China’s Paid Trolls: Meet the 50-Cent Party (Includes Hong Kong SAR)

China’s Paid Trolls: Meet the 50-Cent Party

The Chinese government hires people to distort or deflect conversations on the web. Ai Weiwei persuades an “online commentator” to tell all.

By Ai Weiwei [1] Published 17 October 2012

The Chinese government hires people to distort or deflect conversations on the web. Ai Weiwei persuades an “online commentator” to tell all.

New Statesman
(PHOTO: Marcus Bleasdale VII)

In February 2011, Ai Weiwei tweeted that he would like to conduct an interview with an “online commentator”. Commentators are hired by the Chinese government or the Communist Party of China to post comments favourable towards party policies and to shape public opinion on internet message boards and forums. The commentators are known as the 50-Cent Party, as they are said to be paid 50 cents for every post that steers a discussion away from anti-party content or that advances the Communist Party line.

Below is the transcript of Ai’s interview with an online commentator. As requested, an iPad was given as compensation for the interview. To protect the interviewee, relevant personal information has been concealed in this script.

Question: What’s your name, age, city of residence and online username?

Answer: I cannot make my name public. I’m 26. I have too many usernames. If I want to use one, I just register it. I won’t mention them here.

What do you call the work you do now?

It doesn’t matter what you call it: online commentator, public opinion guide, or even “the 50-Cent Party” that everyone’s heard of.

What is your level of education and work experience? How did you begin the work of guiding public opinion?

I graduated from university and studied media. I once worked for a TV channel, then in online media. I’ve always been in the news media industry, for four or five years now.Over a year ago, a friend asked me if I wanted to be an online commentator, to earn some extra money. I said I’d give it a try. Later, I discovered it was very easy.

When and from where will you receive directives for work?

Almost every morning at 9am I receive an email from my superiors – the internet publicity office of the local government – telling me about the news we’re to comment on for the day. Sometimes it specifies the website to comment on, but most of the time it’s not limited to certain websites: you just find relevant news and comment on it.

Can you describe your work in detail?

The process has three steps – receive task, search for topic, post comments to guide public opinion. Receiving a task mainly involves ensuring you open your email box every day. Usually after an event has happened, or even before the news has come out, we’ll receive an email telling us what the event is, then instructions on which direction to guide the netizens’ thoughts, to blur their focus, or to fan their enthusiasm for certain ideas. After we’ve found the relevant articles or news on a website, according to the overall direction given by our superiors we start to write articles, post or reply to comments. This requires a lot of skill. You can’t write in a very official manner, you must conceal your identity, write articles in many dif­ferent styles, sometimes even have a dialogue with yourself, argue, debate. In sum, you want to create illusions to attract the attention and comments of netizens.

In a forum, there are three roles for you to play: the leader, the follower, the onlooker or unsuspecting member of the public. The leader is the relatively authoritative speaker, who usually appears after a controversy and speaks with powerful evidence. The public usually finds such users very convincing. There are two opposing groups of followers. The role they play is to continuously debate, argue, or even swear on the forum. This will attract attention from observers. At the end of the argument, the leader appears, brings out some powerful evidence, makes public opinion align with him and the objective is achieved. The third type is the onlookers, the netizens. They are our true target “clients”. We influence the third group mainly through role-playing between the other two kinds of identity. You could say we’re like directors, influencing the audience through our own writing, directing and acting. Sometimes I feel like I have a split personality.

Regarding the three roles that you play, is that a common tactic? Or are there other ways?

There are too many ways. It’s kind of psychological. Netizens nowadays are more thoughtful than before. We have many ways. You can make a bad thing sound even worse, make an elaborate account, and make people think it’s nonsense when they see it. In fact, it’s like two negatives make a positive. When it’s reached a certain degree of mediocrity, they’ll think it might not be all that bad.

What is the guiding principle of your work?

The principle is to understand the guiding thought of superiors, the direction of public opinion desired, then to start your own work.

Can you reveal the content of a “task” email?

For example, “Don’t spread rumours, don’t believe in rumours”, or “Influence public understanding of X event”, “Promote the correct direction of public opinion on XXXX”, “Explain and clarify XX event; avoid the appearance of untrue or illegal remarks”, “For the detrimental social effect created by the recent XX event, focus on guiding the thoughts of netizens in the correct direction of XXXX”.

What are the categories of information that you usually receive?

They are mainly local events. They cover over 60 to 70 per cent of local instructions – for example, people who are filing complaints or petitioning.

For countrywide events, such as the Jasmine Revolution [the pro-democracy protests that took place across the country in 2011], do you get involved?

For popular online events like the Jasmine Revolution, we have never received a related task. I also thought it was quite strange. Perhaps we aren’t senior enough.

Can you tell us the content of the commentary you usually write?

The netizens are used to seeing unskilled comments that simply say the government is great or so and so is a traitor. They know what is behind it at a glance. The principle I observe is: don’t directly praise the government or criticise negative news. Moreover, the tone of speech, identity and stance of speech must look as if it’s an unsuspecting member of public; only then can it resonate with netizens. To sum up, you want to guide netizens obliquely and let them change their focus without realising it.

Can you go off the topic?

Of course you can go off the topic. When transferring the attention of netizens and

blurring the public focus, going off the topic is very effective. For example, during the census, everyone will be talking about its truthfulness or necessity; then I’ll post jokes that appeared in the census. Or, in other instances, I would publish adverts to take up space on political news reports.

Can you tell us a specific, typical process of “guiding public opinion”?

For example, each time the oil price is about to go up, we’ll receive a notification to “stabilise the emotions of netizens and divert public attention”. The next day, when news of the rise comes out, netizens will definitely be condemning the state, CNPC and Sinopec. At this point, I register an ID and post a comment: “Rise, rise however you want, I don’t care. Best if it rises to 50 yuan per litre: it serves you right if you’re too poor to drive. Only those with money should be allowed to drive on the roads . . .”

