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Where Americans are shaped by propaganda efficiently delivered

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It could not be this slick and efficient were it not planned [Argument from Design]. Kevid Drum posts in Mother Jones:

I was talking to a friend yesterday and the subject turned to politics. He thought the Republican tax cut was a great idea because America had the highest tax rate in the world and we couldn’t compete with other countries. I laughed and told him that was totally wrong. Then he said that Trump might not be the greatest president ever, but at least he’s kept all his promises. I laughed again and told him Trump hadn’t even come close. Then the conversation turned to Brett Kavanaugh, and he complained that Sen. Dianne Feinstein had deliberately held onto Christine Blasey Ford’s letter until the very last second before releasing it. I laughed again and said that was exactly the opposite of what happened. Feinstein did her best never to release it, but it got leaked by someone outside her office.

There were a couple of other things he was wrong about, and eventually he said, “Well, look, if this stuff is wrong then how come Democrats aren’t correcting it?” I mumbled some stuff about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and asked him where he was getting his information. The answer, it turned out, was mostly the Sunday chat shows.

So if this anecdotal conversation is to be believed, conservatives are highly successful at pushing their talking points on the Sunday morning shows—which are mostly watched by moderate political types—but liberals either don’t push back or don’t do it in a way that’s very memorable. Or else liberals just don’t bother showing up. Since I never watch the Sunday shows, I don’t really know which it is. Comments?

Naturally Democrts and progressives don’t appear so much: they not invited so much. They would introduce turbulence into the information flow, and TPTB want that information to flow smoothly into the meme-set of the majority. Democrats and progressives are not creating effective memes.

Update: And in the intercept: “Facebook Quietly Hid Webpages Bragging of Ability to Influence Elections.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2018 at 1:40 pm

Are there Republicans who will join Obama?

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In the Washington Post Jennifer Rubin, a lifelong Republican, writes with approval of Obama’s initiative:

Former president Barack Obama on Friday made his first midterm campaign stop. He gave a rip-roaring speech that echoed the themes Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans have been sounding for 18 months. He urged the crowd and the country to “vote because our democracy depends on it,” joking that “some of you may think I’m exaggerating when I say this November’s elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime. I know politicians say that all the time. I have been guilty of saying it a few times, particularly when I was on the ballot.”
He then got to the meat of his remarks:

Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature. . .

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. No promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. No promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

While much of his speech focused on policies that Democrats champion (health care and immigration reform), he reminded Republicans that Trumpism is not conservatism:

… over the past few decades, the politics of division, of resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics. Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote. Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could, cast dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change, embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America’s debt by not paying our bills to a refusal to even meet, much less consider, a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president.

None of this is conservative. . . .  It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters even when it hurts the country. It’s a vision that says the few who can afford high-price lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.

That led him to issue an usual appeal, one that many #NeverTrumpers (yours included) have made:

I am here to tell you that even if you don’t agree with me or Democrats on policy, even if you believe in more libertarian economic theories, even if you are an evangelical and our position on certain social issues is a bridge too far, even if you think my assessment of immigration is mistaken and the Democrats aren’t serious enough about immigration enforcement, I’m here to tell you that you should still be concerned with our current course and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.

It should not be Democratic or Republican. It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents. Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up. I’m not making that up. That’s not hypothetical.

It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people. It shouldn’t be democratic or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray.

We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad.

That’s a message independents and persuadable Republicans need to hear over and over again. This is not normal. No president has attacked our institutions in the way President Trump has; no Congress has abdicated its role as a co-equal branch to the extent this Congress has. Because Republicans refuse to shoulder their constitutional obligations, voters concerned about fortifying our democracy must deprive the GOP of majorities in one or both houses. It’s the only way to get oversight, to hold Trump accountable and to begin the process of restoring democratic norms.
Obama is making this case from the Democratic perspective, but shouldn’t some Republicans join him to make the case for ridding us of one-party government? There are those who served in Republican administrations — Michael V. Hayden (CIA and National Security Agency), Robert Gates (defense secretary under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, as well as a former CIA director) and others in the national security realm who protested Trump’s decision to strip former CIA director John Brennan of his security clearance. During the 2016 election there were a batch of former Republican officials and lawmakers who backed Hillary Clinton for the very reasons Obama now cites as requiring a Democratic Congress. Some or all of them can be enlisted once more.
These Republicans put country above party in 2016 by trying to prevent a disastrous Trump presidency. Events have proved them prescient about the threats Trump poses to our democracy. So now it’s time to again put country before party to urge voting against Republicans in the midterms. Even if . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2018 at 10:51 am

