Category Archives: Economy and Meltdown

America’s Derangement Syndrome A Danger To World Peace

Via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

It is significant that Presidents Putin and Trump have both spoken out against “haters” among America’s political establishment who would rather see conflict between Russia and the United States instead of a normalization of bilateral relations.

Following their landmark, successful summit this week in Helsinki, Putin and Trump separately made public comments deploring the hostile hysterical reaction emanating from broad sections of the US political establishment and its dutiful, controlled news media.

Speaking in Moscow to his diplomatic corps, President Putin warned that there were “powerful forces” within the US which are ready to sacrifice the interests of their country and indeed the interests of world peace in order to pursue selfish ambitions.

For his part, Trump also slammed opponents in the US who “hated” to see him having a good meeting with Putin. “They would rather see a major confrontation with Russia, even if that could lead to war,” said the American president.

That’s it in a nutshell. Rather than welcoming the opening of a cordial dialogue between the US and Russia, the American political establishment seems to desire the deepening of already dangerous tensions between the world’s two nuclear superpowers. If that’s not deranged, then what is?

Significantly, the hostile reaction was overwhelmingly on the American side. Russians, by and large, welcomed the long-overdue summit between Trump and Putin, and the potential beginning of a new spirit of dialogue and partnership on a range of urgent global problems. Problems including arms control, nuclear proliferation, and working out political settlement to conflicts in the Middle East, Ukraine and the Korea Peninsula.

Few people would believe that these problems can be resolved easily. But the main thing is that the leaders of the US and Russia are at least attempting to open a dialogue for understanding and political progress. That in itself is a breakthrough from the impasse in bilateral relations which have frozen into a new Cold War since the previous US administration.

We dare say that most citizens of the world would also endorse this effort by Trump and Putin at improving the relations between the US and Russia.

Significantly too, according to recent polls, most ordinary Americans seem to be agreeable or neutral about Trump’s diplomatic engagement with Russia. According to a Gallup poll out this week, the vast majority of US citizens are far more concerned by economic woes than they are by anything untoward in American-Russian relations.

Thus, what we are seeing in the explosion of hostility towards the Trump-Putin summit is twofold. It is an American phenomenon, and secondly, it is an angst that animates only the political class in Washington and the news media corporations. This constituency, it is fair to say, is an elite faction within the US, albeit extremely powerful, made up of Washington politicos, the state intelligence apparatus, the corporate media and think tanks, and the deep state establishment of imperial planners and strategists. In short, this constituency is what some observers call the “War Party” that transcends the US ruling class.

Any reasonable person would have to welcome the friendly rapport engendered between Trump and Putin, and at least their initial commitment to working together on major matters of global security. The dangerous impasse of recent years in which dialogue was absent must be overcome for the sake of world peace.

Nevertheless, what has become crystal clear this week following the Helsinki summit is the “War Party” within the US is more determined than ever to sabotage any rapprochement with Russia.

No sooner had Trump returned to the US, he was assailed with a tidal wave of vilification for having met Putin in a mutual, agreeable manner. The most disturbing aspect was the recurring slander denigrating Trump as a “traitor”. The hysterical name-calling was conveyed by all the major news media, citing former intelligence officials and politicians from both Democrat and Republican parties.

Which again shows that in the US there is really only one party, the War Party.

President Trump was evidently forced into making an embarrassing U-turn over his views expressed in Helsinki. He made an unconvincing disavowal of statements made alongside Putin. Trump had been pilloried for appearing to dismiss allegations of Russian interference in the US elections while he was in Helsinki. Within 24 hours, he was forced into making a retraction, saying that he did – kind of – believe that Russia had meddled in US democracy.

What Trump was subjected to by the US establishment was akin to the worst years of McCarthyite Red-Baiting as seen during the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s, when Americans were mercilessly humiliated and ostracized for being “Communist sympathizers”. Today, official American paranoia is back with a vengeance. In truth, it never went away.

To be fair to Trump he has not completely capitulated to the American derangement syndrome. He has since said that he is looking forward to holding a second meeting with his Russian counterpart and continuing their promises of partnership as announced in Helsinki.

