Category Archives: Europe

How the American press has normalized fascists


Given the media’s coverage of Donald Trump, it might be well to look at how the mainstream media have covered extremist elected leaders of the past.

One historian has done just that, and the result is sobering.

From Case West Reserve University’s John Broich, who has a longstanding interest in the relationship between race and imperialism, writing in the open source academic journal The Conversation:

How to report on a fascist?

How to cover the rise of a political leader who’s left a paper trail of anti-constitutionalism, racism and the encouragement of violence? Does the press take the position that its subject acts outside the norms of society? Or does it take the position that someone who wins a fair election is by definition “normal,” because his leadership reflects the will of the people?

These are the questions that confronted the U.S. press after the ascendance of fascist leaders in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

A leader for life

Benito Mussolini secured Italy’s premiership by marching on Rome with 30,000 blackshirts in 1922. By 1925 he had declared himself leader for life. While this hardly reflected American values, Mussolini was a darling of the American press, appearing in at least 150 articles from 1925-1932, most neutral, bemused or positive in tone.

The Saturday Evening Post even serialized Il Duce’s autobiography in 1928. Acknowledging that the new “Fascisti movement” was a bit “rough in its methods,” papers ranging from the New York Tribune to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the Chicago Tribune credited it with saving Italy from the far left and revitalizing its economy. From their perspective, the post-WWI surge of anti-capitalism in Europe was a vastly worse threat than Fascism.

Ironically, while the media acknowledged that Fascism was a new “experiment,” papers like The New York Times commonly credited it with returning turbulent Italy to what it called “normalcy.”

Yet some journalists like Hemingway and journals like the New Yorker rejected the normalization of anti-democratic Mussolini. John Gunther of Harper’s, meanwhile, wrote a razor-sharp account of Mussolini’s masterful manipulation of a U.S. press that couldn’t resist him.

The ‘German Mussolini’

Mussolini’s success in Italy normalized Hitler’s success in the eyes of the American press who, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, routinely called him “the German Mussolini.” Given Mussolini’s positive press reception in that period, it was a good place from which to start. Hitler also had the advantage that his Nazi party enjoyed stunning leaps at the polls from the mid ‘20’s to early ‘30’s, going from a fringe party to winning a dominant share of parliamentary seats in free elections in 1932.

But the main way that the press defanged Hitler was by portraying him as something of a joke. He was a “nonsensical” screecher of “wild words” whose appearance, according to Newsweek, “suggests Charlie Chaplin.” His “countenance is a caricature.” He was as “voluble” as he was “insecure,” stated Cosmopolitan.

When Hitler’s party won influence in Parliament, and even after he was made chancellor of Germany in 1933 – about a year and a half before seizing dictatorial power – many American press outlets judged that he would either be outplayed by more traditional politicians or that he would have to become more moderate. Sure, he had a following, but his followers were “impressionable voters” duped by “radical doctrines and quack remedies,” claimed the Washington Post. Now that Hitler actually had to operate within a government the “sober” politicians would “submerge” this movement, according to The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. A “keen sense of dramatic instinct” was not enough. When it came to time to govern, his lack of “gravity” and “profundity of thought” would be exposed.

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Headline of the day: It was the logical choice


From Deutsche Welle, an international phenomenon:

Dealing with post-truth politics: ‘Postfaktisch’ is Germany’s Word of the Year

Every year, the Society for the German Language in Wiesbaden selects a term that reflects current political and social issues. “Postfaktisch,” or “post-truth” politics was a phenomenon observed worldwide in 2016.

Greece grants relief to its poorest; Troika is furious


Syriza Party leader Alexis Tsipras lead his party to victory in Greece two years ago on a promise to end the austerity imposed on his nation by the financial oligarchs of the Troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

Their reign had deepened the nation’s staggering unemployment, forced massive pay, healthcare and benefits reductions, raised taxes, and forced the selloff of many of the nation’s resources and infrastructure to foreign investors.

But as prime minister he failed to deliver, delivering his nation over to yet more rounds of austerity and sending his party plunging in popularity.

But now his government has offered a modest measure of relief to those most deeply affected by the diktat of the Troika, and the oligarch are furious.

To Vima reports on the relief measure:

The Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Thursday evening that 617 million euros will be distributed to 1.6 million low income pensioners, while the scheduled VAT hike on the islands of the north Aegean Sea – which are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis – will be suspended. As he explained in his statements, these actions were possible thanks to exceeding the primary surplus targets.

