The Real Martin Luther King

January 15, 2018 § Leave a comment

On occasions like today, when the legacy of Martin Luther King is celebrated, I am frustrated.  If a stranger from some other country is visiting America today, he or she will be left with the impression that King was a champion of racial justice who led a famous march, made a famous speech in Washington D.C. and, together with President Lyndon B. Johnson, was responsible for the enactment of laws protecting black people from discrimination.

This, to me, is like describing a giant  as if he were a midget.

What is the Truth?

Marting Luther King was one of those remarkable men whose conscience  and intelligence drove him to disregard his own safety, his comfortable life and even the safety of his family and friends.  He was a man who could not and would not look away when he saw injustice.  He was a slave to his conscience.

Racial Injustice

It is true his first effort was based on the racial injustice he witnessed in Montgomery, Alabama where he lived and worked as a preacher.  He opposed it without regard to his own safety.  Ultimately, because of his example and his gifted ability to speak with passion and poetic force, he led a successful political movement that caused a Texas President to join his effort and effect some useful legal prohibitions against racist injustice.

Military Injustice

Half way around the world, a dishonest account of a naval incident in the Gulf of Tonkin was used to justify a needless war in Viet Nam.  Thousands of young men and women lost their lives in this unjustified war.  President Johnson’s presidency was ruined and his  reputation based on his leadership toward racial justice was stained because he chose to wage that unnecessary and unjust war.  He left office rather than continue to support the  war.

Marin Luther King had worked together with President Johnson to achieve progress toward racial justice in America.  He did not want to turn on his erstwhile ally because of  the Viet Nam War.  But, once again, his conscience prevailed.  He expressed strong opposition to the War and, thus, severed his alliance with LBJ, a bitter experience for both men.

Economic Injustice

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee.   He was there because he had been supporting a garbage workers strike.  The strike had been going on for months.  It was supported by both white and black people although the workers were mostly black.  Some of the marches and protests were joined by white college students and other white young people.

Summary

Dr. King was not just a supporter of black people.  He was a crusader against injustice, military, racial, and economic.  James Earl Ray was convicted of King’s assassination.  He spend over 40 years in prison, where he died.  He always denied having killed King.  Dr. King’s son visited Ray in prison and, after listening to him, declared he did not believe Ray had killed his father.  At the time of Ray’s death, Dr.. King’s son was trying to have him released.

Here is a link to an interesting account of MLK’s activity in support of the strike and some other facts concerning his assassination. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_kings_assassination_4_april_1968/

 

American Divisions and Eastern Challenges

January 3, 2018 § Leave a comment

This essay concerns Edward Luce’s new book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism.  Edward Luce is a British columnist and writer for the Financial Times, former writer for The Guardian.  He is based in Washington D.C..   He lived for several years in India and the Philippines. He graduated from Oxford with majors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.  He acquired a graduate degree in Journalism from City College in London.

Luce’s book is loaded with facts and statistics.  I will mention a few of them but I urge my  readers to read his book because I cannot do justice to his carefully researched conclusions.  I found his book to be a revelation.

Luce’s Main Conclusions

Luce declares China to be America’s replacement as a leader in the world’s economy.  He is convinced that, within a decade, India will join China in this leadership role.  They will compete with each other:  China’s autocracy versus India’s democracy.

He acknowledges America’s dominance as a military power but cites impressive evidence that, so far as concerns economic power and ability to provide its population with a middle class life style, America lags significantly behind Western European nations.   He cites multiple statistical bases for these conclusions.  For example, since 1990, median income in America has remained stagnant while European nations have experienced modest gains.  Both China and India have had double digit gains.  Poverty levels in both countries remain high because they started from lower levels but both are rapidly gaining.

Luce describes the dramatic departure of white working class Americans from the Democratic Party .  These men and women regard themselves as ignored and left behind by an elite class of college educated Americans who focus on concern and energy to correct discrimination against women, gays, blacks and Chicanos,while expressing disdain and disapproval toward the white working class whose jobs have vanished with the loss of industrial jobs in factories and coal mines.  Luce mentions Candidate Clinton’s unfortunate remark about “deplorables” in this part of his argument.

