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BarbFlag 0212wrp opt(Photo: Nick Pezzillo / Flickr)In 2015 it was reported that up to 50 million American adults had negative wealth and thus numbered among the poorest 10% of the world's adults. This was disputed by Vox writer Matthew Yglesias, who said, "..that's absurd. The poorest people in the world are the people with rock-bottom material living standards." 

It's difficult for many Americans to admit the truth about extreme poverty in our country. Our poorest citizens may not be living in a farming village where they eat millet soup and walk a mile for water. But they have to deal withhomelessness, alcoholism, mental health disease, opioid addiction, stress-inducing indebtedness and inequality, and pollution levels that are the highest in the developed world. All of that makes for rock-bottom living standards. 

According to Credit Suisse data over the past three years, anywhere from 4 to 10 percent of the world's poorest decile are Americans. That's 20 to 50 million adults. It's likely that many of them are only temporarily in debt, and that they have a much better chance than a third-world villager to climb out of poverty. But it's just as likely that they'll be replaced by other impoverished Americans, especially with an aging population woefully unprepared for retirement, and with the great majority of new job prospects temporary or contract-based, without security or benefits.


MLK 0209wrp opt(Photo: Scott Ableman / Flickr)The Ram ad in Sunday's Super Bowl has been widely denounced across left and liberal media for the use of a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. to sell a truck (even Fox News criticized the ad for not including MLK's advice to only buy affordable cars!).

The ad raised eyebrows, to say the least, among many viewers for the instrumentalization of Martin Luther King Jr.'s words for commercial purposes. This simple fact did not sit well with people, but it is hardly the first time King's words (and likeness) have been licensed to sell products. Today though people are increasingly discomfited by the use of one of the US's greatest civil rights icon to sell products, and that is surely a sign of progress.

More critical viewers perceived a deeper contradiction at work. King was an outspoken critic of consumerism and, even more explicitly in his later years, of capitalism more generally. The USA Today, Vox, HuffPost and others went further. They discovered that the specific speech used in the commercial actually included a direct criticism of manipulative advertising practices, especially those used to sell cars! Ram's creative marketing team conveniently left that part of the speech out of the commercial.

The above criticisms have echoed across social media -- and completely justifiably so. Ram's use of King's speech to sell a truck is a gross misrepresentation and misuse of one of the greatest Black icons in US history (despite the shocking fact that the company which manages the licensing for King's estate approved the final ad before it aired). But Martin Luther King Jr. was not simply a powerful advocate for civil rights. He was not only a critic of the harms of consumer capitalism. He was also one of the US's greatest antiwar leaders and practitioners of nonviolent resistance.


 putinvotingTrump should be more concerned about voting cybersecurity than cozying up to Putin. (Global Panorama)

Last November, at the Asia-Pacific summit, Donald Trump was eager to once again vouch for Vladimir Putin.

In this case, it was in regards to an issue hanging over the president's head like a Damocles sword: Did the Russian government interfere with the 2016 election? More specifically, it is a question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton in the electoral vote. However, Trump has been backing Putin's denial of any interference in the election, including hacking into state election systems, regardless of whether or not his campaign had knowledge of it.

Trump praises Putin and gives him the benefit of the doubt on a regular basis. Most recently, he even refused to enforce sanctions Congress had passed against Russia for, in part, interfering with the US elections. A CNN report from the November summit once again revealed Trump's abiding faith in the veracity of Putin.

Thursday, 08 February 2018 08:23

Trumped-Up Treason

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with U.S. and Japanese Business Leaders at the U.S. Ambassador's residence, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Tokyo. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with US and Japanese Business Leaders at the US Ambassador's residence on November 6, 2017, in Tokyo. (Photo: US Embassy Tokyo)TOM H. HASTINGS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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“Somebody said 'treasonous.' I mean -- yeah I guess, why not. Can we call that treason? Why not. I mean, they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much.” -- Donald Trump on Democratic Senators and Congress members who didn’t clap for him in his State of the Union speech.

Really? We have a temporary resident of the White House whose definition of loyalty to the United States of America is loyalty to, and expressed enthusiasm for, his boneheaded ideas and false claims of greatness? We would expect such autocratic monomaniacal pronouncements from Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, or any other egomaniac warlord. Hitler and Stalin were such demented oppressors. Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet -- the anti-democratic autarchs are easy to name.

Brian Brown, President of World Congress of Families (WCF). Taken on the 27th of May, 2017. World Congress of Families XI. Budapest Congress Center. Hungary, Central Europe.Brian Brown president of World Congress of Families (WCF) on May 27, 2017, at the World Congress of Families XI. (Photo: Elekes Andor / Wikimedia)BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Here is a sobering thought: Brian Brown, the notoriously anti-LGBTQ president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), recently penned a fundraising missive to his supporters, claiming the Supreme Court is just one retirement away from banning same-sex marriage. While Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has indicated that she has no plans to retire, Brown speculated that Justice Anthony Kennedy could soon announce his retirement and, in any case, "it's no secret that most of the liberal justices are quite elderly and the cold reality of life is that nobody lives forever."

Over the past year, Brown has been pummeling his supporters with fundraising appeals. According to Fred Karger's February 2017 piece in The Advocate, "NOM filed both of its 990 IRS tax returns late, late last year, and they showed that revenue is way down, to well under $4 million for the combined NOM and the NOM Education Fund. This is down 400 percent from just four years ago when NOM raised and spent over $16 million."


gerrymandering123Gerrymandering suppresses an inclusive democracy. (Photo: Victoria Pickering)

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Republican legislators have vigorously and successfully used underhanded tactics to gain majorities in statehouses and Congress, even when the majority of statewide votes are Democratic. Although the GOP employs many strategies to suppress non-white voting, its most successful tool has been gerrymandering.

