nuclear power by Adam Salkin was screened. It showed Salkin in a boat going right in front of the Indian Point plants and it taking nearly five hours for a “security” boat from the plant to respond, and Salkin, the next day, in an airplane flying as low as 500 feet above the plants. The segment demonstrated that the nuclear plants on the Hudson are an easy target for terrorists and, it noted, what it showed was what “terrorists already know.”

The San Onofre nuclear power plants were closed permanently three weeks after the June panel event—and after many years of intensive actions by nuclear opponents in California to shut down the plants, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles. The panel’s appearances this week in New York City Tuesday and Boston Wednesday, titled “Fukushima—Ongoing Lessons for New York and Boston,” are aimed at the same outcome occurring on the East Coast.

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