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JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Robbery 0719wrp optA robbery in progress. (Photo: German Federal Archive)We the People are being burgled. Again.

The latest hit is just the latest in a long string of political robberies, a nationwide crime wave being pulled off by moneyed elites and their political henchmen. With each heist, they haul off a little more of our democratic power: the ability of the working majority to have any real say in the corporate and governmental decisions that affect us.

The elites are master thieves, often plucking pieces of our power without us realizing it, until we try to use it and — phhttt — it's gone. And yet another democracy-stealing tool has recently been fabricated and quietly distributed to profiteering corporations and right-wing ideologues throughout the country: PREEMPTION.

This concept has been around since Day One of our nation, contained in the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and in similar clauses in state constitutions. It allows higher levels of government to intervene and overrule lower levels - the Feds can legally preempt state and local laws, and states can preempt city and county ordinances.

Obviously, this extreme power is fraught with danger, so it's meant to be used sparingly and only to advance a very big public purpose like, for example, overriding state and local laws that officially sanction rank racial discrimination.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

We the People are being burgled. Again.

The latest hit is just the latest in a long string of political robberies, a nationwide crime wave being pulled off by moneyed elites and their political henchmen. With each heist, they haul off a little more of our democratic power: the ability of the working majority to have any real say in the corporate and governmental decisions that affect us.

The elites are master thieves, often plucking pieces of our power without us realizing it, until we try to use it and — phhttt — it's gone. And yet another democracy-stealing tool has recently been fabricated and quietly distributed to profiteering corporations and right-wing ideologues throughout the country: PREEMPTION.

This concept has been around since Day One of our nation, contained in the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and in similar clauses in state constitutions. It allows higher levels of government to intervene and overrule lower levels - the Feds can legally preempt state and local laws, and states can preempt city and county ordinances.

Obviously, this extreme power is fraught with danger, so it's meant to be used sparingly and only to advance a very big public purpose like, for example, overriding state and local laws that officially sanction rank racial discrimination.

BuzzFlash and Truthout depend on reader support -- can you make a tax-deductible donation and help publish journalism with real integrity and independence?

BRIAN TRAUTMAN, GERRY CONDON AND SAMANTHA FERGUSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

NukeBan 0719wrp optThe aftermath of a nuclear detonation. (Photo: US Department of Energy)On July 7th, 2017, the United Nations (UN), in a historic decision, approved a legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Months of negotiations involving over 130 countries began in March of this year, culminating in a final draft endorsed by 122 countries. The treaty marks a significant milestone to help free the world of nuclear weapons.

The treaty emphasizes "the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons." It forbids participating states "to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." Additionally, it explains that the complete elimination of nuclear weapons from international arsenals "remains the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances."

In keeping with a history of being unwilling to relinquish its massive nuclear arsenal, the U.S refused to enter treaty negotiations and used its status as the sole remaining international superpower to organize a boycott that influenced approximately 40 countries.

U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki R. Haley defended the absence of the U.S. from the negotiations, stating, "There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?" Veterans For Peace (VFP), a nonprofit working since 1985 to abolish war and nurture peace and the only veterans non-governmental organization (NGO) represented at the UN, released a statement in response, strongly criticizing the U.S.'s refusal to participate, noting that the discussions were a "series of missed opportunities by the United States to use its position as the world's undisputed military power to change the course of history … and end the danger and peril that nuclear weapons pose to the world."

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

ethicswhThe Trump White House rejects normative ethical standards. (Photo: Justin Baeder)

Walter M. Shaub Jr. -- the chief of the Office of Government Ethics -- has just resigned, and he is leaving with a corrosive, blunt warning, according to the New York Times: "I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point [when it comes to White House and government ethics]." The Times states in a July 17 article about an interview with Shaub:

Actions by President Trump and his administration have created a historic ethics crisis, the departing head of the Office of Government Ethics said. He called for major changes in federal law to expand the power and reach of the oversight office and combat the threat.

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who is resigning as the federal government's top ethics watchdog on Tuesday, said the Trump administration had flouted or directly challenged long-accepted norms in a way that threatened to undermine the United States' ethical standards, which have been admired around the world.

"It's hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we're not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility," Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women's Open tournament. "I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point."

There was no love lost between Shaub, appointed for a five-year term in 2013 by President Obama, and the White House.

2017.18.7 BF chowdhryEven though there is no real threat to US national security from the muslim community, the government has successfully reenergized centuries old stereotypes, asserting that Muslim Americans can never assimilate to the "American way" of life. (Photo: Joe Piette)NIMRA CHOWDHRY FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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One day after celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-fitr with my family, I learned that the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously agreed to hear arguments on the Trump administration's Muslim travel ban. In granting review of two appellate injunctions, the Supreme Court allowed for an amended ban to go into effect.