However, it is instructive that the American president is, in effect, being held hostage by powerful elements in the US ruling class who view any kind of detente with Moscow as an unforgivable betrayal.

Trump’s instincts are correct that the whole so-called Russia-gate mania is a phony contrivance. That has been orchestrated by the US establishment based on its refusal to accept Trump’s democratic mandate, as well as being based on an abiding hostility towards Russia as an independent world power.

The object lesson here is that the scope for improving US-Russia relations is limited, in spite of Trump’s favorable personal inclinations.

An entrenched animosity towards Russia remains among the American War Party, and the current president has evidently little room for implementing his avowed policy of normalizing relations.

Russia therefore cannot place too much faith in making progress towards peaceful relations, because all-too apparently President Trump has actually very little freedom to exercise his democratic mandate. That is a damning indictment on the charade of American formal democracy. A president is elected partly on the basis of peaceful engagement, but the unelected powers-that-be have another agenda of conflict which they are pursuing come hell or high water.

What’s more, the American derangement syndrome is becoming even more virulent, as can be adjudged from this week’s hysterical backlash over the successful Helsinki summit.

Trump’s willingness for dialogue with Russia is a welcome development. But the far more disturbing development is the full-tilt belligerence and derangement on display among the American political class. This American political chizophrenia is a clear and present danger to world peace. American citizens are as much a victim of the madness as are Russians and the rest of the world.

One positive aspect of the new phase of Cold War is that before it was largely concealed, and deceived, as a simplistic bifurcated confrontation of Americans versus Russians. Today it is evidently a situation of an American deranged elite versus the rest of the world, with the latter including ordinary American citizens who have much more to gain from standing in solidarity with Russian citizens.

Two-Thirds Of Rich Kids Depend On Parents’ Inheritance To Maintain Lifestyle

As young people continue their journeys through life with a negative net worth, more members of the “mass affluent” American youth are openly admitting that their financial stability in retirement will depend on inheriting money from their parents, another family member or a friend, according to Bloomberg.

Rich

A recent survey of the “mass affluent” – that is, people age 18 to 40 with investable assets worth between $50,000 and $250,000, or with investable assets between $20,000 and $50,000 and an annual income of at least $50,000 – found that 65% of Americans aged 18-22 expect to depend on inherited money to get through retirement. But not everybody expects to inherit that money from their parents. Roughly 17% of these “Gen Z” respondents said they expect to inherit money from a friend. By comparison, that number is 4% for all age groups.  Another 17% of Gen Zers said they expect to inherit money from their grandparents, compared with 6% overall, while 14% said they expect extended family to shell out some cash, compared with 5% overall.

BBG

Indeed, in North America alone, an estimated $30 trillion will be transferred to the younger generation via inheritances over the next 30 years. Though for some members of Gen Z, it could be a while before they see any of that money, because, as a survey from UBS recently showed, roughly 53% of people with more than $1 million in investable assets expect to live to 100, or beyond.

BBG

Those beneficiaries may have to wait a long time, though: A recent survey from UBS Financial Services showed that 53 percent of people with more than $1 million in investable assets expected to live to 100. One financial expert said the notion that young people expect to inherit money from friends is unique to their generation.

Levine attributes the relatively large number of Gen Zers who expect to inherit money from friends as unique to the demographic. They’ve grown up in a sharing economy – think Airbnb, Uber and crowdfunding – so “why wouldn’t you have some sort of shared way with friends to finance your future?” he said.

The reliance on a hoped-for inheritance points to worries bedeviling Americans who aren’t even struggling to get by. Decades of spending down savings during retirement loom, and safety nets such as Social Security and Medicare don’t feel so safe anymore, particularly to the youngest Americans.

When it comes to young people across the developed world, Americans aren’t the only ones looking forward to an inheritance to help them make it through retirement. Globally, inheritance expectations are highest in India – with 19% of the population expecting to receiving something – and lowest in Japan, with just 7% expecting to receive something.

