Tag Archives: Business

White House seriously considers abandoning some tax cuts for the wealthy

/ Leave a Comment

President Trump and the White House are considering keeping the top tax rate for individuals at 39.6 percent. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

White House and GOP leaders are considering major changes to upcoming tax legislation, including scaling back plans for large-scale tax cuts for the wealthy, as Republicans seek to win support from Democrats in Congress, three people briefed on the discussions said.

The White House is considering, among other things, keeping the top tax rate for individuals at 39.6 percent, decreasing the benefits top earners would see in the tax package by scrapping an earlier proposal that would cut that rate to 35 percent.

White House negotiators are also considering giving up on a push to repeal the estate tax, which is levied on individuals who die with more than $5.49 million in their estate. Republicans have long called for repealing the estate tax, but Democrats have raised objections, saying repeal would only benefit the wealthy and would add to the federal debt.

The White House and GOP leaders are still debating how to proceed, and they could end up proposing changes to both the top tax rate and the estate tax, according to the three people. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the party’s internal deliberations.

The White House and GOP leaders remain fully committed to reducing the corporate tax rate and delivering tax cuts for the middle class, the people said.

The fluidity of the discussions illustrates how President Trump has sought to reframe the tax discussions as a way to help businesses and the middle class and not the wealthiest Americans.

In April, the White House put out a one-page blueprint of its tax plan that would have repealed the estate tax, eliminated the alternative-minimum tax and cut the top individual tax rate from 39.6 to 35 percent. These changes and others would serve as a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans, budget experts found. The Tax Policy Center estimated that roughly half of all the tax changes would benefit the top 1 percent of all earners, with each person in that group receiving on average a $175,000 tax cut.

Senior White House officials for months defended the calls for tax cuts that would benefit the wealthy, saying they are necessary to help people invest in the economy and hire more workers. But Trump last week stated the tax plan would not — on net — reduce the taxes for wealthy Americans, and he predicted that some could even pay more.

Americans pay income taxes on a tiered system, and there are seven tiers. Upper-income Americans pay a 39.6 percent rate on all income above $418,400. They pay a 35 percent rate on all income between $416,700 and $418,400. And they pay a 33 percent rate on income between $191,650 and $416,700. There are four other tax rates for income earned below that amount.

The White House had proposed collapsing these seven brackets into three brackets, with the new top bracket sitting at 35 percent. If it decides to keep the top bracket at 39.6 percent and create two new brackets, it could still give everyone a tax cut but lessen the size of that cut for the wealthy.

The White House and GOP leaders next week are planning to provide more details of their tax push, though they could leave out key details as they continue to negotiate with members of Congress. The White House is hoping a tax cut plan can be completed by the end of the year, and support from even a few Democrats could help it reach an agreement sooner.

http://ift.tt/2xjCnKK Source: http://ift.tt/11PLRFx

Post Less, Boost Top Posts, and More: 14 Ways to Increase Your Facebook Page Engagement

/ Leave a Comment

Engagement on Facebook Pages has fallen by 70 percent since the start of 2017, according to BuzzSumo who analyzed over 880 million Facebook posts by brands and publishers.

Buzzsumo study: Falling Facebook Page engagement

As a social media marketer, it is worrying to see these trends.

But we feel there are ways we can combat this organic reach decline on Facebook and we’d love to share some strategies with you.

In this post, we’ll share 14 straightforward ways to increase your Facebook Page engagement — many of which are proven and have worked for us. 

14 Actionable Strategies for Increasing Your Facebook Page Engagement

14 ways to increase your Facebook engagement

Starting a Facebook Page might be easy but with the falling organic reach and engagement, growing a Facebook Page can be challenging.

Here are the 14 tactics you can try today to increase your Facebook Page engagement:

  1. Post less
  2. Post when your fans are online
  3. Create specifically for Facebook
  4. Try videos
  5. Go live
  6. Share curated content
  7. Ask for opinions
  8. Boost your top posts
  9. Recycle your top posts
  10. Watch other Facebook Pages
  11. Experiment with new content
  12. Reply comments
  13. Host giveaways (occasionally)
  14. Create a linked Facebook Group

Let’s dive in!

1. Post less

Posting less grew our reach and engagement by three times.