This is what it's like to be a Muslim in the US today: living in a constant state of whiplash. One day you are with your family and friends, enjoy and celebrating each other, the next day you are assessing the effects of a new blow on the basis of your faith. Even though courts in this country have consistently found the administration's policy to be an attack on Muslims, those perceived to be Muslim and those from Muslim majority countries, the Supreme Court didn't address this issue in depth in granting its review. But what we do know is that this conversation will be front and center, when the case is heard in early October.

I am a Pakistani-Muslim American and a proud immigrant. I refuse to stand by as our nation denounces its own proclaimed values by targeting people who look like me.

cadets, it was their final full day of their Junior Cadet Leadership Course, a five-day summer camp that introduces the cadets to a military lifestyle and environment. Cadets attend a five-day summer camp that "introduces the cadets to a military lifestyle and environment." (Photo: Virginia Guard Public Affairs)PAT ELDER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

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Ominous developments in three states this summer -- Oregon, Texas, New Jersey, and one city -- Chicago, provide a glimpse into the Pentagon's new playbook to recruit soldiers from high schools across the country. In brief, the military has been engaged in a robust lobbying campaign to lower academic standards to make it easier to recruit youth. 

New recruitshave long been required to hold a high school diploma or a GED certificate. This requirement is a major impediment to finding enough soldiers to meet annual targets, but even when struggling students barely manage to graduate, the Pentagon has developed a plan to marshal more of them into the military.

The Oregon Department of Education recently endorsed the Oregon National Guard's Credit Proficiency Program for use in high schools across the state. The program gives juniors and seniors the chance to earn academic credits while training for military service at Oregon National Guard facilities. The program is expected to cut the state's drop-out rate while increasing the on-time graduation rate. In 2015 Oregon's 74.8% graduation rate was the third lowest in the country.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

forrentRental units for lower income residents are the new financial target of Wall Street. (Photo: Indiana Public Media)

If you turn to BuzzFlash and Truthout for the latest headlines and the best in independent commentary, please support our publication! Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

A "rentier" is defined in the Random House Dictionary as "a person who has a fixed income, as from lands or bonds." The rentier class consists of those who essentially earn money off of investments instead of working on an hourly or daily wage. Many of the people who rent housing from rentiers -- in other words, renters -- live on another form of fixed income altogether: social security. Others work long hours at low-paying jobs. Renters often can't afford to own their apartments or homes, and, therefore, other entities -- including, increasingly, investment firms -- are financially benefiting from their need for shelter.

A July article on Inequality.org emphasizes how current Republican policy in Washington DC is accelerating the profits of the private sector. As a result, tenants -- including those with low incomes -- are seeing rising rents:

.... while Republicans are proposing severe cuts to housing assistance, they are continuing to support subsidies for private equity firms that are squeezing low-income tenants around the country.

President Trump’s proposed budget would cut $7.4 billion in housing funding by eliminating housing vouchers, cutting public housing funding by $1.8 billion, and significantly reducing homeless assistance grants. While stripping support for low-income Americans, the budget would maintain programs that help fill the pockets of wealthy investors. The biggest private equity player in the housing market is Blackstone, which has become the country’s largest landlord, owning more than $102 billion in real estate.

Inequality.org brought up a specific example of the public purse benefiting the private investor in the context of a rally against rent profiteering held on July 13 in Washington DC.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Bullet 0717wrp optBullet exiting a flash suppressor. (Photo: Niels Noordhoek)During the Obama years, right wing groups repeatedly issued hysterical calls to stockpile arms against encroachment by the Obama administration. With Trump in the White House, that tune has changed; right wing paramilitary groups are being encouraged by Republican Party officials to stand armed, ready to defend Trumpism. In what appears to be an escalation of an ominous trend, the Multnomah County Republican Party (MCRP) of Portland, Oregon, voted to approve a proposal, brought by MCRP Chairman James Buchal, to allow armed members of Oregon Three Percenters, and the Oath Keepers, to provide security for future pro-Trump, alt-right, and anti-Sharia rallies. 

According to the Guardian, "Brawls and verbal confrontations punctuated the latest in a series of far-right 'patriot movement' events" recently when about "100 attendees clashed verbally and occasionally physically with 'anti-fascist' protesters."

With their members being harassed and shouted down, Buchal told the Guardian that calling in militia groups was their only recourse. Emphasizing violence coming from the left could be shaping a new and dangerous narrative enhancing the legitimacy of rightwing paramilitary groups.