This sounds like I’m inviting attacks but the aim is to anger netizens and divert the anger and attention on oil prices to me. I would then change my identity several times and start to condemn myself. This will attract more attention. After many people have seen it, they start to attack me directly. Slowly, the content of the whole page has also changed from oil price to what I’ve said. It is very effective.

What’s your area of work? Which websites do you comment on? Which netizens do you target?

There’s no limit on which websites I visit. I mainly deal with local websites, or work on Tencent. There are too many commentators on Sohu, Sina, etc. As far as I know, these websites have dedicated internal departments for commenting.

Can you tell which online comments are by online commentators?

Because I do this, I can tell at a glance that about 10 to 20 per cent out of the tens of thousands of comments posted on a forum are made by online commentators.

Will you debate with other people online? What sorts of conflicts do you have? How do you control and disperse emotion?

Most of the time we’re debating with ourselves. I usually never debate with netizens and I’ll never say I’ve been angered by a netizen or an event. You could say that usually when I’m working, I stay rational.

When the government says, “Don’t believe in rumours, don’t spread rumours,” it achieves the opposite effect. For example, when Sars and the melamine in milk case broke out, people tended to choose not to trust the government when faced with the choices of “Don’t trust rumours” and “Don’t trust the government”.

I think this country and government have got into a rather embarrassing situation. No matter what happens – for example, if a person commits a crime, or there’s a traffic accident – as long as it’s a bad event and it’s publicised online, there will be people who condemn the government. I think this is very strange.

This is inevitable, because the government encompasses all. When all honour is attributed to you, all mistakes are also attributed to you. Apart from targeted events, are individuals targeted? Would there be this kind of directive?

There should be. I think for the Dalai Lama, there must be guidance throughout the country. All people in China hate the Dalai Lama and Falun Gong somewhat. According to my understanding, the government has truly gone a bit over the top. Before I got involved in this circle, I didn’t know anything. So I believe that wherever public opinion has been controlled relatively well, there will always have been commentators involved.

How do your superiors inspect and assess your work?

The superiors will arrange dedicated auditors who do random checks according to the links we provide. Auditors usually don’t assess, because they always make work requirements very clear. We just have to do as they say and there won’t be any mistakes.

How is your compensation decided?

It’s calculated on a monthly basis, according to quantity and quality. It’s basically calculated at 50 yuan per 100 comments. When there’s an unexpected event, the compensation might be higher. If you work together to guide public opinion on a hot topic and several dozen people are posting, the compensation for those days counts for more. Basically, the compensation is very low. I work part-time. On average, the monthly pay is about 500-600 yuan. There are people who work full-time on this. It’s possible they could earn thousands of yuan a month.

Do you like your work?

I wouldn’t say I like it or hate it. It’s just a bit more to do each day. A bit more pocket money each month, that’s all.

What’s the biggest difficulty in the work?

Perhaps it’s that you have to guess the psychology of netizens. You have to learn a lot of writing skills. You have to know how to imitate another person’s writing style. You need to understand how to gain the trust of the public and influence their thoughts.

Why can’t you reveal your identity? Why do you think it’s sensitive?

Do you want me to lose my job? Whatever form or name we use to post on any forums or blogs is absolutely confidential. We can’t reveal our identity, and I definitely wouldn’t reveal that I’m a professional online commentator.

If we do, what would be the purpose of our existence? Exposure would affect not just me, it would create an even greater negative effect on our “superiors”.

What do you mean by “superiors”?

Our superior leaders – above that should be the propaganda department.

Is your identity known to your family? Your friends?

No. I haven’t revealed it to my family or friends. If people knew I was doing this, it might have a negative effect on my reputation.

You say: “If I reveal inside information, without exaggeration this could lead to fatality.” Do you think that the consequence would be so serious?

With my identity, I’m involved in the media and also the internet. If I really reveal my identity or let something slip, it could have an incalculable effect on me.

If you say you want to quit, will there be resistance? Are there any strings attached?

Not at all. This industry is already very transparent. For me, it’s just a part-time job. It’s like any other job. It’s not as dark as you think.

How many hours do you go online each day and on which sites? Do you rest at the weekend?

I go online for six to eight hours nearly every day. I’m mainly active on our local BBS and some large mainstream internet media and microblogs. I don’t work over weekends, but I’ll sign in to my email account and see if there’s any important instruction.

In daily life, will you still be thinking about your online work?

Now and then. For example, when I see a piece of news, I’ll think about which direction the superiors will request it to be guided in and how I would go about it. It’s a bit of an occupational hazard.

Do you watch CCTV News and read the People’s Daily?

I usually follow all the news, particularly the local news. But I generally don’t watch CCTV News, because it’s too much about harmony.

Do you go on Twitter? Who do you follow?

Yes. I follow a few interesting people, including Ai Weiwei. But I don’t speak on Twitter, just read and learn.

How big a role do you think this industry plays in guiding public opinion in China?

Truthfully speaking, I think the role is quite big. The majority of netizens in China are actually very stupid. Sometimes, if you don’t guide them, they really will believe in rumours.

Because their information is limited to begin with. So, with limited information, it’s very difficult for them to express a political view.

I think they can be incited very easily. I can control them very easily. Depending on how I want them to be, I use a little bit of thought and that’s enough. It’s very easy. So I think the effect should be quite significant.

Do you think the government has the right to guide public opinion?

Personally, I think absolutely not. But in China, the government absolutely must interfere and guide public opinion. The majority of Chinese netizens are incited too easily, don’t think for themselves and are deceived and incited too easily by false news.