The average across 15 countries in the recent Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2018 was 11%. It’s unsurprising that a growing number of young American workers say they will need to depend on inheritances for financial stability in retirement, as wage growth has been stagnant and AI and automation are expected to displace more human workers. But as we pointed out back in 2013, rich kids shouldn’t count their eggs before they hatch. Because as families see the value of their estates rise, they give more money to charity, and less to their kids.

JPM

This Is What Happens Behind Closed Doors When U.S. Presidents Meet With Fed Chairs

Last week, Donald Trump ventured into what until recently was uncharted, for US presidents, territory.

First, during a CNBC interview, the president went so far as to say that the strong dollar “puts us at a disadvantage” then went on to do what so many consider anathema, and said he is “not thrilled” about the Fed rising rates “because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again.”

One day later, Trump doubled down, saying in a tweet that “tightening now hurts all that we have done. The U.S. should be allowed to recapture what was lost due to illegal currency manipulation and BAD Trade Deals. Debt coming due & we are raising rates – Really?”

And while Trump made it clear he was displeased with the Fed’s tightening – which has been largely a function of the soaring US double deficits and Trump’s own late cycle fiscal stimulus (which according to Barclays will push the economy into near overheating territory, with Q2 GDP now pegged at 5.0%) – he also went on to accuse “China, the European Union and others” of “manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower, while the U.S. is raising rates while the dollars gets stronger and stronger with each passing day – taking away our big competitive edge.”

So is Trump trying his best to Erdogan-ify the US economy, and is taking a page out of the Turkish dictator’s playbook, in a power grab that will end up with Trump controlling the Fed? That remains to be seen: naturally the White House, Steven Mnuchin and countless other officials have vowed that Trump has utmost respect for the Fed’s independence. That, however, will likely change the moment the market tumbles and Trump demands a rate cut by the Fed.

For now all Trump has achieved is trapping himself in his escalating trade and now currency, war with China, because as we discussed earlier, the Fed’s hands are now tied and Powell may be unable to cut rates even if it has to, should China proceed with an aggressive yuan devaluation, just to indicate the Fed is still an independent institution and not subject to Trump’s whims.

* * *

And yet… is what Trump did really “uncharted”?

As it turns out a brief jog through history reveals that none other than Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama got into hot water when in April 2016, the former president had a closed door private meeting with then-Fed Chair Janet Yellen, prompting a sharp market reaction and numerous questions what was said.

As we reported at the time, White House spokesman Josh Earnest apologetically noted that President Obama also “cares deeply about preserving both the appearance of and the fact of the independence of both the Federal Reserve” and added that he wouldn’t anticipate “even in a confidential setting” that Obama “would have a conversation” with Yellen “that would undermine” the ability to make “critical financial decisions independently.”

To this day, it is unknown what was said.

But for a far more colorful example of just how laughable the concept of Fed independence is, we go to the NYT with this brief but highly memorable anecdote from a meeting between President Lyndon B Johnson and Fed president William McChesney Martin.

… in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who wanted cheap credit to finance the Vietnam War and his Great Society, summoned Fed chairman William McChesney Martin to his Texas ranch. There, after asking other officials to leave the room, Johnson reportedly shoved Martin against the wall as he demanding that the Fed once again hold down interest rates.

“I hope you have examined your conscience and you’re convinced you’re on the right track.” Lady Bird Johnson said to William McChesney Martin, on his arrival at the LBJ ranch.

Martin caved, the Fed printed money, and inflation kept climbing until the early 1980s.

* * *

For those with more time, here is a far more detailed fascinating, story of the war that ensued between Martin and LBJ, once again via the NYT:

[In 1965, Martin began speaking publicly about his concerns]. He was afraid the growing cost of the Vietnam War would force a devaluation of the dollar. He saw yet another budget deficit (there had been several in a row) at a time when budget deficits were still looked at askance. In a speech in May, he called it an era of “perpetual deficits and easy money” — red flags among central bankers.

Then in June,  at Columbia University, he laid down the gauntlet in a speech that described “disquieting similarities” between the current economic climate and the years leading to the Great Depression: “Then, as now, government officials, scholars and businessmen are convinced that a new economic era has opened, an era in which business fluctuations have become a thing of the past.”

