One of the things that caught my attention this morning was that the US government’s debt level has soared to just a hair under $19.7 trillion.
To give it some context, that’s up over $170 billion in just eight business days.
It’s almost as if Barack Obama is intentionally and desperately trying to breach the $20 trillion mark before he leaves office in January.
Of course, this hasn’t been reported anywhere because the media is too busy pretending to be shocked that Donald Trump is a womanizer.
And yet the debt is a much, much bigger story… though admittedly one that is far less entertaining.
The election is merely a fight over who gets to be the band conductor while the Titanic sinks. And the debt is precisely the reason for this.
Total US public debt has skyrocketed over the last eight years by $9 trillion, from $10.6 trillion to $19.7 trillion.
And in the 2016 fiscal year that just closed two weeks ago, the government added a whopping $1.4 trillion to the debt, the third highest amount on record.
Plus, they managed to accumulate that much debt at a time when they weren’t even really doing anything.
It’s not like the government spent the last year vanquishing ISIS or rebuilding US infrastructure. They just… squandered it.
Now, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says we shouldn’t worry about America’s prodigious debt, and anyone who fusses over it doesn’t understand economics.
Stiglitz claims that we wouldn’t judge a private company like Apple based solely on its debt.
We’d look at other factors like assets, income, and growth before making an assessment of the company’s financial health.
And he’s right.
Singapore, for example, is a country with an extremely high level of debt. At first glance, it looks dangerous.
But if you dive deeper into the government’s balance sheet, you see an enormous abundance of cash reserves.
So taking into account just its cash assets, Singapore has absolutely ZERO net debt.
The US, on the other hand, is not in this position.
The Treasury Department publishes regular financial statements detailing its income, expenses, assets, and liabilities.
You already know the income numbers– the government loses billions of dollars per year, and the trend is negative.
As for its balance sheet, the government reports just $3.2 trillion in assets against $21.4 trillion in liabilities, for a NET position of NEGATIVE $18.2 trillion.
Now, when we’re dealing with trillions, it’s clearly not an exact science.
There are many economists who argue that the federal highway system, military, and federal tax authority should count as “assets” that are worth trillions of dollars.
Maybe so. But to be fair, one should also count the trillions of dollars of repairs needed on the highway system as liabilities.
Or the trillions more in cost of wars. Or the $40+ trillion in unfunded liabilities from Medicare, Social Security, etc.
It’s also important to note that America’s debt is growing at a far quicker rate than its economy.
When President Obama took office, US public debt was about 73% of GDP. Today it’s 105%. So even as the economy has grown, the debt has grown much faster.
Any way you look at it, the US government is already insolvent, and its situation is becoming worse.
This leaves essentially two options.
We can choose to willfully ignore this obvious trend and delude ourselves into thinking that the continued expansion of US debt will forever be consequence-free;
Or, we can acknowledge the tiny possibility that maybe, just maybe, there may be some adverse consequence, and plan accordingly.
That’s the great thing about risks– we can take out insurance to protect against their consequences.
That’s why we have fire insurance to protect our homes, life insurance to protect our families.
Of course, there is no policy from Met Life or GEICO which will protect you from capital controls, a default on Social Security, or Global Financial Crisis 2.0.
Yet there are countless options to protect against these consequences.
The premise is simple: if your country is broke, don’t keep 100% of your assets there.
If your banking system is precariously illiquid and questionably solvent, don’t keep 100% of your savings there.
Most of all, it never, ever hurts to have a Plan B and give yourself additional options.
For example, you may be able to take some steps to legally reduce your tax bill; move some funds to a safer, better capitalized bank abroad that pays a higher rate of interest; or obtain a second passport based on your grandparents’ Irish or Polish nationality.
It’s hard to imagine that you’ll be worse off for having taken any of these steps.
And like any great insurance policy, these steps not only protect you against risk, but also give you the chance to make more money and prosper.
(That’s why the ultra-wealthy often invest in insurance policies as an asset class.)
Having a Plan B doesn’t mean hiding in a bunker with a tin-foil hat. Anyone expecting the end of the world is going to be waiting a very long time.
But taking some risk off the table is something that smart, rational people do, especially in light of such overwhelming data.
The Narrator @ October 13, 2016
‘People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying’
The political correctness movement that has swept college campuses, corporate America and mainstream life can be traced back to a few psychological trends.
Howard Schwartz, professor emeritus of Oakland University, has for years studied the psychology underlying political correctness, and in his new book Political Correctness and the Destruction of Social Order: Chronicling the Rise of the Pristine Self, he offers some clarity on why the term “snowflakes” is now synonymous with college students today.
Schwartz, who taught classes in social and behavioral science within its business school, said the term stems from what he calls “the rise of the pristine self.”
Schwartz writes in the book that “this is a self that is touched by nothing but love. The problem is that nobody is touched by nothing but love, and so if a person has this as an expectation, if they have built their sense of themselves around this premise, the inevitable appearance of the something other than love blows this structure apart.”
He added in his interview that “the oversensitivity of individuals today, including political correctness and microaggressions, all stem from this idea that people operating under the notion of the pristine self view you as evil because you are showing them something other than love.”
Schwartz points to the rise of helicopter parents and capitulating campus administrations as contributing to this phenomenon.