These displaced working class white Americans formed the base of Trump’s narrow victory.  Bernie Sanders appealed to them with simple but honest political slogans but he lost the nomination of the Democratic Party to Hilary Clinton.  Luce cites excerpts from Clinton’s “position papers” in his critical description of her appeal to these voters.  He contends Clinton’s proposed remedies for white working class problems were both too abstract and too complicated to compete with Trump’s simplified promises.

Bricks Without Straw

The Old Testament describes how the Egyptians required the enslaved Israelites to make bricks without straw.  This is how Luce analyzes the expectation that white working class Americans, a vital component of the Democratic Party’s coalition, would continue their loyalty as Democrats in the absence of real concern for their job losses and their sinking from middle class to impoverished underclass.

In the past, white workers could see and appreciate the Democratic Party’s support of collective bargaining  rights and opposition to “right-to-work” efforts as reasons for voting for that party’s candidates.  When the Democratic Party no longer treated those issues as significant while the economic welfare of white workers deteriorated, their loyalty to the Democratic Party waned.   The industrial unions, whose support of collective bargaining rights was perceived and appreciated by white workers, lost membership and political strength as factories and plants moved overseas.  As that happened, the effort of unions to encourage white workers’ concern for racial justice and civil rights weakened.  White workers became vulnerable to the promises of jobs by right wing demagogues like Trump.

Luce cites statistics to show that Clinton carried the inner cities, where housing prices soared beyond the reach of middle class white people, while Trump carried the “slumburgs” where the displaced white working class lived.  These were also the places where the plague of opioid addiction flourished.  Luce cites a survey reflecting that almost one half of the white working class Americans self-identify as “poor”. or “underclass”.

My Reaction

I am impressed with Luce’s compilation of facts to support his argument. In the last section of his book, he identifies himself as committed to all of the principles of liberalism I share.  He does not want to discard those principles but he is convinced that, if we don’t do something to reclaim the allegiance of our white working class Americans, we risk enduring a future of endless division and, possibly, a succession of Trump-like political leaders whose loyalty will be to corporate greed rather than Constitutional Democracy.  He warns, if that happens, the only remedy left will be violent revolution and the outcome will be some kind of military junta.

Luce’s nightmare is a Trump-like president with brains and talent.  Such a successor to Trump would deprive us of our only source of optimism:  Trump’s stupidity.

Here is a link to an interview of Luce on C-Span.  www.c-span.org/video/?430096-6/washington-journal-edward-luce-discusses-the-retreat-western-liberalism [For some reason I cannot produce a clickable web site here.  I hope it will work if you copy the citation and paste it into your browser.]

This includes questions from viewers and Luce’s answers.  Not one of the viewers had read his book and their questions and comments reflect how ill informed our fellow citizens are about the issues his book involves.  Some of the discussion, however, suggests the kind of appeals and reframed issues that may be necessary to rebuild the Democratic Party coalition.

Luce has written a warning entitled to serious concern.  He does not offer a solution to the problem he presents but he has convinced me that relying on blacks, Chicanos and white educated liberals while ceding white working class whites to the GOP is an unacceptable strategy.

Neither Luce nor I suggest we compromise our commitment to racial, ethnic and social justice.  Our history suggests a solution:  Economic justice can overcome disagreement over social and racial issues but social and racial justice without economic justice will not work. Disdain and shaming are not winning techniques for organizing white working class Americans.  We must design our politics to support social justice in the workplace and in our communities while insisting, with equal vigor and energy, on restoration of dignity and economic justice for the American working class, white male as well as black, brown and female.  Those who seek to slice and dice that coalition, not any component of the coalition, are the enemy.