Bernie Sanders learns anew a significant cultural difference between Left and Right

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Kevin Drum writes in Mother Jones:

Poor Bernie Sanders has fallen victim to the hack gap. A few days ago he proposed the Stop BEZOS Act, which would require large companies to effectively reimburse the federal government for any welfare benefits used by its workers. Now, make no mistake: as policy, this is a pretty dumb idea. If you want the details, CBPP has you covered here.

But apparently Sanders and his allies aren’t taking criticism of his plan well: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 September 2018 at 3:51 pm

Chart of the Day: Democrats and the White Working Class

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Kevin Drum offers up a puzzler:

Here’s a chart for you to ponder over:

Between 1992 and 2008, the identification of the white working class with the Democratic Party stayed pretty stable. No matter who the presidential candidate was—Clinton, Gore, Kerry, or Obama—they were about evenly split beween identifying Democratic and identifying Republican.

That was true all the way up to 2008, when Obama was first elected. But then the white working class suddenly defected to the Republican Party in huge numbers. By 2010, net Democratic ID was -12 percent. By 2012 it was -14 percent. By 2015 it was -22 percent. And by 2016 it was -25 percent.

This all started in 2010, so it wasn’t caused by Mitt Romney. The second plummet started in 2014, so it wasn’t caused by Donald Trump. Fox News got its start in 1996, so it seems unlikely that they were the proximate cause. So what’s your guess? What happened between 2010 and 2015 that suddenly caused the white working class to abandon the Democratic Party in large numbers?

Hmm. I can think of one reason.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2018 at 10:32 am

Codetermination? Why Not Just Powerful Unions Instead?

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Kevin Drum poses a good question in Mother Jones:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren thinks big corporations have too much power, so next week she’ll be introducing new legislation to address that:

That’s where my bill comes in. The Accountable Capitalism Act restores the idea that giant American corporations should look out for American interests. Corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue would be required to get a federal corporate charter. The new charter requires corporate directors to consider the interests of all major corporate stakeholders—not only shareholders—in company decisions. Shareholders could sue if they believed directors weren’t fulfilling those obligations.

This approach follows the “benefit corporation” model, which gives businesses fiduciary responsibilities beyond their shareholders….My bill also would give workers a stronger voice in corporate decision-making at large companies. Employees would elect at least 40% of directors.

Warren’s basic idea is that workers have lost power over the past few decades and therefore have seen sluggish wage growth. At the same time, this has allowed management and shareholders to pocket the rising profits of corporations since they don’t have to fight workers for a bigger share. She’s certainly right about that. Labor and management shares of income vary a bit during booms and recesssions, but the overall trend since the Reagan era is crystal clear:

But here’s the thing I don’t get. Warren’s theory is that this has happened largely because workers have lost negotiating power over the past four decades. Even conservatives, I think, wouldn’t argue too strongly against this notion. It’s pretty plain that the demise of unions has stripped workers of wage bargaining power and this has reduced their ability to claim the same share of overall corporate income that they used to.

But if that’s the case, why introduce a bill that primarily changes the composition of corporate boards? My objection isn’t that it won’t work. It might. But we know that making it easier for workers to unionize would work, and Republicans will fight just as hard against one as the other. So why choose an oddball proposal that sounds European and vaguely socialist even to the American working class?