“It has been the government’s pledge to redistribute every euro of surplus from available sources to our weaker citizens. Today, staying true to this pledge, we decide the immediate redistribution of the outperformance of 2016 revenues to low-income pensioners” the Prime Minister explained in his televised proclamation via ERT. Pensioners on less than 850 euros will receive the benefit, which will be at least 300 euros.

Specifically 10% of pensioners (about 270,000) will receive 500 to 850 euros, 20% (about 570,000) will receive 300 to 500 euros and 30% (about 750,000) will receive 300 euros. These benefits will be paid out along with January’s pensions, which are due on the 22nd of December. The Prime Minister added that these benefits are 4.7 times more than the EKAS benefit that was suspended in 2016.

Regarding the planned VAT [Troika-mandated sales tax] hike, the PM stressed that it will be implemented “but though when our fellow citizens are bearing the weight of the whole of Europe due to the refugee crisis. It is time that Europe recognized this”, the PM explained.

And the reaction, as expected

From a second To Vima story:

The Greek Prime Minister’s decision to distribute 617 million euros among pensioners, while the second bailout review has yet to conclude, appears to have ‘surprised’ Brussels.

A European officer noted that the EU had not been informed and estimated that they will make the negotiations between Europe and the IMF for the surplus targets of 2018 and beyond harder.

Sources from the European Commission also reported that it appears that there will be serious difficulties in the implementation of the recent Eurogroup decision.

So reducing Greece to the status of a Third World nation isn’t enough.

In a reverse Oliver Twist ploy, the Troika is demanding, “Please, sir, can I have some more.”

French central bank warns of a global slowdown


Thee global economic is engaged in a slow-moving crash.

When you consider the reasons, it’s inevitable.

While the rich are getting richer , everyone else is stuck or heading down [see our earlier posts].

And the rich are getting richer because their wealth is invested heavily in the  parasitical FIRE sector, the finance, insurance, and real estate markets,

Real economic growth, based on the consumption of goods and services, can’t happen without growth in the wages of the working and middle classes, the driving factors leading to consumption of those tangible goods and broadly used services.

But corporate mergers are producing cuts in pay and benefits, with cash assets stripped away and pocketed by plutocratic plunderers, rather than being shared with those folks whose labors produced all that wealth and could use their enlarged share of the pie to actually grow the economy [and, yes, we’re well aware that endless economic growth is itself problematic in the longer run].

And to buy what goods they can, people are increasingly forced to turn to debt, either through bank loans or credit cards, paying ever-higher rates of interest to the FIREy plutocrats.

And with education being privatized or subjected to reduced state subsidies, ever larger numbers of young people are being forced to take loans to attain educations once taken for granted.

And the FIRE folks get richer again.

And now for the warning, via Agence France Presse:

France’s central bank trimmed its growth forecasts for 2016 and 2017 on Friday, citing a deterioration in the global economy and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The Bank of France revised its 2016 and 2017 growth forecast down to 1.3 percent, having previously expected growth of 1.4 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year.

It also predicted growth of 1.4 percent in 2018, down from its previous figure of 1.6 percent.

“In 2017 and 2018, the downward revision of our GDP growth projection… is mainly due to the deterioration in the international environment,” it said in a statement.

“The projection is thus particularly affected by less favourable foreign demand prospects.., notably as a result of the impact of Brexit on the UK economy and of its dissemination to the euro area economies.”

Understanding the predatory FIRE sector

For more on the current slowdown and its causes and the predatory nature of the FIRE section, watch this very informative German television interview with University of Missouri-Kansas City economist Michael Hudson, perhaps the most incisive commentator of the modern economic conditions:

Michael Hudson: How Private Debt Makes the Rich Richer

Program notes:

Michael Hudson talks about the causes of inequality in the 21st century

Our author Michael Hudson summarizes some important theses from his book “The Sector – Why Global Finance Is Destroying Us”.
The interview took place on the occasion of the 16th International Literary Festival in Berlin for a symposium titled “Inequality in the 21st Century. Progress, capitalism and global poverty. “ The authors, Angus Deaton, David Graeber and Michael Hudson, presented the most important theses of their current books.

Michael Hudson Bio: Michael Hudson is one of very few economists – globally – who perfectly predicted the 2008 financial crisis.

Michael is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of Killing the Host (2015), The Bubble and Beyond (2012), Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1968 & 2003), Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (1992 & 2009) and of The Myth of Aid (1971), amongst many others.

ISLET engages in research regarding domestic and international finance, national income and balance-sheet accounting with regard to real estate, and the economic history of the ancient Near East.

