Category Archives: Political Comments

Is Capitalism Killing America?

My Comments: In the minds of many, capitalism is the antithesis of communism. And they are essentially right. In the minds of many, communism and socialism and fascism are one and the same. And they are essentially wrong.

Communism is an economic model where the state owns everything involved in providing goods and services to the members of society. All members of that society are bound by a framework that starts at the state and ends at the state. History has shown this is a fatally flawed model.

At the other end of the economic model continuum is capitalism, where the state has no say in the production of goods and services to benefit the members of society. Everything is determined by the individual first and then slowly upstream as determined by the collective will of many individuals. Rules and regulations are anathema and are to be opposed and vilified at every opportunity.

Into this mix appears religion and other social pressures that have evolved over the millennia to create a mechanism which allows us to survive and thrive. I argue that capitalism in it’s unfettered state is an equally flawed economic model.

Bring all this into the 21stt Century and you have arguments pro and con. How does society find that spot along the continuum between the two models to best meet the needs of ALL OF US? It matters not that it doesn’t have a convenient name. What matters is that we focus our time and energy on the creation of a balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of society. The goal is to preserve society such that both individuals and society can survive and thrive.

We are in the midst of such a discussion today. The emergence of Trump and the push back from the non-Trumps will structure the framework that our children and grandchildren will experience as they travel through life. Without an economically viable middle class, we are doomed to failure. Your voice needs to be heard.

September 18, 2017 by Theodore Kinni

On August 2, 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record-breaking 22,000—its fourth 1,000-point advance in less than a year. That same day, I read the first sentence in Peter Georgescu’s new book, Capitalists Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation: “For the past four decades, capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

How does Georgescu, the chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam (Y&R) and a 1963 graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business, reconcile the Dow’s ascent with his gloomy assertion?

“The stock market has nothing to do with the economy per se,” he says. “It has everything to do with only one thing: how much profit companies can squeeze out of the current crop of flowers in the garden. Pardon the metaphor. But that’s what corporations do—they squeeze out profits.”

In the latter half of the 1990s, Georgescu shepherded Y&R through a global expansion and an IPO. He has served on the boards of eight public companies, including Levi Strauss, Toys “R” Us, and International Flavors & Fragrances. He also is the author of two previous books, The Constant Choice: An Everyday Journey from Evil Toward Good and The Source of Success. An Advertising Hall of Fame inductee, the 78-year-old adman is still pitching corporate leaders. Now, however, he is trying to convince them to fundamentally rethink how—and for whom—they run their companies.

The fault lines in capitalism

Capitalism is an endangered economic system, Georgescu says. He sees a dearth of demand across the global economy, even as American corporations record their highest profits ever. “How does this magic happen?” he asks rhetorically. “You engineer it. You buy back your stock at 4% and change. Your earnings per share go up and the market says, ‘We like that.’”

What does he mean? He cites the seminal research by economist William Lazonick, who studied S&P 500 companies from 2003 to 2012 and discovered that they routinely spend 54% of their earnings buying back their own stock (reducing the number of outstanding shares and driving up share prices) and 37% of their earnings on dividends—both of which benefit shareholders. That leaves just 9% of earnings for investment in their business and their people.

This financial legerdemain obscures two fundamental fault lines in capitalism, and particularly in the US economy, according to Georgescu. The first is a lack of investment by companies in their own futures. “Our companies are not competitive because they don’t invest in themselves,” he says. “Total R&D investment is down. Total basic research, which is the precursor of innovation, is down dramatically. Investment in infrastructure has fallen to critical levels.”

The second fault line is the lack of investment by companies in their employees. “Innovation is the only real driver of success in the 21st century, and who does the innovation? Our employees. How are we motivating them? We treat them like dirt. If I need you, I need you. If I don’t, you’re out of here. And I keep your wages flat for 40 years,” says Georgescu, who points out that growth in real wages has been stagnant since the mid-1970s.

The engines of capitalism are sputtering

The lack of investment by US corporations in their businesses and people is not only causing the engine that powers innovation gain to sputter, but also slowing the engine of demand that produces topline growth. Why? Median household income in the U.S. is less than 1% higher today than in 1989, according to the Census Bureau. “There’s no middle class, and the upper middle class has very little money left to spend, so they can’t drive the economy. The only people driving the GDP are the top 20% of us,” Georgescu says.

In Capitalists Arise!, Georgescu shows how these issues are impacting the American public. Nearly 60% of American households are technically insolvent and adding to their debt loads each year. In addition, income inequality in the U.S. is reaching new peaks: The top layer of earners now claim a larger portion of the nation’s income than ever before — more even than the peak in 1927, just two years before the onset of the Great Depression.