Average Facebook daily reach visualization

But the main reason for the growth wasn’t just because we were posting less. It’s because posting less allowed us to…

focus on quality instead of quantity.

We were able to share the best content every day when we post only once or twice a day. When we were posting four to five times a day, we struggled to consistently find so much great content to share.

If you are a solo social media manager or a small business owner who handles your own social media, you might have experienced this before. Finding great content takes time, and you don’t always have the time to do that.

That said, if you are able to maintain the quality of your content while posting many times a day, don’t feel that you have to change your strategy. A few of our readers post more than 10 times a day to their Facebook Page and have found great success.

2. Post when your fans are online

We used to believe that there’s a universal best time to post on Facebook: early afternoon.

But not anymore.

We now believe that every brand has its own perfect time(s) to post. That’s because the best time to post depends on several factors that are specific to each brand: What industry are you in? Where is your audience based? When do your followers use Facebook?

A scientific way to find your best time to post is to look at your own data.

In your Facebook Page Insights, under the Post tab, you get data about when your Facebook Page fans are online for each day of the week.

Facebook Page fans data

Using your data, you can make educated guesses of your best posting time. I would recommend experimenting with times during both the peak and non-peak hours to see which works better for your brand.

3. Create specifically for Facebook

What works on Instagram or Twitter might not always work on Facebook. For example, hashtags are great on Instagram and GIFs are great on Twitter but both less so on Facebook.

It’s best to create your Facebook posts specifically for your Facebook Page.

With Buffer, you can easily customize your social media post for each platform when sharing to multiple platforms at once. You can even go one step further by customizing your article headline for your Facebook post.

Tailored posts

If you would like to give this a go, we would love for you to try Buffer for Business and experience the difference.

4. Try videos

If you’re wondering how to craft your Facebook posts, we think you should try videos.

From what we have seen this year, videos perform best on Facebook in terms of reach and engagement.

Facebook post types stats

The BuzzSumo study mentioned above also found that “videos now gain twice the level of engagement of other post formats on average”.

Here are three more tips to help you get the most out of your videos:

5. Go live


Facebook has also been pushing their Live videos a lot in this past year.

They tweaked their algorithm to rank live videos higher when they are live than when they are no longer live. Facebook reported that “People spend more than 3x more time watching a Facebook Live video on average compared to a video that’s no longer live” and “people comment more than 10 times more on Facebook Live videos than on regular videos”.

For our #impactofsocial celebration, we hosted five Facebook Live sessions, which received about 4,000 views and 30 comments on average.

Here’s a bonus: Your followers might be more likely to check out your content.

Social Media Examiner noticed that when they went live more often, their non-live content received more exposure. Their founder and CEO, Michael Stelzner, believes that when they go live, their fans are exposed to their brand even if they don’t watch the live video. That might have subtly encouraged them to check out Social Media Examiner’s Facebook Page.

To help you get started with Facebook Live videos, here are some ideas you can try:

  • Share behind-the-scenes of an event, your work processes, or your office
  • Host a Question-and-Answer or Ask-Me-Anything session
  • Interview industry experts using a software like BeLive
  • Explain or demonstrate how to do something
  • Discuss breaking news
  • Share weekly tips

6. Share curated content


It might feel weird sharing other brands’ content. That’s how we felt initially. But after experimenting with sharing high-quality curated content, the results changed our mind.

By sharing top-performing posts from sites like TechcrunchInc., and Quartz, we were able to reach a much bigger audience. For example, our recent 10 curated content reached 113,000 people on average.

We had less than 100,000 Facebook Page Likes until recently.

This helped us grow our Facebook Page, allowing us to share our own content with more people. Since the start of this year, our Facebook Page Likes have grown from about 79,000 to 100,000.

Facebook Page growth

There are two types of curated content you can share:

  • Third-party content from other brands
  • User-generated content from your customers

We mostly share content from other brands on our Facebook Page as that type of content resonates with our Facebook Page followers. Once in a while, we also share user-generated content from our community (which works amazingly on our Instagram account) on our Facebook Page. They tend to perform well, too.

Curated content

7. Ask for opinions

It might be obvious that people comment when they have something to say. But sometimes, we don’t offer them a chance to say anything!

Asking questions is a good way to offer our followers a chance to share their thoughts.

