Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Next Trumpism Generation Will Be ENRON Slick

 Don't be fooled or lulled into complacency. The fascists engaged in Trumpism have learned  lessons from their partially failed effort to end our democratic experiment in favor of an authoritarian fascism.  Trump didn't do what damage he did alone.  Likely he did not have a grand strategy, given his impulsive, narcissistic personality.

Smart, cunning fascists saw in him an opportunity to launch their attack on a democracy they were forced by history to share with those they called liberals.  Liberals were an extreme inconvenience to them in attaining their faster, easier claim on wealth and riches.  Some in his midst were ideologues like Bannon, Miller, Gorka.  Most were very impatient business types who found our plodding, messy and shared democracy a major impediment to wealth building.  Take a look at Trump's former cabinet and key Federal department appointees.  Grey, colorless, boring financiers and industrialists whose personal agendas were accumulation of dollars, preferably stored offshore.

The Enron corporate model exemplifies the predictable next round we face in the deconstruction of small d democracy. The founders , all slick operators like Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow. who chose a relatively colorless, not so smart CEO from a traditional Texas energy career. Yes, he had a PhD in economics, so he knew what they all were doing with their new company whose brand theme was "Endless Possibilities".   But his mind manner and winning, nice guy personality masked the criminality his company and board were engaging in.  And a very un-flashy complicit board it was of equally colorless people  you never heard of from a variety of industries and backgrounds.  It included the wife of a very influential Texas Senator also with a PhD in economics.

The colorless fraud, well understood by Lay and his Board was quietly sold to a clueless business media and Houston establishment lulled into cluelessness with brilliant marketing.  They had in tow both a very respected Texas/Houston based law firm with international standing as well as a CPA firm of like international standing.   They knew and guided the criminal enterprise.  They just couldn't not know given their experience and brainpower.  

I lived in Houston during Enron's founding and rise to corporate leadership.  Young, ambitious people were eager to board this money-making train which had all the appearance of respectability.  They were attracted both by the dull ordinaryness of the new enterprise but also the slick, corporate flash provided by second tier management embodied by Fastow and Skilling.  They were seen at all the right public events, sports spectacles and fine dining establishments. Well dressed and driving the popular sports cars of the day.  This was to right imagery mix to attract the smart talent as employees and contractors.  I knew some of both. It was a heady time for the up and comers. 

This is what the next fascist Trumpite generation will look like.  And the look will be very different from the Trump era.  Smart, sharp, slick and all business in the campaign, led by a trustworthy colorless Presidential candidate.  Maybe someone like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio.  Pleasant enough, very self confident but not flashy or controversial. 

I got an insight into some of the Enron inner workings from a series of public radio interviews I did with Sherron Watkins, the Enron whistleblower.  What I learned from her, a very ethical, moral and deeply religious person, is that the co-conspirators in the massive fraud really came to believe that they were reinventing business norms, standard accounting and auditing practices and legal compliance.

Not that they didn't at first understand the fraud they were initiating. They knew, but narcissism and greed warped their judgement as they got deeper into the fraud and over time, believed they were right.  They were living the branding slogan "Endless Possibilities".  After all, this is the core promise of the American Dream and capitalism.  Which they turned into an elitist, fascist enterprise of people with superior skills and abilities.  This was the Enron culture. 

Watkins found only denial when she confronted the fraudsters.  They were reinventing business in their minds.  And down the corporate ladder, she found true believers who could not fathom those above them they idolized and were very gratefully benefiting  them financially would be doing anything wrong.  The same held for the world class legal and financial counsel who aided and abetted the fraud.

Sherron had no choice then but to go outside the cult of "Endless Possibilities" to regulators, many of whom too were duped and failing getting help there, went to criminal investigators within the Federal government.  She, as a conservative, found this last resort as distasteful but her only final option.

So, history may well repeat itself.  The model, Enron is there for the emulating by the next, faster, smarter and more cunning generation of Trumpites.  Stay vigilant.  democracy demands that of us.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Contrast: White Despair/Hate-Black Rage/Hope

 

I grapple with a dichotomy.  The white despair documented in rural and small Midwestern and Appalachian towns beset with industry/work abandonment resulting in unemployment, poverty and drug addiction to blunt the pain of living in such a circumstance. In contrast, the Black anger resulting in hopeful activism to end injustice and second class citizenship such as the BLM movement or the massive voter turnout for Biden in 2020.