Georgescu lays the blame for all of these conditions on the ascendency of the doctrine of shareholder primacy. “Today’s mantra is ‘maximize short-term shareholder value.’ Period,” he says. “The rules of the game have become cancerous. They’re killing us. They’re killing the corporation. They’re helping to kill the country.”

Back to responsible capitalism

Georgescu is convinced he knows how to beat this cancer, and he’s pitching it to corporate leaders across the country. “The cure can be found in the post–World War II economic expansion. From 1945 until the 1970s, the US economy was booming and America’s middle class was the largest market in the world,” he says.

“In those days, American capitalism said, ‘We’ll take care of five stakeholders,’” he continues. “Then and now, the most important stakeholder is the customer. The second most important is the employee. If you don’t have happy employees, you’re not going to have happy customers. The third critical stakeholder is the company itself — it needs to be fed. Fourth come the communities in which you do business. Corporations were envisioned as good citizens—that’s why they got an enormous number of legal protections and tax breaks in the first place.”

In Georgescu’s schema, shareholders are the last of the five stakeholders, not the first. “If you serve all the other stakeholders well, the shareholders do fine,” he says. “If you take good care of your customers, pay your people well, invest in your own business, and you’re a good citizen, the shareholder does better. We need to get back to that today. Every company has got to do that.”
We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. This post originally appeared on Insights, by Stanford Business.

Source URL: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/capitalism-killing-america

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Can the Country Survive Without a Strong Middle Class?

My Comments: Most of the recent talk about the Constitution comes in the wake of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, for obvious reasons. The attention is well deserved but I’d have you think about more than just the 2nd Amendment.

At the national level, if not across the globe, society is re-evaluating itself. Are the values we hold dearly still valid? Are the roles played by the various participants serving our best interests? Are you willing to let the so called ‘elite’ change the economic and social landscape that most of us enjoy without allowing us to express our thoughts? Have we given them so much power that it now makes no difference?

If you’ve followed me for long, you’ve heard me talk about income inequality and the subtle effects it has on not just our society, but in virtually every society on the planet. I hope you will read this, regardless of your political leanings, as it will influence every aspect of the lives of your children and grandchildren. And the clowns in Washington, DC are not helping matters.

Rebecca J. Rosen / Mar 21, 2017

In a powerful new book, the legal scholar Ganesh Sitaraman argues that America’s government will fall apart as inequality deepens.

The U.S. Constitution, it is fair to say, is normally thought of as a political document. It lays out the American system of government and the relationships among the various institutions.

But in a powerful new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, the Vanderbilt legal scholar Ganesh Sitaraman argues that the Constitution doesn’t merely require a particular political system but also a particular economic one, one characterized by a strong middle class and relatively mild inequality. A strong middle class, Sitaraman writes, inspires a sense of shared purpose and shared fate, without which the system of government will fall apart.

I spoke with Sitaraman about his book last week at The Atlantic’s offices in Washington, D.C. A transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity, follows.

Rebecca J. Rosen: Your new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, is premised on the idea that the American Constitution is what you call a middle-class constitution. What does that mean?

Ganesh Sitaraman: The idea of the middle-class constitution is that it’s a constitutional system that requires and is conditioned on the assumption that there is a large middle class, and no big differences between rich and poor in a society.

Prior to the American Constitution, most countries and most people who thought about designing governments were very concerned about the problem of inequality, and the fear was that, in a society that was deeply unequal, the rich would oppress the poor and the poor would revolt and confiscate the wealth of the rich.

The answer to this problem, the way to create stability out of what would have been revolution and strife, was to build economic class right into the structure of government. In England, you have the House of Lords for the wealthy, the House of Commons for everyone else. Our Constitution isn’t like that. We don’t have a House of Lords, we don’t have a House of Commons, we don’t have a tribune of the plebs like they had in ancient Rome.

At the time, people debated having a wealth requirement for entry into the Senate, but that didn’t happen. That would have been a common thing in the generations and centuries prior to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. So there’s actually a radical change in our Constitution that we don’t build economic class directly into these institutions. The purpose of the Senate, with its longer terms, is to allow representatives to deliberate in the longer-term interest of the republic, and that’s the goal of the Senate.

What we have is a constitutional system that doesn’t build class in at all, and the reason why is that America was shockingly equal at the time in ways that seem really surprising to us today.

Rosen: Of course, the point here isn’t only that class is ignored, or left out of the Constitution, but that the Constitution actually relies on a kind of equal society in order to function. Could you explain the premise there?

