Category Archives: Personal

Information of a personal nature.

Irma is nearly here!

We’re getting ready for some rain and wind. I-75 north might as well be a parking lot. And you guys north of here are going to get hammered as well. Run like hell if you can. And good luck.

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The New World Order Is Leaving the U.S. Behind

Friday = Random Thoughts

Some of my Facebook friends may not realize I too want Donald Trump to be successful as President. Yes, I disagree with many of his positions on issues, but that alone isn’t enough for me to oppose him at every turn.

For many years I played golf regularly with a group of perhaps 15 like minded men. We came from all kinds of backgrounds, and enjoyed the company of others, regardless of our relative skill levels at golf. If a new club member asked to join us one Saturday, we would willingly accept his presence among us. If, however, after playing 18 holes it became apparent this person was bellicose, grandstanding, loud, presumptuous and not a team player, he would not be invited back.

My reasons for opposition to his politics are not that I simply don’t like him, as suggested by a friend. Like it or not, he is the President, but I would be opposed because I find him unfit for the office. The skill set necessary to be the CEO of the world’s dominant democracy is beyond the skill set required for a reality TV show, or even building a global real estate empire on the backs of little people.

My reasons for opposition are his lack of intellectual curiosity, his lack of discipline, his disregard for what I think of as normal social norms, be they respect for women, respect for those who are physically handicapped, respect for anyone whose values do not exactly match his own.

Increasingly, his apparent inability to discipline himself and project a coherent message in support of what are presumably his core values, leaves us with a measure of uncertainty. Uncertainty over time carries with it the very real potential to cause us irreparable harm. Nature abhors a vacuum, and he is creating one that will be filled. When that happens, the outcome could be disastrous. So far he doesn’t seem to care as he insists on digging the hole ever deeper.

He lacks the skill set necessary to effectively lead ALL of us. That’s why I don’t like him.

James Gibney / Aug 11, 2017

American allies have decided Trump is simply not someone they can do business with.

Of all the global consequences of President Donald Trump’s first half-year, surely one of the most surprising is the rise in multilateral diplomacy.

After all, this is the guy who came into office pledging to put America First. He downgraded the security guarantees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to a definite maybe — and only if its members ponied up more defense dollars. The Iran nuclear pact was “the worst deal ever,” and the Paris accord on climate change wasn’t much better. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead on arrival. Japan and South Korea’s free-riding days were over. The North American Free Trade Agreement was toast. The U.S. would ignore the rules of the World Trade Organization. And from its proposed cuts in foreign aid and United Nations peacekeeping to the empty offices and embassies of the State Department, the Trump administration has made clear how little it thinks of soft power and diplomacy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the disintegration of the international liberal order. It’s started to reconstitute itself — only not with the U.S. at its center.

Unfortunately, that has less to do with a realization among our allies and partners that the burden must be more equitably shared than with the increasing recognition that Trump is not, as some U.S. diplomats liked to say about third world dictators during the Cold War, “someone we can do business with.”

That sentiment found its most trenchant expression in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration, following Trump’s May trip to Europe, that the continent “must really take our fate into our own hands.” The net result of the Trump administration’s antipathy to free trade and cooperation on climate change and refugee resettlement was a united front against the U.S. at both the Group of Seven and Group of 20 meetings.

Jilted by the U.S., the other 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are moving ahead on their own. Canada and Mexico are working together more closely than ever to save Nafta. Asian nations are hedging their bets between the U.S. and China. Trump’s tough talk on Mexico has prompted it to reach out to its hemispheric rival Brazil on defense cooperation.

Serious differences among allies are nothing new. During the Ronald Reagan administration, for instance, hardline U.S. attitudes toward a planned gas pipeline from the Soviet Union to Europe caused a transatlantic breach that strained even the “special relationship” with the U.K. And the call for fairer burden-sharing by American treaty allies — a.k.a. the free riders — is also as old as the alliances themselves, even if Trump turned the volume up to 11.

Yet as destabilizing as Trump’s transactional mindset — we’ll protect you if you pay us — has been, his temperament has been even more destructive. In Latin America, his brash bullying plays to the worst caricature of Yanqui behavior. No wonder the foreign ministers of 12 nations in the Americas who pledged this week in Peru not to recognize Venezuela’s new constituent assembly — a remarkable regional diplomatic achievement — chose to keep the U.S. mostly out of it.

Then there is Trump’s uncoordinated impulsiveness. His “fire and fury” outburst toward North Korea upended earlier efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. was not about to put them in danger. Tillerson has seen Trump repeatedly sandbag his efforts to broker a rapprochement among the U.S.’s fractious Gulf allies. And transcripts of Trump’s phone conversations with Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull and Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto suggest that both men could be forgiven for thinking they were dealing with Homer Simpson, not the Leader of the Free World.

Every hegemon has a sell-by date, and the U.S. is no exception. Even during the halcyon days of the 1990s — remember when the U.S. was being called a “hyperpower”? — President Bill Clinton’s administration was focused on creating institutions and a rules-based international order that it hoped would constrain China’s economic and strategic rise and extend the half-life of U.S. supremacy. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out so well (see: “deplorables”).

In that and other respects, the willingness of other democracies to step up on the world’s non-zero-sum challenges is welcome. Moreover, whether in matters of security or trade, Trump’s strong preference for bilateral deals that allow the U.S. to make the most of its leverage could yield clear benefits. If he and Chinese President Xi Jinping achieve a compact that balances their respective interests, so much the better. That approach could apply to U.S. relations with Japan, the U.K., and other U.S. allies and partners. Strong bilateral agreements, after all, can provide a basis for stronger multilateral ones in years to come.