Why not instead propose a truly simple and powerful proposal to boost unionization throughout the American economy? If your goal is to increase the power of the working class, this is the way to do it. It’s been done in America before, notably during the “Golden Age” of the 40s and 50s when America was supposedly greater than it is now. It produced a strong economy. It didn’t pauperize the rich. It’s easy for workers to understand. And you’re going to need a Democratic president and 60 Democratic senators to pass it, just like Warren’s bill. If the Democratic Party is ready for Warren’s new idea, it’s ready for my old idea. What’s not to like?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2018 at 1:44 pm

“Rigged Witch Hunt,” Meet Trump’s “Red Wave”

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A leader who lives in a delusion does his followers great harm. Susan B. Glasser reports in the New Yorker:

Donald Trump’s Presidency is often described as a reality-show version of the White House, with Trump himself as the producer, director, and main character. There’s something to the metaphor, of course; Trump is a showman, a veteran of the reality-TV genre who relishes the notion of himself as a master manipulator, able to dominate the news cycle at will by changing plotlines and introducing new controversies to distract us from the old. But the President’s volatile behavior and untethered public comments in recent days suggest that the analogy misses the mark: Trump’s act today is an unreality show. The President is not so much trying to shape our perception of events with his theatrics as he is trying to sell the American public, or at least his narrow slice of it, on an entirely opposite version of what is actually happening.

honesty wins!” the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon, and, arguably, ever, tweeted on Thursday morning. On Wednesday, he announced that he had revoked the security clearance of John Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, who has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest public critics, citing as grounds Brennan’s supposed “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary,” an example if ever there was one of a President projecting onto his enemies his own attributes. To bolster his case, Trump paraphrased his friend Sean Hannity, the Fox TV host, accusing Brennan and an array of other former national-security officials of a grave crime, the very one that Trump and his advisers are being investigated for: “They tried to steal and influence an election in the United States.”

For months, Trump and amplifiers like Hannity have promoted an increasingly elaborate and Orwellian version of the 2016 election meddling, in which the actual outrage was not the Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, or the serious possibility of the Trump campaign’s collusion with it. Instead, there was a vast conspiracy to benefit Hillary Clinton by Brennan and other former officials of the Obama Administration; the special counsel, Robert Mueller; James Comey and the rest of the F.B.I.; Trump’s own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions; “17 Angry Democrats”; and a rotating cast of others. In a revelatory interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump even tied the plotlines together, announcing that he had decided to withdraw Brennan’s security clearance because of “the rigged witch hunt” and “sham” Brennan helped lead. “It’s something that had to be done,” he declared.

The “Rigged Witch Hunt” may have become the signature story of Trump’s unreality show, but there are many other examples. Over the next ten weeks, expect the President to emphasize, with increasing urgency and intensity, the personal campaign he has started to reshape public perceptions of the upcoming midterm elections. The numbers, the polls, the battleground map, and the entire previous history of midterm elections in the modern era suggest a Republican defeat in November of large and possibly massive proportions. And yet President Trump now insists that there will be no “blue wave,” and that a “red wave” is coming instead.

Trump first started tweeting his “red wave” slogan in June, responding to California primary-election results showing Trump’s Republican Party in serious trouble in the historically G.O.P.-leaning suburban districts that the Party needs to keep to retain control of the House. Trump insisted the opposite. “Great night for Republicans!” he wrote. “So much for the big Blue Wave. It may be a big Red Wave.”

Ever since, the President has adopted this as his election mantra. Earlier this month, he tweeted this reality-defying version of his latest plotline: “Presidential Approval numbers are very good – strong economy, military and just about everything else. Better numbers than Obama at this point, by far. We are winning on just about every front and for that reason there will not be a Blue Wave, but there might be a Red Wave!” Three days later, buoyed by a series of rallies for the Trump faithful at which he repeated his new slogan, Trump tweeted it again. “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win! I love the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!” The President repeated it again after this week’s contests: “Great Republican election results last night. So far we have the team we want. 8 for 9 in Special Elections. Red Wave!”

The problem with all these tweets is not so much that they are riddled with factual inaccuracies, although they are. (Obama’s approval numbers were better at this point; pending the results in Ohio’s Twelfth District, Republicans have only won seven of nine special elections for this Congress.) The problem is that there is no red wave in sight, nor do the Republicans who have to deal with that reality expect one to somehow magically materialize. “No, there is no red wave. There is no one who thinks that,” a Republican strategist who has been advising the Party’s keep-the-House efforts told me on Thursday. “It’s like the phrase from his book, ‘The Art of the Deal’: Lying isn’t lying if it’s in the service of Trump.”

