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Less than half of all Americans—just 47 percent—now say they are "extremely proud" to be American, according to the latest Gallup poll. In 2003, that number was 70 percent.

Fourth of July Celebration

Of course that number is easy to play as a factor of the polarized divide of political tribalism—but not so fast.

That lets the perps off the hook.

We live in a nation addicted to perpetual war, where threats of regime change are the one-size-fits-all paradigm of a foreign policy with a go-to default of military intervention.

We live in a land of the free where everything costs and more of our citizens are incarcerated than any other nation.

We are a home of the brave where traumatized military veterans are routinely anesthetized.

We inhabit a land awash in an opioid epidemic that enriches Big Pharma, impoverishes entire communities, and renders its addicts unable to function.

This is not simply a collapse of the Horatio Alger Ethic, that quintessentially American maxim of "Work hard and get ahead."

It's gone far past the Reaganites saying one must pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps, smugly preached to those who have no shoes. It's immensely more cynical, as illusory opportunity that was once irritatingly out of touch for some is now beyond the economic realities of the majority of Americans.

The trend of wealth disparity keeps getting more extreme. And while tax cuts for the rich elite exacerbate that, it was already a trend.

Now, just three Americans—Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates—own as much as the combined worth and assets of 160 million Americans. That's 49.2 percent of the total U.S. population.

Traditionally, residential rent consumed no more than 20 percent of a worker's earnings. Meaning they could pay for other things that got them ahead. Like saving-up the down payment for a house, driving a decent car, meeting medical and dental costs, and taking summer vacations to see the national parks before meeting all those back-to-school expenses.

Now, paying the rent routinely devours more than half the earnings of the working poor, and statistically, more than half the population qualify as working poor. Even as downtown high rises are converted to luxury condos, the rest of us are caught in housing shortages and soaring rents. And unless you inherited a house from your parents or have one to leave to your kids, you'll be condemned to paying most of your earnings to someone in the rich landlord class.

To wit, 63 percent of Americans no longer have the means to handle a 500 dollar emergency. And that manifests as the issue of life itself.

We now live fewer years than our counterparts in every other industrialized nation, and we have far less vacation and time off work to spend with our families.

Our infant mortality rate is higher than any other industrialized nation in the world.

Despite the fact that Americans spend more on health care than the costs borne by the people in any other nation, enough care to meaningfully deal with conditions and diseases and injuries that become crippling in the marketplace—even to mitigate debilitating allergies—remains inaccessible to many of our people. Despite spending more than any other nation, we have worse outcomes. Sadly that's not limited to high infant mortality and declining longevity across the population. Get sick or injured without a Rolls-Royce- level private health insurance plan and you'll be kicked to the curb or even into the gutter. So, in spite of the Americans with Disabilities Act and all the altruistic and domineering proclamations of our politicians, ultimately the nation deprives itself of the creative energy, knowledge and experience of all its citizens—without regard for the cost to our competitiveness in a global marketplace.

Over 40 million Americans are in poverty, and an additional 18 million Americans are in the worst depths of extreme or abject poverty.

Those figures were recently verified by the United Nations, just before the US began resigning-from and refusing to contribute-to the funding of the UN's key cooperative functions of identifying and helping those living under political or economic suppression, in poverty and subsisting in the face of abuses of human rights. (And yes, the Trump administration functioning as an adjunct of the Likud Party allows no room for the UN's steadfast defense of the human rights of the Palestinian people. So there are convergent interests at play.)

We cannot afford to maintain public works infrastructure to have lead-free drinking water and pothole-free roads. But we can spend hundreds of millions to give tax cuts to the richest among us.

Meanwhile, our nation's richest zip code is no longer Beverly Hills or Silicon Valley. It's Fisher Island, Florida. That's a man-made island off Miami where an invitation is needed to live. The initiation fee to move there is over a million dollars, in addition to the annual dues to stay. They do have a luxury hotel which "welcomes all." All who can afford it.