His words were heard. That afternoon the New York Stock Exchange had one of its sharpest declines since Kennedy’s assassination, and the next day The New York Times reported on Page 1 that “Reserve Board Chief Compares Boom Today With That of 20’s.” Johnson, at his next news conference, went out of his way to dispel “gloom and doom” about the economy.

According to Robert P. Bremner in his book “Chairman of the Fed,” Johnson asked his attorney general, Nicholas Katzenbach, to determine if a president could legally remove a Fed board member from office. (He was advised that disagreeing with administration policies did not constitute “termination for cause.”) 

In late November Martin signaled to Johnson’s Treasury secretary that he thought he would have the votes for a rate increase at the Fed’s Dec. 3 meeting. The secretary,  Henry H. Fowler, relayed this news to Johnson, and they agreed that Martin should delay any action, at least until January, when the administration’s budget estimates would be available.

Martin’s behavior, Fowler said, was giving Americans the impression there were “two quarterbacks” running the economy — Martin and Johnson.

On the morning of Friday, Dec. 3, the day of the Fed’s policy-making meeting, Martin again called Fowler to tell him of the imminent rate increase. Johnson, at his Texas ranch recovering from gallbladder surgery, was livid that his calls for a delay were being ignored. Speaking to Fowler by phone, he made a historical reference going back nearly 150 years: the so-called Bank War when President Andrew Jackson whipped up a populist frenzy against Nicholas Biddle and his Bank of the United States, a predecessor of the Federal Reserve.  

Johnson made sure Fowler passed along his warning: “It’s going to hurt my pride, and it’s going to hurt my leadership, and it’s going to hurt the best champion business has got in this country.”

His voice rising, he then told Fowler they needed to replace Martin with a “tough guy” to run the central bank.

Martin resisted the appeals. At the Board of Governors meeting that afternoon, he called for a vote to raise the discount rate a half-percentage point, to 4.5 percent. But before the vote, he conceded that raising the rate would essentially wave a red flag before the critics of an independent Federal Reserve, in Congress and in the White House.  “We should be under no illusions,” he told his colleagues. “A decision to move now can lead to an important revamping of the Federal Reserve System, including its structure and operating methods. This is a real possibility and I have been turning it over in my mind for months.”

The vote was 4 to 3. Martin cast the deciding ballot.

In Texas, Johnson was enraged. Joseph Califano, an aide (later a cabinet secretary under President Jimmy Carter), recalled Johnson’s “burning up the wires to Washington, asking one member of Congress after another, ‘How can I run the country and the government if I have to read on a news-service ticker that Bill Martin is going to run his own economy?’”

Martin was summoned to explain why he had defied the president.

Martin flew down to the Johnson Ranch on Monday, Dec. 6, along with Fowler and other advisers. The president met them at an airstrip behind the wheel of his Lincoln convertible. They piled in and he drove them to the house.

There, Johnson got Martin alone and did not mince words. According to different accounts, the 6-foot-4 Johnson pushed the shorter Martin up against a wall.

“You went ahead and did something that you knew I disapproved of, that can affect my entire term here,” Johnson said, as Martin recalled later in an oral history. “You took advantage of me and I’m not going to forget it, because here I am, a sick man. You’ve got me into a position where you can run a rapier into me and you’ve run it.”

“Martin, my boys are dying in Vietnam, and you won’t print the money I need,” he said.

Martin stood his ground. He pointed out that he had given the president fair warning that a raise was coming. More broadly, he insisted that he and the president had different jobs to do, that the Federal Reserve Act gave the Fed responsibility over interest rates.

“I knew you disapproved of it, but I had to call the shot as I saw it,” he said.

The two eventually stepped outside and tried to assure reporters that any differences had been patched up. Their sour expressions, captured in newspapers the next day, suggested otherwise.

Despite their differences, Johnson renominated Martin to the Fed chairman’s job one year later. Martin would step down in 1970 during the administration of Richard M. Nixon, the fifth president he served under, after having had the longest term of any Fed chief.