"The Oregon Republican Party's sanctioning of the Three Percenters and other militia-types as security is a sinister turn for American politics," Devin Burghart, vice president on the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR), told me in an email exchange. "Deploying unaccountable, untrained, heavily-armed, and volatile far-right individuals at events where racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry are core themes is a recipe for disaster.

PATRICIA JACKSON FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

DMZ 0717wrpElectric fences in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. (Photo: Wikipedia public domain)June was the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Korean War. It began in 1950 and ended 1953. Did people at that time in this country, even today, know the truth about our destruction in North Korea?

South Korea did not sign onto the 1953 cease fire armistice agreement with the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the United Nations that established a demilitarized zone separated at the 38th parallel. The possibility of using the Atom Bomb was considered during this war. North Korea and South Korea, a country divided, become another proxy war. Today, the risk of nuclear weapons ignites again with the threat of even greater weapons capable of massive destruction.

The countries involved in Korea today are the same, the United States, China, and Russia – then still the Soviet Union. The U.S. still maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea, including a division headquarters, an armored brigade, an aviation brigade, and an artillery brigade. China and Russia have established troops on their borders with North Korea.

Two hot heads of state exchange dangerous rhetoric. Trump's simplistic assessment of the situation offers, "North Korea is looking for trouble." "If China decides to help, that would be great," the post continued. "If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."

A DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman in turn responds. "The DPRK will react to a total war with an all-out war, a nuclear war with nuclear strikes of its own and surely win a victory in the death-defying struggle against the U.S. imperialists."

MARIANNE HIRSCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

MarianneWarsawView of POLIN Museum, facing the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. This side of the monument shows the Great Deportation of 300,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp in the summer of 1942. (Photo: Wojciech Kryński) Standing in front of the Ghetto Heroes Monument in Warsaw, Poland, some months ago, I felt immersed in an archaeology of layered histories. The monument commemorates the unique and improbable armed uprising by Jewish ghetto partisans against Nazi forces in 1943. But it also bears witness to how the brutal annihilation of a local minority in the very heart of an urban neighborhood has been both remembered and forgotten during nearly 70 years. Now, standing in front of the remarkable new Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, it speaks not only of heroes, but also of ordinary lives cut short by genocide.

Being there as a child of survivors of the Romanian Holocaust, I felt in touch with witness visitors who preceded me -- descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors like me, tourists, heads of state the world over, as well as visitors whose symbolic import resonates into the future. How could any of us do justice to the victims? What is our responsibility to them and to our own present, to the violence we continue to witness?

When Donald Trump chose not to stop there on his recent visit to Warsaw, he didn't just snub the Jewish community or fail to pay tribute to Jewish resistance, he also rejected an entangled transnational history of responsible witnessing. He thus extricated the United States from a web of shared memory and acknowledgement that goes beyond the nationalist self-congratulation that he fosters.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

elizwarrencfpbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren. (Photo: Tim Pierce)

In the scrum of unsettling news about an administration and Congress that are enacting harmful right-wing measures on an almost daily basis, it is affirming to note when progress is being made. The Conversation recently ran an article about the important steps that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has already taken to protect consumers in the United States. The brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the CFPB was included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that passed Congress in 2010. The agency opened in 2011.

One positive step the CPFB has taken is to ban the forced consumer arbitration requirements which are often included in the fine print of consumer agreements for credit cards, loans and other products offered by banks and financial institutions. These requirements have put a stranglehold on consumer efforts to recover fraudulently obtained funds -- and to reform the banking industry by allowing court cases seeking remedies to unfair practices. The ban represents a significant step in the struggle for a pro-consumer footing in relation to the financial industry.

In a July 10 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau news release, the agency announced,

a new rule to ban companies from using mandatory arbitration clauses to deny groups of people their day in court. Many consumer financial products like credit cards and bank accounts have arbitration clauses in their contracts that prevent consumers from joining together to sue their bank or financial company for wrongdoing. By forcing consumers to give up or go it alone – usually over small amounts – companies can sidestep the court system, avoid big refunds, and continue harmful practices. The CFPB’s new rule will deter wrongdoing by restoring consumers’ right to join together to pursue justice and relief through group lawsuits.

"Arbitration clauses in contracts for products like bank accounts and credit cards make it nearly impossible for people to take companies to court when things go wrong," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "These clauses allow companies to avoid accountability by blocking group lawsuits and forcing people to go it alone or give up. Our new rule will stop companies from sidestepping the courts and ensure that people who are harmed together can take action together."

The CFPB news release notes that the regulation applies "to the major markets for consumer financial products and services overseen by the Bureau, including those that lend money, store money, and move or exchange money.

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