But even bilateral agreements require a degree of discipline and coordination that Trump has yet to display. For now, Trump’s reflexive trashing of President Barack Obama’s policy choices without offering any coherent alternatives has left the U.S. on awkward ground. It’s one thing for other countries to fill a diplomatic vacuum created by a gradual U.S. withdrawal; it’s another for them to do so in the wake of a scorched-earth retreat. If and when the U.S. recovers its strategic senses, it might find itself reduced to occupying a much less attractive seat at the multilateral table.

Trump Can’t Reverse the Decline of White Christian America

My Comments: Remember the context. Racial tension has been a hallmark of our society since the beginning. Think pilgrims vs indigenous peoples in the 1620’s. Think black vs white in the 1860’s.

Right now the tension is elevated, and coupled with Trump’s inability or unwillingness to quash the tension, overreaction is going to surface. Reaction, within limits, will allow the ideology behind the tension to fade or lose. Otherwise the message becomes all about the confrontation rather than the underlying false premises of bigotry, racism, religion and political ideology.

Robert P. Jones \ Jul 4, 2017

Two-thirds of those who voted for the president felt his election was the “last chance to stop America’s decline.” But his victory won’t arrest the cultural and demographic trends they opposed.

Down the home stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s most consistent talking points was a claim that America’s changing demographics and culture had brought the country to a precipice. He repeatedly cast himself as the last chance for Republicans and conservative white Christians to step back from the cliff, to preserve their power and way of life. In an interview on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in early September, Trump put the choice starkly for the channel’s conservative Christian viewers: “If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure.” Asked to elaborate, Trump continued, “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote, and once that all happens you can forget it.”

Michele Bachmann, a member of Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, echoed these same sentiments in a speech at the Values Voters Summit, an annual meeting attended largely by conservative white Christians. That same week, she declared in an interview with CBN: “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives [sic] in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” Post-election polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which I lead, and The Atlantic showed that this appeal found its mark among conservative voters. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Trump voters, compared to only 22 percent of Clinton voters, agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.”

Does Trump’s victory, then, represent the resurrection of White Christian America? The consequences of the 2016 elections are indeed sweeping. Republicans entered 2017 with control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider an Obama appointee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in early 2016, Trump was able to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice right out of the gate. Trump’s cabinet and advisors consist largely of defenders of either Wall Street or White Christian America.

The evidence, however, suggests that Trump’s unlikely victory is better understood as the death rattle of White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—rather than as its resuscitation. Despite the election’s immediate and dramatic consequences, it’s important not to over-interpret Trump’s win, which was extraordinarily close. Out of more than 136 million votes cast, Trump’s victory in the Electoral College came down to a razor-thin edge of only 77,744 votes across three states: Pennsylvania (44,292 votes), Wisconsin (22,748 votes), and Michigan (10,704 votes). These votes represent a Trump margin of 0.7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 0.7 percentage points in Wisconsin, and 0.2 percentage points in Michigan. If Clinton had won these states, she would now be president. And of course Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, receiving 48.2 percent of all votes compared to Trump’s 46.1 percent. The real story of 2016 is that there was just enough movement in just the right places, just enough increased turnout from just the right groups, to get Trump the electoral votes he needed to win.

Trump’s intense appeal to 2016 as the “last chance” election seems to have spurred conservative white Christian voters to turn out to vote at particularly high rates. Two election cycles ago in 2008, white evangelicals represented 21 percent of the general population but, thanks to their higher turnout relative to other voters, comprised 26 percent of actual voters. In 2016, even as their proportion of the population fell to 17 percent, white evangelicals continued to represent 26 percent of voters. In other words, white evangelicals went from being overrepresented by five percentage points at the ballot box in 2008 to being overrepresented by nine percentage points in 2016. This is an impressive feat to be sure, but one less and less likely to be replicated as their decline in the general population continues.

Updating two trends with 2015-2016 data also confirms that the overall patterns of demographic and cultural change are continuing. The chart below plots two trend lines that capture key measures of change: the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Christians in the country and the percentage of Americans who support same-sex marriage. The percentage of white Christians in the country fell from 54 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014. That percentage has fallen again in each subsequent year, to 45 percent in 2015 and to 43 percent in 2016. Similarly, the percentage of Americans who supported same-sex marriage rose from 40 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2014. That number stayed relatively stable (53 percent) in 2015—the year the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states—but jumped to 58 percent in 2016.

Despite the outcome of the 2016 elections, the key long-term trends indicate White Christian America’s decline is continuing unabated. Over the last eight years, the percentage of Americans who identify as white and Christian fell 11 percentage points, and support for same-sex marriage jumped 18 percentage points. In a New York Times op-ed shortly after the election, I summarized the results of the election this way: “The waning numbers of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of White Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light.”

One of the most perplexing features of the 2016 election was the high level of support Donald Trump received from white evangelical Protestants. How did a group that once proudly identified itself as “values voters” come to support a candidate who had been married three times, cursed from the campaign stump, owned casinos, appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine, and most remarkably, was caught on tape bragging in the most graphic terms about habitually grabbing women’s genitals without their permission? White evangelical voters’ attraction to Trump was even more mysterious because the early GOP presidential field offered candidates with strong evangelical credentials, such as Ted Cruz, a longtime Southern Baptist whose father was a Baptist minister, and Marco Rubio, a conservative Catholic who could talk with ease and familiarity about his own personal relationship with Jesus.