The world's royalty lives on Fisher Island. Both the economic inheritance / trust-baby kind and those whose wealth came from titular heredity that bled it from their citizenry generations ago. As the rich do in their archipelago of fantasy lands, the residents of Fisher Island perversely see themselves as a nouveau United Nations, with its out-of-touch elite having come from 37 countries.

About half are American elite of the new variety. Unlike Beverly Hills and Silicon Valley, whose residents leave home every day and go to work in the most lucrative industries in their areas—Fisher Island is strictly a retreat and playground of luxury condos, grotesque mansions, yacht harbors and golf courses. Thus it's an epitomization of the very nature of today's extreme wealth disparity: the rich simply pull the strings of their corporate holdings and their collections of politicians who dutifully legislate in their favor. Other than that, no need to bother to go to work.

Of course there are the extremely rich who do work and are rewarded with bloated compensation beyond belief. Even if they seem like paupers compared to Bezos, Buffet and Gates.

Take the CEO of Pepsi. He makes 452 times the median wage of the company's other employees.

If that seems overly simplistic? It's overly simplistic to observe that everything is out of whack with an economic elitism that enables oligarchical control exceeding that of medieval Europe or feudal Japan's shogunates, yet clearly that is the world of the new millennium.

We cannot afford to maintain public works infrastructure to have lead-free drinking water and pothole-free roads. But we can spend hundreds of millions to give tax cuts to the richest among us.

We can give ultra-rich sports franchise owners free stadiums at public expense in many cities. Because a city will do anything to retain or steal a tenuous claim to a major league sports franchise.

And all the while, we tacitly buy-in to the Kafkaesque rhetoric of complaint that our taxes are too high.

Sports are a useful analogy. For some of us, the fascination ended "When you have players with egos the size of small planets and salaries the size of small governments..." as expressed recently in a BBC story.

The Beeb, RT, i24, DW, NHK. You'll see their enthusiastic coverage of "foreign" sports we don't play here. And even that adds to your perspective about what is, versus what should be, important. You pretty much need to go to overseas-based media if you want to really know anything these days. Anything other than U.S. corporate cable's breathless "news" of Trumpian tweets / assorted antics and corresponding predictions of wondrously blissful prosperity (Fox) or immediately impending utter collapse (everybody else).

Our machinations, histrionics, and emotional investments in sports are both metaphor and microcosmic representation of American society.

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L.A. mainstream media, from broadcast to print, is giddy that LeBron James is coming to the Lakers. Even though the average citizen long ago found the price of a ticket too high to go see a professional basketball game.

Addicted fans, it seems, don't actually need to go see "their" millionaire players working for billionaire owners.

After all, in the world of the average 21st century American, image is more important than substance, and virtual replaced reality a long time ago.

And so it is not our champions of civil rights, meeting human needs, dignity for all people, access to education, and social or economic justice who get the ink and airtime. It is our athletes who are accorded status as essential local heroes. It borders on elevation to demigods (provided they can score). That determines the image of the city. And it's always enough to distract and divert from the police shootings, gang twit murders, meteor-size potholes, or lost legions of homeless people sleeping on sidewalks.

Meanwhile, the money-manipulating sports franchises' billionaire owners have no loyalty to the lemminglike fans who worship their millionaire players. As long as the masses buy the overpriced officially-licensed team swag. And they do. Years after the team deserts their town for more lucrative pickings where the locals are more rabidly anxious to be fleeced.

Oligarch owners happily hop from market to market if it brings an upward spike to their bottom line. Especially when public treasuries build—and give them—a new stadium if they seem to promise to stay. Just hold the team hostage to get the ransom from taxpayers.

Is it any wonder when that paradigm infects to culture? Thus a nouveau riche player may have a massive iconic skyscraper-size banner in Cleveland, but if an L.A. franchise owner dispenses the millions, the banner must go the way of the dinosaur drowning in Lake Erie. Will we be horrified when the next giant banner falls into the La Brea Tar Pits? The dollar is the only champion.