Do you have to believe in the viewpoints you express? Are you concerned about politics and the future?

I don’t have to believe in them. Sometimes you know well that what you say is false or untrue. But you still have to say it, because it’s your job. I’m not too concerned about Chinese politics. There’s nothing to be concerned about in Chinese politics.

What are some prominent Asian American issues?

If you’re referring to the political and social issues that Asian-Americans face today, these are a few that come to mind:

Combating the “model minority” stereotype

  • The myth that all Asian Americans are economically successful, and that other races should emulate them.
  • Due to this myth, many Asian Americans in need are denied access to public assistance programs.
  • It treats Asian Americans as a monolithic and homogeneous entity by aggregating statistics of several different groups.
  • The racism that Asian Americans face in society and their achievements in overcoming racism are often understated or ignored altogether.
  • It promotes divisiveness between Asian Americans and other racial minorities
  • It’s dehumanizing to base a people’s identity on little besides (often inaccurate) perceptions of high income level and education.
  • It promotes the notion that Asians are apathetic, apolitical, and okay with the status quo.
  • It creates even greater expectations of achievement out of Asian-American students, which can be psychologically harmful.


Breaking the bamboo ceiling

  • Asian Americans are often excluded from executive positions in the workplace or passed over for promotions because of negative stereotypes.
  • They are less likely to been seen as having leadership potential, charisma, or creativity.
  • They are assumed to be quiet and complacent, less likely to seek out raises and promotions (not “go-getters” or risk-takers, lacking in confidence).
  • They are often pigeonholed into certain roles based on stereotypes of being good at math or the “Asian nerd” portrayed in media.
  • Even American-born Asians are seen, for no reason based on fact, as having weaker English and communicative/interpersonal skills.
  • Those that try to break these stereotypes are often viewed negatively by the general American population for trying to deny their Asian-ness


Gaining political access and minority rights

  • As mentioned earlier, Asian Americans are often seen as politically apathetic due to the expectation that they be quiet and accepting, etc.
  • Likewise, there are fewer policies in place to protect the rights of Asian Americans than other minorities.
  • Because Asian Americans are relatively recent immigrants, they are less politically established with fewer role models in office.
  • Asian Americans are often treated as “perpetual foreigners” and unassimilable (“Where are you really from?”).
  • Many Asian Americans are not citizens, and never apply for citizenship.
  • Many Asian Americans don’t speak English well enough to feel comfortable exercising their right to vote, hence the push for more multilingual ballots and English language classes.
  • Asian Americans are far less represented in state and federal government than is proportionate to their population.
  • Some argue that the US still has racist immigration policies (I don’t know about the extent to which this is true).
  • Many Asian Americans feel helpless to change the system, and because the community is so diverse, it is hard to organize politically.


Addressing Media Stereotypes

  • Orientalism in Western art and literature.
  • The “Asian nerd” stereotype, social awkwardness (this is often the only role available to Asian American men; there are few AA men in television).
  • Asian Americans as misogynists or otherwise culturally “backward” (every plot with an Indian-American woman somehow involves an arranged marriage, for example).
  • “Geisha girl” and “China doll” stereotypes; exoticism of Asian women who somehow always fall madly in love with their white colonial oppressors.
  • Asian American women as submissive and obedient.
  • South Asians treated as “terrorists” (see baseless accusations against Huma Abedin, for example).
  • South Asians as call center workers or “job-stealers” due to outsourcing (still reflects negatively on Indian Americans).


Other issues: hate-based violence, these days often targeting Sikhs and others mistaken for Muslims post-9/11; in the past, there has been a long history of anti-Asian violence, extending from the murder of Vincent Chin to the LA riots, etc. Anti-Asian bullying in the military (and possibly schools) has also gotten more attention lately.

It’s OK to discriminate against Asians (for high school admissions)

When is a minority not a minority?

NEW YORK, NY – Last year, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a civil rights lawsuit with the federal government to eliminate testing as the sole basis for admissions to top public schools in New York City, such as Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant, since it discriminated against ethnic minorities. They argued that factors such as school grades, teacher recommendations and personal experience be taken into account, which would make the admissions process similar to university admissions. However, the majority of students admitted to these top NYC public schools are ethnic minorities. They’re Asians.

According to the New York Times, approximately 59% of the students enrolled in the eight specialized high schools are Asian. In 1971, the Stuyvesant High School student body was 10% Black, 4% Hispanic, and 6% Asian with the rest being White but is 72% Asian and around 4% percent are Black or Hispanic in 2012. Based on concerns about the lack of test preparation from minority groups, the city initially offered a free test-prep program to Black and Hispanic students and later to all students. However, it was still an issue because the majority of students enrolled in the public test program are Asians.

The Times article exploring this controversy spent considerable time profiling the Asian students who were accepted into the top NYC high schools. One account was about a son of Chinese immigrants who often sacrificed weekends studying for the high school entrance exam. He rarely saw his parents because they worked long shifts.

Other Asian students profiled came from families that either lived in Third World conditions or emigrated from countries experiencing violence. These families managed to pool their limited resources to ensure their kids had the time and money needed to do well in school and pass the high school entrance exam.

Although the writer made efforts to show these students made sacrifices and worked hard to be in these schools, he also made a point of emphasizing their “foreignness”. In the same article, the writer quoted Jerome Krase, a professor emeritus in sociology at Brooklyn College, suggesting Asian students are culturally obligated to do well since “[They] hold the honor of the family in their hands“, which implies they are different from Americans.

Moreover, the interviews with non-Asian parents were critical of the current admissions process. One parent agreed with expanding admissions to consider more than just the entrance exam results while another parent felt that it was abnormal for students to sacrifice weekends just to prepare for the entrance exam. Despite these criticisms, both parents have children who are preparing for the entrance exam.

