Jim Hightower

Fleeting Notice


I got a note from the swell folks at Fleet, my credit card company. Actually, not a note, but a Notice: “This Notice is to advise you that the following Arbitration Provision will be added to your Cardholder Agreement,” it cheerfully began. Hmmm, I thought, arbitration. What needs arbitrating? So I squinted at the tiny print they used in this little four-page notice, which had no eye-catching graphics, no whimsical colors, and none of the chatty style you find when they really want you to … well, notice. Indeed, it’s as though Fleet didn’t truly want me to notice this Notice. So, I plunged into the prose: “This Arbitration Provision will apply to all claims.” Claims? Like what? Down in the fine print Fleet told me. Sort of: “The term ‘claim’ means any claim, dispute, or controversy between you and us arising from or related to this agreement, any prior agreement that you may have had with us or another credit card issuer from whom we acquired your credit card account or the relationships resulting from the agreement of any prior agreement, including …” Whoa, what’s the bottom line here? Then I found it. Fleet’s Notice practically shouted that if I filed any kind of claim against it for fraud, false advertising, invasion of privacy, or whatever it could deny me “the right to litigate that claim in court or have a jury trial on that claim.” Instead, I’d have to go to an arbitration firm of Fleet’s choosing, and “The arbitrator’s decision will be final,” even though “rights that you would have had if you went to court may … not be available in arbitration” and “the fees charged by the administration may be higher than the fees charged by a court.” To help stop corporate sneak attacks on our Constitutional right to a trial by jury, call Trial Lawyers for Public Justice 202-797-8600.


Right-wing groups like to bloviate about how the media are a bastion of liberal bias, if not an outright front for the International Communist Conspiracy. “Liberal Media” my butt! The true bias of the barons who control virtually all of the mass media is not to the left or even to the right, but to the top… to their own corporate class. The so-called “news” we get is filtered through the media’s corporate lenses and tinted to a nice, rosy corporate hue. Indeed, revealed by the diligent watchdog group called PR Watch, it turns out that many of the “news stories” we see on television are actually nothing but video feeds from corporations with something to sell. CBS, for example, is the leading purveyor of VNRs–Video News Releases from corporate hustlers. Its outlet is CBS Newspath, a division that feeds these insidious, corporate-produced “news stories” to local affiliates three times a day. CBS has a deal with an outfit called Medialink to transmit these corporate VNRs to your local station, which plays them as though they were real news. Medialink brags that it produces VNRs for 2,500 corporations and PR agencies, airing them through such outfits as CBS Newspath. You see their features on your local broadcasts, such as a segment telling you how cell phones have become so useful to consumers, then showing a close-up of a Nokia brand phone. Subtle, huh? This scam is pervasive. Medialink’s website gloats that “Every major television station in the world now uses VNRs regularly. Most are from Medialink. It’s a fact.” It’s also an outrage, not to mention an embarrassment for television journalism.


Lily Tomlin once said, “I worry that the man who invented Muzak might be thinking of inventing something else.” Unfortunately, her worry has come true, for instead of the mild annoyance of Muzak in elevators, a company with the somewhat threatening name of Captivate Network, Inc. has come up with a way to make your elevator ride much more annoying than a Muzak moment. Thanks to exciting advances in the science of wireless technology, it is now possible for outfits like Captivate to fill your 30-second ride with: Advertising videos. Yes, as you glide up to put in another day’s work in your cubicle, you can be blessed by a yammering pitch for Right Guard, Starbucks, or Rolaids.

Captivate Inc.’s elevator ads are merely the tip of the commercialization iceberg for a Brave New World of Advertising that calls itself the “outernet industry.” It sees all space outside the home as potential places for capturing consumer’s ears and eyeballs for advertisers. This merciless industry is targeting doctors offices, movie lobbies, commuter trains, convenience stores–even ski lifts! Already Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and 7-Eleven are putting out-of-home advertising screens in their stores. The Los Angeles Times reports that “The industry operates on a simple principle: Find out where consumers are gathering and put a screen in their faces.” The possibilities are boundless–taxicabs, restrooms, bank drive-throughs, bus stops, golf tees, public parks, and along the boardwalks at the seashore. They literally can install this technology in tree trunks or on neighborhood fences, so we need never be more than a few seconds from the next product pitch. The head of one of these outernet firm claims they’re doing us a favor: “If you’re standing in line waiting for a Big Mac and fries, you’ve got nothing else to do.” Yes we do! We could hear some music, take tiny Yoga breaks … or plot revenge against the crass commercializers of our world.

Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To order his books or schedule him for a speech, visit www.jimhightower.com. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900.