It's been no different in the loss of countless industries, in the profitable exportation of heavy manufacturing. And it gets more Machiavellian in the megamerger absorption of competitors whose upcoming products would have been more innovative but will now be buried. But it's again analogous to sports in the in the jobs of loyal employees to gave their heart and soul to the longevity of an enterprise that deserted them because ultimately it was a pawn on the chessboard of corporate manipulations.

And so less than half of all Americans have "extreme patriotic fervor" for their country. Or for anything else.

Except for the corporate branding embedded by compulsive interaction with our handheld cyber devices.

And the ever-growing proportion of advertising and its psychologically crafted messages. It's life in a bubble bombarding us with what determines and drives their content. From the unseen domain of spyware and tracking and profiling and "marketing."

Used to pattern our behavior.

And manufacture predisposition of attitude and perception.

Which seems to be the only thing we manufacture in America anymore.

Except for wealth disparity.

Do an investigative piece on Facebook's abuses and invasive exploitation of its users and you incur the wrath of the exploited. Not much different than what happens when the cops arrest the addicts' supplier.

It's a different dynamic than the fans who burn the team's swag when the owner pirates his franchise away in the dead of night. Somehow, our patterns of addiction make us blind to those who exploit us in this cyberdependent, cyber overanalyzed, digitally meticulously overanalyzed 21st century consumer capitalist driven oligarchical utopia where the rent is too damn high.

Since the financial collapse of 2008 and the banksters emerging unscathed and in possession of all the rest of us lost, we do manufacture one thing with perfection. We manufacture wealth disparity better than anyone else on the planet.

Financial manipulation by the rich is our biggest growth industry, even though the manipulators are so few.

It's even an bigger industry than for-profit private prisons in the U.S., where more citizens are locked-up than anywhere on Earth, including North Korea.

It's even bigger than cyber shopping that employs every newly-devised psychology for getting us to buy more trendy crap we don't need and can't afford, while ending the employment of our fellow citizens who worked in all the stores that are gone and are about to close.

But we must buy the crap to sustain the insatiable model of consumer capitalism that is unsustainably based, as it is, on endless growth in a predatory exploitation of a planet with finite resources where the manipulated growing scarcity of resources raises prices and profits for the "haves."

Even as jobs vanish with store closings, and money spent to buy all the crap now aggregates, not to a vast workforce of consumers, but into fewer and fewer hands of the richer and richer.

They've already proven their ability to dismiss the unsustainable as long as there are opportunities for short-term profit-taking and bloated executive bonuses for extracting cash from cannibalization and savings from dumping human employees. Party like the sea will swallow us tomorrow. Just go out in an orgy of spending money we don't have.

The corporate media owned by the rich plays Chicken Little with political doom, but it seems they are not allowed to warn us about mathematical certainties. We are conditioned to forget that consumer capitalism that feeds insatiable oligarchs is cannibalistic and unsustainable. Resource depletion made that a certainty long before a Massachusetts-sized garbage patch of plastic formed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and even before the U.S. began fighting wars to control the world's finite supply of petroleum.

But it's the Fourth of July. Time to celebrate America being the best country in the world. Cue the skyrockets. The gunpowder pyrotechnics, since we abandoned our space program, perhaps because it had too many people thinking dangerous thoughts of exploring and learning and going forth in peace for all humankind.

We can't go anywhere in peaceful cooperation. That might detract from making America great again.

Just play the National Anthem with its bombs bursting in air. Oh, wait. That much honesty is too overt. Might make people think about the paradigms of the warconomy and how it enriches the oligarchs with blood money and addicted traumatized vets.

Time to play "God Bless America."

Certainly no point in playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," since most of us can't afford to go, anyway, and pay all those millionaire player salaries that give the billionaire owners their bragging rights among their peers.


So we must find free diversions. Just head out to watch the Chinese-made fireworks your taxes bought for your local Fourth of July extravaganza -- the celebration of beer and barbecue and how superior America is to everybody else.

Larry Wines