The labor movement has a sad history of failures based on racial and ethnic prejudice.  It will be an ironic twist of history if, after we ameliorate racial and racial prejudice, we allow inattention to economic justice for all to cause us, once again, to fail.

 

 

Migajas de la Mesa

December 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

The Theft and the Lies

As the Trump enthralled Republicans bask in the glow of corporate greed we can only marvel at their unconscionable hypocrisy.   They have crafted a tax plan which amounts to a long term transfer of wealth from underclass and middle class Americans to multinational corporations and wealthy individuals unparalleled in our history.  And they have accomplished this by adding more than a trillion dollars to the national debt, an obligation payable by future generations of our children and grandchildren.

This immorality of this plan is enhanced by their dishonest claim that their tax plan favors its victims.  They repeat the time-worn  fairy tale:  “Don’t worry.  The millionaires and billionaires who receive this bounty will spend it on increased production of goods and services which will require increased employment of middle class workers at higher wages.”

This didn’t happen when Saint Ronnie originated it.  It didn’t happen when Baby Bush repeated it.  (Daddy Bush, while he was a loyal Republican, did not drink the Kool-Aid.)  And, of course, it won’t happen now because it makes no sense.  Employers decide to hire more workers when demand for their products or services increase; not when their taxes decrease.

Migajas de la Mesa

To pacify the working class, the GOP tax plan includes some small tax reductions for them.  For example, the Standard Deduction is increased.  Small decreases in the lower and middle class tax rates are included.  The benefits, however, are accompanied by other provisions designed to make middle class life more expensive.

The requirement that those who opt out of coverage by the Affordable Care Act pay a small penalty is removed.  This will significantly increase premiums for others who depend on medical coverage through that Act because the pool of participants will consist of those whose medical needs are greatest.  Like any insurance plan, the ACA keeps rates manageable by including low risk with high risk participants.  That principle has now been discarded.

There are other changes in the law designed to increase risk and cost for middle class and under class Americans.  Some of those issues may, or may not be resolved or changed during the next few days or weeks.  Here is an article listing some of those issues.  http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-tax-reform-plan-government-shutdown-chip-2017-11

Here is another article on this subject:

http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-top-tax-reform-bill-analysis-reviews-text-2017-11

Regardless of how some of these issues are resolved, I believe, based on what I have read and heard, the new tax law is what was easily predictable:  The GOP repaid their corporate benefactors with a tax law heavily weighted toward the wealthiest Americans  accompanied by a few small benefits for the rest of us.

This is what the Chicanos refer to as migajas de la mesa.  [Crumbs from the table].

 

Abortion Bigotry and The First Amendment

October 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

The Facts

A teenage girl from Central America entered the United States seeking asylum.  She was apprehended by customs officials and detained, awaiting a ruling on her right to remain in the United States.

The girl was pregnant when she entered the United States.  She concluded, based on her knowledge of her own ability and the circumstances in which she found herself, that it would be unwise for her to assume responsibility for raising a child.  So she sought an abortion.

When she asked for the care of a doctor she was confronted with interference by the United States government, prompted and led by Scott Lloyd, appointed by President Trump to oversee the Resettlement of Refugees.

Mr. Lloyd had little or no experience to qualify him for that post but he did have a long record of expressing his Roman Catholic religious opposition to abortion.  Based on the beliefs of that religious sect, he unleashed the power of the federal government to impose his zeal on the teenage girl and, heedless of her beliefs,  force her to give birth to a child.

She was told she could abandon her right to seek asylum in the U.S. or abandon her right  to abort her pregnancy.  If she asserted her right to asylum, she would have to give up her right to abort her pregnancy.

The ACLU responded to this assault on the girl’s rights and, not surprisingly, obtained judicial relief for her.   She obtained an abortion.  This result was achieved, however, only after the girl was forced to watch a movie starring the fetus and enduring a harangue by one or more representatives of religious sects trying to impose their religious beliefs on her and warning  her that, by asserting her right to abort her pregnancy, she was committing a sin.