While it is true that Asians make up the majority of students in the top specialized high schools in New York City, other groups such as Blacks, Hispanics and Whites also successfully passed the tests. Instead of just profiling Asian students and emphasizing their ‘foreignness’ and their family’s limited links to American culture, the writer should have also profiled Black and Hispanic students who successfully passed the exam to show that success is not limited to Asians.

Interviewing parents of successful Black or Hispanic students would give readers ideas of how non-Asian parents and their children worked around their respective challenges to succeed since they might be more relatable to readers than the Asian students and families profiled in the article. As a result, the article appears to perpetuate the idea that Asians are undermining the perceived character of New York City’s top public schools and unintentionally promoting tensions with other ethnic groups in the city due to their “foreign values”.

Another area the writer should have explored is the root cause for test prep programs.

It is strange that students have to enroll in test preparation programs to prepare for a high school admission exam that supposedly tests students on items they should have learned in the city’s primary and middle schools. If the primary and middle public schools are properly teaching their students, then there should not be a disparity between students enrolled in test prep programs and those that are not since the exam is based on things they should have learned in school.

Sadly, these disparities suggest there is an issue with the quality of public school education in the city, not of the race of students in the city’s top high schools.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund believes that changing the current admissions process into a holistic process would solve the problems with the current system that allegedly gives wealthier families an advantage due to their abilities to get better test preparation. However, this change would actually harm many poor immigrant Asian families and may not necessarily help the intended Black or Hispanic students in high school admissions.

If the city switches to a holistic approach, wealthier parents would still find ways to ensure their children have the means to join extracurricular activities, enroll in better primary or middle schools for improved grades, hire admissions counselors to develop strong admissions essays, and still send their children to test preparation programs. The less well-off, regardless if they are Black, Hispanic and Asian would still be at a disadvantage in the admissions process just like for university admissions. Most of all, in the midst of this controversy, the status quo for many wealthy families and their children would still be preserved.

Read more at TLR: It’s OK to discriminate against Asians (for high school admissions) | The Libertarian Republic http://thelibertarianrepublic.com/ok-discriminate-asians-high-school-admissions/#ixzz2jk3XymkV
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The Asian-American Experience & How to Deal With It

Asian-American is a constructed demographic by some California-based Asian-American activists and promoted by the majority group in the US of A.  However, a collective Asian-American experience doesn’t exist and never did despite being promoted by vocal Asian activists in an effort to unite the various ethnic Asian groups living in the US of A for greater recognition, greater rights, and greater social mobility.

In reality, ethnic Asians in America are broken up based on their language, nationality and sometimes religion. First generation immigrants separate themselves into their local ethnic communities, and their children partly define their racial identities from their original cultures.   On the other hand, descendants of first generation immigrants become disconnected with their ancestral cultures and start to think of themselves are “Americans”.  Regardless of generations, many Asian-Americans will make friends outside of their own little cultural group and often feel necessary to compromise their own identity, culture, second language to fit in.

Because there are Asian-Americans who are willing to compromise themselves and their self-respect to fit in, many non-Asian Americans believe that it is more socially acceptable to disparage Asians because they are a “model minority” and will not assert themselves for fear of being excluded in American society.  As a result, Americans believe they can get away with producing racist garbage such as the Asian Girls music video and song with excuses that it was done with an Asian model and because they have a “cute” token Indonesian-American as a band member.

I was also told by many White, Black and Latinos that the Asian Girlz video is not a big deal because it has incoherent humour and to just “lighten up“.  At the same time, they would change their tune by complaining that the George Zimmerman acquittal is racist and unfair. Despite what some people say, Asian-Americans are expected to tolerate this kind of abuse as they are compliant model minorities while others such as Blacks or Latinos are expected to assert themselves in the face of abuse or racism.  This perception in America is simply a blatant example of double standards yet it is somehow accepted in society.

Over time, these ongoing stereotypes give the majority population the impression they can get away with casual racism against Asians and arbitrarily judge Asian-Americans on an abnormally higher standard than other ethnicities. While the racial discrimination is nowhere near the levels of Chinese exclusion and Japanese internment during the 19th and 20th centuries, Asians are still seen as perpetual foreigners or by historic stereotypes.

With all these problems surrounding Asian-Americans whether it is culture shock, discrimination or a lack of clear identity, much of the ongoing dialogue in this so-called community are ultimately tied to racism or identity issues.  This is because the core of the Asian-American experience is the ongoing frustration of not being accepted in American society regardless of how hard they try to fit in whether that involves compromising one’s original identity; jettisoning the family’s native language or culture; or screwing over fellow Asians in a misguided attempt to avoid being seen as disloyal towards America. The point is no matter how hard Asian-Americans try, they will never fit in and it is better to be happy with who they are and accept their multicultural background.

Latinos had these kinds of problems for decades and managed to gradually destroy these labels by asserting and actually retaining their dual cultures regardless of stereotypes and without generally compromising to fit in.  These problems facing Asian-Americans were faced by Latinos living in America whether they are natural citizens or immigrants and eventually became an accepted and defining part of American society.

While other Asian-Americans claim they have little to learn from the Latino experience because they also face discrimination and because Asians have a supposed advantage via the “model minority” stereotype, Latinos did change America’s perception of being perpetual foreigners to being considered an integral part of American society.  Many Latinos have been increasing their presence in media, government, and in the workplace at various levels.  They are valued due to their multicultural background, many are functionally bilingual and most of all they are free from the “bamboo ceiling” that keeps Asians from reaching management levels due to ongoing perceptions by Americans that Asians are uncreative, compliant and lack individuality, which they believe is not the case with non-Asians.