The Republican strategist told me that he and his colleagues at the national Party know what they are up against. “He’s not convincing political operators in Washington, D.C., but that’s not his goal,” the strategist told me. “He’s convincing people wearing maga hats in Waffle Houses across the country.” Even the Wall Street Journal’s conservative opinion pages, owned by the Trump promoter Rupert Murdoch, have taken issue with this particular Trumpian alternate reality. “Our sense is that Republican voters haven’t recognized how much jeopardy the party is in. Many are content to listen only to their safe media spaces that repeat illusions about a ‘red wave’ and invoke 2016 when the media said Mr. Trump couldn’t win,” the Journal editorialized last week. “But that’s not an excuse for ignoring the evidence of GOP trouble.”

That evidence is overwhelming. “I haven’t spent thirty seconds thinking about a red wave, because I think it is totally delusional. Any Republican pollster or strategist worth their salt just rolls their eyes at the thought of it,” Charlie Cook, the dean of American election forecasters, told me. Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, has followed closely every midterm election since 1974, when the Republicans suffered historic losses amid Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, reshaping Capitol Hill for a generation. His team at the Cook Political Report currently assesses thirty-seven Republican House seats as highly vulnerable, up from twenty in January, including three more moved to “toss-ups” after the primary-election results Trump touted in his red-wave tweet this week. Another fifty Republican-held seats are currently assessed as potentially vulnerable. Given that Democrats only need to defend their two vacant seats and pick up twenty-three more to win back control of the House, they have many possible routes to a majority. As for other metrics used to assess the midterm-election outlook, Trump’s approval ratings remain historically low, hovering around forty per cent, and Democrats register leads of between eight and twelve points in most recent national surveys of generic congressional-ballot preference. Over the last twenty-one midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average of thirty seats in the House and four in the Senate. No wonder Trump is trying to sell the one metric that is trending in his favor, the strong economy. But, even here, he is selling an alternate reality by declaring that the economy is “better than ever,” a conclusion that would surprise, among others, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, each of whom saw growth numbers as good or better, depending on which ones are cited.

Cook told me that he currently believes that “we are looking at a twenty- to forty-seat loss” for Republicans in the House, along with significant losses in state legislative and gubernatorial contests. (The U.S. Senate, he said, is a much murkier picture, with anything from a small G.O.P. gain to a small Democratic gain possible.) What’s more, he added, “Republican losses would be looking in the sixty- to seventy-seat range right now,” if not for the uneven battleground dictated by partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures. In short, he said, the midterm election is shaping up to be a “train wreck” and “a complete shit show” for Trump and his party. So, yes, there is a blue wave—the only question is how big. Cook was categorical that Trump would not be able to somehow turn things around between now and November. “We have never seen a midterm election change directions between midsummer and Election Day,” he said. “I have never seen it happen. They either stay the same or they get worse; we’ve never seen it diminish or reverse.”

For Cook and others, Trump’s red wave comes from the same place that his “Rigged Witch Hunt” originates: Trump’s insistence on the legitimacy of his election victory in 2016 and his unwavering belief that it was the product of his own, precedent-defying brilliance. “The President is emotionally incapable of dealing with the fact that he got elected on a statistical fluke,” losing the popular vote by a wide margin and yet still winning the Electoral College, Cook said. Trump’s alternate reality for 2018 is built on the conviction that he can break the political laws of history once again, never mind that the only evidence to support that conviction, so far, is his own certainty of it. “All the experts said he was wrong and he won, and therefore there’s no reason to listen to an expert ever again.”