The shotgun wedding between Trump and white evangelicals was not without conflict and objections. It set off some high drama between Trump suitors, such as Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University and Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and #NeverTrump evangelical leaders such as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Falwell invited him to speak at Liberty University, where he serves as president. In his introduction, Falwell told the gathered students, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.” And a week later, he officially endorsed Trump for president. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the influential First Baptist Church in Dallas and a frequent commentator on Fox News, also threw his support behind Trump early in the campaign but took a decidedly different approach. Jeffress explicitly argued that a president’s faith is “not the only consideration, and sometimes it’s not the most important consideration.” Citing grave threats to America, particularly from “radical Islamic terrorism,” Jeffress’ support of Trump for president was straightforward realpolitik: “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.” Moore, by contrast, remained a steadfast Trump opponent throughout the campaign. He was aghast at the high-level embrace of Trump by white evangelical leaders and strongly expressed his incredulity that they “have tossed aside everything that they previously said they believed in order to embrace and to support the Trump candidacy.”

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered.

In the end, however, Falwell and Jeffress had a better feel for the people in the pews. Trump received unwavering support from white evangelicals from the beginning of the primaries through Election Day. As I noted at the beginning of the primary season, the first evidence that Trump was rewriting the Republican playbook was his victory in the South Carolina GOP primary, the first southern primary and one in which more than two-thirds of the voters were white evangelicals. The Cruz campaign had considered Super Tuesday’s South-heavy lineup to be its firewall against early Trump momentum. But when the returns came in, Cruz had won only his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, while Trump had swept the southern states, taking Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. Trump ultimately secured the GOP nomination, not over white evangelical voters’ objections, but because of their support. And on Election Day, white evangelicals set a new high water mark in their support for a Republican presidential candidate, backing Trump at a slightly higher level than even President George W. Bush in 2004 (81 percent vs. 78 percent).

Trump’s campaign—with its sweeping promise to “make American great again”—triumphed by converting self-described “values voters” into what I’ve called “nostalgia voters.” Trump’s promise to restore a mythical past golden age—where factory jobs paid the bills and white Protestant churches were the dominant cultural hubs—powerfully tapped evangelical anxieties about an uncertain future.

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered. The election, more than in any in recent memory, came down to two vividly contrasting views of America. Donald Trump’s campaign painted a bleak portrait of America’s present, set against a bright, if monochromatic, vision of 1950s America restored. Hillary Clinton’ campaign, by contrast, sought to replace the first African American president with the first female president and embraced the multicultural future of 2050, the year the Census Bureau originally projected the United States would become a majority nonwhite nation. “Make American Great Again” and “Stronger Together,” the two campaigns’ competing slogans, became proxies for an epic battle over the changing face of America.

The gravitational pull of nostalgia among white evangelicals was evident across a wide range of public opinion polling questions. Just a few weeks before the 2016 election, 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants said the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values. Nearly as many favored building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico (64 percent) and temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. (62 percent). And 63 percent believed that today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. White evangelicals also stood out on broad questions about cultural change. While Americans overall were nearly evenly divided on whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51 percent) or better (48 percent) since the 1950s, white evangelical Protestants were likelier than any other demographic group to say things have changed for the worse since the 1950s (74 percent).

It is perhaps an open question whether Trump’s candidacy represents a true change in evangelicals’ DNA or whether it simply revealed previously hidden traits, but the shift from values to nostalgia voter has undoubtedly transformed their political ethics. The clearest example of evangelical ethics bending to fit the Trump presidency is white evangelicals’ abandonment of their conviction that personal character matters for elected officials. In 2011 and again just ahead of the 2016 election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life. In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dike between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.

Fears about the present and a desire for a lost past, bound together with partisan attachments, ultimately overwhelmed values voters’ convictions. Rather than standing on principle and letting the chips fall where they may, white evangelicals fully embraced a consequentialist ethics that works backward from predetermined political ends, bending or even discarding core principles as needed to achieve a predetermined outcome. When it came to the 2016 election, the ends were deemed so necessary they justified the means. As he saw the polls trending for Trump in the last days before the election, in no small part because of the support of white evangelicals, Russell Moore was blunt, lamenting that Trump-supporting evangelicals had simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”

White evangelicals have entered a grand bargain with the self-described master dealmaker, with high hopes that this alliance will turn back the clock. And Donald Trump’s installation as the 45th president of the United States may in fact temporarily prop up, by pure exertions of political and legal power, what white Christian Americans perceive they have lost. But these short-term victories will come at an exorbitant price. Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power. Twenty years from now, there is little chance that 2016 will be celebrated as the revival of White Christian America, no matter how many Christian right leaders are installed in positions of power over the next four years. Rather, this election will mostly likely be remembered as the one in which white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in a gambit to resurrect their past.

Meanwhile, the major trends transforming the country continue. If anything, evangelicals’ deal with Trump may accelerate the very changes it was designed to arrest, as a growing number of non-white and non-Christian Americans are repulsed by the increasingly nativist, tribal tenor of both conservative white Christianity and conservative white politics. At the end of the day, white evangelicals’ grand bargain with Trump will be unable to hold back the sheer weight of cultural change, and their descendants will be left with the only real move possible: acceptance.

This article has been excerpted from the new Afterword in the paperback version of Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.

Russian Oligarchs May Have Used Donald Trump To Launder Money

My Comments: Every two years, I’m required to complete an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) overview and exam. At the local level, it’s mostly about drug money and efforts to turn illegal money into legal money with insurance and investment products.

The AML effort has the effect of reminding us about behaviors, questions, circumstances, patterns, etc. that are consistent with those used by people who were caught laundering money. If we get even a hint of AML behavior, we are required to alert a compliance officer immediately. The idea is to avoid any legal morass that is sure to follow.

What follows here is Chapter Two of a five part story that explores the long time relationship between our 45th President and Russian individuals. If you are disturbed, whether as a Republican or Democrat about the issue, then you owe it to yourself to read what is said below.