Sitaraman: That’s exactly right. The idea is that the Constitution relies on a relatively equal society for it to work. In societies that are deeply unequal, the way you prevent strife between rich and poor is you build class right into the structure of government—the House of Lords, House of Commons idea. Everyone has a share in government, but they also have a check on each other.

In a country that doesn’t have a lot of inequality by wealth, you don’t need that kind of check. There’s no extreme wealth, there’s no extreme poverty, so you don’t expect there to be strife, to be instability based on wealth. And so there’s no need to put in some sort of check like that into the Constitution.

That’s how our Constitution works. The reason why it works this way is that when the founders looked around, they thought America was uniquely equal in the history of the world. And I know that seems crazy to say, but when you think about it, it makes sense. If you imagine in the late 18th century, America is a sparsely populated area, just on the coast of the Atlantic, with some small towns and cities, and lots of agrarian lands, and it’s really at the edge of the world, because the center is western Europe. It’s London, it’s Paris, and when Americans look across the ocean at those countries, what they see is how different it is. They see that there’s a hereditary aristocracy, something that doesn’t exist in America. There’s feudalism, which doesn’t exist in America. There’s extreme wealth, there’s extreme poverty, neither of which really exists in America. As a result they don’t need to design a House of Lords and a House of Commons, they don’t need a tribune of the plebs in order to make their constitution work.

“The assumption of our original Constitution was that society would be relatively equal.”

Rosen: Of course, there was slavery at the time—and it was built directly into the Constitution.

The Danger From Low-Skilled Immigrants: Not Having Them

My Comments: To Make America Great Again, the presumably well intentioned mantra for those leading the GOP these days, someone has to overcome ignorance of economics and start paying attention to reality.

A positive corporate bottom line is the driving force for a healthy US economy. To reach that goal, we need people willing to spend time in the trenches doing whatever grunt work is necessary. Despite machines that increasingly automate the grunt work, a supply of young people has to match the demand created until artificial intelligence takes over.

The supply of labor is not going to miraculously appear. A greater number of us are old and fragile, and fertility rates among young men are declining. Exactly who is going to look after all us old folks because we refuse to hurry up and die?

We should be encouraging immigration and refugees. Yes, there is a potential security threat, which implies applying resources to screen and maintain a reasonable level of security. And yes, someone is probably going to get killed or maimed or whatever when someone nefarious sneaks through.

The laws of supply and demand are well known. Right now we have an increasing demand for labor, which can only stabilize with either more people being allowed into the country, or a large increase in the cost of labor to force more of into the trenches. Either that or starve, in which case you die. Some would have that happen since dead people are less likely to vote against those wanting to restrict immigration.

Eduardo Porter \ August 8, 2017

Let’s just say it plainly: The United States needs more low-skilled immigrants.

You might consider, for starters, the enormous demand for low-skilled workers, which could well go unmet as the baby boom generation ages out of the labor force, eroding the labor supply. Eight of the 15 occupations expected to experience the fastest growth between 2014 and 2024 — personal care and home health aides, food preparation workers, janitors and the like — require no schooling at all.

“Ten years from now, there are going to be lots of older people with relatively few low-skilled workers to change their bedpans,” said David Card, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “That is going to be a huge problem.”

But the argument for low-skilled immigration is not just about filling an employment hole. The millions of immigrants of little skill who swept into the work force in the 25 years up to the onset of the Great Recession — the men washing dishes in the back of the restaurant, the women emptying the trash bins in office buildings — have largely improved the lives of Americans.

The politics of immigration are driven, to this day, by the proposition that immigrant laborers take the jobs and depress the wages of Americans competing with them in the work force. It is a mechanical statement of the law of supply and demand: More workers spilling in over the border will inevitably reduce the price of work.

This proposition underpins President Trump’s threat to get rid of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. It is used to justify his plan to cut legal immigration into the country by half and create a point system to ensure that only immigrants with high skills are allowed entrance in the future.

But it is largely wrong. It misses many things: that less-skilled immigrants are also consumers of American-made goods and services; that their cheap labor raises economic output and also reduces prices. It misses the fact that their children tend to have substantially more skills. In fact, the children of immigrants contribute more to state fiscal coffers than do other native-born Americans, according to a report by the National Academies.

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

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

Trump Cannot Make America Govern Itself Again

My Comments: There is far more at stake here than making Trump become relevant again. Apart from my personal, visceral fear that we’ll find ourselves in another brutal and painful war, the standard of living across these United States is eroding.

Unfortunately, that erosion is like watching a car rust. It can sit in your driveway for months and you see nothing, but give it a few years, some rain, and holes will appear.