My Reaction

The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”  I know the key court decision guaranteeing a woman’s right tto abort a pregnancy was based on the “right of privacy” and not on this (to me at least) plain language of our Bill of Rights.  The result delights me but the facts of this latest episode express, to me at least, eloquently and precisely why it is so un-American and disgraceful to subject a young woman to religious tests and forced shaming before she is allowed to make a decision about her own body.

To me the “free exercise” of religion means rejecting religion altogether is a right no less valuable than the right to choose adherence to any one of the myriad of religious doctrines commanding the devotion of men and women all over the world.  I have no hostility toward religion and I am proud of our Constitution’s protection of its exercise.  I do, however, regard forcing one’s religious choices on another person as a vile and evil practice with a history rife with examples of man’s ability and inclination to engage in cruelty and mass murder on a scale that beggars the imagination.

If any of my readers doubt the truth of this last statement, here is citation obtained by a brief Google search:  https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/interview-converting-by-the-sword

The Importance of Language

I have so far expressed my outrage at the effort to impose a particular religious idea on a girl seeking an abortion.  I now need to respond to those who dissent by expressing care and concern for the fetus who was the subject of the girl’s abortion.

First, I think it is useful to address the meaning of the word “person”.  Here is the definition:  “[a] noun : human being, individual, man/woman, child, human, being, (living) soul, mortal, creature; personage, character, customer; ,. . . .”

The absurd problem with which our laws now entangle us began with the judicial necromancy that equated the word “person” with a legal device designed to facilitate the organization of investors to pool money in a business enterprise and to limit their potential liability to the value of the device.  The device is a corporation.  A corporation has no pulse.  It cannot be drafted or imprisoned.  It can be terminated without judicial intervention.  It cannot breathe.  It has no pulse.  It has no heart.  In short it has no resemblance to a human being.  Despite these facts, for more than a century, as a result of a feat of verbal gymnastics by the Supreme Court,  corporations are deemed to be “persons”.

This kind of redefining words is the type of language abuse foreshadowed in Lewis Caroll’s Humpty Dumpty:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

Decades later, George Orwell warned us about allowing government to redefine words in his novel “1984”.  He reminded us that our laws and our Constitution protect us only to the extent stated in their words.  And when we loose words from their moorings and allow them to be redefined by power-seeking politicians, we endanger our freedom.  Here is New York Times 2007 essay expressing this concern, one I fully share:

As a result of the above referenced Supreme Court decision conflating a corporation with the word “person”, when the government of the United States seeks to regulate the activities of a corporation it must do so within the confines of our Bill of Rights.  It is my fervent hope that, sooner or later, our Constitution will, be amended to solve this absurdity with an amendment.  We regulate the actions of motor vehicles on our roads and I am confident we will be able to regulate the activities of corporations without the pretense based on this nonsense.

One result of this misinterpretation of the word “person” is the Supreme Court decision that enabled corporations to engage in politics and finance candidates for election.  In other words, a brainless, conscienceless zombie creation of one or more people has potential influence on the election of government officials equal to an actual human being.

Another pernicious result of this institutionalized ignorance is the notion, enthusiastically embraced by the religious zealots who feel divinely appointed to impose their religious doctrine on expectent mothers, equating a zygote to a “person” entitled to all of the protection of the Bill of Rights.  [To appreciate the twisted interpretation of language this idea requires:  Here is a definition of a zygote: “A fertilized female egg from which a baby will develop is an example of a zygote.”]

A zygote is not a person.   A person is a living breathing animal who has been removed and disconnected from a woman’s womb.  Confusing the meaning of words to blur this distinction leads to unnecessary intrusion into the rights of a woman while she cares for and nurtures her unborn child.  It does not add protection to the child and it infringes the rights of the mother.   Separating the rights of a mother from the rights of her unborn  child enables meddling outsiders to interject themselves into what is the most personal and intimate relationship of our species:  the relationship of a woman to her own body.