The economic expansion that started  in 1961 would continue until nearly 1970 —  the second longest ever, a credit to Martin’s stewardship. But many argue that he was too slow to raise the discount rate.

In fact, the increase in rates approved in December 1965 did little to control inflation, which would creep higher after the mid-1960s and become a defining issue in the next two decades.  A successor, Paul A. Volcker, was forced to push interest rates to nearly 20 percent to bring prices down.

In the end, it appears Martin left the punch bowl out too long.

This time will not be different.

“Truth Was Irrelevant” WSJ Asks: Was Brennan’s Action The Real “Treason”?

The Wall Street Journal continues to counter  the  liberal mainstream media’s Trump Derangement Syndrome, dropping uncomfortable truth-bombs and refusing to back off its intense pressure to get to the truth and hold those responsible, accountable (in a forum that is hard for the establishment to shrug off as ‘Alt-Right’ or ‘Nazi’ or be ‘punished’ by search- and social-media-giants).

And once again Kimberley Strassel – who by now has become the focus of social media attacks for her truth-seeking reporting – does it again this morning, as she points out – after his ‘treasonous’ outbursts, that Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan acknowledges that it was him egging on the FBI’s probe of Trump and Russia.

Via The Wall Street Journal,

The Trump-Russia sleuthers have been back in the news, again giving Americans cause to doubt their claims of nonpartisanship. Last week it was Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok testifying to Congress that he harbored no bias against a president he still describes as “horrible” and “disgusting.” This week it was former FBI Director Jim Comey tweet-lecturing Americans on their duty to vote Democratic in November.

But the man who deserves a belated bit of scrutiny is former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan. He’s accused President Trump of “venality, moral turpitude and political corruption,” and berated GOP investigations of the FBI. This week he claimed on Twitter that Mr. Trump’s press conference in Helsinki was “nothing short of treasonous.” This is rough stuff, even for an Obama partisan.

That’s what Mr. Brennan is—a partisan—and it is why his role in the 2016 scandal is in some ways more concerning than the FBI’s. Mr. Comey stands accused of flouting the rules, breaking the chain of command, abusing investigatory powers. Yet it seems far likelier that the FBI’s Trump investigation was a function of arrogance and overconfidence than some partisan plot. No such case can be made for Mr. Brennan. Before his nomination as CIA director, he served as a close Obama adviser. And the record shows he went on to use his position—as head of the most powerful spy agency in the world—to assist Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and keep his job).

Mr. Brennan has taken credit for launching the Trump investigation. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in May 2017, he explained that he became “aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons.” The CIA can’t investigate U.S. citizens, but he made sure that “every information and bit of intelligence” was “shared with the bureau,” meaning the FBI. This information, he said, “served as the basis for the FBI investigation.” My sources suggest Mr. Brennan was overstating his initial role, but either way, by his own testimony, he was an Obama-Clinton partisan was pushing information to the FBI and pressuring it to act.

More notable, Mr. Brennan then took the lead on shaping the narrative that Russia was interfering in the election specifically to help Mr. Trump – which quickly evolved into the Trump-collusion narrative. Team Clinton was eager to make the claim, especially in light of the Democratic National Committee server hack. Numerous reports show Mr. Brennan aggressively pushing the same line internally. Their problem was that as of July 2016 even then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn’t buy it. He publicly refused to say who was responsible for the hack, or ascribe motivation. Mr. Brennan also couldn’t get the FBI to sign on to the view; the bureau continued to believe Russian cyberattacks were aimed at disrupting the U.S. political system generally, not aiding Mr. Trump.

The CIA director couldn’t himself go public with his Clinton spin—he lacked the support of the intelligence community and had to be careful not to be seen interfering in U.S. politics. So what to do? He called Harry Reid. In a late August briefing, he told the Senate minority leader that Russia was trying to help Mr. Trump win the election, and that Trump advisers might be colluding with Russia. (Two years later, no public evidence has emerged to support such a claim.)