After the national Census, state legislatures are responsible for carving up state legislative and congressional districts. In 2010, the cast was set, according to a revealing article in Salon about the way in which Republicans worked to ensure a majority in most statehouses and in Congress:

It [the redistricting strategy] proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

By diluting the Democratic vote in several districts, while drawing the district lines to include more Republicans, an artificial majority can be created that mocks democracy.

The Republicans control both chambers in 36 statehouses. They have total control, including a GOP governor, in 26 states. Of course, they also have majority status in the House of Representatives.


Brains 0207wrp opt(Photo: Neil Conway / Flickr)The Super Bowl is the US's biggest TV night of the year, watched by over 100 million viewers every year. This one game earns the NFL about $3 billion, and generates tens of billions for the overall economy. The Super Bowl is the country's iconic sports and cultural extravaganza, and I can no longer bring myself to watch it, or any other football game.

I used to play football in little league, and as a teenager. I loved it; it was my favorite sport and I was pretty good at it. I enjoyed the contact, hitting other boys as hard as I could. As a running back, I especially enjoyed running over other boys to make touchdowns. Every Saturday was filled with the thrill of great expectations, every game was exhilarating, every time they handed me the ball I felt like I owned the world. Even when my team lost I felt like I was still on top of the world.

And then I got injured, and had to give up the game at the ripe old age of 13. I was devastated, almost inconsolable. My dreams were shattered. And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

Maybe because I quit after only three years, I still have decent brain function left. Many others are not so fortunate. Football today has become the equivalent of Roman gladiators, the sacrificing of young men for the guilty pleasures and profit of others.


trumpcaudilloIs Donald Trump becoming our caudillo? (Photo:Gage Skidmore)

Vladimir Putin restored the Soviet Union tradition of putting on an annual military parade to showcase the country's ability to wage war to the world. It used to be that the annual hours-long show of military wares and troops was a way of intimidating the West during the Cold War. CNN reported on the 2017 event in Red Square:

Russian President Vladimir Putin showed off ballistic missiles, armored tanks and new aircraft systems at a World War II commemorative parade in Moscow on Tuesday.

More than 10,000 troops marched in formation through Red Square to mark Victory Day, an annual event to celebrate the Soviet Union's triumph over Nazi Germany in a series of battles that ended on May 9, 1945....

Yars intercontinental ballistic missiles were among more than 100 pieces of military equipment rolled through the square.

Now, the Washington Post reports, Donald Trump wants to institute a similar parade to demonstrate US military might, to be held on Pennsylvania Avenue sometime this year. The idea is apparently under active discussion between the Pentagon and White House, and Trump is reportedly set on holding it in the next few months. The specific date has reportedly not been set yet.

Trump claims that his inspiration was a special military review he attended on Bastille Day (July 14) last year in France as a guest of French President Emmanuel Macron. Nonetheless, it is hard to think that a president with authoritarian tendencies is not also thinking of promoting US militarization. After all, the US has at least 800 military bases abroad in at least 80 nations. A White House military parade would be a bellicose assertion of US empire. It is consistent with Trump's tendency toward grandiose military statements, such as when he tweeted that he had a bigger nuclear launch button than Kim Jong-un.

Combined with Trump's other authoritarian actions, the idea of a national military parade is another indicator of the president's efforts to consolidate power.


Bomber 0207wrp opt(Photo: David Rickard / Flickr)Militarism, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently asserted in 1967, is one of our society's "Triple Evils," along with racism and economic exploitation.

Were King alive today, he would surely decry not just the gargantuan nature of the US military, with our war budget over one-third the global total, but also how it's largely unchallenged by the public. Our tax dollars pay for nuclear and conventional military policies that practically guarantee armed conflict and nuclear weapons proliferation, making Americans and the whole world less safe.

With the coerced, cynical "support the troops" faux patriotism (to really support the troops, end the wars, bring them home, and give them better care) there is a psychological colonization at work as well. Given all this, it's hard to escape the reality that the US war machine more or less runs on autopilot.

Understandably, most Americans and even many progressive activists don't think there is much we can do about it, tacitly admitting there is precious little democracy in our foreign and military policies. Elites make decisions inimical to the interests of the vast majority of us, as the largesse lavished on the Pentagon prevents investments in domestic social and environmental priorities.

US military personnel observe a nuclear weapons test in Nevada in 1951.US military personnel observe a nuclear weapons test in Nevada in 1951.  (Photo: US Government via International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons via [FLICKR] / Flickr)DAVID SWANSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Did you hear the one about the "safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent"? There is, of course, nothing safe or secure about producing, maintaining, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. Nor is there evidence that they have ever deterred anything that the United States wanted deterred.

Trump's State of the Union gave this justification for building more weapons:

"Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these horrible dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict and unmatched power is the surest means of our true and great defense. . . . [W]e must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else. Perhaps someday in the future, there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, sadly."

Now, a rival is just something that you call a rival, and I suppose it can challenge your "values" merely by not sharing them. Perhaps it can challenge your "interests" and "economy" through trade agreements. But those are not acts of war. They don't require nuclear weapons unless you intend to get better trade agreements by threatening genocide. Moreover, there's nothing magical about the moment when the Nonproliferation treaty that the US violates was created, nor about the current moment when the majority of nations are in fact working on a new treaty to ban the possession of nuclear weapons.


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