Michael acts as an economic advisor to governments worldwide including Iceland, Latvia and China on finance and tax law.

No more banker’s hours for the Swiss Air Force


You gotta love Switzerland, a nation so militarily non-aggressive that until a change that takes effect with the New Year, their air force has only worked Monday through Friday, and then only during daylight hours.

Starting in January, the jets will be on duty on the weekends for banker’s hours, though it be early in the next decade before the nation as round-the-clock air coverage.

From TheLocal.ch:

Switzerland said on Friday that its air defence system will no longer take weekends off effective January 1st, but that round-the-clock airspace surveillance is about five years away.

The wealthy alpine nation’s aerial defence staff currently work five days a week and are on call during business hours — from 8am (0700 GMT) to 6pm.

Air force colonel Benoit Studemann said that as of 2017 the force will be on guard through the weekend but that expanded daily hours were not expected to be implemented until 2021.

The Swiss air force’s modest work schedule sparked controversy two years ago when the co-pilot of an Ethiopian Airlines plane hijacked his aircraft and forced it to land in Geneva so he could seek asylum.

No Swiss fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane as the hijacking happened in the early morning hours, before the air defence team had opened up for the day.

Income inequality leads to distrust of democracy


A new study reveals the hole card in the Trumpster’s political hand: When there are high levels on income inequality, people begin to spurn the very concept of democracy.

And in the United States, income inequality has been increasing regardless of which party holds the White House, as this graphic from the Congressional Budget Office makes clear [shaded ares indicate economic downturns]:

blog-unequal-2

And growing dissatisfaction among voters is the perfect medium for a culture of discontent and a key reason for the strong showing of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party.

But at its deepest level, anger at a democratic system that only rewards those at the top can lead voters to seek a strong man, one who promises to upend the whole system.

Hence, Trumpster striving and the rise of the alt-Right in Europe.

From Michigan State University:

Voter satisfaction with democracy may have less to do with who actually wins an election and more to do with income inequality, or the gap between rich and poor, indicates a new study by Michigan State University political scientists.

Eric Chang and Sung Min Han studied presidential and parliamentary elections in 43 countries, including the United States, and found that rising income inequality widens the gap in satisfaction with democracy between electoral winners and losers. The findings will be published in the December issue of the journal Electoral Studies.

“This study suggests that the degree of income inequality is the real driver behind electoral winners and losers’ satisfaction with democracy,” said Chang, associate professor of political science. “Elections matter much more for both the rich and poor when income inequality is high.”

Income inequality in the United States has risen dramatically in recent decades, driven largely by the very rich getting richer. The share of income owned by the top 10 percent of the wealthiest households increased from 32 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 2014, according to the Census Bureau.

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to revive small-town America – a pledge that most experts believe must involve tackling the income gap, Reuters recently reported.

Past research found that voters who support winning parties are more satisfied with democracy than those who vote for the losers. In this winner-loser gap theory, the difference in satisfaction levels is smaller in consensus democracies where the losing party can still affect policy outcomes, suggesting an institutional effect.

But the MSU study is one of the first to argue that the effects of economic inequality are more critical to satisfaction with democracy than the institutional effects of political systems.

That’s because both the upper and lower income classes are affected by how politicians address increasing income inequality. As the disparity between rich and poor grows, the poor intensify their demand for the redistribution of wealth. The rich, meanwhile, become more anxious about the possibility of losing income.

“Our findings suggest that rising income inequality pits political winners and losers against each other,” Chang said. “And this conflict over economic interests can undermine citizens’ satisfaction with democracy and lead to instability.”

Greeks hold strike, marches against austerity


With the reign of austerity continuing in Greece, an ultimatum accompanying the modest debt relief granted the nation by the financial oligarchs of the Troika earlier this week, Greeks held a general strike today and turned out on the streets.

From Kathimerini:

A nationwide strike in Greece against spending cuts disrupted public transport, state-run schools, ferries and national rail services Thursday, and left public hospitals running with emergency staff.

More than 7,000 demonstrators marched in three separate demonstrations in the capital to protest against cost cuts the government is taking to satisfy its bailout creditors.

“We can either accept our continuing descent into poverty or fight against it,” theater actor Dionysis Xenakis said.

He was joined at the rally by musicians playing drums, as a nearby group of demonstrators chanted “People, fight back. They’re drinking your blood.”

Protests were held in cities around Greece, with more than 5,000 at marches in the country’s second largest city, Thessaloniki.