But the truth was irrelevant. On cue, within a few days of the briefing, Mr. Reid wrote a letter to Mr. Comey, which of course immediately became public. “The evidence of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign continues to mount,” wrote Mr. Reid, going on to float Team Clinton’s Russians-are-helping-Trump theory. Mr. Reid publicly divulged at least one of the allegations contained in the infamous Steele dossier, insisting that the FBI use “every resource available to investigate this matter.”

The Reid letter marked the first official blast of the Brennan-Clinton collusion narrative into the open. Clinton opposition-research firm Fusion GPS followed up by briefing its media allies about the dossier it had dropped off at the FBI. On Sept. 23, Yahoo News’s Michael Isikoff ran the headline: “U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin.” Voilà. Not only was the collusion narrative out there, but so was evidence that the FBI was investigating.

In their recent book “Russian Roulette,” Mr. Isikoff and David Corn say even Mr. Reid believed Mr. Brennan had an “ulterior motive” with the briefing, and “concluded the CIA chief believed the public needed to know about the Russia operation, including the information about the possible links to the Trump campaign.” (Brennan allies have denied his aim was to leak damaging information.)

Clinton supporters have a plausible case that Mr. Comey’s late-October announcement that the FBI had reopened its investigation into the candidate affected the election. But Trump supporters have a claim that the public outing of the collusion narrative and FBI investigation took a toll on their candidate.

And as Strassel so poignantly concludes:

Politics was at the center of that outing, and Mr. Brennan was a ringmaster. Remember that when reading his next “treason” tweet.

Treason indeed.

 

 

 

“It’s All Fake” – Reality TV That Masquerades As American Politics

Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours… When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”

– Professor Neil Postman

Americans have a voracious appetite for TV entertainment, and the Trump reality show – guest starring outraged Democrats, power-hungry Republicans, and a hodgepodge of other special interest groups with dubious motives – feeds that appetite for titillating, soap opera drama.

After all, who needs the insults, narcissism and power plays that are hallmarks of reality shows when you can have all that and more delivered up by the likes of Donald Trump and his cohorts?

Trump is inclined to denounce any news agencies and reports that paint him in a less than favorable light as “fake news,” which leaves only the Fox News channel to carry the president’s torch for media integrity.

Yet as John Lennon reminds us, “nothing is real,” especially not in the world of politics.

In other words, it’s all fake, i.e. manufactured, i.e. manipulated to distort reality.

Much like the fabricated universe in Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is the basis for an elaborately staged television show aimed at selling products and procuring ratings, the political scene in the United States has devolved over the years into a carefully calibrated exercise in how to manipulate, polarize, propagandize and control a population.

Likewise, “The Trump Show” keeps the citizenry distracted, diverted and divided.

This is the magic of the reality TV programming that passes for politics today.

As long as we are distracted, entertained, occasionally outraged, always polarized but largely uninvolved and content to remain in the viewer’s seat, we’ll never manage to present a unified front against tyranny (or government corruption and ineptitude) in any form.

The more that is beamed at us, the more inclined we are to settle back in our comfy recliners and become passive viewers rather than active participants as unsettling, frightening events unfold. 

Reality and fiction merge as everything around us becomes entertainment fodder.

We don’t even have to change the channel when the subject matter becomes too monotonous. That’s taken care of for us by the programmers (the corporate media).

“Living is easy with eyes closed,” says Lennon, and that’s exactly what reality TV that masquerades as American politics programs the citizenry to do: navigate the world with their eyes shut.

As long as we’re viewers, we’ll never be doers.

Studies suggest that the more reality TV people watch—and I would posit that it’s all reality TV, entertainment news included—the more difficult it becomes to distinguishbetween what is real and what is carefully crafted farce.

“We the people” are watching a lot of TV.

On average, Americans spend five hours a day watching television. By the time we reach age 65, we’re watching more than 50 hours of television a week, and that number increases as we get older. And reality TV programming consistently captures the largest percentage of TV watchers every season by an almost 2-1 ratio.

This doesn’t bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day, whether it’s fake news peddled by government agencies or foreign entities.