Prior to economic ruin in these white communities, these tragic people and their immediate ancestors were blessed with secure middle class jobs, their choice of housing, access to education to advance their lives and a culture of privilege based on their ethnicity and political clout.  Many of them lost this lifestyle as result of offshoring of employment and massive changes in industry.  Some restored their political clout through politicians who demonized ethnic others as having stolen their lives.

In urban centers,  many Black people, while enjoying similar economic security with urban manufacturing jobs to which they and their families migrated off their tenant farms in the 40's and 50's. As those jobs too out migrated to foreign shores, they too lost security and stability with their lives. Many expressed their despair with gangs, conflict and drugs.  But in their case, they had never experienced choice in housing, access to quality education or a culture of privilege as had their white counterparts.  Some restored their political clout through civil and voting rights activism resulting in politicians who advocated for them, often with stiff headwinds. 

Yet the rural, mostly white Americans seem for the most part to be wallowing in their misery and attacking Black and liberal citizens for their plight with no cause and effect evidence.  And they seem stuck in their terrible situation without exercising their voice to the greater society to address this inequity.  I see few ideas for solutions coming out of this sector of our society, not even from the mostly conservative political representation that seems to be failing them.

On the other hand, from a significantly more historically oppressed sector, the Black American community, you see courageous work to replace inadequate political representation with brilliant, motivated leaders like The Squad.  And massive street protests drawing attention to policing violence against all of us and major efforts to reshape public sector approaches to both policing violence and social services designed to provide help and support.  The Black Lives Matter movement is self help at its finest.  All of this energy from an oppressed people defies logic considering the decades of disappointment they bear coming out of our our Civil War.

I am hopeful these two sectors of our struggling society can come together with leadership to address making their lives better, which will make all our lives better.  Massive economic and political change can rectify our societal failures.  Street action, speaking truth to power and leadership from allies in their cause can produce solutions if we trust and engage our democracy. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Catholicism, Fascism and Trumpism

 Newly Unsealed Vatican Archives Lay Out Evidence of Pope Pius XII's  Knowledge of the Holocaust | Smart News | Smithsonian MagazineThree isms, linked in infamy.  Yes, there really was a group called Catholics for Trump.  And various polls report that somewhere between 50 and 55% of Catholics in 2020 voted for Trump.  

I find parallels between 30% Catholic Germany in the late 30's and their transformation into fascism and our current U.S.A. drift into it quite fascinating.  Back then, recent Vatican documents made public reveal that Catholics in Germany were asking their priests and bishops if they could support the new fascism via A. Hitler they liked.  

The Catholic hierarchy adopted a policy with both fascist Italy and German of "neutrality", even related to the emerging anti-semitism within the populace and German political leadership. There was much documented anti-semitism within Church leadership as well. 

Pius XII's predecessor, Pius XI was quite liberal and had assigned J. LaFarge S.J., an American Jesuit who was editor of America magazine and and staunch advocate of opposing racism was tapped by Pius XI to write a Encyclical on opposing anti-semitism.  Encyclicals are the highest form of Papal teaching.

LaFarge delivered the document a year or so later, but Pius XI died before it could be published.  It was bitterly opposed by LaFarge's Jesuit superior and it is believed he exerted influence on its not being acted on prior to XI's  death.  

I learned some of this history through access to the locked section of the Santa Clara University library where I worked as a student.  I had access to books and documents stored there with my employment.  It began for me the process of working my way intellectually out of the Church and all religion. This included insights into the Church's long early history of anti-semitism, notoriously expressed, though not limited to the Inquisition. The Church in the modern era, starting in the 1960's began to excise anti-semitism from its teachings and culture.

Pius XI had acted to create Vatican City  as a separate Italian political entity apart from Rome as a move to distance the Church then from the emerging fascism regime in Italy.

Pius XII leveraged d his familiarity and respect for the Germans while serving in Germany in key Church ambassadorial positions with his neutrality policy when succeeding Pius XI.  Though some German and Polish Catholic clergy were oppressed by the emerging fascism government, Pius XII believed his neutrality policy would provide cover and protection for the Church in Germany and the rest of Europe as it was overtaken by Nazi leaders. The policy of genocide of Jews materialized and the holocaust began.  