A practice I like is to share relevant news or blog post and ask our followers for their opinions. What to share might vary depending on your audience. If you have a professional audience, you might want to share industry news or articles. If you are a lifestyle brand, you might choose to share lifestyle news instead.

Here’s a recent example where we asked our followers for their thoughts on a thought-leadership blog post:

8. Boost your top posts

If you have a budget for Facebook advertising, consider boosting your top-performing posts. Your top-performing posts are proven content — content that is proven to engage your audience. This makes them suitable for a boost. With the right ad targeting, these posts would continue to engage more people, reach even more people.

And you don’t need a lot of money for this.

With a $40 daily budget, our boosted posts get up to roughly four times more paid reach than organic reach. As reach increased, engagement on the posts also went up.

Here are some recent examples:

Boosted post examples

9. Recycle your top posts

Besides boosting your top posts, you can also recycle them.

This will help you get more value out of your content. When you re-post a piece of high-quality content, it can often generate as much reach and engagement as the original post (sometimes, more) — essentially doubling the value of that content.

For example, we first posted a blog post as a link with a list as the caption.

Original post

As our followers loved it, we (boosted it and) re-posted it with a video. This time, it reached almost twice as many people and generated a little more engagement, with roughly the same ad spend.

Repost with video

Instead of reposting the top-performing post as it is, change the post a little. There are several ways you can make it look fresh again:

  • Add a video
  • Add an image
  • Ask a question

Generally, for Facebook, you would want to wait several weeks before reposting the same post if you are posting only once or two a day. This will prevent your followers from seeing the same post too often and getting bored of your Facebook posts.

10. Watch other Facebook Pages

The social media landscape is ever-changing. What’s working today might not work tomorrow. It can be helpful to learn from other Facebook Pages and see what has been working for them.

Facebook provides an excellent feature for this: Pages to Watch.

Facebook Pages to Watch feature

Pages to Watch allows you to compare the performance of your Facebook Page and posts with similar Pages at a glance. You can also easily check out each Page’s top posts by clicking on their Page name.

To access Pages to Watch, go to your Facebook Page Insights and scroll down to the bottom of the Overview tab.

11. Experiment with new content

Another way to keep up with the ever-changing social media landscape is to constantly experiment with new content.

Just a while back, images were the best type of content to drive engagement. Now, videos are taking the lead. Brands who started on video early before it became the norm were able to benefit from the trend the most.

Testing new types of content keeps you at the edge of the latest trends.

A technique we like to use was inspired by Coca-Cola’s 70/20/10 marketing budget rule.

Coca-Cola 70/20/10 rule

You can use this rule in many ways. Here’s how I like to think of it when it comes to testing new Facebook content:

  • 70 percent of your content should be the types of content that are already performing well now, such as videos and images.
  • 20 percent of your content should be iterations and improvements of your 70 percent, such as new types of videos.
  • 10 percent of your content should be experimental content, which might become the next big thing.

12. Reply comments


If you want your followers to engage with your Facebook posts, here’s something simple to try when they comment: reply to all their comments.

This would make them feel heard and be more willing to comment on your Facebook posts in the future.

There’s a psychological explanation for this, too. Moira Burke, who studied 1,200 Facebook users, found that personalized messages are more satisfying to the receiver than a simple Like.

Something we do at Buffer is to sign off each reply with our first name. This adds a personal touch to our replies. I like to think that many of our followers know that when they comment on our posts, they will be chatting with someone from Buffer and not simply commenting on a brand’s post.

Replies on our Facebook post

We use Buffer Reply to reply our followers on Facebook (and also Twitter and Instagram). Having all the comments in one single place makes it more efficient as we don’t have to jump from post to post.

Buffer Reply

13. Host giveaways (occasionally)

Our contest and giveaway posts generally get the most amount of engagement.

Here’s an example from last year:

There are two things we keep in mind while hosting such giveaways:

  • We do them only once in a while. Having giveaways regularly can sometimes annoy your followers (unless that’s the main objective of your Facebook Page). I would recommend leaving a few weeks or months between each one.
  • We give relevant gifts. Most of the time, our prize is our Buffer swag. That’s because we know that many of our followers would love to get a Buffer swag (and we are thankful for that) and they are the exact audience we want to engage with.