As Donald Trump entered the stage as a viable candidate for President, I was aware of relationships, comments, questions asked, financial outcomes, etc., that raised AML flags in my mind. If someone came into my office with similar circumstance, and refused to provide me with satisfactory answers to questions I posed, I would be bound to refuse any requests and report what was said, or not said.

His candidacy was for me a giant red flag. And nothing said and done so far by he and his team has caused me to change my mind.

Grag Fish \ May 30, 2017

Say you’re an oligarch in a country that loathes them but is powerless to do anything about their existence because the highest levels of government profit off their businesses, legal and not. While you might think you have it made, your position is actually quite precarious. Pull on your leash too much and start commenting on politics, and you might just find yourself in jail for tax evasion and embezzlement, or sent into exile according to the template that shut down a critical news channel first, and stealthily re-nationalized an oil empire soon after that.

You probably want to hedge your bets and find a country to which you can make a smooth exit, ideally spending a lot of time there and out of the government’s sight and mind. If things get bad, you can just pull your assets and stay abroad.

Many countries are happy to allow a wealthy foreign investor with millions in cash to set up shop permanently, as long as all that cash looks legitimate. And that condition could be a problem if you’re trying to wire it from a country under sanctions, or your income history has gaps indicating something shady went down.

Of course that’s why money laundering exists. One of the simplest ways to do it is to create a web of offshore companies strategically located in countries that don’t ask a lot of questions about where the money came from, but are just happy to take their cut. Many are the usual suspects in the Caribbean, but other favorites include the Seychelles, Cook Islands — which are now being called the Crook Islands by the natives thanks to their sudden surge in popularity as an offshore destination — and of course, Cyprus, which is heavily favored by Russians.

These offshore companies can cross borders, invest and transfer cash between each other, and after creating a frustrating enough web of transfers and exchanges, as many of them as vague and anonymous as possible mid-transit, they can invest in money-making ventures. Over time, they build small empires in their target destinations, which for Russians are often Switzerland and the UK, particularly London. But that’s fairly basic. The real pros are a lot sneakier than that, using charitable organizations and nonprofits as their identity shields.

These funds, as they’re called in Russia, are operated by LLCs that transfer assets, take out loans, and can make a single large organization doing all sorts of questionable deals and making eyebrow-raising purchases when viewed as a single entity, into a web of seemingly unrelated organizations with very different agendas. With enough records to have to sift through, they can hide their affiliations for years, often in plain sight, just because the web is too tangled to really unravel without a very good reason to spend months parsing paperwork.

Continue reading the article HERE

ACTION OR NO ACTION?

My Comments: Friends of mine are scared. I’m less so. I want President Trump to be a successful President; our future as a respected state on the global stage is important to me.

But I am less confident today than I was last January. Not because of the Russia issue, but because of his apparent lack of intellectual curiosity. His role as President dictates he move beyond his role as a reality TV host. I’m no longer sure he can or even wants to.

The media and others can be alarmist. After all, that’s how you get an audience and generate revenue. And there are apparently lots of reasons for us to be alarmed. But so much of what we read and hear is simply noise.

I also believe that we are overdue for an in-depth review of the fundamental issues and assumptions about government that go back 75 years and more. This is a healthy process that will either reaffirm the assumptions that got us where we are or cause us to make some necessary changes. I don’t fear change like many of my contemporaries.

Clearly there was and is an imbalance economically among demographic elements of our society. It’s increasingly apparent to me that income inequality is the driving force behind much of the tension in this country. Whether that gets remedied under a Trump administration remains to be seen.

What kind of society do we want going forward, and do we have the courage and conviction to make it happen? I hope we do, and I intend to do what little I can to voice my opinions.

By Zachary Karabell / Feb 12, 2017

Just weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, you would think that everything had changed. The uproar over the president’s tweets grows louder by the day, as does concern over the erratic, haphazard and aggressive stance of the White House toward critics and those with different policy views. On Sunday, White House aide Stephen Miller bragged, “We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.”

But Miller was dead wrong about this. There is a wide gap, a chasm even, between what the administration has said and what it has done. There have been 45 executive orders or presidential memoranda signed, which may seem like a lot but lags President Barack Obama’s pace. More crucially, with the notable exception of the travel ban, almost none of these orders have mandated much action or clear change of current regulations. So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.

It is the illusion of a presidency, not the real thing.

The key problem here is understanding Trump’s executive orders and presidential memoranda. Trump very quickly seized on the signing of these as media opportunities, and each new order and memo has been staged and announced as dramatic steps to alter the course of the country. Not accustomed to presidents whose words mean little when it comes to actual policy, opponents have seized on these as proof that Trump represents a malign force, while supporters have pointed to these as proof that Trump is actually fulfilling his campaign promises.

Neither is correct. The official documents have all the patina of “big deals” but which when parsed and examined turn out to be far, far less than they appear. Take the order authorizing the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The relevant section of the January 25 order read: “It is the policy of the executive branch to … secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border, monitored and supported by adequate personnel so as to prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism.” That sounds indeed like an order to fulfill a controversial campaign promise. The problem? Congress initially passed a Secure Fence Act in 2006 that mandated the construction of nearly 700 miles of fortified border. By 2011, under the Obama administration, most of that was completed, with a mix of pedestrian fencing and vehicle fortifications. Since then, there has only been minimal funding for further fortifications.

The result is that Trump issued an executive order mandating something that has in many respects already been done—with no congressional funding yet to redo the current fortified border with a larger, more expensive structure. The president does not have the budgetary discretion to build such a wall, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will authorize what promises to be a controversial and redundant project. This executive order, therefore, changes nothing, and only mandates something that has already been mandated, already been constructed and that the president lacks the spending authority to upgrade.