“People now experience the entire world as a form of bullying. The helicopter parent protects the children from real dangers but also fantasy dangers. These precious snowflakes are the children of political correctness, their parents and schools lead them to believe that the world is perfectly moralistic — they don’t live in the real world, it is a fantasy,” he said.
Schwartz said the pristine self is a sort of narcissism – individuals who regard themselves as pristine selves cannot handle the unlovingness of the world, even if it manifests itself in indifference rather than malice.
To them, everything is an act of offense.
“The university is the setting in which this narcissism is nurtured and the university becomes a sort of protective figure. Universities have become maternal institutions in which the patriarchy, embodied within any authority, is hated,” he said. “This phenomenon is developing at corporations as well.”
Schwartz said political correctness issues will pose great difficulty for organizations in the future.
“Weber famously discussed the impersonality of organizations, and people have to know that organizations are places where they are not necessarily outwardly loved. Their jobs are where they are going to have a hard time,” he said.
“The one exception is certain social justice jobs, because they give you work that insists in hating the patriarchy and perpetuate political correctness as right and good,” he said, but added “we can’t have an economy based off of these, though.”
At the end of the book’s introduction, Schwartz sums up his project by noting “there is clearly an element of irrationality in political correctness. It is a form of censorship without a censor; we impose it on ourselves. Yet, it keeps us away from the reasoned discussion of social issues which everybody can see are important, consequential, and desperately in need of wide-ranging analysis. It does so through an emotional power that is rarely gainsaid and which anyone can see is ultimately against everyone’s interest.”
He told The Fix he does believe the tide is turning away from political correctness, however, and points to the presidential election campaigns as evidence.
“The fact that we have Trump campaigning as the ‘anti-political correctness’ candidate is really interesting,” Schwartz said. “It shows how far we have come and that this movement has lost control of itself.”
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Your Feelings Are Largely Irrelevant
Seriously, nobody who has already graduated college cares about your feelings. That means that when you complain to your boss because your co-worker mis-gendered you, he’s probably not going to bend over backwards to bandage your wounds. Given feelings are entirely subjective in nature, it’s completely unreasonable to demand everyone tip-toe around you to prevent yours from being hurt. The reality is that people will offend you and hurt your feelings, and they won’t stop to mop up your tears because they shouldn’t have to. Learning to accept criticism, alternative viewpoints, and even outright insults will make you happier in the long run than routinely playing the victim card.
The Only Safe Space Is Your Home
No matter where you go in life, someone will be there to offend you. Maybe it’s a joke you overheard on vacation, a spat at the office, or a difference of opinion with someone in line at the grocery store. Inevitably, someone will offend you and your values. If you cannot handle that without losing control of your emotions and reverting back to your “safe space” away from the harmful words of others, then you’re best to just stay put at home. Remember, though: if people in the outside world scare you, people on the internet will downright terrify you. It’s probably best to just accept these harsh realities of life and go out into the world prepared to confront them wherever they may be waiting.
The Narrator @ October 12, 2016
Sooner or later, you run out of other people’s toilet paper…
The Narrator @ October 5, 2016
Until recently, American political culture settled into a comfortable middle ground on matters of race. People knew what to say and how to say it, more or less. It was all very polite. Everyone obeyed the rules. This way you could stay out of trouble and avoid one of the most devastating accusations that could derail your career: the claim that you said something racist. If the claim sticks, there is no forgiveness; there is only a lifetime of suffering.
Well, that polite truce was never a consensus; it was a coverup. And it is over. The proof is everywhere in evidence, not just among the Internet trolls who proclaim themselves champions of the white race.
Last week, I decided to attend my first-ever Black Lives Matter protest. This protest was in my home city of Atlanta. It was titled “Atlanta Silent Protest” and held downtown at Lenox Mall and later at Peachtree Center station next to the Atlanta detention center. It was, shall I say, an interesting experience. I won’t chalk this up as representative of the entire movement, but this one in particular was without a doubt a black supremacist operation.
Everything was focused on devaluation of non-black aspects of society. There were accusations of black police officers being race traitors, and chilling calls for boycotts on non-black businesses and community ostracism of Korean shop owners and white residential occupants. During the protest, they even physically removed non-black (specifically white) allies from the support circle. White people had to migrate to the sidelines, because…I guess that’s how you help heal race relations.
But even though I was not really in support of their (frankly, racist) demands and even less so of their activism tactics (blocking traffic is stupid), I still managed to have a discussion with them. Expressing why I believe collective black investment in industry would have a much more effective influence in balancing positions of power of black communities compared to collective black protest of capitalist enterprise.
I don’t know if I would say it was mutually productive, but it’s good to hear these ideas firsthand without the fearful cloak of political correctness.
Let Everyone Speak
So, yes, racism is finding it’s way back into public discussion. And being a black man, you may find it strange that I’d say this, but it is better if ideas can be expressed rather than be suppressed.
Racial supremacists for a long time have been a taboo demographic among mainstream political discourse. In part, their absence was due to the lack of market demand for their opinions. But a much larger contributing factor was that they have been the target of ideological sanctions which have barred them from academic institutions, political office, and even private clubs and companies. The activists in Black Lives Matter feel this, and so do many white people.