Those who watch reality shows tend to view what they see as the “norm.” Thus, those who watch shows characterized by lying, aggression and meanness not only come to see such behavior as acceptable and entertaining but also mimic the medium.

This holds true whether the reality programming is about the antics of celebrities in the White House, in the board room, or in the bedroom.

It’s a phenomenon called “humilitainment.”

A term coined by media scholars Brad Waite and Sara Booker, “humilitainment” refers to the tendency for viewers to take pleasure in someone else’s humiliation, suffering and pain.

Humilitainment” largely explains not only why American TV watchers are so fixated on reality TV programming but how American citizens, largely insulated from what is really happening in the world around them by layers of technology, entertainment, and other distractions, are being programmed to accept the brutality, surveillance and dehumanizing treatment of the American police state as things happening to other people.

The ramifications for the future of civic engagement, political discourse and self-government are incredibly depressing and demoralizing.

This not only explains how a candidate like Donald Trump with a reputation for being rude, egotistical and narcissistic could get elected, but it also says a lot about how a politician like Barack Obama—whose tenure in the White House was characterized by drone killings, a weakening of the Constitution at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties, and an expansion of the police state—could be hailed as “one of the greatest presidents of all times.”

This is what happens when an entire nation—bombarded by reality TV programming, government propaganda and entertainment news—becomes systematically desensitized and acclimated to the trappings of a government that operates by fiat and speaks in a language of force.

Ultimately, the reality shows, the entertainment news, the surveillance society, the militarized police, and the political spectacles have one common objective: to keep us divided, distracted, imprisoned, and incapable of taking an active role in the business of self-government.

Look behind the political spectacles, the reality TV theatrics, the sleight-of-hand distractions and diversions, and the stomach-churning, nail-biting drama, and you will find there is a method to the madness.

We have become guinea pigs in a ruthlessly calculated, carefully orchestrated, chillingly cold-blooded experiment in how to control a population and advance a political agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.

This is mind-control in its most sinister form.

How do you change the way people think? You start by changing the words they use.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.

In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind. 

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination, infantilism, the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.

Donald Trump is no exception to this Orwellian manipulation of language for dubious ends: labelling something as “fake news” is a masterful way of dismissing truth that may run counter to the ruling power’s own narrative.

As George Orwell recognized, “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Orwell understood only too well the power of language to manipulate the masses. In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.” In this dystopian vision of the future, the Thought Police serve as the eyes and ears of Big Brother, while the Ministry of Peace deals with war and defense, the Ministry of Plenty deals with economic affairs (rationing and starvation), the Ministry of Love deals with law and order (torture and brainwashing), and the Ministry of Truth deals with news, entertainment, education and art (propaganda). The mottos of Oceania: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

Orwell’s Big Brother relied on Newspeak to eliminate undesirable words, strip such words as remained of unorthodox meanings and make independent, non-government-approved thought altogether unnecessary.

Where we stand now is at the juncture of Oldspeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). 

Truth is often lost when we fail to distinguish between opinion and fact, and that is the danger we now face as a society. Anyone who relies exclusively on television/cable news hosts and political commentators for actual knowledge of the world is making a serious mistake.

Unfortunately, since Americans have by and large become non-readers, television has become their prime source of so-called “news.” This reliance on TV news has given rise to such popular news personalities who draw in vast audiences that virtually hang on their every word.

In our media age, these are the new powers-that-be.

Yet while these personalities often dispense the news like preachers used to dispense religion, with power and certainty, they are little more than conduits for propaganda and advertisements delivered in the guise of entertainment and news.

Given the preponderance of news-as-entertainment programming, it’s no wonder that viewers have largely lost the ability to think critically and analytically and differentiate between truth and propaganda, especially when delivered by way of fake news criers and politicians.

While television news cannot—and should not—be completely avoided, the following suggestions will help you better understand the nature of TV news.

1. TV news is not what happened. Rather, it is what someone thinks is worth reporting. Although there are still some good TV journalists, the old art of investigative reporting has largely been lost. While viewers are often inclined to take what is reported by television “news” hosts at face value, it is your responsibility to judge and analyze what is reported.