Latinos who are US citizens are able to assert themselves and become recognised for being a major economic contributor and voting group in the country.  At the same time, I do not see this kind of solidarity among Asian-Americans in the US of A since it has become too easy for US politicians whether they are Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, Racist Party or Green party to divide and conquer the Asian-American community when it comes to elections (eg Taiwanese-Americans support any politician who gives lip service to Taiwan Independence and demonising China, Vietnamese-Americans support any politician who claims to demonise Communists, Laotian-Americans support anyone who claims to care about the overseas or Hmong community, Tibetan-Americans will throw their lot with any politician ranting about evil Chinese Commies or how they love the Dalai Lama, etc).

As long as the Asian community is divided and easily fractured, they will never have a voice in the American government and society at large. Also, Latinos generally assert themselves when they are mistreated or when they receive citizenship, which is not truly the case with Asian-Americans as seen by how Levy Tran took the gig without complaining about the Asian Girlz subject matter or when Marcello Lalopua, the band’s Indonesian member, did not speak out when the racist Asian Girlz song was being produced.

Most of all, many Latinos have learned they will never fit in American society no matter how they tried ranging from passing as white or abandoning Spanish as their second or foreign language. This is why many of them maintain a working knowledge of Spanish or express pride in their multicultural background unlike many in the Asian community. I still see the heavily Americanised Asians distancing themselves from the less Americanised Asians and labelling them as FOBs, weirdos, or Unamericans or becoming ignorant of their parents’ culture.

At the same time, I’ve also seen some Asian-Americans gravitating towards other Asian cultures that seem more popular than their own home cultures such as Chinese or Filipino-Americans learning Japanese and Japanese culture to the point they know more Japanese culture and history than their own or to the point Japanese becomes their second language instead of Chinese or Tagalog. This also applies to Asian-Americans who lean towards Korean culture or try to integrate themselves into the Korean-American community when they are not and never will be Korean.

I don’t see Cuban-Americans or Chicanos trying to pass themselves off as Puerto Ricans; or Colombians knowing more about Mexican culture and history than their own. I also don’t see many Latinos railing against other Latinos who recently moved into the US of A as FOBS or outsiders.

This is why it is would be better to look at how the Latino community went from being seen as perpetual foreigners to being considered part of America rather than dwelling on Asian-American frustration in a cultural bubble. It’s time Asians in the US learn from them and their struggles and victories to benefit the Asian-American community and to stop dwelling on these issues in a bubble.

The Publicis Omnicom Groupe Merger is Great for Advertising!

So this weekend in the ‪#‎adlife‬, Omnicom and Publicis Groupe announced they will merge into a creatively named holding company called Publicis Omnicom Groupe. What this means is that they will become the largest advertising holding company eclipsing WPP and leaving IPG and Havas behind.

From the company’s point of view, this will be a win-win with their increase in overall market share, synergies between formerly competing shops/agencies, and increased efficiencies. In other words, this will suck for the average ad professional since there will just be an illusion of choice when switching shops, possible redundancies due to consolidation, and aggressive cost-cutting in reduced healthcare and 401k benefits. Regardless, this will be great because it will increase overall ROI for shareholders, result in an increase in freelancers from all the project layoffs, and lower starting salaries due to the glut in freelancers and reduced costs.

On the flipside, this will be a boon for indie shops since they have a chance to steal some business away from the corporate agencies. With the merger, there are now clearer conflicts of interests and less stability for the ad professional, something indie shops could take care if they make the right decisions.

This will also be great for the other holding companies due to the expected increase in freelancers and available talent. With the increase in freelancers due to resignations or layoffs, this means companies can work harder to get contract work at lower rates or lower starting salaries since we all know that a glut in talent leads to lower costs. Also, this merger will get other holding companies such as IPG, Havas or even Dentsu to start thinking about merging or strategic alliances.

All this news about holding companies merging at the corporate level may seen boring and academic, but the short story is that all ad professionals need to start protecting their necks. Whether this means kissing up to the department heads or senior colleagues to get them to protect them or act as their advocates during restructuring time or simply switching jobs before things get bad at the office, everyone is on their own in light of these changes.

This means people who are out of the job will expect to be competing with more freelancers for gigs or will need to pare down their expectations for salaries or benefits. Most of all, everyone needs to get ready for shops being reshuffled, re-branded, realigned and relaunched similar to what WPP did with G2 when they merged it with related shops and relaunched it as Geometry something after severing its links with Grey.

Also, the Asian economies are going to slow down so don’t expect to find work in this side of the world because ad spend if also going down just like in North America and Europe.  Or this could all fail due to anti-trust regulations in the US and EU.

Merger Of Advertising Giants Brings Together Largest Collection Of People With No Discernible Skills

NEW YORK—In a historic announcement that analysts say marks major changes for the advertising industry, senior leadership at Omnicom Group, Inc. and Publicis Groupe SA outlined plans on Sunday to merge the advertising giants into one firm, bringing together the largest collection of people with no discernible skills whatsoever. “With thousands of employees and billions of dollars of assets between them, the consolidation of Omnicom and Publicis will create an intimidating workforce of 135,000 utterly talentless men and women who are not marketable in any industry other than their own and whose jobs add zero value to society at large,” market analyst Mark Goodnough said of the planned $35 billion merger, adding that not a single person involved in the merger has ever made anything with his hands, knows anything about information technology, or is capable of doing quality writing or research. “These two ad behemoths will have the industry’s largest and most formidable talent pool of people called ‘creatives’ who have never created a single thing in their lives and whose only apparent ability is to trick other people.” At press time, over $500 billion was spent on advertising last year.