It is clear that German, Polish and Italian Catholicism, with its highly authoritarian structure, had conditioned its faithful to respect authoritarian government in the political sphere.  The same seems to be true with American Catholicism, which has avoided democratization in spite of operating in the American form of democracy.  The Church's highly historically inconsistent policies regarding abortion, largely denied or understood by roughly half of American Catholic clergy and laity has clearly influenced Catholic support for Republican authoritarians for several decades.

I have studied deeply my former Church's policies on both support for authoritarian regimes around the world and its current position on abortion as I  worked my way out of the fold several decades back. One merely has to look at the relationship between the Church and both South American and Central American right wing regimes and its support of those country's wealthy elite keeping it financed to observe this truth.  Mexico, with its revolution and tamping down of the Church's influence stands as an exception.

So, American Catholic support for fascist Trumpism is completely understandable, though deeply troubling. This factual reality further convinces me that few Trump supporter minds will be changed on the destruction of American democracy from within.  Major portions of our electorate find authoritarianism quite acceptable. 


Sunday, November 8, 2020

America Welcomes Authoritarianism

 John Dean and Bob Altemeyer have given us a solidly scientific look at our current political crisis using both Dean's insights  and experience in political science and  Altemeyer's study of the processes involved in successful political domination and the science of personality testing.  The latter is a field of study developed over the last 50 years or so incorporating the fields of behavioral psychology and sociology.  These are study areas not frequently found in research of politics and governance. 

The field of study of authoritarian behavior began during WWII in the U.S.A. to understand what we were facing with Germany, Italy and Japan.

Altemeyer's approach has been to classify authoritarian personalities in typologies using what he calls a RWA  (right wing authoritarian) scale. His data suggests that those classified as high RWA's total 19 % of the U.S. population.  Behavioral/attitudinal characteristics include conventional behavior, making cursory identification of these types difficult.  But probing their personalities further reveals them to be often highly religious, prejudiced, opposing equal opportunity and lacking critical thinking skills. They are often not well educated.  Their views on freedom and liberty are superficial with probing revealing that what they care about is their  own freedom and liberty, not others.

He classified a second typology of authoritarian personalities as those less inclined to be leaders and more inclined to be followers.  These types number in the 30% of the population range in the U.S.   Their following is characterized as very loyal and difficult to change allegiance.

The authors also cite the work of Jason Stanley from studies starting in the 40's and 50's.  Stanley classified his typologies as Social Dominance Orientation, SDO.  He studied elected leaders and found those with high SDO's possessing what we have experienced with Donald Trump:  A desire to dominate, achieve personal power, willingness to cheat to win with amoral, bullying and vengeful behaviors.  Basically, mean people.

Recent Monmouth studies have revealed Republican leaders having high RWA behaviors and personalities. Their studies reveal that 33% of our U.S. population will follow high RWA leaders without discretion or self awareness.  

This research suggests that success in attaining compromise with these personality types is highly challenging, if not nearly impossible.  Some have conjectured that our success in in creating allies out of defeated enemies in Germany and Japan might suggest this conclusion to be overly pessimistic.  But history seems to suggest that both of these countries, with devastated economies and infrastructures were stripped of their RWA leaders with high SDO's and shamed in the world community  Their populations had no options or other choices than to submit to our rebuilding plan.  And to submit to very aggressive public education programs to diminish their authoritarian behaviors and support for authoritarians. 

And, our own Civil War experience was quite different from this more recent historical experience with Germany and Japan.  It took only a few years of a very forgiving Union to allow the destruction of Reconstruction and the replacement of slavery with abject racism and Jim Crow policies and 100 years of segregation and oppression of the offspring of former slave populations. 

These historic examples, in my opinion, together with the emergence of authoritarian movements in the U.S. roughly every 40 or 50 years since the Civil War, do not portend well for the eradication of authoritarians in our society.  I hope fervently that I am wrong and that President Biden's outreach to heal and form a more perfect Union is successful. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Republicans Live In Oz Land

Here we are America.  Living in the land of the Wizard of Oz.  Pence's debate performance against Kamala exemplifies their rusty, dull witted failure to grasp objective reality.  Our country is in Covid, economic and social distress as never before.  Yet, their rusty yet frightening adoption of Fascist solutions to the unreality they live in seems to them right, though history has proven them so terribly, destructively wrong.  

