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EditorBlog (1850)

Friday, 02 February 2018 06:02

Donald Trump Is Distractor-in-Chief


donaldtrumpmedDonald Trump tames the media. (Gage Skidmore)

It is quite tempting to dismiss Donald Trump as a gaudy con man who is feverishly stumbling his way through the presidency. However, that would be a mistake. Trump is the sneering lion tamer of the mainstream corporate press, snapping his whip with Twitter bursts that distract from the egregious destructiveness of his administration on so many fronts.

One could argue that the mass media has continued to bring up Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, but the rollout of the so-called "Nunes memo" is an example of how Trump uses the press as his foil. The release of the GOP report that chastises the FBI for investigating former Trump adviser Carter Page has been the subject of speculation for a week. Trump has teased the press about whether he will approve of release of the document with classified information, when all the while the White House may very well have coordinated the action with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), chair of the House Intelligence Committee. The general assumption is that the memo will discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation of Trump.

Many of those who oppose Trump believe that he is on the ropes and desperate. However, there is another way of looking at his actions: He is masterful at redirecting the media to what he wants to focus on at any given moment -- and that often changes by the hour. Whether or not the public dissemination of the GOP House Intelligence Committee memo will tarnish the FBI enough to gain Trump support in his battle with the special prosecutor remains to be seen. However, it is another example of how Trump manipulates the media into focusing on his ongoing charges, outrageous remarks and general agenda of distraction.


HurricaneMariaHurricane Maria (Photo: Antti Lipponen)

Puerto Rico achieved Commonwealth Status under President Harry Truman's administration in 1952, after being a territory since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. However, the United States Congress and presidents over time have continued to treat Puerto Rico like a colony.

The relationship is riddled with contradictions. Residents of Puerto Rico are citizens of the US, but can only vote in federal elections if they move to and live in a state. The island is supposed to have an independent Commonwealth legislature, but its financial affairs are now being overseen by a seven-person Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board appointed in 2016 by President Obama. The island had been on the brink of bankruptcy -- more than $70 billion in debt. Typical of the island's treatment as a colony, its governor is on the Control Board but cannot vote.

According to USA Today, the relationship of the US government to the island is generally not understood by people in the 50 US states:

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria on the 3.4 million residents of Puerto Rico resurfaced a disturbing fact – many Americans don't know the first thing about the Caribbean island. 

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted in March [2016] found that fewer than half of Americans (47%) believe that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth.


obamacareimageDespite Trump administration roadblocks, 2018 enrollment in Obamacare is robust. (Luis Rodriguez)

Obamacare has been a singular obsession for Donald Trump and the Republicans in Congress since its creation, signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. In the mouths of the GOP, the health insurance program has taken on a monstrous image, as though it were a monster preying upon Americans. It has been a tragically intractable attack on a healthcare insurance system that -- although far from ideal -- has assisted millions of people in the US.

Despite the ongoing attacks from the GOP, it is worth noting that Obamacare was no progressive innovation: Its structure is based on a system put into place and championed by Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts -- and implemented with the support of the George W. Bush administration, which helped fund it.

However, Trump and Congress recently took another swipe at the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and according to Politifact, their action may destabilize the entire insurance market:

The Republicans' successful drive to pass a massive tax bill allowed President Donald Trump to take another slice off of the Affordable Care Act. Effective 2019, the sweeping tax package repeals the penalty on people who might be able to afford health insurance but choose not to buy it. The individual mandate affects a relatively narrow sliver of Americans, but it has been a pillar of Obamacare.


slavepatrolsSlave patrols were one of the reasons we have a Second Amendment. (Patrick Feller)

In her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, author and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz fiercely debunks contemporary memes about the Second Amendment. She ties the clause to the US's militaristic culture, which was born of the war on the Indigenous people of North America and the brutal suppression of chattel slaves. Both of these violent endeavors involved militias, a point that Dunbar-Ortiz contends provided the impetus for putting the phrase "a well-regulated militia" into the Second Amendment.