The White Supremacists Too
In a similar way, the white supremacists or white nationalists have found a new home in what is known as the Alt-Right. To be sure, I’m not trying to strawman the Alt-Right, and I grant many of its mainstream supporters believe in cultural superiority rather than racial superiority. But there are definitely some elements within the movement that advocate public policy intended to ensure racial Aryan purity and eugenics via state operations.
The other day I actually called into an Alt-Right webcast called The Radical Agenda. It is a provocative, adult-rated show discussing current politics, national socialism, “race realism,” anti-leftism and other right traditionalist ideas in an intentionally controversial format. We briefly discussed the actions of advocating white nationalism and why the host feels discrimination based on genetic heritage is a necessary tactic to preserve the core of the Western idea of civilization.
Contrary to what you might have assumed, it wasn’t a back and forth throwing of racial slurs and demeaning epithets. Again, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was particularly productive either, but it was a rational exchange of ideas.
Think of it: a black individualist libertarian had a respectful exchange with a white nationalist supremacist. This has got to be a good thing. For so long we’ve been told to avoid these people because they’re guilty of wrongthink and bad overall. But this isn’t elementary school. Anyone who’s interested in true intellectual pursuit shouldn’t be afraid of unorthodox engagements. You shouldn’t be afraid of talking to “bad people” or unpopular schools of thought.
Racists Need Free Speech as Much as Anyone
We all know that racism exists. As a collectivist and usually statist perspective, it is an ideology that made a huge showing in the course of the last hundred years, often with violent and devastating consequences. If we wish to avoid that fate again, it is in all our interests to discover why these people hold their racist views.
For a long time, these opinions have been relegated to evening Klan meetups in rural dive bars or radical African-American studies classes. We’ve enacted a quasi-probationary status against them, and this doesn’t help further intellectual development in society.
Racists are here; they’re in our lives on a day to day basis. Many say that racism is a driving force of politics today, and increasingly influential in social media, commerce, and government. But so long as we prevent them from being able to express (not execute, but express) their ideological conclusions and explanations for holding them, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.
Free speech is essential to freedom itself.
This may be difficult to accept, but in order to heal race relations, or at the very least get a proper understanding of why they’re so fractured, racist ideas need to be a part of the discussion. Banning accounts and passing suppressive laws against problematic speech won’t help us. Pretending everything is okay in an artificial echochamber of multicultural utopian cognizance doesn’t change the world we constantly complain about. It only shields us from uncomfortable truths that we may need to realize about ourselves and our fellow human beings.
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Taleed J. Brown hosts the popular YouTube channel “That Guy T“.
The Narrator @ September 28, 2016
I define corporatism as an economic model (such as our existing) thatprioritizes short term profit maximization above everything else even consuming all other aspects of society to attain that goal. Now I try not to simply opine on matters I discuss but attempt to substantiate my claims with objective quantitative analysis. And yet it amazes me the number of ‘experts’ and otherwise out there that don’t just disagree with me but quite aggressively take exception to my claims.
What is really fascinating to me is that so many stringent supporters of corporatism honestly believe they are proponents of capitalism. And it is for them that I’ve set out to unleash the iniquitous truth with such clarity so as to finally sever their misplaced loyalties to those false authorities who would have them not only believe but defend that the system is, in fact, what ‘They’ say it is.
Now before we go on, I must warn you there is a potential risk lying somewhere between jest and certainty that you will never see the world the same way again. And so if this is something that will cause you a sense of unending doom then perhaps best to click over to CNBC. And so….
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
Recently I provided some charts that show Wall Street profits up some 800% over the past 30 years while over that same period median weekly earnings for the American worker have risen about 9%. The point of this was not to make a moral judgement about central bankers (I’ll leave that to you), but to highlight the fact that policy objectives are best understood through policy results. Now in today’s world of continuously updated news, facts and figures it becomes almost impossible to gauge real progress. We rarely ever hear about YoY results anymore let alone 5 year or 10 year results.
Our standard of measure is relative to yesterday or at most last quarter. This allows the artistic freedom of seasonality adjustments. You see YoY results don’t require seasonal adjustments and that means the raw figures would have to be exposed. And well, that is a dangerous proposition for any government office or agency. But by keeping us focused on a new individual leaf each day they have prevented us from noticing the forest has burned down around us.
So take a step back with me and let’s look at the long term results to see exactly what the policy objectives have and continue to be. What we are about to see is that for those not already in retirement and especially for those just entering the real economy today the economic future is menacing and most will not survive it.
Now the subject of trade agreements always seems to elicit some very intense opposition to my own views. My claims have focused around the concept that so called Free Trade Agreements are anything but. These international trade agreements have two basic objectives. First is to create a cost arbitrage while negating the high risk proposition of undeveloped economies that naturally exists in a free market. Second is to protect the cost arbitrage from tariffs when targeting consumers back in developed economies. That’s really it. If you could lock those two objectives up on the back of a napkin the corporate interests would be happy for our legislators to sign it.
I’m about to prove that these trade agreements are the very essence of corporatism and together with fiat money have destroyed the natural self sustainment of capitalism through the requirement of private and public debt. In doing so corporatism has sabotaged the vast majority of American households thereby eradicating the capacity for economic growth. Leaving a tremendously precarious situation for those whose futures are not yet secured by fortune.