We now have members of various religious sects picketing clinics where abortions are performed; political efforts to make such clinics impractical for low income patients to access by locating them hundreds of miles away from population centers; requiring waiting periods requiring overnight stays, thus increasing the expense and, again, denying access to low income patients – the imagination of those hateful  people intent on “protecting the unborn” while harassing expectant mothers is fueled by their self righteous zeal.

I know this effort is an angry one.  I am angry.  I have daughters, grand daughters and great grand daughters.  The possibility that they can be bullied and defamed because of their personal religious ideas or their lack thereof outrages me.  I know they, like he rest of us, may be prey from criminals who wish to harm them.  That risk is part of living in a world with a diverse population.

That said, however, it makes me angrier that their safety and self respect may be threatened by religious zealots who presume to impose their ideas of morality on my family.  I believe morality and religiosity are personal matters so long as they don’t infringe the rights of others.  If a person’s religious belief is that abortion is wrong, he or she should discourage his family from engaging in it.  If, instead, he or she believes his relationship with the God of his or her understanding empowers him or her to meddle into the beliefs of my family, then he or she loses my tolerance as I would expect him or her to react if I presumed to lecture him or her about my ideas about his or her religion.  The idea that religious zeal entitles one to use the force of government to impose religious conformity on others is abhorant to the idea of America.

It is of no concern to me whether my neighbor chooses to worship God through the good offices of a Pope or through his own understanding of the Bible or through some pattern or structure he conceives for himself after solemn thought.  I once knew of a man who, after reaching middle age without giving any serious thought to a belief in God, felt the need to add religion to his life.  He finally elected to worship a palm tree in the South Texas town where he lived as the object to which he directed his prayers.

I sincerely respect the right of everyone to choose for himself or herself the object of religious devotion.  I do not, however, have any tolerance for anyone attempting to recruit me into his or her religious sect by disparaging my conclusions or the conclusions  of others about religion.  I believe the choice of a religion and the choice of whether or not to give birth to a child are two of the most personal matters best left to the personal judgment and choice of each human being in a free society.  Those choices should not be voted on.  They should not be publicly shamed or disparaged.  They should not be the subject of laws seeking to impose religious tests and doctrines.  This is the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It is not a laboratory for experimentation and moral dictation by self appointed religious monitors.

 

 

Misplaced Loyalty and a Marine’s Dishonor

October 21, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Facts

A young Marine, La David Johnson, from Florida, was recently killed in a fire fight in Niger.  His body was returned home for burial.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who had known Johnson and his family for years, accompanied his mother as she was driven to the airport to attend the arrival of her son’s body.  During that journey, Ms. Johnson received a tlephone call from President Trump.  He expressed his sympathy but included in his remarks that the young Marine ” . . .knew what he signed up for . . . .”, which was interpreted by La David’s  mother and by Congresswoman Wilson as an insensitive suggestion that Ms. Johnson should not feel  the government should express regret or sympathy for her loss because her son knew what he volunteered for.

Congresswoman Wilson later issued a public statement critical of President Trump’s remark.  Trump, true to his well founded reputation for mendacity, first denied having said what he said, but others in the car who heard it because the phone was “on spoeaker” when he spoke to Ms. Johnson, confirmed the accuracy of Congresswoman Wilson’s account.

After this dispute was widely publicized,  John Kelly, Chief of Staff for the Trump administration and a retired Marine general, called a press conference and made a lengthy statement which began with an appropriate explanation about the usual practice of making condolence calls to the survivors of men and women killed in a military action.

Then, however, General Kelly launched into a vicious attack directed at Congresswoman Wilson. He did not call her by name but, instead referred to he as “an empty barrel”.  He went on to recount his recollection of her remarks at the dedication of a government building in Florida named for two FBI agents killed in the line of duty.  He claimed she used the occasion to praise herself for securing the financing of the building.  This was not true.  The Congresswoman did not become a member of Congress until years after the building was built.