In October 2017, I wrote a commentary entitled "Gun Violence Created the United States." Dunbar-Ortiz argues that the endlessly debated Second Amendment can only be understood in such a context. The colonies, such as Virginia, who put together the Bill of Rights knew exactly what the Second Amendment meant because militias of individually armed men were an accepted fact in many states. At the time of the founding of the nation, 1776, they were vital to the theft of land from the Indigenous population and the pursuit of escaped chattel slaves. The Second Amendment enshrined that state right.

After all, both endeavors were inextricably tied to the growth of the United States. The stealing of Indigenous land and the brutal pursuit of people who'd escaped from slavery were essential to the early formation of the US. Seizing Indigenous lands fulfilled the so-called "manifest destiny" of the United States, while the chattel slave economy was the primary means by which the agrarian infrastructure of the South operated. Meanwhile, the North benefited from inexpensive cotton for its textile mills and other agricultural products.

In a Truthout interview with Dunbar-Ortiz to be published soon, I asked her, "How does the Second Amendment contribute to the United States' culture of violence?"

Friday, 26 January 2018 05:43

GOP Voter Suppression Is Toxic to Democracy


votingsuppressionVoter suppression is a dagger in the heart of democracy.      (Chuck Coker)

GOP voter suppression is a singular threat to our democracy.

This week's Truthout Progressive Pick is The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Case of the Stolen Election, an updated documentary by investigative reporter Greg Palast. It makes the case that Trump's victory in the presidential election of 2016 would not likely have happened if Republicans in control of state governments had not impeded voting through a variety of methods, including one they have long used to great effect -- the purging of voter lists.

In this context, it is important to remember two things: the GOP controls the majority of state houses (in many cases with an assist from gerrymandering) and they indefatigably try to reduce the voting of likely opposition voters. They also try to challenge ballots and leave many of them uncounted. The aim of these strategies is to counter the changing demographic nature of the United States into a more diverse nation: a country that is less white and younger, and a country where the poor might become more empowered. Palast cites a telling statistic in a January 25 op-ed for Truthout: "According to the US Civil Rights Commission, the chance your vote will be disqualified is 900 percent higher if you're Black than if you're white."


trumpbrandFor Donald Trump, the presidency and his company are inextricably intertwined. (DonkeyHotey)

You don't need us to tell you about the corporate media's low standards. Help BuzzFlash and Truthout maintain a quality alternative to mainstream news -- make a donation now!

Donald Trump's conflict of interest between his profiteering and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution continues into his second year in office. The Emoluments Clause prohibits a president from financially benefiting from any gift or action of a foreign government.

The Trump Organization is profiting off the presidency in numerous ways. China has granted multiple trademarks to Trump products and services, and foreign governments have had representatives stay at Trump properties, beginning with his inauguration just over a year ago.

Although Trump stated before he was sworn in that he would remove himself from the running of the Trump Organization, he didn't remove himself from personally profiting from his interest in the corporation. Plus, although he said his children would run the company and make decisions, their interests do not appear to be entirely separate from their father's -- he is clearly benefiting financially from their promotion of the sprawling business.


occupyjanphotoThe 2011 Occupy movement provided hope for economic equality.          (Charlie Llewellin)

It has only been a few short years since the heady days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began on September 11, 2017, in Zucotti Park, New York. The ensuing weeks created a fervor for economic justice across the United States, with encampments in many cities. In particular, the clarion call for an end to the concentration of wealth among 1% of the population became a social meme. Even the corporate mainstream media -- which only sparingly covers financial inequality issues -- reported continually on the protests, particularly the main one on Wall Street.

On November 15, 2011, New York police squashed the protest in Zucotti Park, and the shutdown of encampments around the country ensued. Although ardent concern about the increase in wealth among an extremely small percentage of the nation (and world) continues among progressives -- and in publications such as Truthout -- some recent studies have shown that the regressive trend is continuing, not abating. This reality is facilitated by public policy such as the just-enacted Republican tax restructuring, which enriches the top 1% even further while diminishing federal government support for programs that financially benefit the public at large.