2. TV news is entertainment. There is a reason why the programs you watch are called news “shows.” It’s a signal that the so-called news is being delivered as a form of entertainment. “In the case of most news shows,” write Neil Postman and Steve Powers in their insightful book, How to Watch TV News (1992), “the package includes attractive anchors, an exciting musical theme, comic relief, stories placed to hold the audience, the creation of the illusion of intimacy, and so on.”

Of course, the point of all this glitz and glamour is to keep you glued to the set so that a product can be sold to you. (Even the TV news hosts get in on the action by peddling their own products, everything from their latest books to mugs and bathrobes.) Although the news items spoon-fed to you may have some value, they are primarily a commodity to gather an audience, which will in turn be sold to advertisers.

3. Never underestimate the power of commercials, especially to news audiences. In an average household, the television set is on over seven hours a day. Most people, believing themselves to be in control of their media consumption, are not really bothered by this. But TV is a two-way attack: it not only delivers programming to your home, it also delivers you (the consumer) to a sponsor.

People who watch the news tend to be more attentive, educated and have more money to spend. They are, thus, a prime market for advertisers. And sponsors spend millions on well-produced commercials. Such commercials are often longer in length than most news stories and cost more to produce than the news stories themselves. Moreover, the content of many commercials, which often contradicts the messages of the news stories, cannot be ignored. Most commercials are aimed at prurient interests in advocating sex, overindulgence, drugs, etc., which has a demoralizing effect on viewers, especially children.

4. It is vitally important to learn about the economic and political interests of those who own the “corporate” media. There are few independent news sources anymore. The major news outlets are owned by corporate empires. Moreover, even those “fake” news outlets denounced by Trump are enjoying significant sales and ratings boosts as a result of Trump’s so-called war on the media. Indeed, as one trade journal reports, “Trump, of course, has become the greatest source of lead generation the American press has ever seen.” In other words, to a dying news industry, the Trump presidency has been great for business.

5. Pay special attention to the language of newscasts. Because film footage and other visual imagery are so engaging on TV news shows, viewers are apt to allow language—what the reporter is saying about the images—to go unexamined. A TV news host’s language frames the pictures, and, therefore, the meaning we derive from the picture is often determined by the host’s commentary. TV by its very nature manipulates viewers. One must never forget that every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the actual event but the edited form of the event. For example, presenting a one- to two-minute segment from a two-hour political speech and having a TV talk show host critique may be disingenuous, but such edited footage is a regular staple on news shows. Add to that the fact that the reporters editing the film have a subjective view—sometimes determined by their corporate bosses—that enters in. 

6. Reduce by at least one-half the amount of TV news you watch. TV news generally consists of “bad” news—wars, torture, murders, scandals and so forth. It cannot possibly do you any harm to excuse yourself each week from much of the mayhem projected at you on the news. Do not form your concept of reality based on television. TV news, it must be remembered, does not reflect normal everyday life. Studies indicate that a heavy viewing of TV news makes people think the world is much more dangerous than it actually is. 

7. One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel they must have an opinion on almost everything, which gives the illusion of participation in American life. But an “opinion” is all that we can gain from TV news because it only presents the most rudimentary and fragmented information on anything. Thus, on most issues we don’t really know much about what is actually going on. And, of course, we are expected to take what the TV news host says on an issue as gospel truth. But isn’t it better to think for yourself? Add to this that we need to realize that we often don’t have enough information from the “news” source to form a true opinion. How can that be done? Study a broad variety of sources, carefully analyze issues in order to be better informed, and question everything.

The bottom line is simply this: Americans should beware of letting others—whether they be television news hosts, political commentators or media corporations—do their thinking for them. 

As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a populace that cannot think for themselves is a populace with its backs to the walls: mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all.

It’s time to change the channel, tune out the reality TV show, and push back against the real menace of the police state. If not, if we continue to sit back and lose ourselves in political programming, we will remain a captive audience to a farce that grows more absurd by the minute.