On Thursday, I spoke with one of the Democrats who is hoping to ride an actual blue wave this November. Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official under the Obama Administration, is running against a Republican incumbent in the Seventh Congressional District of New Jersey, a largely suburban district that includes Trump’s Bedminster golf club, where the President just spent his August vacation. (“We jokingly talk about turning his putting green blue in November,” Malinowski told me.) A Republican has represented the district since 1981, but Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Trump there in 2016, Democratic turnout far exceeded Republican turnout in the June primary for the first time, and Malinowski has so far outraised the incumbent, Leonard Lance. Cook ranks the race a toss-up, and  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2018 at 12:22 pm

How to Cure Corporate America’s Selfishness

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David Dayen has an interesting article in the New Republic:

Corporations have always been “creatures of the State,” as Teddy Roosevelt once called them. But they have become a kind of Frankenstein’s monster, unmoored from their creators to wreak havoc on the countryside. Corporations no longer consider the broad public interest in making decisions, nor do they worry that the state will ever revoke their license to operate. They only consider the desires of their shareholders, which has led to record corporate profitsstagnant wages, soaring inequality, and a shrinking middle class.

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed a counterweight to this relatively recent phenomenon in American business. Her bill, the Accountable Capitalism Act, revolves around a simple idea: The government would grant corporations the right to exist through a public charter, and could use that power to put obligations on corporations to benefit the broader public rather than a small handful of shareholders.

A federal corporate charter, required for all companies with over $1 billion in annual revenue, would be granted through a new Office of United States Corporations in the Commerce Department. The charter could be revoked if corporations didn’t follow its rules, including engaging in “repeated and egregious illegal conduct.” Shareholders could also sue companies for charter violations. “For the past 30 years we have put the American stamp of approval on giant corporations, even as they have ignored the interests of all but a tiny slice of Americans,” Warren wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing the bill. “We should insist on a new deal.”

I’ve argued previously that the corporate charter can be a powerful tool against recidivist corporate lawbreakers who continually harm the public. But charters are primarily conferred at the state level, and states haven’t really enforced them, worried about losing corporate tax revenue. A federal charter short-circuits that fear, and establishes a set of common, enforceable standards of corporate conduct.

Under the federal charter, companies would be required to consider the interests of workers, customers, communities, and society before making major decisions. Employees would elect at least 40 percent of all company directors, giving them representation on corporate boards. That would involve worker representatives in decisions like whether to engage in political spending, which would require sign-off from 75 percent of all directors and shareholders. Finally, executives who receive shares of stock as compensation would have to hold them for at least five years.

Warren is using a variety of strategies to attack shareholder value theory, the way capitalism has been practiced in America since the 1980s. Free market evangelist Milton Friedman created this theory, eliminating what had been a much broader conception of corporate social responsibility. According to Friedman, companies have a duty to act in the sole interests of their shareholders. And shareholders have the overriding goal of increasing the value of their investment.

As the late Cornell professor Lynn Stout explained in her book The Shareholder Value Myth, Friedman’s concept rested on the legal error that only shareholders are stakeholders in a company. But it gradually became the standard in business, and the source of all kinds of perversions of capitalism.

Keeping down worker wages, busting unions, and outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries are all seen as beneficial because a higher percentage of profits goes to the firm. Stock buybacks and other financial engineering have funneled those profits outthrough the capital markets; as Warren notes, “between 2007 and 2016, large American companies dedicated 93 percent of their earnings to shareholders.” Because over 80 percent of all stock is held by 10 percent of the population, inequality has soared. Passive income, which confers a lower tax rate, requires only having money to make money. Most CEO compensation comes in the form of stock, creating powerful incentives to goose the stock price. Corporations spend heavily to influence government to change laws and soften regulations that reduce potential profits, out of an obligation to shareholders.

In short, if corporations are people, shareholder value theory requires them to operate like psychopaths, pursuing only cash and bulldozing any obstacle in their path. A sense of ethics or responsibility to other citizens is disallowed in this framework.

Warren’s agenda would break the tyranny of shareholder value. Giving companies a duty to other stakeholders would force them to consider more than maximizing stock returns. Worker representatives on corporate boards would make the decision-making process far more democratic. Throwing sand in the gears of financial engineering—in addition to the five-year hold on executive stock sales, there would be a three-year lag after any buyback—would discourage both the leaking out of corporate profits to investors and the payment of executive compensation in stock.

There’s proven evidence that this model of corporate governance can work. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 August 2018 at 10:58 am

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