Note that labour cost arbitrage is not a real competitive advantage because it only works if government legislates away the naturally occurring free market risk. That is by definition, not a free market concept. So please, let’s stop calling these trade agreements ‘Free Trade’. And now think about a true capitalism cycle – Investment/production requiring profit, profit requiring consumption, consumption requiring income and income requiring investment – with only those parametres could firms profit if all firms implemented a labour cost arbitrage strategy? Well let’s quickly run through it.
Imagine all CEOs replace their domestic workers with cheap foreign workers in hopes of increasing profit. A trade agreement is put in place to negate the higher risk of their foreign capital investment and to ensure no tariffs are placed on products when they sell back into the domestic consumer market. So all firms build products overseas, ship them back to the US and put them on the shelves of Walmart.
So far everything is looking good. We have the Investment/production stage and now just require the consumption stage to realize profits so we can start the cycle over again. However, in our capitalism cycle it appears that consumption requires income yet all CEOs replaced domestic income with cheap foreign income in an effort to increase profitability. And so how do corporations realize profits if there is no income for domestic consumers to consume?
This is the absolute heart of the problem and helps to clarify the difference between capitalism and corporatism. Corporatism strategies (trade agreements and economic cannibalism) necessitate credit and welfare (private and public debt) whereas capitalism is self sustaining.
Please understand the above is a logical syllogism because corporate profit requires a transaction to take place. If no transaction then no profit is possible. The transaction is a necessary (but not sufficient) process for corporate profit. The transaction we call a ‘sale’. The sale we call ‘consumption’. So profit necessitates consumption. Consumption can only come by way of three means, namely, income, credit and welfare. Therefore by decreasing income in an effort to increase profit (on a macro scale, which is exactly what trade agreements do i.e. push microeconomic strategies on a macroeconomic scale) firms must assume the lost consumption from the lost income will be made up by credit and/or welfare. And in our current system it is. And I’m about to prove that to you beyond any shadow of a doubt.
If my claims are correct, then by implementing a labour cost arbitrage on a macro scale (trade agreements) you would end up with current account deficit inflection points following major trade agreement events. The most recent trade agreement events for the US were NAFTA and the Tokyo round of GATT (which increased corporatism benefits by more the 500% over all other rounds combined). The reason is that domestic consumption would increase materially relative to domestic production (i.e. production shipped offshore while selling that production back in the domestic consumer market). So let’s have a look at at the data.
The chart depicts total current account balance (black line) and 5 Yr moving average (red line). What we find is that following both trade agreement events we had significant increases to the imbalance of domestic consumption and production. Notice the balanced current account prior to Fiat money because you can’t run deficits on a gold standard. Notice a bit of fluctuation in current account after Fiat but prior to Gatt Tokyo. And then notice the major deficit move post Gatt and the massive deficit post NAFTA. Essentially Fiat allowed for deficits but the trade agreements unleashed the deficits.
Now the above chart shows that our existing model post trade agreements (necessarily) integrates perpetual imbalances between consumption and production (and remember gdp = gni) so this means that the imbalance must be ‘balanced’ by some input. And my claim is that exogenous input has to be credit and welfare. You’ll notice I included the point at which we moved from a quasi gold standard to a full on fiat currency. The reason is that we couldn’t implement labour cost arbitrage agreements without the ability to print endless private and public debt and so that was a necessary part of corporatism. So Let’s have look at private and public debt.
The above chart depicts changes in consumer credit + welfare as a percent of changes in personal consumption expenditures. Essentially this is tracking how much of the growth in corporate revenues is coming by way of increases to credit and welfare. What we find is that while there were ebs and flows over time there was a major shift immediately following NAFTA. The shift moved the ceiling of 37% of consumer sales growth coming from credit and welfare increases before NAFTA to 37% being the floor after NAFTA. In fact in 2015 a staggering 76% of consumer sales (PCE) growth came from growth in credit and welfare.
By now I must have your spidey senses tingly but I’m about to blow your mind with this next chart. I’m going to prove to you with absoluteness that these trade agreements that create perpetual trade deficits have a direct requirement for consumer credit.
The above chart simply adds total real consumer credit per capita / total real salaries and wages per capita (blue line) to the first trade deficit chart above. It is useful to think in terms of per capita because ultimately the macro is just the aggregate of individual circumstances and choices. The above chart has a correlation of -.9 and highly statistically significant regression results. While correlation is not causation we have our theoretical basis that predicted this very relationship and the tightness of that relationship is truly striking.
It tells the story that these trade agreements force the economy to subsidize income (i.e. consumption) per consumer with credit. That is, the trade deficits are a result of the trade agreements as depicted in the deficit charts above. And the deficits are then directly subsidized by consumer credit, which must make up the relative shortfall in income. Note the blue line is an almost perfect mirror image of the black line in the chart above, validating the hypothesis that the subsidizing credit is a direct requirement of the ‘free’ trade agreements.
Yeah, I know… colours are getting a bit brighter and things are starting to look much sharper than before. Truth can be so cleansing.
Now each of these above charts are highly supportive that the logical syllogism I discussed above is in fact absolute. It’s logical and mathematical; two things that most have very little success debating. And remember, I’m not suggesting that international trade is necessarily bad. I’m saying we irresponsibly develop trade agreements with corporate objectives that can only be supported by private and public debt. The antithesis of capitalism.