Then take things like the Keystone pipeline permits, the promise to deregulate and the most recently signed orders about crime. The January 24 order on infrastructure begins with a sentiment almost anyone could agree with: “Infrastructure investment strengthens our economic platform, makes America more competitive, creates millions of jobs, increases wages for American workers, and reduces the costs of goods and services for American families and consumers. Too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.” It then declares that the policy of the Executive Branch is to expedite the permitting of such projects. That was followed by two memoranda on the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines that had been denied permits during Obama’s tenure, which urges the companies to re-submit their permit applications for review.

That might seem like an order to have the pipelines built. But Keystone remains almost entirely an idea, and oil shipments and infrastructure from Canada have long since been routed elsewhere given the years and years of delay in ever authorizing it. The Dakota Access Pipeline is largely complete, with a major dispute over its passage through tribal lands, and here too, it is unlikely that a presidential memorandum has any legal bearing on how that issue is resolved given that it lies within the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers and cannot simply be countermanded by the White House.

Or take the orders of deregulation. Those were widely hailed as a rollback of Dodd-Frank, especially given that the morning that the order was issued, February 3, Trump met with bank CEOs and expressed his dislike for many of the legislation’s provisions. The actual order, however, delivers much less than it promises, merely directing the secretary of the Treasury to review existing regulations and report back on which ones might be refined to achieve better outcomes.

Or the crime orders signed on February 9, which were widely hailed as cracking down on “transnational criminal organizations” and “preventing violence against … law enforcement officers.” Nothing in the text of these orders is either objectionable or in any respect a departure from current law and policy. One order states plainly that it shall be the policy of the administration to “enforce all Federal laws in order to enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers, and thereby all Americans.” The other says that the administration will seek to use existing laws to crack down on trafficking. You would have known none of that from the headlines both supporting and denouncing the efforts. Breitbart claimed “Trump Signs Three Executive Orders to Restore Safety in America” while many took these orders as a sign that police will have new, expanded powers and protections. In truth, the orders changed the status quo not one whit.

On it goes: The recent crackdown on undocumented immigrants that followed Trump’s January 25 order on enforcement priorities may depart from Barack Obama’s post-2102 policies to de-emphasize deportation of undocumented immigrants who do not have criminal records, but it appears fully consistent with deportation actions during both Obama’s first term and during significant portions of George W. Bush’s administration. The orders on health care, on defeating ISIS, on rebuilding the armed forces—all were essentially statements of intent with no legal force and requiring no action except a mandate to relevant departments and agencies to study issues and report back.

The travel ban, of course, is different. It was an actual policy order that dramatically changed immigration and visa policies for seven Muslim-majority countries. It was swiftly rejected by the courts, however, which meant that the signature policy of the Trump administration is now not a policy at all—at least, unless and until the White House finds a different approach.

Yes, what the president says matters. Trump’s casual relationship with the truth and his carefree use of tweets set the public agenda and help determine how foreign countries relate to our government. Intent also matters, and clearly, the Trump administration is determined to do a variety of things—from border security to health care to trade to immigration—that many, many Americans find objectionable, wrong and against the best interests of the country.

And yet, words are not the same as actions. Trump can issue as many documents called executive orders and presidential memoranda as he wants. As the fate of the travel ban shows, however, that doesn’t mean that even the more meaningful ones are actionable, and the preponderance of the orders to date would in any other administration have been news releases stating broad policy goals that may or may not ever become actual policy.

But too many of us take these words as action. That confirms both the worst fears of what the Trump administration is and the greatest hopes of what Trump wants it to be: a White House that shoots first and asks question later, a White House of action and change that shakes the status quo to the core and charts a new path for America and Americans. To date, this White House has broken every convention and rule of tone and attitude, toward Washington and toward the truth. But in reality, it has done far less than most people think.

In the time ahead, as Congress turns to actual legislation and the White House presumably does normal things like propose a budget and specify its legislative ideas, there will be real actions for us to probe and debate. Distinguishing between words and action is essential: When senators say silly things about legislation, we know to separate those public statements from votes takes and laws passed. When leaders of other countries speak aggressively, we do not immediately act as if war is imminent; if that were the case, we’d have invaded Iran and North Korea years ago. Words should be taken as possible indicators of future action, but not as absolutes and not always.

Trump poses a challenge to decades of tradition and precedent. He is masterful as conflating words and actions in a way that enrages and alarms his opponents and exhilarates and excites his supporters. It’s more important than ever to distinguish what is from what isn’t. Understanding the difference between what this president says and what he does is one of the only things that will keep our public debate from plunging ever deeper into the hall of mirrors.

GOP confronts an inconvenient truth: Americans want a healthcare safety net

My Comments: Some of my friends continue to decry the notion of socialism. They seem to equate it with communism, a very different animal. It’s too bad they haven’t yet figured out that it’s not a rejection of capitalism. For me, because the word has accumulated so many negatives, not unlike the Confederate flag, I’ve searched for an alternative.

I’m a profound believer in capitalism. But I’m smart enough to know that unfettered capitalism becomes an attack on society, where the have’s get to enslave the have nots.

There are hundreds of millions of people on this planet who benefit from social order, whether it’s rules that tell us which side of the street to drive on, or taxing the population to provide national parks. Where along the lengthy path of human development over time would anti-socialist have us return in their efforts to reject the benefits of social order? And does anyone have a suggestion for what to call it?

by Noam N. Levey – July 28, 2017 – Los Angeles Times

The dramatic collapse of Senate legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act may not end the Republican dream of rolling back the 2010 healthcare law.

But it lay bare a reality that will impede any GOP effort to sustain the repeal campaign: Americans, though ambivalent about Obamacare in general, don’t want to give up the law’s landmark health protections.