They really believe that Eurocentric, white America is threatened by different ideas and to them, very different people, especially those of color. They clearly believe that by limiting their numbers via immigration policy disfavoring these unwanted people, they can reshape an already incredibly diverse and exciting mix of races and culture into the White Nationalism they see as the solution to their power retention.

They really believe that by limiting the power of their diverse fellow American residents, via voting suppression, housing isolation, school segregation, an economic caste system and a reshaping of the American democracy experiment into a top down power structure, with their kind at the top and the diverse kind at the bottom much like the Dark Ages of Europe or Asian dynasties, they can thrive and the rest of us be damned.

There is alot of religious fundamentalism mixed into this land of Oz. Good old fashioned Protestant belief that some of us live privileged lives because we are so selected by their God as better.  Combine that with uniquely American mega-church theology embracing the concept of the mythical American Dream as possible for those who embrace the concept of American Exceptionalism. Riches is the visible reward for living a justified and self centered life.

So with these mindsets framed in racism and exceptionalism, these Republicans deny the reality of massive economic inequality, blaming the unequal for their plight on their failure to work hard enough, be smart enough and righteous enough to advance to their level of excellence.  These unequal are just losers, as Donald Trump has echoed.  He did not invent this idea.  He adopted and lived it.  The Wizard Trump is exemplary in his success, regardless of his immorality, selfishness and lack of empathy.

They justify their European immigrant occupation of the Americas as a righteous bringing of Christian religion to an ignorant population of non-believers for their own good and salvation.  This was true of both Protestant and Catholic occupiers.  Thus their theft of publicly owned lands for their private use, genocide of indigenous people and cruel subjection of them to the superior European economic model prevailed.

To advance this economic model , they who colonized the southern portions of the new colonies imported slaves not permitted in the British country of their origin. They emulated the British economy with the idea of advancing it with new industries and goods.  Slaves were necessary to execute this plan.  Ironically, the northern colonies sought to create a more religiously tolerant life, while exhibiting intolerance toward those differing with their Puritanical theology.  They created an early society of exclusion and isolation. They rejected the British economic model, while still creating a tiered social structure.  Hypocrisy infected both  America's.  But the occupants of the land of Oz deny this history in favor of a myth that America was found of the idea of freedom for all.  But the indigenous, differing believers and enslaved were not included in the all part.

So, an America that  some believed that God blessed began its journey to struggle through hypocrisy for the next 250 years. Attempts at expanding the freedoms enjoyed by the few ensued with abolition, expansion of religious sects such as Catholic Maryland, Mormonism and Christian Science broke through, in spite of significant  attempts to subvert.  Women's voting rights and ultimately, half baked attempts at integrating African Americans into the political and social structure followed.  

But the White Nationalist power structure prevailed as did the uniquely American caste system. This factual history is largely ignored by the minority of the population identifying as Republican.  They invented the concepts of the the American Dream and Exceptionalism as vehicles to suppress reality and advance American Oz.  A mythical America.  And these Fascist Nationalists truly believe their myths.  They are genuine in their believes.  This is not a charade the rest of us have to deal with.   

Thus, the challenge for the facts-driven majority to somehow continue the American journey toward democracy for all with an opposition steeped in heartfelt mythical belief.  A journey out of the land of Republican Oz, the demise of the Wizard and the empowerment of a diverse, reality driven people.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ideas On A More Fair America

 Kurt Andersen's recent book on causes and solutions for our unequal society has some very plausible ideas I'd like to share.  They are addressed in his Evil Geniuses, The Unmaking of America.

He credits Ronald Reagan with much of the policy which began with an very socially unequal society inherent in all of our history from the beginning and which his team and the Republican Party he adopted later in his life exploited to their ends of greed and avarice.

Our unmaking has as its root, in his view, Reagan's core policy theme that the government should be mistrusted.  He had a lot to work with with people both on the left and right: Vietnam and lying about it, Watergate, inflation, abuse by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to name several very good reasons which enhanced a very American value of skepticism of authority.

Reagan policies around poorly framed amnesty for undocumented immigrants and failure to acclimate existing citizens with unfamiliar cultures fueled resentment. Economic circumstances requiring more unfamiliarity with two income households and many more women in the workplace added to resentment among our conservatives. Child care challenges because of this added fuel to the fire, including the costs to household budgets. 