I have no magic bullet to solve our national dilemma. There probably isn’t one to be had. All I know to do is somehow keep pushing to support the values I hold dear, and maybe, just maybe, there’ll be enough of us to bring it around.

Edward Luce on July 19, 2017

Let us give Donald Trump a pass. The last time Congress enacted a serious law was more than seven years ago, which was well before he turned up. That was Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, which is turning into Mr Trump’s nightmare. He just cannot get that law off the books.

Congress is a sausage factory that has forgotten how to make sausages. Now Mr Trump wants it to make the largest sausage imaginable: a big tax reform package. But what does Mr Trump know about sausages?

The answer is little. Passing serious bills requires the clarity of Ronald Reagan, the grit of Lyndon Johnson and the patience of Job. Mr Trump lacks all three qualities. In contrast to his attacks on critics, such as what he describes as the Fake News media, Mr Trump’s promotional skills are limited.

It is hard to think of a memorable Trump tweet on tax reform. Mr Trump is better at tearing opponents down than building the case for change. The chances are that he will fail to pass tax reform, just as he has failed to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But the blame for this does not rest solely on the current president’s shoulders. His election followed Capitol Hill’s six most fallow years since the Reconstruction era after the civil war. Though it is America’s first branch of government, Congress has ceased to function in a serious way since 2010. The Republican party, which saw its role as stopping Mr Obama from passing anything, even if he had gone more than halfway to meet them, bears most of the responsibility. Failed initiatives include an immigration overhaul and fiscal reform.

Having acquired a habit of blocking, Republicans have forgotten how to score. But the one thing that unites Republicans of all kinds, Mr Trump included, is the strong desire to cut taxes. It does not matter much how they are cut, or which ones are targeted. The party’s sole ideological glue is a desire to lower them. Other pieties, such as balancing budgets, are easily dispensed with. It ought to be a simple matter, therefore, for Mr Trump to build momentum around a big tax cut and damn the consequences. Yet his chances of success are slim. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that Mr Trump has no appetite for the intricate horse-trading required to win. This is true even at the best of times. But these are the worst. Mr Trump is increasingly distracted by the Russia investigations, which absorb most of his bandwidth. According to aides, Mr Trump spends most of his evenings watching recordings of cable news shows just as obsessed with Russia as he is. He then calls around friends in New York, Florida and elsewhere to comment on how unfairly he is being treated. Mr Trump’s obsession with “Fake News” criticism is his first, second and third priority. Anyone who doubts that should analyse his tweets and the odd hours at which he sends them. Tax reform does not feature.

The second is that Republicans are no longer a governing party. To be fair, this holds only at the federal level. There are plenty of Republican mayors and governors who do a good job of solving practical concerns at the local level. But the national party knows only how to stop things from happening. In the past six years, Republicans voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare in the safe knowledge Mr Obama would veto their bill. Not once did Republicans sit down and work out a plan of their own. Healthcare is a dull subject to anyone who lacks interest in policy. Republicans have no interest in policy.

Instead of a party of sausage makers, Republicans have become a party of vandals. Words such as “abolish”, “repeal”, “smash” and “erase” trip off the party’s tongue. That is what comes from a habit of shutting down government and taking the US to brink of debt default. Terms such as “build”, “consult”, “trade-off” and “draft” are rare indeed.

Even something as simple-sounding as cutting taxes requires coalition-building. Besides, Republicans have to increase the US debt ceiling before they can turn to tax cuts. Mr Trump, who would have most to lose from a sovereign default, is unclear how to do this. Steven Mnuchin, his Treasury secretary, wants a “clean bill” to increase the ceiling. But Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump’s budget director, wants to attach spending cuts, which would ensure no Democratic votes. Mr Trump cannot even negotiate with himself.

Students of history could tell Mr Trump that Rome was not built in a day. Yet the vandals were able to demolish Rome pretty quickly. Is Mr Trump a Roman or a vandal? Sadly that question answers itself.

A Look Back at Michael Flynn

My Comments: With recent testimony from James Comey, the narrative we’ve been glued to for the past many months takes a new turn. Please understand that once elected, I wanted 45 to succeed. I’m not happy with all the talk of impeachment. It’s not in my best interest as a citizen of these United States to have a duly elected official fail. But the odds of that happening are increasingly likely.

I profoundly disagree with most of his policy suggestions, but know that we are a substantive and significant collection of caring human beings in this country and we will survive. This article was written a few weeks ago and is worth a revisit. It lends credence to the story about how we arrived at the point we’re at today.

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst \ Wed May 3, 2017

It’s been 11 weeks since Gen. Michael Flynn was ousted as national security adviser. He lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russians, lobbied on behalf of Turkey while an adviser to the Trump campaign, and is now seeking congressional immunity in exchange for his testimony about Russia and the election.