On Obama vs Obama – The First American Presidential Debate

All this debate hoopla between Willard “Mitt aka Obama 2.0″ Romney and Barack “Socialist Kenyan Muslim” Obama has really gotten out of hand. Sure, I enjoyed the memes about angry Big Birds, the Jim Lehrer incompetence rants, and the fact everyone was getting so worked up on Obama 2.0 supposedly beating Prez Obama to a pulp in last night’s debate.

But to be honest, I was more excited that the New York Yankees are going to the World Series again and how Ben Bernanke‘s QE3+ is causing inflation in Hong Kong. Since QE3+ was announced with the intention of propping up the stagnant American economy until unemployment drops to 5.5% (ROFL), inflation in Hong Kong has increased around 5-10% and the real estate bubble has gotten to the point where the government is getting involved to deflate it. Also, the price of food has increased and the HKD is going to lose more value against the Renminbi.

Note to self: begin splitting half of my HKD holdings in the bank into RMB to hedge against more damage from QE3+.

For all the theatrics and political WWF-style wrestling in the debate, neither Romney nor Obama really said anything substantial. Obama was just being passive as usual while Romney just pulled numbers out of nowhere and made them real with his confidence and photogenic smile. And yes, we now know Romney is a capable multitasker because he was able to both moderate the debate and hand Obama his ass at the same time.

I can say all these things while others are getting worked up over comments on their debate posts to the point of deleting either the comments, posts or even dropping a contact or two because I am not going to vote in November. Yes, I am not going to vote. No absentee ballots, no online voting and no write-ins for you-know-who and that Johnson fellow. Full disclosure, I voted for Obama in 2008 and it didn’t seem to pay off in any way so I am not voting for him or his Obama 2.0 (Romney) tool presented by the GOP. Even if I voted, my vote would be just filtered down to a handful of electoral votes that would go to Obama and my supposed absentee ballot will take its sweet time to pass customs to be added to the totals.

So no, I am not going to vote on November 6th. Conversely, I have no plans to play Halo4 that day either. I am just going to go to work, focus on the work, attend a few client meetings, have lunch with colleagues, and then head home to exercise and read a William Gibson novel or even one from Phillip K. Dick. Not voting on election day by choice will be one of the most American things I will do since becoming a naturalised citizen of the United States of America.

Thank you and I love Big Bird too.

Hong Kong Healthcare vs. American Healthcare

Hong Kong Healthcare vs. American Healthcare

Earlier this week I caught the flu as a result of being exposed to the typhoon and from heavy use of air conditioners. The symptoms of the flu were different from the typical flu because although I didn’t get the fever, I was having a bad case of an infected throat, coughing, stuffy nose, and a stomach virus. The stomach virus didn’t come out until after I had a traditional Chinese dinner at the grim and gritty part of Kowloon.

When the symptoms started appearing, I was hesitant to go to a nearby clinic since I was uninsured. Instead I went to buy a bottle of Methodex cough syrup and drank hot water in the hopes this would stop the cough. After 2 days, I started getting feverish and decided to go to the local clinic after insistence from my relative. I honestly did not want to go for fear of being price gouged for just a few minutes of meeting with the doctor and for the fear of having to pay a great deal for the prescription medicines.

When I went to see the doctor at the clinic, he was able to diagnose my flu and proceeded to give me a list of medication to fight it. The final bill for the visit was at $240HKD, which is roughly $31USD, and the fee included the prescription medicine. If I had local health insurance in HK, the entire doctor’s fee would be fully covered. It was shocking that I only had to pay around $31 just for a doctor’s visit and prescription medication despite being uninsured. If this was America, I would have to pay around $20 just for the co-pay and then more funds to get the prescription medicine. Otherwise, I would be paying somewhere close to the $100s if I was uninsured.

One more thing to note is that in Hong Kong, the doctors and pharmacists only give the amount of medication prescribed by the doctor. For example, if the doctor only prescribed 3 days’ worth of medicine, the pharmacist would only give 3 days’ worth of medication with the assumption the patient would use all of it within that time. This is not only a way to prevent medication from being wasted but a great way to control costs of prescription medication. In America, doctors would simply prescribe the medicine and the pharmacist would give you the entire package with the assumption the patient would simply stopped using it when all symptoms disappear. The problem with this approach is that the patient is buying unnecessary amounts of medicine and is taking on extra costs instead of just getting exactly what he or she needs per the doctor’s prescription.

Later that week, I started getting abdominal pains and had to go to the hospital to see a doctor. When I arrived, the doctor took the time to diagnose me after waiting for at least an hour, then got the nurse to inject me with anti-viral medication and gave me prescribed medication to fight the stomach virus and pains. At the end of the hospital visit, my bill came out to $580HKD or $$75 for the doctor’s consultation, anti-viral injection and prescription medicine. Also, if I was insured, the majority of this fee would be covered by the health provider with no co-pay. However, if this happened in America, I would be stuck with at least $580USD in doctor’s fees and get hounded by the hospital to pay off the fees as soon as possible. Also, keep in mind that I went to a private hospital and I learned that the government hospitals charge no more than $50HKD for treatment despite longer wait times.

So I really am confused by Americans who keep claiming that US healthcare is the “best in the world”, when it simply isn’t true. Whether the healthcare system is managed by the government, such as in Canada or France; or it has a two-tier system with a variety of options such as Hong Kong, these arrangement seem to be far more efficient than what we now have in America. Despite all the sensationalised nonsense from American media about the extremes of state-controlled healthcare or fully private healthcare, people in those places are overall content with their system compared to those in the USA.

I don’t think forcing American taxpayers to pay more taxes for being uninsured and making it mandatory to buy healthcare is the best option. It’s really clear that US healthcare is broken with their medical fees and prescription fees that are nowhere near the real market value of these goods and services. Most of all, it is simply arrogant to believe that Americans do not need to learn how the world implements their healthcare system to actually improve American healthcare on the basis of the big lie that “America is the greatest [insert noun here] in the world”.