Reframing of relatively new civil and voting rights with racism at the core of his belief system was like gasoline on burning embers.

The inauguration of the 24 hour hour news cycle and Reagan's elimination of equal time provisions required of networks and the convergence of news and opinion through unregulated cable programming added heat the the fire, according to Andersen.   On the heels of the shock of these changes came the chaotic and unregulated internet enabled by the new availability of P.C.'s. 

A hallmark of Reagan policy was further, dramatic deregulation of industry combined with  massive lowering of taxes for both corporations (taxes halved) and wealthy Americans led to abandonment of antitrust enforcement and a quantum increase in lobbying at both federal and state levels.  

Reagan deregulation of healthcare with elimination of state based regulation of medical services/facilities expansion leading to the chaos and poor care we experience today at obscene costs.  And the closing of mental health hospitals for chronically ill patients dumped onto the streets as homeless, neglected people.

Small businesses declined and mega-mergers emerged.  Product and service markups swelled. Business/conservative think tanks were born to sell a new myth of trickle down economic benefits with increase in corporate influence on legislation to further enhance profiteering. Shareholder value replaced community betterment in corporate mission statements. 

This all led to a laissez faire capitalism and replacement of new and better products with a reborn finance sector with Wall Street careers in a boom town environment.  While top tier incomes exploded, Reagan began to tax social security income for modest earners. Reagan introduced America to the rebirth of 1920's style of income inequality and an attack on collective bargaining and union busting. The minimum wage went into the freezer.  Contract labor became a norm for many corporations. Wages began their decline and stagnation that would sustain into the next century. 

This is the Reagan legacy we live with today including the replacement of science with the new hybrid merger of myth, religion and science in our education system . This of course, led to his climate change denial.  Today's anti-vaxxer and anti-masker and anti-health science movements which are terribly impeding our ability to address our Covid crisis.

Andersen posits that measures can and need to be taken to rectify these misdeeds of Ronald Reagan and those in the conservative think tank sphere that have imperiled both our democracy and our now very unequal and unfair capitalistic system.  He cites also the very uncertain political economy we face with two other major trends.  First, the wonders of highly perilous Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in processing and manufacturing.  These are major opportunities and challenges we must be prepared to address.  Of course, he does not ignore the economic and social threat the current Covid pandemic presents and the future altering course it represents for our economy and our lives in general.

A more fair America would meet citizen needs with 58% of us saying we want government to do more and provide more regulation. We have a history of doing more with government programs that gave us solar energy, semi-conductors, electric cars, touch screens, the internet, most pharmaceuticals and public utilities, where the private sectors profits from our funding as citizens. 2/3 of us want a wealth tax, much having been made as a result of govt R&D or funding, or both. 92% like the idea of Sweden's economy.  We favor organized labor/collective bargaining on a two to one basis.  the majority of us want the power balance to shift from commerce to consumers.

Andersen proposes some very plausible solutions to the unmet wants/needs.  He proposes reinstating anti-trust enforcement where increased competition can reduce prices and provide more responsive service.  He suggests government guaranteed healthcare without necessarily excluding some forms of private insurance options. 

He suggests that with 28% of of our lands held by the Federal government, we could create an Alaska style universal income with licensing fees from private users of those lands such as gas/oil in the short term, solar and wind  and geothermal installations as well as ranching and agricultural and foresting enterprises.  Add to that income source carbon taxes as well as internet taxes on commercial uses such as Google and Facebook. Additionally , the government could secure funding from payback for tech grants and  R&D investments we've made.  Add to this income derived from climate crisis green jobs programs employing millions with incentives to move  xome off shored industries back to our shores, especially in cases of goods and services, such as crisis medical products better produced here at home for national security reasons.

Finally, here is some of his stunning data. If we evenly divided all U.S. A. income and wealth among the entire population, it would generate  annual income of $140,000 for each household and provide each with a net worth of between $800,000 and $1 million.  This of course is a not to be realized fantasy, but a fair tax system not tampered with by a corporate lobby could move us to a more fair income/wealth redistribution without deny the 1% their yachts, at least several mansions and their private jet.  They would be denied control of the stock market, better put in the hands of small investors through regulatory reform .

Really, with a will to succeed that is uniquely American, America could do this. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

2020 Republican Party Platform

 This is the Republican Party Platform for 2020.  This is what they stand for.