Not a great scenario for a new administration. But it’s one that could have been avoided had the new team actually done its homework about the man they nominated. Only they didn’t.

Consider this scenario, retold by multiple sources with knowledge: When Donald Trump’s initial transition team met for the first (and last) time two days after the November election victory with its executive committee — which included Trump family members — the group was visited by two people who were not expected to be at the session: Gen. Michael Flynn and Gen. Keith Kellogg. Apparently invited by Jared Kushner, the men were asked by both Kushner and Ivanka Trump to talk about the positions they would want in the new administration.

Kellogg wanted to be White House chief of staff, which was apparently a non-starter. And Flynn told the group there were only three positions he would accept: national security adviser, secretary of state, or secretary of defense. The trouble is, he was not on the transition team’s list for any of those jobs.

But he was on the family’s list.

The rest is history: The next day, transition chairman Chris Christie was ousted, his voluminous plans scrapped, and the rest of his team was gone shortly thereafter. And Flynn became the first big Trump appointment, named national security adviser within 10 days of Trump’s election — only to be gone just over three weeks into the Trump presidency.

The rise and fall of Flynn

The story of Flynn’s rise and fall — from loyal Trump adviser and campaign rabble-rouser to a very short-term top job in national security — is the story of an insular family takeover of a transition process the President himself never wanted. (In fact, one source says that Trump wanted to close it down, thought it was bad karma, but was told that transition preparations are actually in the candidate’s best interest.)

According to multiple sources familiar with discussions inside the first transition team, Flynn was viewed suspiciously. He was considered a “wild card” — someone who made officials uncomfortable. But because he had been so loyal to Trump they reluctantly put him on their list as the director of national intelligence.

After the election — and the Christie ouster — the transition was outsourced in name to Pence, who led a largely inexperienced team, including Trump’s family — especially his daughter and son-in-law. What’s more, this new transition was hobbled by inadequate vetting and preparation, falling woefully behind in nominations. And Flynn’s appointment as national security adviser was an easily avoidable mistake, say initial transition officials, but apparently no one was interested in listening to advice about extreme vetting.

Flynn was announced as national security adviser with the clear backing of the Trump family. But Flynn did not have something just as important: a complete, new, deeper internal vet of his associations and potential conflicts.

The new transition team had prepared “public source” vetting on potential nominees — which means anything available on the public record — but had not gone beyond that. And the ousted transition team had specifically warned the new administration not to nominate anyone officially until more robust investigations could be complete.
But it didn’t happen that way.

So Flynn was nominated, says one source with knowledge, “without anything deeper than a public vet.” Another source familiar with the transition added that Flynn “certainly wouldn’t have passed my vetting to be anything with a security clearance.” The lack of homework created obvious problems.

The main questions are these: Why didn’t the Trump administration know about either Flynn’s business or his Russian contacts? Wouldn’t a fuller vetting process have sent up red flares?

The explanation now from the Trump administration is that it’s the Obama administration’s fault. Flynn, they say, had the proper clearance because he was vetted by the Obama administration — having served as their Defense Intelligence Agency director before he was fired from that position in 2014.

Donald Trump explained it this way: “When they say we didn’t vet, well Obama I guess didn’t vet, because he was approved at the highest level of security by the Obama administration.” And Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said there was no need to “rerun a background check” on someone who had a high position in intelligence” and “did maintain a high level clearance.” He said it’s done every five years, and can be updated which, he said, “occurred in this case.” So case closed.

More elaborate vetting?

Except that intelligence officials have told CNN and others that any high-level job like national security adviser should require a separate, more extensive background check, even for those with current security clearance. And as Flynn’s predecessor — former national security adviser Susan Rice — pointed out in an interview with Fareed Zakaria last week, those appointed to high positions normally receive “a separate and much more elaborate” check than a security clearance. “It gets into the financial information. It gets into your relationships and contacts. It gets into your behavior.”

During the campaign, Flynn was cleared, along with Christie, to accompany then-presidential nominee Trump to a briefing with intelligence officials. (“Maybe that’s the Obama vet they’re talking about,” speculated one source. “But that’s not the vet you should get if you are going to be national security adviser.”)

It was held at FBI headquarters in New York. One source with knowledge of the briefing says that “Trump acquitted himself well,” but that Flynn was “an abomination with an ax to grind” against the intelligence officials with whom he had formerly worked. Even Trump started having concerns about Flynn, this source says, but acknowledged his loyalty.

In the end, loyalty wasn’t enough. “Flynn was their responsibility,” one transition source says. “If they had truly vetted him before any announcement, none of this would have happened.”