Why I support Ron Paul

Last night I attended the Ron Paul Webster Hall grassroots rally as both an attendee and as a volunteer for the NYC Liberty HQ grassroots organisation. There was some issues leading the event, such as Pras being delayed and the last-minute additions of speakers, but overall it went will with a final count is over 1800+ in the audience and reasonable coverage from the national media outlets.

It was not always like this. Back in college, I was passionately against George W. Bush, his collaborators and his War of Terror. The people I met who mindlessly supported Bush did so with the assumption that he could do the following: protect Americans from a terrorist attack, get revenge on so-called “dirty Jesus-hating Muslims” for 9/11, stop Sharia Law from subverting Western Civilisation or because the liberals were pro-Al-Qaeda. The war to supposedly liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqis peace of mind resulted in that country being divided among religious sects, and culture along with reducing the country into a pro-Iranian proxy state.

In 2004, I supported John Kerry with the hope that he would put a stop to all the excesses of the Bush administration that took hold after 9/11 and went to new heights during the invasion of Iraq. Sadly, the majority of Americans backed Bush because they supported his new war against gay marriage, and were still out for revenge over 9/11 despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. It was after the elections I lost faith in Americans, believing them to have a hard-on for simple answers to complicated issues and will simply throw away their vote to anyone who says what they want to hear whether it is a lie or fabrication. It did not even help when many Republicans tolerated voter fraud simply for the sake of keeping their “Patriot” as President.

Bush’s 2004 election by the people was simply depressing. It was as if the entire country had decided to stop thinking and voted out of misguided fears and faith in a backwards and corrupt administration. I once said to a group of my classmates that Bush’s election was going to “Bring the country down to hell” and I even mentioned voting for Hilary in 2008 since I had lost that much faith in America at that time. This questionable election by questionable voters in an already rough period of my college life just made matters worse.

2007 came and I was glad that the bastard George W. Bush was going to leave power after seeding America’s decline during his years in power. I didn’t watch any of the early debates but I kept hearing on the news that the frontrunners for both the GOP and Democrats was going to be Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton months before the primary campaigns started. I did not expect much from Republicans at the time so I automatically assumed Giuliani was going to be their nominee while the Democrats would just pick Hillary out of recognition. There was some guy named Barack Obama that seemed intelligent and progressive yet he lacked the influence a Clinton had. In addition, my boss at the time felt that Obama had no chance despite being well spoken and intelligent and implied it was because Americans were incapable of having a “Black President”. Ironically, I had similar thoughts since my expectation for Americans was so low that I did not think they were capable of having an ethnic minority for a President.

Then at one of the debates, a Congressman named Ron Paul got into a heated exchange with “frontrunner” Rudy Giuliani over the root causes of 9/11 and foreign policy. I was shocked to see someone in the Republican Party who actually used reason, persuasion, and logic to explain his views and make a sincere effort to educate the audience and viewers. This was something that was out of the ordinary in an American Presidential debate that usually consists of oversimplified talking points or rants about Islamofascism and 9/11. Many others felt the same way and started their own Ron Paul grassroots campaigns despite having little to no experience in the political process. I was able to find my way to a few of these events in New York City and even voted for the first time in Super Tuesday.

Ron Paul would eventually dropout after the frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, resulting in the nominee being John McCain who won because he was unscathed by his rivals. It was over for the GOP Primary but at the same time, Barack Obama somehow beat Hillary Clinton to secure the nomination as the Democratic Presidential Candidate. To be honest, I really did not follow the Democratic Primaries since I was under the assumption it was going to be Hillary like most Americans and the big media. Because Ron Paul was knocked out, I wanted to punish the GOP for being idiots and for allowing someone like Bush to reduce the country into a cesspool. This was why I voted for Barack Obama like most people who wanted something radically different, make history, and punish the GOP for being stupid.

With a leap of faith, Barack Obama because our next President and a symbol of change that so many needed after nearly 8 years of misrule by George W. Bush. Obama was so popular with the world that the Nobel Prize Committee decided to pass Liu Xiaobo over to prematurely give Obama a Nobel Peace Prize despite being just less than a month on the job. The first 100 days were exciting seeing Obama declare closing the prisons at Guantanamo Bay, getting a stimulus package passed to insulate the American-engineered Global Recession, and wind down the War of Terror.

After those 100 days, I realised nothing was getting better in my life and that very little was actually done despite all the nice speeches Obama made. Some of his fans were rabid fanboys claiming Obama is our generation’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt and that he is the culmination of years of progressive development. I became increasingly disillusioned, realising he was slow to withdraw from Iraq while at the same time escalating the conflict in Afghanistan. I was angry when Obama decided to expand Bush’s TARP bailout programme to mismanaged car companies such as GM and Chrysler. Most of all, what really lost my support was Obama’s need to keep making feel good speeches and allowing his advisers and Congressional counterparts to regularly undermine him instead of asserting himself.

Obama is a very weak President who is so afraid to take bold steps that he prefers to do next to nothing instead of offending anyone. He handpicked advisers that either defied his orders or undermined him, which resulted in administrative deadlock while the entire country continued to suffer. He decided to delegate his defining healthcare reform to Congress instead of leading its development as leader of his party and when he had a majority in Congress. This lack of leadership brought Americans a healthcare reform package resembling Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare reform with its flawed individual mandates and more regulations that increased healthcare costs.

When I keep bringing up all these problems that happened under Obama’s watch, his fans either downplay it or make personal attacks on me. In one instance when I criticised the GM/Chrysler bailout as a plan that rewarded bad management and as a loss for taxpayers, one fan kept making personal attacks claiming that I make a meager income and that I am a disgrace to my university instead of explaining why the bailout was a good plan other than because it was “Obama’s idea”, when that’s not even true. Another fan told me that economics was not a big deal since Obama still has the support of other world leaders and “isn’t Bush” despite ongoing criticisms that the stimulus was misspent or was adding to an already bloated national debt.