14. Create a linked Facebook Group


Finally, a potential resolution to the falling organic reach and engagement on Facebook is to start a Facebook Group and link it to your Facebook Page.

Linked Facebook Group

A Facebook Group with your most engaged followers would likely generate more discussions than your Facebook Page. My hunch is that the discussions in your Facebook Group will benefit your Facebook Page in several ways:

  • More awareness: As your members engage with one another in your Facebook Group, they likely have your brand at the top of their mind. You can also post and comment with your Facebook Page. All these might encourage your members to check out your Facebook Page, like live videos did for Social Media Examiner.
  • Facebook algorithm boost: This is purely a guess. Since your Facebook Group is linked to your Facebook Page, engagement in your Facebook Group might influence how your Facebook Page posts rank on your members’ News Feed.

If you are considering starting a Facebook Group, here’s our complete guide to starting and managing a Facebook Group.

Section separator

What have you been trying on Facebook?

If driving engagement on your Facebook Page has been challenging for you, I hope you’ve found one or two (or 14) tactics that might be useful to you.

One thing I would keep in mind when using these tactics is that it might take a while for the results to show. It took us some time to figure out what works for our Facebook Page. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t see an increase in engagement immediately.

Okay, that’s enough from me. I would love to hear about your Facebook Page strategy. What are some tactics you have tried and have been working (or not) for you? What are some of the tactics you would like to try going forward?

(If you liked this blog post, you might also like our blog post on the Facebook marketing tips that we had tested.)

Image credit: Unsplash

http://ift.tt/2fgqj6H Source: http://ift.tt/OGwiit

Tax-avoiding mergers allowed U.S. companies to lower their initial tax bill by $45 million, CBO says

/ Leave a Comment

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

American companies that merged with foreign companies to avoid tax paid $45 million less in tax on average in the first year after the move, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

If current policy does not change, the agency projects future tax-avoiding deals will reduce tax receipts from corporations by 2.5 percent in 2027 — or $12 billion.

The idea behind the business maneuver, called a corporate inversion, is simple: a U.S. company merges with a foreign one and moves its headquarters abroad, avoiding the high U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent.

That effectively turns the U.S. corporation into a foreign company, taxed at the rate of its new home country.

According to the CBO analysis, companies that inverted between 1994 and 2014 experienced, on average, a $65 million drop in U.S. taxes in the financial year after the deal was complete. Their tax bills only dropped by $45 million, however, because they were paying more foreign taxes.

The first inversion occurred in 1983, according to CBO, but the deals have become notorious in recent years as a sign of the broken U.S. corporate tax code.

Politicians on both side of the aisle agree that inversions are a problem; on the campaign trail, President Trump criticized a proposed deal that would have allowed pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to leave the country to avoid taxes and President Obama called inversions one of the most "insidious tax loopholes out there."  But the sides have not agreed on how to address the problem, with Democrats introducing legislation to stop inversions and Republicans calling for comprehensive tax reform.

The practice has drawn more political scrutiny in recent years, due to an increase in the scale of the mergers being considered.

In the first nine months of 2014, 10 companies — with total assets of $300 billion — proposed inversions. Then, the Obama administration tightened the rules around such deals, making them less advantageous. Some of the biggest proposed mergers collapsed.

CBO is optimistic that the trend is slowing. Companies seeking to dodge taxes by inverting will have more trouble going forward, the agency said. That’s because the benefits will not always outweigh the costs, regulations could make it harder to pursue the strategy, or for practical reasons — there simply may not be a foreign company to merge with in a low-tax country.

 

 

http://ift.tt/2jCABQ5 Source: http://ift.tt/11PLRFx

Scott Walker signs $3-billion Foxconn deal in Wisconsin

/ Leave a Comment

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker just approved a huge incentives package. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Gov. Scott Walker has signed into law a $3-billion incentive package for the technology giant Foxconn, setting up the Taiwanese company  to become the country’s biggest foreign recipient of state subsidies.

“Foxconn’s creation of 13,000 good-paying, family-supporting WI jobs will have positive impacts on all of WI!” Walker tweeted Monday.

In exchange for the economic sweeteners, Foxconn has agreed to build a flat-screen factory the size of eleven football fields in the southeast corner of Wisconsin.

The technology giant supplies gadgets to Apple, Google and Amazon.