Corporatism embodies the worst aspects of both capitalism and socialism to form a uniquely destructive economic framework. So let’s look at the destructive nature of corporatism. What we’ll find is that it isn’t only destructive to the average American but to the profiters themselves.
As I’ve discussed previously credit and welfare are a function of income and if income is stagnant then as credit and welfare increase we are moving toward their limit. And this means we are heading to a maximum level of consumption (which can only be achieved by way of income, credit and welfare). But not only does credit have a limit relative to income but as it increases for the sake of consumption it actually reduces the flow of consumption over the medium and long term because of interest.
Now without getting too philosophical, when one researches the concept and history of interest (usury, ribbit, riba) one finds that most ancient religions (which were the basis of law) going back to the ancient Vedic Texts prohibited interest either absolutely or in some form (this includes Christianity, Judaism and Islam). And this to me is fascinating because it suggests that these ancient civilizations were wise enough to understand the potential destructive nature of interest bearing debt. Some writings actually specifically ban the concept of consumer debt.
What this means is that at some point in even more ancient history some society or societies must have collapsed under the weight of indebtedness because ancient laws were based on generational experience. Putting this in context with the plight of most great societies in more modern history we see the old lessons were lost on us. The irresponsible expansion of money and debt being the fatal common denominator of so many great societies in recent history.
So let’s look at the destruction of our modern society by way of corporatism, which is synonymous to the expansion of interest bearing private and public debt.
The above chart is pretty self explanatory. What it suggests is that we are only about 5 – 10 years from moving beyond the now 45 year period of deceleration and into actual contraction. Growth in incomes, credit and population are all below 1% on a 10 year average. Consumption and welfare growth are around 4% on the 10 year average. What’s concerning is that this trend, while softening during the 1990’s has again intensified post 2008. One thing to note is that income, credit and consumption growth rates all peaked immediately following Gatt Tokyo. What I’m telling you is that this is not a coincidence but a consequence.
And so I guess the point here is that you no longer have to take my word for it or for that matter the word of Moses, Plato, Aristotle, Cato, Cicero, Seneca, Aquinas, Muhammad, Jesus, Philo or even Gautama Buddha, all of whom condemned the concept of usury. An economic model that is built around interest bearing private and public debt is a form evil in that it necessarily ends in the destruction of society. Do comprehend that evil presents itself not as repulsive but nefariously seductive and credit is nothing if not seductive.
This is no longer about theory or opinion. The facts define how this will end. If you continue to deny these absolutes then you are technically irrational i.e insane. And so I see this as an end to the debate.
The policy objectives have not been what you were told. None of the economic policies were intended for your benefit. Monetary policy is not about you or your well being. Fiscal policies have not had your interest in mind. This is not to conclude that those who control your world maliciously intended you direct harm. But in the very best case you were and are simply irrelevant in this economic model of Corporatism.
Ironically, however, the solution is your relevance and will be the subject of discussion very soon.
The Narrator @ September 6, 2016
I do not follow sports, so I had not heard of Colin Kaepernick before this week. The San Francisco 49ers quarterback took a simple action Friday during a football game: He chose not to stand during the national anthem, and for that he has now become a household name. His act was one to which I could strongly relate.
Some years ago, I was at the Hollywood Bowl for a concert that had absolutely nothing to do with a national holiday, the military or the government. It was just a music event. But simply because there was a large gathering of people in one place, the venue upheld its irrational tradition of playing the national anthem and, like programmed robots, everyone in the stadium stood. I refused.
I have never stood up for the national anthem. Not the United States’ or any other country’s. Until 2009 I was an Indian citizen. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, I once attended an Indian student association event (primarily for the free Indian food) to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali. It had nothing to do with the Indian state. Yet inexplicably, the organizers began playing the Indian national anthem. Dutifully, everyone stood up. I refused.
I have been an immigrant since birth. I was born to Indian parents in the United Arab Emirates—a country that does not offer birthright citizenship. So right from the start, I didn’t belong. When I moved to the U.S., I still didn’t belong. It wasn’t until I was 34 years old that I finally lived in a country of which I was a citizen—a practical status that has enabled me to remain within the same borders as my husband and children. And by then, it was too late for attempts at indoctrinating the importance of nationalism in my psyche.
Kaepernick and a number of other black athletes like him have, over the years, come to the conclusion that allegiance to a country that has yet to come to terms with its enduring legacy of slavery makes little sense, particularly for African-Americans. In 1972, the legendary black baseball player Jackie Robinson wrote in his biography, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world.” Forty-four years later, Kaepernick similarly declared, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and many other athletes have taken similar stands over the years.
Kaepernick refused to show respect for the national anthem because he likely became aware of just how widespread the injustices facing African-Americans are, as the Black Lives Matter movement has underscored. His statements about the U.S. military, which have gotten far less attention, have suggested an ignorance of U.S. foreign policy. Asked if he insulted the military by sitting through the anthem, he denied it, saying of U.S. soldiers, “They fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice for everyone.” Right-wing critics frothing at the mouth over his criticism of police brutality are ignoring the fact that Kaepernick’s rosy views of the military are in line with theirs. Perhaps some day the quarterback will explore Ali’s criticism of U.S. foreign policy and revise his own vacuous comments about soldiers “fighting for freedom.”