Other issues I had with Obama involved his need to keep Guantanamo Bay’s prisons in service, his decision to persecute Wikileaks despite their efforts to expose America’s questionable past and present actions, Obama’s move to renew the PATRIOT ACT, waging war in Libya with NATO assets despite not getting approval from Congress, and his inability to work with Congress on fiscal policy, which resulted in America’s credit downgrade. Although Obama did make some progress in appointing two female minorities into the Supreme Court, improving foreign relations, and “getting” Bin Laden, he failed in translating these achievements into tangible benefits for Americans. In addition, it seemed like despite these missteps, Obama and his fans did not seem to care because they expect everyone to reelect him with the impression that the GOP is incapable of nominating someone who would take him on.

This was true until Gary Johnson first announced his 2012 campaign and later when Ron Paul announced he was also running. I once told a friend that I felt I did not do enough in the 2008 election and that I would be actively engaged in the 2012 election if Ron Paul decided to run again since I was disillusioned with Obama’s lip service to “Hope & Change”. In addition, I told him that I would regret it if I just sat around and allowed the primary elections to result with a lying, shifty personality running against an already disappointing President. With Paul’s official announcement, I began working with the local grassroots movement and taking a role contributing in social media outreach in the NY state and NYC metro area.

I know there are many out there who think the other Republicans candidates are better than Ron Paul is and this is because they believe either the other candidates are a guarantee in helping Obama be reelected or they have serious misconceptions about Dr. Ron Paul. This is something I plan to discuss in a later post.

Not about 9/11

Today is the 10th Anniversary of September 11 in America, and rapper Ludacris’ birthday.  In Chile, it was the day when Allende was overthrown and replaced by Augusto Pinochet with help from the CIA.  Today is another day where they opened the 9/11 Memorial to honour the victims of that day and to show off the in-progress “Freedom Tower”, which in all honestly pales compared to the original towers.  In about 4 years or 2015, the new World Trade Center 1 building or “Freedom Tower” will be ready for commercial use and for tourists.  Seriously, the only people I see around Lower Manhattan are mostly tourists, regularly visiting the mass grave site and the death of the America many of them either hardly cared for or took for granted.

Since that fateful day in 2001, America has exploited this human tragedy to engage in a modern-day crusade against Arabs, to grab more power from the people in the name of security, and to promote a culture of short-term thinking. The War of Terror as it is known in the rest of the world, has resulted in a weak Iraq that is now run by an Iranian puppet, an Afghanistan that is now our version of the Soviet occupation of the country, and it has encouraged average Arab citizens in the region to take matters into their own hands after realising that America does not care for them despite paying lip service over democratic rights.  Since 9/11, the government has now taken more control over the people with the implementation of the PATRIOT ACT that undermines due process, healthcare reform that only benefits the healthcare providers, and blanket bailouts that reward businesses for bad behaviour.  Even worse, is the growing  trend of Americans simply living in the present with the assumption that there is no bright future, which results in actions that are rooted in a narrow worldview.

The one question that we all need to ask is: “Are we better off than we were 10 years ago”? In my view, despite all the advances in electronics, web 2.0, and the fact an ethnic minority can become President in America, overall things are worse than they are a decade ago.  The country called the United States of America is now reaching a breaking point with a government based on “checks and balances” stonewalling the other for fickle votes, an economy that is now becoming increasingly locked into a Lost Decade, and a culture that celebrates people not based on their merits but on their abilities to be vulgar on camera.

All of this hoopla over the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 has reached the point where I stopped caring about it. Yes, 9/11 was a gross human tragedy that was the result of bureaucratic incompetence from both the Federal government and the Bush Administration.  Yes, many people who died that day did not deserve to be attacked by a bunch of confused, ignorant and weak-minded men with ties to an anti-American Saudi named Osama Bin Laden.  Yes, America did have a right to go into Afghanistan to get Al-Qaida and Bin Laden after what had happened in 9/11.  However, all of this was undermined by Bush’s need to exploit the tragedy to invade Iraq for its resources and its strategic location in the Middle East and Bush’s handling of the tragedy, in addition to invading Iraq, only created more distrust towards America and its government.

The oversimplified explanation that 9/11 happened because “Muslims hated America’s Freedoms” was a great answer for many Americans but it fueled distrust and anger from others.  This answer and the general handling of the tragedy was why a “9/11 Truth” movement emerged in response to anger at Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the distrust in government.  Most of these Truthers only believe the conspiracy because they are ignorant of the real science behind the attacks while some are in the movement to protest the Bush Administration or use it to find answers about the attacks on their own terms.  These people are not crazy, loony, or outcasts as the American media portrays them but rather people who are confused, angry, and distrustful of the government and their exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy for political and economic gains.  I think the 9/11 attacks occurred as they were presented but there was most likely a cover-up to mask any instances of incompetence from the Bush Administration in preventing or reducing the real attacks themselves.

The death of Osama Bin Laden should have brought closure to the tragedy on 9/11 but it was used as a cheap excuse to celebrate in the midst of an American decline.  Also, as a result of the poor handling of the Bin Laden Kill Mission by the Obama Administration, people now have started questioning the exact circumstances of the mission, and whether there was any real confirmation of his death.  None of this was made any better by the media’s acceptance of the official account at face value instead of investigating or asking tough questions of what really happened.  The media is also at fault for turning today’s 10-year anniversary into a celebration of sorts when it is nothing but a gross American tragedy that brought the country in the wrong direction at the cost of its people.

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