“There may be a whole lot of Americans who are complaining about government, but that doesn’t mean they agree with eliminating the safety net,” said former Sen. Dave Durenberger, a Minnesota Republican and healthcare policy leader in the 1980s and ’90s. “We saw that with Social Security and Medicare in Reagan’s day. Now it is a much broader group of people who rely on those health protections.”

And as the Senate debate this week illustrated, Obamacare’s safety net — both guaranteed insurance for the sick and expanded Medicaid coverage for the poor — proved too valued to tear apart.

That means that, while attacks on Obamacare will probably continue, it’s increasingly unlikely that President Trump or GOP congressional leaders will be able to rip out the law “root and branch,” as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once promised.

The GOP’s failure to dismantle the expanded healthcare safety net also may provide an opening for Republicans and Democrats to cooperate on measures to help Americans who have struggled in recent years with rising premiums brought about, in part, by Obamacare.

“Now the real work lies before us,” March of Dimes President Stacey D. Stewart said Friday, following the defection overnight of three GOP senators who voted against a last-ditch Republican bill to begin unraveling the law.

“Our healthcare system and the laws that govern it are far from perfect, and many opportunities exist to find areas of common ground to make improvements,” Stewart said

The March of Dimes is among scores of patient advocacy organizations, hospitals, physicians’ groups and others who bitterly fought the GOP repeal push, warning of disastrous consequences for tens of millions of sick and vulnerable Americans.

This was not how Republicans had sketched out repeal.

For years, GOP politicians cast themselves as saviors, promising to deliver Americans from a law that former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, now Trump’s Housing secretary, once called the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”

Demonizing Obamacare, initially a derisive label the GOP coined for the ACA, proved good politics. Republicans scored major victories in the 2010, 2014 and 2016 elections on pledges to roll back the law.

But the successful political message — which built off deep partisan divisions — obscured much broader support for the law’s core elements.

For example, 80% of Americans in a national survey last fall reported favorable views of allowing states to expand Medicaid to cover more poor adults, and of providing aid to low- and moderate-income Americans to help them buy health coverage, two pillars of the law.

The same proportion, according to the poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, liked the law’s insurance marketplaces, which allow consumers to shop among health plans that must offer a basic set of benefits.

Nearly 70% backed the law’s coverage guarantee, which prohibits insurers from turning away people due to their medical history of preexisting conditions.

“As a law, Obamacare got caught up in the politics of the time. It became the symbol of the Obama administration,” said Mollyann Brodie, who oversees polling for the Kaiser Family Foundation. “But the policies themselves have always been quite popular, even among Republicans.”

GOP politicians didn’t have to reckon with that contradiction as they took dozens of essentially meaningless repeal votes while Obama was still in the White House to veto their bills.

That changed after the 2016 elections. No longer was repeal an abstract political slogan.

It was a concrete set of plans that cut insurance subsidies for millions of Americans, slashed hundreds of billions of dollars in federal Medicaid assistance to states and weakened coverage guarantees by allowing insurers to once again charge sick people more for coverage.

That is not what Americans wanted, said Dr. Jack Ende, president of the American College of Physicians.

“No version of legislation brought up this year would have achieved the types of reforms that Americans truly need: lower premiums and deductibles, with increased access to care,” said Ende, a University of Pennsylvania primary care doctor.

Independent analyses of the GOP repeal bills by the Congressional Budget Office and others estimated they would leave tens of millions more Americans without health coverage and drive up costs for many older and sicker consumers.

In the crosshairs were not just unemployed adults whom conservative critics derided as freeloaders, but also poor children, disabled Americans and seniors who worked all their lives but depended on Medicaid for nursing home care.

Altogether, nearly 1 in 4 Americans rely on Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program for coverage.

And as the repeal debate dragged on in Washington and in congressional districts across the country, stories of these Americans and others who rely on Obamacare’s healthcare protections brought the safety net to life.

National polls ultimately showed that fewer than 1 in 5 Americans surveyed supported the Republican repeal legislation.

By contrast, 60% of Americans in a recent Pew Research Center poll said that it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure all Americans have health coverage — the highest level in nearly a decade.

Even many Republican state leaders — including the governors of Ohio, Nevada and Arizona — balked at the congressional rush to roll back the Medicaid safety net. In a bipartisan letter to Senate leaders this week, several of these governors urged lawmakers to turn away from the repeal push.

“We ask senators to work with governors on solutions to problems we can all agree on: fixing our unstable insurance markets,” wrote the governors — five Republicans and five Democrats.

Some congressional Republicans seemed reluctant to give up the repeal campaign. “As long as there is breath in my body, I will be fighting for the working men and women of this country that are being hurt by Obamacare,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said after the vote early Friday morning.

And conservative activists continue to demand action. “In Washington, there are no permanent victories or permanent defeats,” said Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner.

The president, meanwhile, reiterated his threats to “let Obamacare implode,” as he said in a Twitter post after the early Friday vote.

The administration could potentially sabotage insurance markets across the country by refusing to enforce the current law’s requirement to buy insurance or withholding payments to health insurers that subsidize costs for very low-income consumers.

But at the Capitol, Democrats and some Republicans appear willing to begin considering legislation to protect those markets and help millions of American consumers who have seen insurance premiums rise dramatically in recent years.

“Simply letting Obamacare collapse will only cause even more pain,” warned Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Fixing the safety net represents a far better approach than a new push to tear it down, said Durenberger, the former GOP senator.

“Bipartisanship is the only option,” he said.

How Hitler Conquered Germany

My Comments: I find the parallels uncomfortable. There’s also the truism that includes the words “… are doomed to repeat the past”.

The new White House Communications Director, is, by definition, expressing the ideas of his employer. His message, to me, is very similar to those expressed by his counterparts in Germany in 1937, despite the passage of time, and presumed lessons from the past.