A January 23 Inter Press Service (IPS) article confirms that wealth is continuing to be amassed in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.


tomcottonjpg13Tom Cotton should not be a public servant if has contempt for his constituents. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) is a reliable supporter of Donald Trump. He recently was one of two senators who implausibly claimed, during a meeting on DACA, that Trump did not use a highly derogatory and profane term about majority non-white nations. In short, Cotton almost certainly lied to provide the president with cover for wanton bigotry. Charles Pierce writes of Cotton and Trump in the January 16 Esquire: "The two of them share an instinct for vicious, self-serving political utilitarianism, an overweening ambition far beyond their actual talents, and a casual disinterest in the truth if it conflicts with expedience."

It is not, therefore, surprising that Cotton and Trump share an intolerance toward those individuals and groups that disagree with them. Of course, it is one of the most basic assumptions of democracy that constituents can communicate their concerns and criticisms to their representatives through a variety of means, such as emails, letters, the telephone and protests. This ability for constituents to express their views is one of the most vital ingredients in a robust democracy.

However, Cotton -- a Tea Party favorite -- apparently doesn't believe that such communication is welcome, when it comes to those who take issue with his positions. The Arkansas Times reported on January 18 that Cotton's Washington, DC office has been issuing cease-and-desist letters to some of his Arkansas residents, warning them not to contact Cotton.


plasticbags33Plastic bags will likely accelerate in their pollution of the planet. (Photo: European Parliament)

We welcome the New Year with an expectation of a better future as the clock hits midnight and we enter January. However, among the disappointments we are facing already is a likely increase in the production of polluting plastics. Specifically, the scourge of non-recyclable plastic bags appears to be gearing up for an increase.

On December 26, 2017, the Guardian posted an article that predicts $180 billion dollars will be spent by fossil fuel companies on increasing plastic production, including plastic bags. The article warns that the investment -- which will raise plastic output by approximately 40 percent -- is "risking permanent pollution of the earth." Symbolic of the destructiveness of non-recyclable plastics to the environment is the omnipresent plastic bag.

In fact, 2016 began with a forewarning of the onslaught of plastic for which Big Oil is preparing. An EcoWatch article from January 2016 offered this chilling portrayal of the worldwide threat of plastic production:

There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, according to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Photo credit: Plastic Pollution

Every year "at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean—which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute," the report finds. "If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

Friday, 22 December 2017 06:10

Begin the New Year by Rejecting Fear


fearsashaDemocracy cannot be run on the fuel of fear. (Photo: Jimee, Jackie, Tom & Asha)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his 1932 inaugural address that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He was referring to the personal and national concerns about the devastation of the Great Depression. However, he could have been speaking about the destructive impact of overblown fear on the survival of democracy and on personal well-being.

Fear is the subject of this week's Truthout Progressive Pick, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream, by Sasha Abramsky. He incisively explores how humans are hard-wired for fear. It is after all, an emotion and reflex that is common to most species to ensure individual survival. In the human, it is ignited in the amygdala, a small part of the brain, which releases a hormone that incites fear. This activates preconceived notions to invoke fear retained in another part of the brain called the hippocampus. All of this happens and emerges as a perceived threat to humans before the more discriminating neocortex can determine what is an actual personal risk.

Thus, a fear doesn't need to correspond to the actual likelihood of being harmed; it can be induced through a repetitive framing of irrational fears that are stored as memes in the amygdala and hippocampus. In an age when television transmits messages directly into the home -- as a sort of high-tech member of the family -- bitter and hateful fears do not need to reflect reality. They can be installed in the brain as perceived reality through artful propaganda and repetition. Thus, one can understand, upon reflection, the impact of a network such as Fox.

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