Its latest project, to go up in Racine County, will initially create 3,000 jobs, the company said, but has “the potential to grow” to roughly 13,000 workers.

However, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau raised alarm when it projected that 25 years would pass before taxpayers saw a return on the investment. It would take longer, the agency found, if workers from neighboring Illinois commuted into the state to take the Foxconn jobs.

Walker first announced the Foxconn deal with President Trump at the White House in July. It passed  the state’s legislature last week, though two Republicans and most of the Democrats opposed it, citing the high cost to win the facility with no guaranteed benefits, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Democrats slammed Walker for approving the deal, asserting he should have instead opened more funding for education and infrastructure.

“With a budget that fails to restore school funding and improve local roads, now’s not the time to hand over $3 billion in cash payments to a foreign corporation,” Wisconsin Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling said in a statement. “Gov. Walker and Legislative Republicans are putting home-grown businesses at a competitive disadvantage while committing taxpayers to decades of economic costs and liabilities.”

The payouts to Foxconn depend on the company following through with both the plant development and hires, Wisconsin officials said. The firm could receive up to $250 million per year in refundable state tax credits for 15 years.

If Foxconn ends up qualifying for the full package, the company would beat the United States record for tax breaks given to a foreign company. Royal Dutch Shell, based in the Netherlands, currently holds that title — Pennsylvania gave the oil business $1.65 billion in subsidies about five years ago, according to Politifact.

Foxconn has also said it will invest $10 billion into the plant and contract local workers to build it.

Walker’s office has asserted the deal would ultimately benefit the Wisconsin economy.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that brings high-tech manufacturing back to America, right here in Wisconsin,” Walker spokesman Tom Evenson told the Post in an August email. “The company’s investment is $10 billion, which is $6.70 of private investment for every $1 of public funds. This is an excellent investment for our entire state.”

Read more:

The Foxconn deal won’t make any money for 25 years, report says

Trump is celebrating the Foxconn deal. The people paying for it aren’t so sure. 

http://ift.tt/2fvGr19 Source: http://ift.tt/11PLRFx

White people are really confident that things are getting better for black people

/ Leave a Comment

Workers assemble cares in a factory in Vance, Ala. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Americans, especially wealthy whites, vastly overestimate progress toward racial economic equality despite evidence of persistent gaps between black and white workers when it comes to hourly wages, annual income and household wealth, according to a new paper by Yale University researchers published Monday.

The study’s results are especially stunning in the wake of census data released last week that showed that African Americans were the only racial group still making less than they did in 2000.

The average black household made 60 percent of what white households made in 2016 and less than half of what Asians made, according to census data. For every $100 of wealth accumulated by a white family, a black family has little more than $5 — a gap just as wide as it was 50 years ago, according to federal statistics cited by the Yale researchers.


[African Americans are the only racial group in U.S. still making less than they did in 2000]

Yet both black and white Americans of all income levels remain profoundly unaware of the economic inequality between the two groups, said the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The misperceptions could negatively affect public policy as the country grows more diverse, researchers said, with politicians championing misguided legislation rooted in false impressions.

“This is evidence that our beliefs about racial progress and economic equality are fairly inconsistent with reality,” said Jennifer Richeson, a Yale psychology professor who co-wrote the study. “The magnitude of the misperception is shocking, and it’s an obstacle to actually achieving the progress that everyone seems to be celebrating.”

Their findings are problematic, the researchers said, because you can’t solve problems you don’t know you have.

Researchers asked black and white Americans at the top (making more than $100,000 a year) and the bottom ($40,000 or less) of the national income distribution to estimate differences between average black and white Americans in employer-provided benefits, hourly wages of college graduates and high school graduates, annual income, and accumulated wealth in the present and in the past.

Across four studies, participants overestimated progress toward black-white economic equality, with average estimates exceeding reality by about 25 percent.

“Everybody across our study sees progress, no matter their income and race,” said Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at the Yale School of Management who also co-wrote the study. “They think the gaps that have existed in the past are naturally closing.”

Most delusional are wealthy whites, the only group that was overly optimistic about racial economic equality even before the civil rights movement, according to the study.

Low-income whites were most on the mark when it came to estimating racial economic inequality in the past. Black Americans, both poor and rich, were overly pessimistic about past economic inequality.