Here’s the rub: No country is worth pledging blind allegiance to. Patriotism, nationalism, anthems, flags and syrupy words about “love of country” or soldiers “fighting for freedom” are constructs aimed at fostering unquestioning obedience from people lucky enough to be deemed citizens. They are meant to quash debate and discussion and enable mobs to righteously proclaim treason by anyone who dares to dissent. GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who today best represents the vitriol of right-wing white resentment, said it best: “Maybe [Kaepernick] should find a country that works better for him.” It is a variation on a phrase I have heard a few times during my life in the U.S.: “Go back to your country.” Except that it is even more insulting to Kaepernick, who is an American by birth.
Perhaps bowing in deference to a flag or anthem fulfills some deep, primal need in humans to identify as a tribe that’s bigger and better and stronger than other tribes. Perhaps it satisfies a compulsion much like organized religion does—to find one’s place in a big, dangerous world that often makes no sense. Regardless, like religion, nationalism ought to be optional, a personal choice. If you’re into standing for an anthem written by a man who enslaved black people, and whose verse blatantly exalting slavery is simply swept under the rug, go right ahead. But don’t expect everyone to do so or chastise those who openly refuse to bend to such expectations.
To its credit, Kaepernick’s team issued a statement that showed an understanding of his rights, saying, “In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
But apparently many Americans don’t understand that we live in a democracy where embracing the symbols of nationalism and accepting institutional abuses of power are not mandatory.
Police unions have denounced Kaepernick, whining about his “total lack of sensitivity towards police officers.” Racist Twitter users have resorted to the least intelligent epithet they could think of. In other words, Kaepernick’s critics have proven his point: that there is deep and abiding racism against black people and people of color in the U.S., and that for many Americans, there is far greater anger over an athlete sitting out the national anthem than over our ongoing epidemic of police killings of innocent, unarmed Americans who are disproportionately black.
Nationalism and blind patriotism can bring out the worst in all of us. No country is above criticism, because no country has ever gotten everything right. Most are built on legacies of mass oppression, genocide, slavery, colonialism, corruption, misogyny and racism.
We can love our family, community and neighborhood. We can—and should—participate in our civic duties to be politically active citizens for whom voting and observing jury duty are the least of our responsibilities. But waving a flag, standing up for an anthem, putting your hand over your heart like it actually means something, are hallmarks of groupthink, of a population easily swayed by pieces of colored cloth and emotionally evocative melodies.
By writing these words, I will surely be accused of not loving my country enough. I will be told to “go back to my own country” or find one that suits me better. Like Kaepernick and Robinson, those of us who are deeply critical of this nation’s failings are often working hardest to fix them, rather than papering over them. As James Baldwin wrote, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
The Narrator @ September 3, 2016
Today I asked my followers how would they describe Millennials and this is what I got:
“lazy”, “thin-skinned”, “spoiled”, “selfish”, “undisciplined”, “self-absorbed”, ”fragile”, “oblivious”, etc.
…and I can agree on this. This generation is really what you call it. But there was one description that is the most accurate.
You’re in charge. You insisted your children and grandchildren have to get higher education instead of taking a blue-collar job or just entering the workforce after school like your generation did. Most of you pay for that (often unnecessary) higher education. You are overprotective and prevent your children from playing outside and making mistakes you had a chance to make to gain that thick skin. You don’t let your 12-year-old kid stay at home alone because they are too young. And who is wrong when your child has a conflict at school? I bet you always blame the other side, not your “special snowflake”. And how you get surprised that the whole generation gets offended by facing the truth: they are not special. It must hurt, right?
They have never been taught how to debate and formulate an argument, as another followernoticed. Now you may start shouting about terrible school education, but it’s the family which is to blame.
Millennials are the product of your parenting. You spoiled your child and now you’re asking why they are demanding everything for doing nothing. See the correlation here?
And if you’re reading this and you’re not a parent yet, please, do some research on raising a responsible person and let your child make mistakes, it will help them in the future. I bet you don’t want your child to be triggered by “manspreading”. Do yourself a favor, raise your child right.
BONUS for Millennials:
1) You shouldn’t be offended if it was not intended to offend you.
2) Being offended is a choice you make. Nobody is responsible for that choice but you.
3) Even if it was intended, functioning adults understand that they must move on and not cry over a rude comment on the Internet
4) You should stop whining on the Internet. It’s too annoying.
The Narrator @ August 15, 2016
Given we are eyeballs-deep in the US presidential election cycle, now seems a particularly appropriate time to share some observations on the topic of political propaganda.
As a naturally curious fellow, some years ago – during the Clinton vs. Bush Senior contest – I became interested in the language and techniques used in political campaigning. So much so that I dedicated my daily study period to the topic for the better part of a week.
Since it will be impossible to escape the rhetorical onslaught for the next few months, I thought I might be able to shed some light on what goes on in the battle for your subconscious.
As these insights come from the well-worn pages of playbooks of every politician around the world, I think they are pretty much timeless and cross all borders.
At the core of what I learned in my studies is that the stock and trade of the propagandist revolves around trying to simplify issues, no matter how complex, into easily understood concepts that tap into the existing attitudes and emotions of the target audience.