It is to convince us that we are doomed unless and until we eliminate some perceived threats to society. We’re not directly told what those threats actually are, but steps are being taken to remove them. The outcome could also be similar if we let it run and simply acquiesce to this intent.

There were valid reasons why the electorate in the US felt compelled to align itself with the messenger. That was also true in Germany in 1937. Today, like then, the message is designed to promote an agenda that could have dark consequences for all of us. The denial of health benefits for millions of Americans (TrumpCare), coupled with restrictions on their ability to vote (gerrymandering), leads to an outcome (dead people don’t vote) that the Koch brothers, among others, are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to advance. They’re not spending all that money out of the goodness of their hearts; there is an economic and tribal agenda that is not consistent with our Constitution and democratic principles. The phrase Make America Great Again doesn’t include ‘for whom?’.

We cannot afford to go too far down this slippery slope. Yes, explore some alternatives, but never forget the past. The outcome could be more than painful.

By Nicholas O’Shaughnessy , March 2017

Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher argued that the success of Nazi ideology can only be understood via the role of propaganda in the Third Reich. The Nazis’ modern techniques of opinion-formation in order to create a “truly religio-psychological phenomenon” made the propaganda especially powerful.

This is not to deny the role of coercion in the Nazi regime; this was a totalitarian state after all. During the ballot campaign in the spring of 1936, for instance—an “election” for the Reichstag and referendum on the Rhine remilitarization—all Germans were instructed to listen to Hitler’s speech from the Krupp arms factory at Essen. A typical press announcement of the time read: “The district party headquarters has ordered that all factory owners, department stores, offices, shops, pubs, and blocks of flats put up loudspeakers before the broadcast of the Führer’s speech so that the whole workforce and all national comrades can participate fully in the broadcast.” The near 100 percent result was of course an entirely manipulated one.

Yet while external compliance can be commanded, internal belief is an assent freely given. Joseph Goebbels, the appointed minister of propaganda of Nazi Germany, once said: “There are two ways to make a revolution. You can blast your enemy with machine guns until he acknowledges the superiority of those holding the machine guns. That is one way. Or you can transform the nation through a revolution of the spirit …”

Propaganda was the operational method of the Third Reich, the idea that projected the ideology. Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, told the Nuremberg Tribunal “that what distinguished the Third Reich from all previous dictatorships was its use of all the means of communication to sustain itself and to deprive its objects of the power of independent thought.” Hitler was a magician of illusion. The cultural historian Piers Brendon has described propaganda as the “gospel” of Nazism and notes that Goebbels “liked to say that Jesus Christ has been a master of propaganda and that the propagandist must be the man with the greatest knowledge of souls.”

Hitler enacted a theory of persuasion which he first promulgated in Mein Kampf. It is difficult to think of “great” historical leaders—dictators, war lords, kings, and their like—who theorized about the integuments of power or abstracted from this an idea of psychological process. A Caesar might write a De Bello Gallico, and though there are also various other memoirists, they offer little in the way of a theory of persuasion per se.

Hitler was different. Mein Kampf is an incontinent bulk crammed with reflections, ruminations, biographical extracts and frenzied speculations. But, within its seething mass, there is a complete manual of propaganda, one which is focused, concise, harsh and pragmatic. Hitler’s great insight, which makes him unique among historical actors, was the recognition that violence and propaganda could and should be an integrated phenomenon. War and its articulation should not be disentangled since they were interdependent. The Nazis claimed “we did not lose the war because artillery gave out but because the weapons of our minds did not fire.”

The Third Reich represents the evolution of a partnership between masses and demagogue, a co-production—for example, the invitation to believe the idea that the Jews had simply been removed to external work camps, and not murdered. What the Nazis were really saying was that their truth lay deeper than their lies and that their lies were merely a permissible methodology since the end always justified the means. In historian Aristotle Kallis’ view, the identification of propaganda with falsification is misleading: Propaganda is a form of truth “reshaped through the lens of regime intentions.” From the perspective of the Reich, the Nazis were selling German truth rather than British falsehood.

The idea of people willingly misled offends our notion of man as rational. A more accurate representation of the psychology of the Third Reich would be to conceive of a partnership in wishful thinking in which the masses were self-deluded as well as other-deluded. Persuasion in such cases offers an idea of solidarity and the target of that persuasion is more co-conspirator than victim, an invitation to share in the creation of a hyperbolic fiction. Successful persuasion in business, media, or government, does not make the error of asking for belief. It makes no pretense of objectivity. The notion of persuasion as “manipulative” evokes a passive recipient and a hypodermic or stimulus-response form; but a more sophisticated idea is that of an invocation to partnership.

Thus, the Third Reich was the emanation of a collective as well as an individual’s imagination. Submersible parts of the ideology, such as the antagonism to religion, the euthanasia campaign, the massacre of Jews, could all have been discovered by the determined enquirer. One theory advanced as an explanation of this is that of group narcissism, which is described by historian and psychologist Jay Y. Gonen as one of the most important sources of human aggression: “In a world that is seen through a narcissistic tunnel vision, only oneself or one’s group has any rights.”

The purpose of Nazi propaganda was not to brainwash ordinary Germans, and it was not intended to deceive the masses even though it did enable the movement to gain new recruits. The principal objective, according to historian Neil Gregor, was “to absorb the individual into a mass of like-minded people, and the purpose of the ‘suggestion’ was not to deceive but to articulate that which the crowd already believed.”

The essence of the Nazi propaganda method was repetition. Goebbels argued that the skill of British propagandists during the Great War resided in the fact that they used just a few powerful slogans and kept repeating them. Historian Baruch Gitlis has argued that: “Wherever the German turned, he met his most ‘dangerous enemy,’ the Jew,” and that “while he walked in the street he encountered posters and slogans against the Jews at every square, on every wall and billboard. Even graffiti greeted the German at the entrance to his dwelling: ‘Wake up Germany, Judah must rot!’”