Wealthy whites were also the most inaccurate in estimating racial economic equality in the present.

The researchers found both psychological and structural underpinnings to explain people’s optimism.

Those who most believed in a just world and the American ideals of societal fairness and meritocracy were also most likely to overestimate racial economic equality. Higher-status individuals — i.e. wealthy whites — are especially motivated to perceive society as fair so they can justify their elevated status as merit-based rather than resulting from luck or discriminatory systems, researchers said.

“It’s easier to protect this narrative that I live in this meritocracy that is fair and that is consistent with our American ideals,” Kraus said.

Although it is now illegal for real estate agents, landlords and schools to discriminate based on race, neighborhoods and schools nationwide remain segregated.

It therefore is not surprising that Americans who don’t have much contact with other races and incomes have drawn false conclusions about other people’s economic experiences, Kraus said. Wealthy blacks have more racially and economically diverse social networks compared to wealthy whites, who have little understanding of the economic outcomes of most black Americans.

“We need to stop deceiving ourselves,” Richeson said. “It could be a lack of information, but there’s also a role of willful blindness. Wealth inequality based on race is baked into this country’s founding, and we cannot handle it. It is not that these individuals don’t work hard enough or are genetically inferior.”

The researchers said their study highlights the limitations of economic policies such as graduated income tax and loan forgiveness for college students to address the gaping wealth and income disparities between racial groups.


[Bolster black banks — and in the process, uplift a community that has been systematically marginalized for generations]

Continued discrimination in housing and bank loans sabotages black Americans’ ability to accumulate wealth. But there’s no real policy push to fix that, because most people don’t see the extent of the racial wealth gap to begin with, Kraus said.

The researchers found that asking white people to think about an “alternative United States” where discrimination based on race still exists in law enforcement, voting rights and education and employment decisions helped them to more accurately estimate racial economic inequality.

“So many of us grew up hearing this story about America that basically said there was slavery and then that was fixed. Martin Luther King marched and then that was fixed. And then we had Obama,” Richeson said. “That’s a nice, clean story that makes everyone feel good even though it’s shockingly inaccurate."

http://ift.tt/2xc5PAJ Source: http://ift.tt/11PLRFx

When you treat politics as entertainment, you get Sean Spicer at the Emmys

/ Leave a Comment

Sean Spicer speaks at the Emmys on Sept. 17 at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer made a surprise appearance at the Emmys last night, yukking it up with a joke about crowd sizes. It was a nod to one of his first appearances behind the White House podium, where he insisted, contrary to all evidence, that President Trump had drawn “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

The Emmys appearance was just the latest stop on Spicer’s post-White House rehabilitation tour, which has also included an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and a plum appointment to Harvard’s Institute of Politics as a visiting fellow. Many observers are appalled at the “normalization” of a political operative who repeatedly spun outrageous falsehoods from the White House podium.

Spicer’s winking Emmy appearance suggested he wasn’t just spreading falsehoods about crowd sizes and other topics, but that he knew full well they were false at the time he spread them — a practice more commonly known as “lying.”

London School of Economics fellow Brian Klaas summed it up as succinctly as anyone: “The treatment of Spicer is another breakdown of political norms,” he wrote on Twitter. “If we just joke about and reward people who lie in government, more will.”

But the issues at stake here are bigger than Sean Spicer, and bigger even than the normalization of behavior that just a few years ago fell way outside of norms.

Spicer’s Emmys appearance also underscored how, for many Americans, politics has become simply another form of entertainment. It’s a drama that plays out primarily on television with a rotating cast of colorful characters. As with any well-made drama, we hold strong opinions about the players and care deeply about the outcome. But many viewers appear to believe that what transpires at the White House podium has no more impact on their real-world lives than what happens on “House of Cards.”

People who study media and politics have been sounding the alarm on this for decades. More than 30 years ago, Neil Postman of New York University warned that politics and other “serious” topics had been “transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business,” a result of the rising dominance of television “devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment.”

As Postman wrote in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”:

Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to ‘join them tomorrow’ …

We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the ‘news’ is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say. Everything about a news show tells us this — the good looks and amiability of the cast, their pleasant banter, the exciting music that opens and closes the show, the vivid film footage, the attractive commercials — all these and more suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for weeping. A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis.