As an aside, since this topic touches on politics, I may inadvertently gore your ox. For the record, I view most politicians and political parties with disdain, though my disdain is particularly elevated for politicians espousing policies that interfere with my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
With that brief introduction, here are just some of the techniques you can watch for as the election season gains steam.
1. Use stereotypes.
This technique has probably been in active use since humans lived in caves. Successfully drape the opponent in the cloak of a stereotype that triggers a negative image, and you’ve done a good day’s work as a propagandist.
Depending on which side of the political spectrum you swing to, you might trot out old favorites such as “rich fat cat,” or “friend of Wall Street,” or “big-government socialist,” or any one of many handy sterotypes. These stereotypes allow you to instantly tap into powerful underlying prejudices and emotions.
And, for the record, it is a well-documented fact that when we humans are emotionally worked up, we become much more Susceptible to follow-on political messaging.
2. Name substitution.
The propagandist will try to label the opponent with an unflattering, and memorable, term. If that is successful, the label will involuntarily come to mind at the sight of the opponent. Donald Trump is the reigning champion of this technique, using name substitution like a two-by-four against his opponents.
Every time Elizabeth Warren’s name comes up, my mind automatically substitutes her name with Pocahontas and I have to smile. On the other side of the contest, the Hillary camp has been trying to stick Trump with the “bully” label. I expect to see a lot more of that.
Out of a mass of complex facts, the propagandist selects only those that are suitable for his or her purpose. You wouldn’t expect Trump to mention his past bankruptcies, or Hillary her long list of crimes.
There is, actually, an instance where Trump might want to mention his bankruptcies. Folks in the influence business—including trial lawyers—use a technique called “inoculation” where, knowing your opponent is going to come after you on a point, you bring it up first and therefore diffuse it.
“My opponent, Crooked Hillary, is probably going to mention the fact that I have had some businesses go bankrupt many years ago. She’s right.
“When you’re involved in the rough and tumble world of business, sometimes things just aren’t going to work out, and so you have to do what you have to do to protect your employees and buy some time to pay your debts.
But here’s the important thing to remember. I’ve run businesses—big businesses—ever since I was 19 years old. And Crooked Hillary? She’s a lawyer and never ran a single business. Not once. And that’s the problem with American politics… too many lawyers and not enough business folks!”
4. Downright lying.
The “big lie” has always been an important part of propaganda.
Remember the woman who came forward to tell Congress about Iraqi soldiers raping and hacking their way through a maternity ward in Kuwait as part of the campaign to get the US to invade? The politicians got emotionally involved in the story and so, per my earlier comments, were made more susceptible to the idea of invading Iraq.
Turned out the woman was the daughter of a high-ranking Kuwaiti official who had been enlisted by a PR firm, and her story was completely fabricated.
Not so long ago, Bloomberg ginned up a story claiming Trump had invited thug and convicted rapist Mike Tyson to address the Republican convention.
Baseless nonsense dreamed up by soulless PR cretins, and nothing more.
If you repeat a statement often enough, it will become ingrained in the minds of your target audience.
For example, the myth propagated by the Democrats that the rich need to pay their “fair share” despite the fact that the top 10% of income earners pay 70% of all federal income taxes.
On the flip side, the Republications constantly repeat the mantra that Democrats are all in favor of “big government” despite the reality that the size of the government has continued to grow in size under Republican and Democrat administrations alike.
The clever propagandist rarely engages in a substantive debate over the issues, but instead favors bold assertions to support his thesis. This is logical because the essence of propaganda is to present only one side of the picture and deliberately obfuscate or bury facts to the contrary.
We are told Donald Trump is a bigot, but for the life of me, I can’t find any examples. Unless you think his call for enforcing immigration laws bigoted.
We are told that police target black men for summary execution, a meme that has contributed mightily to the recent outbreak of violence against the police. In time, that will also result in the police keeping their hands in their pockets and avoiding neighborhoods where they aren’t wanted. At which point the real mayhem will begin.
It doesn’t matter that the assertion is not factually true, what does matter is that it fits the narrative that the majority of the white population, especially fat cats like Donald Trump, are racists.
As to the truth, here is a very worthwhile article that looks past the meme and to the statistical facts.
7. Identify an enemy that taps into deeply held prejudices.
It is particularly helpful to the politicians not to just be “for” something, but to be against some real or imagined enemy who is supposedly frustrating the will of his audience. This serves to deflect any opposing views while strengthening “in group” feelings. Some of the campaigners for Brexit used the influx of illegal immigrants very effectively in this regard. As has Donald Trump.
8. Appeal to authority.
The authority may be religious or some respected political figure. In the case of the Democrats, you’ll increasingly see references to Bill Clinton, who is apparently remembered fondly by some. By trotting out Bill, Hillary hopes the voters will overlook her many faults.
Knowing this is coming, the Republicans have done a pretty spiffy job of tarnishing Bill Clinton’s reputation—which wasn’t real hard—with exposés on the Clinton Foundation and his proclivity for women other than his wife. (For the record, I almost made a snarky comment, but refrained.)