The message penetrated the barriers of inattention through the massive insistence on its replication. Goebbels was a proponent of the “repeated exposure effect.” The mass mind was dull and sluggish, and for ideas to take root, they had to be constantly re-seeded: recognition, comprehension, retention, and conviction are different stages in the cognitive process, and repetition can facilitate them. It is important to remember, therefore, that what Nazi propaganda also offered was the dubious benefit of sensory exhaustion. The citizen was not a target to be persuaded so much as a victim to be conquered, ravished even. They wanted internal commitment, not just external compliance.

Another core part of Nazi grand theory was the dethronement of reason and the celebration of emotion. Nazism felt rather than thought, and therefore the nature of its propaganda appeal was also to feeling rather than thinking. The mobilization of emotion lay at the heart of everything the Nazis did; propaganda’s operational formula. For Goebbels, the role of the propagandist was to express in words what his audience felt in their hearts.

For this reason, propaganda had to be primitive, appealing to what Hitler described as man’s inner Schweinehund (“pig dog,” thereby a sort of deprecatory idiom for one’s inner self). Typically brutally “either- or,” the propaganda appealed to the audience’s primitive desire for simplification, thus: “There are … only two possibilities: either the victory of the Aryan side or its annihilation and the victory of the Jews.” The Nazis believed a formulaic propaganda methodology must be applied even at the cost of alienating the sophisticated. Nazi theorist and proponent of propaganda Walther Schulze-Wechsungen wrote:

“Many a one laughed at the propaganda of the NSDAP [National Socialist German Workers’ Party] in the past from a position of superiority. It is true that we had only one thing to say, and we yelled and screamed and propagandized it again and again with a stubbornness that drove the ‘wise’ to desperation. We proclaimed it with such simplicity that they thought it absurd and almost childish. They did not understand that repetition is the precursor to success and simplicity is the key to the emotional and mental world of the masses. We wanted to appeal to the intuitive world of the great masses, not the understanding of the intellectuals.”

According to Goebbels, what was distinctive about the Nazis was “the ability to see into the soul of the people and to speak the language of the man in the street.” The propagandist was an artist who “sensed the secret vibrations of the people.” What distinguished European fascism above all was its discovery of new ways, a methodology, of speaking to the working class. The fascists were not ashamed of mass media and marketing, understood the cultures of consumerism, and recognized the role these now played in the lives of the masses; media was a new language with which the masses were now familiar, including its styles, forms, and assumptions. Fascists were at ease in this exciting new world and recognized that it could be exploited for political purposes, both as a source of methods and as a new kind of culture with a different set of governing assumptions.

The propagandists did not have it all their own way and we are much mistaken if we imagine Nazi Germany to have been a nation only of fanatics. There were the convinced, the semi-convinced, and the doubters; one could in fact have been in all three categories through the lifetime of the Reich. The Nazis were the most electorally successful of all Europe’s fascist parties, yet they never garnered more than 37 percent of the vote.

They also recognized the limitations of propaganda in that it is predicated on political results. As Schulze-Wechsungen noted, “It is clear that even the best propaganda cannot conceal constant political failures.” Then there was the acknowledged tedium of much of the propaganda. Nazi Germany had inherited (perhaps) the most creative film industry in the world, and yet American journalist and wartime correspondent William Shirer, for example, remembered the hissing of German films. Eric Rentschler, an authority on Nazi cinema, asked, “But how was one to explain repeated instances of derisive laughter at melodramas and films that hardly set out to be funny?”; in Rentschler’s view, out of sync laughter is a potential terrorist in the dark, someone who refuses to let the film cast its spell.

Morale ultimately deteriorated when victories did not materialize into victory. Another criticism, well-articulated by Harold Nicolson MP, was that German propaganda brought short-term impact at the cost of long-term credibility:

“The German propaganda method is based upon seizing immediate advantages with complete disregard of the truth or of their credit. Our method is the slower and more long-term method of establishing confidence. For the moment, the Goebbels method is the more successful. In the end ours will prove decisive.”

Many were still with Hitler right until the end of the war (Germany had to be re-conquered, sometimes street by street), and even beyond the end—there were those guiltless of many war crimes who chose to follow him into the oblivion of suicide. All of this is merely to demonstrate that Nazi propaganda was not invincible and that the Reich could miscalculate because the ideology was, in the end, monstrous. As to whether all this persuasion was causal or merely decorative, I have advocated a perspective: Events are seldom inherently deterministic and they have to be “sold,” their meanings made vivid, via all the gathered powers of eloquence or pictography—whether by Marat in the French Revolution, Lenin in the Russian, or Churchill in 1940.

Hitler understood, as few others had ever done, the need for the serial creation of enemies. He was a political entrepreneur possessed of the truly devastating insight that all recent enemies could eventually merge into the one super-enemy, the Jews. Here was an intuitive understanding of how self-definition is achieved through other-rejection, that solidarity, identity, and community are in essence gained at the expense of others and appeals based on the brotherhood of man (as, in a sense, even Communism did) would always ultimately fail. His construction of tribal passion could arouse the emotions and therefore render people vulnerable to any kind of visionary persuasion or invocation to epic quest.

Nazism did not ask for belief but for surrender—not through coercion, primarily, but by assaulting consciousness. The essential aim was the extinction of independent thought via images that would now think for you.

Yet the seeming ease with which Germans “went along” with, or ostensibly ignored, the true frauds continues to astonish.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fascism/2017/03/how_nazi_propaganda_encouraged_the_masses_to_co_produce_a_false_reality.html