Postman passed away in 2003, but earlier this year his son Andrew Postman wrote for the Guardian that his father had essentially predicted the rise of Trump, who has been called the nation’s “first reality TV president” — think of the staff drama, the cliffhangers, the social media feuds, the obsessions with looks and ratings.

Trump didn’t invent all of this, of course — our politics have been headed in this direction for decades, since at least the first televised presidential debates between JFK and Richard Nixon. As Ronald Reagan noted six years later, “politics is just like show business.”

Today that’s more true than ever. For a majority of Americans, television remains the predominant source of news. Social media, blurring the lines between real news, fake news and entertainment, is becoming a chief information source as well. The democratizing effect of Facebook’s news feed means that hard-hitting investigative journalism is put on equal footing with celebrity gossip and doomsday prophecies.

Cable news, meanwhile, is on its way to a banner year as Trump’s chaotic White House drives ratings upward. Sean Spicer’s fact-challenged press briefings became “must-watch” TV.

“Many of us have been convinced that we are all participants in this reality show,” said Karen Tongson, a pop culture expert at the University of Southern California. “The lightness of that experience makes it easy to treat these political players as actors or personalities.”

If a typical American ran into Kevin Spacey on the street, for instance, she wouldn’t call the police because Frank Underwood murdered Zoe Barnes in Season 2 of “House of Cards.” We understand that Spacey was playing a role, and as TV-watchers we love our villains just as much as our heroes.

Similarly, when Spicer showed up in the Emmys’ lobby after the show he wasn’t shunned for purveying falsehoods — he was mobbed with smiling fans. He wasn’t Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary — just the guy who played him on TV.

“We’re totally bamboozled,” Tongson said. “We think everybody’s putting on a show. And we forget the show actually has real consequences.”

http://ift.tt/2w31qyv Source: http://ift.tt/11PLRFx

Lax enforcement at ports allows bogus ‘organic’ foods to reach U.S., government report says

/ Leave a Comment

A new report by the USDA’s inspector general takes a measure of fraud among some imported organic products.( Reuters/Rebecca Cook/Files)

Bogus “organic” products may be reaching the United States because of lax enforcement at U.S. ports, according to a new audit by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, a finding that helps explain previous reports that millions of pounds of fraudulent “organic” corn and soybeans had reached American ports.

The USDA “was unable to provide reasonable assurance that … required documents were reviewed at U.S. ports of entry to verify that imported agricultural products labeled as organic were from certified organic foreign farms,” according to the report released Monday." The lack of controls at U.S. ports of entry increases the risk that nonorganic products may be imported as organic into the United States and could create an unfair economic environment for U.S. organic producers.”

The inspector general’s report goes farther than that, revealing that the confusion at the ports is so deep that some “organic” shipments — legitimate or not — are fumigated there with pesticides prohibited under USDA organic rules.


[‘Why the hell am I paying more for this?’ Major egg operation houses ‘USDA Organic’ hens at three per square foot]

The investigators visited seven U.S. ports and discovered, through documents and interviews, that if an organic shipment shows evidence of a pest or disease and “the shipment’s owner elects to treat the organic agricultural products, they are treated using the same methods and substances used for conventional products. There are no special treatment methods for organic products. This practice results in the exposure of organic agricultural products to prohibited substances.”

The report from the inspector general follows an admission by the USDA that several countries appear to have been exporting bogus organic products into the United States.

In May, The Washington Post reported that millions of pounds of “organic” corn and soybeans had been shipped to the United States through Turkey despite evidence that they had been grown conventionally. Subsequently, the USDA revoked the “organic” designation from two of the companies involved in importing. The agency has not completed its investigations nor publicly revealed how widespread any fraud may have been.

However, USDA officials have revealed portions of the investigation to the private “certification” companies that it relies on for enforcement. In an August memo to clients, one of those companies said that the USDA had determined that fraudulent corn and soybeans had been produced or handled in Kazakhstan, Moldova, Romania, Russia or Ukraine and then shipped to Turkey before arriving in the United States.

The inspector general’s report also comes amid changes at the top of the National Organic Program. Earlier this month, Miles McEvoy, the chief of the USDA program, announced that he would be leaving at the end of the month, having served eight years in the position.

http://ift.tt/2wBEOVp Source: http://ift.tt/11PLRFx