9. Peer pressure.
One of the most powerful influence techniques is summed up in the phrase, “Everyone else is doing it.” Being a herd animal, it is very hard for us as individuals to go against the crowd. In the Brexit campaign, the media tried to paint the “Leave” folks as malcontents on the fringe.
In the US, to self-identify as a Trump supporter is—if you believe the Democrats and the media they control (which is, like, all the media)—you are some sort of gun-hoarding racist nutjob.
In what might be viewed as either good news or bad, the most fundamental limitation of propaganda is that almost everyone develops a more or less rigid set of beliefs and attitudes early in life and, except in trivial matters, clings to those beliefs.
Thus, the real task of the propagandist is to tap into those attitudes and attempt, often with deliberate lies, to demonstrate that the propaganda accurately reflects the established views of the audience.
Here is an example. On first hearing that Trump proposed to build a wall across the border with Mexico, my reaction was incredulous and very negative. What a dumbass idea.
However, when I heard Trump describe his wall, stressing that the wall would have a “big door, a very, very big door” for people that fulfilled the legal requirements for immigration to pass through, my opposition was muted.
I still don’t think it’s a practical idea, or even a good idea, but by his clever rhetoric—mentally painting the picture of a big door where people who followed the rules could enter—Trump was able to get me to view the idea of the wall in a different light. To wit, he’s not anti-immigration. Just anti-illegal immigration.
Some Concluding Observations
I doubt Trump will win the election. Not only does he have the entire liberal establishment lined up against him, but the propagandists have had great success in turning the larger ethnic communities against him.
And in what may be a first, even the leadership of his own political party continues to go to great lengths to discredit him.
This is not to say that Hillary and the Democrats will be able to credibly marshall an effective propaganda attack on Trump that will sway his constituents.
For starters, that constituency views “Hillary” not just as a political opponent, but an icon for everything that is wrong with the political class. They are not budging even one iota come election day.
Which makes this a battle for the so-called independents. And that’s where the propagandists will be aiming the big guns.
The Democrats tried to turn women against Trump by painting him as a misogynist. However, a master of the game, Trump countered by pushing forward the women the media had pointed to as “proof” of his misogyny who, in no uncertain terms, stated that the reporter had made up the whole story.
So, what scab can the propagandists (successfully) pick to ensure Trump doesn’t attract the independents who are uneasy about the direction America has taken? Well, for sure, Hillary can’t claim he’s corrupt or a crook, you know, because of the whole rocks-and-glass-houses thing.
So, I expect she’ll play the usual “fat cat” card and double down with the bully thing. That way when he berates her on the national stage, especially in the upcoming debates, she’ll do the equivalent of an “I told you so! Look at how he treats poor me.”
I think Trump is probably smart enough to figure all this out and be prepared.
Regardless, at the end of the day it’s going to boil down to demographics. Who has the bulk of the voting public in their camp?
If Trump is on the right side of the demographics, the side that fondly remembers the idea of America and wants to preserve it, versus those who embrace the brave new world of political correctness, multiculturalism, and populist economics, he’s got a chance.
If not, he will be toast and those of you who make America your home will have to accept that the country is going to continue slipping down the slippery slope. And not just under Madam President, but under whichever politically correct construct gets elected after her eight-year term ends.
Who knows, maybe by then the president will be introduced to audiences as “Ze President”?
So, any hints from the demographic data on who might win?
A useful gauge of what to expect from the 2016 race is to look back at the 2012 presidential election.
In 2012, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by the comfortable margin of 332 to 206 electoral votes (to win the presidency, a candidate needs 270 electoral votes). In the popular vote, Obama beat Romney by a difference of about five million votes.
Historically, women make up 53% of presidential voters and men make up 47%. In the 2016 election, it is likely that the gender makeup will stay constant, which will favor Hillary Clinton. According to the Gallup Poll, 70% of women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. That kind of gender gap could deliver the White House to Clinton.
On the other end of the scale, Donald Trump has the support of white men who distrust Clinton.
Trump may like to think he can up his chances in the presidential stakes by appealing to discontented white voters who will constitute an estimated 71% of the voting population in the 2016 elections. But the last presidential election results show otherwise. Even though the Republicans won white votes by huge margins in 2012, Mitt Romney still lost.
What carried Barack Obama into the White House were minority votes. He won 93% of African-American voters, 71% of Latino voters, and 73% of Asian voters.
The minority electorate carries even greater weight in 2016—with 38% of Americans constituting minorities, as opposed to 28% in 2012.
Furthermore, almost two million more Latino voters are expected to turn up for the 2016 elections than in 2012.
Therefore, Trump will need minority votes if he is to have a chance of winning the White House. An impossibility if one accepts the premise put forward by some political analysts that 84% of nonwhite voters won’t vote for him.
Based on the demographics, I’m prepared to bet that it’s unlikely that Donald Trump can win the popular vote for the United States presidency in 2016.
Then again, everyone thought Brexit would fail, so there’s that.
I will close by saying that there are a couple of scenarios that could change the tide.
- One is that Trump absolutely dominates in the upcoming presidential debates.
- The other is that Hillary gets indicted.
Regardless, I’ll be watching the election results as they come in from a comfortable seat in the Bad Brothers Wine Experience. Which, given the prospects for a Clinton presidency, seems a fine place to be.
The Narrator @ July 23, 2016
The Narrator @ June 12, 2016