He referred to the Congresswoman’s reference to Trump’s phone call to Ms. Johnson as if it had been a surreptitious effort to listen to a private conversation.  He knew full well that the phone call had been  heard by all those in the car with Ms. Johnson.

He laced his remarks with his own respect for women and plainly implied that Congresswoman Wilson did not qualify for it.  Lest I be accused of misstating General Kelly’s scurrilous language, here is a link to a transcript.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/us/politics/statement-kelly-gold-star.html?_r=0

I realize I am spreading this vile statement  by citing it but I trust that any intelligent reader with any vestige of a conscience or sense of decency will share my disgust at this rant from a Marine General and member of the President’s cabinet.

My Reaction

I was ten years old when WWII began.  During the next five years, like most young Americans, I was fascinated with the exploits of American armed forces.    I especially admired Marines because they were all volunteers.  They were the first to respond to enemy threats and their bravery was well known and well earned.  I learned all the words to the Marines Hymn and was thrilled when I heard it sung.  These four lines express my belief in the meaning of being a Marine:”

“First to fight for right and freedom

And to keep our honor clean;

We are proud to claim the title

Of United States Marine.”

I am now 86 years old and, during that lifetime I have forsaken many illusions about the true quality and integrity of my fellow citizens and, in retrospect, I have accepted my own failings.  I have not, however, become a cynic nor have I ignored the ability of people to change and to make amends for their mistakes.  Through all these changes I have retained my respect for Marines.   I know we now have new heroes:  Navy Seals, Army Rangers and other groups of specially trained warriors but  I still respect and admire Marines as honorable patriotic Americans.

So, it is especially sad for me when a man with the long career of service as a United States Marine, a warrior as well as a scholar, who has educated himself in our finest universities and numerous military training schools, allows himself to become enthralled and defensive by and on behalf of an empty suit enclosing a narcissistic blundering fool like Donald Trump.  There can be no honor there.  There is no patriotic  splendor there.  There is no intellectual depth there.  Trump has the attention span of a gnat and the moral integrity of an alley cat.

General Kelly should  publicly apologize to Congresswoman Wilson for his false and insulting attack on her..  I don’t want or expect him to change his opinion of her.   This country, however, is a constitutional republic.  The Constitution was deliberately designed to subordinate military force to the authority of Congress.  When General Kelly decided to pursue a military career, he swore allegiance to that Constitution.

He is entitled to his personal opinion of Congresswoman Wilson but he is not free to disrespect the office she holds or to publicly attack her.   If he wants to do that, he should resign his commission, his cabinet post and run for office.  His press conference rant was a plain violation of these well known rules of propriety and for that violation, he should make a public apology.  There is no dishonor in making a mistake but it is dishonorable to refuse to acknowledge a mistake.

An Afterword

Having included a citation to General Kelly’s diatribe against a member of Congress, I will use this post to preserve a citation to a speech by former GOP President George W. Bush.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/10/19/george-w-bushs-anti-trump-manifesto-annotated/?utm_term=.13adebba0c60

I have not been an admirer of President Bush and I agree with Aristotle that “One swallow does not a summer make.”  He has, never the less, well expressed ideas that have  too long been absent from our public discourse.  This, however, does not change my opinion that his presidency did not well serve our country.

Peter Radford’s Blog Post About Las Vegas

October 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

Here is an essay by a blogger, Peter Radford.  I recommend it because it is well written but also because it includes some pertinent statistics about our country’s indifference toward gun violence.

Bob

from Peter Radford

So we go through it all again. We go through the constant call for payers. The incessant search for reasons; the outpouring of emotion; the interviews; the graphics; the enumeration of mayhem; the grief of families; the interviews with experts; and the silence of the voices lost. There are never, however, efforts to […]

via Las Vegas — Real-World Economics Review Blog

An Apology and a Correction

October 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

Last night I posted an item on my blog about the killing in Las Vegas.  I misstated the number of people killed.  I wrote that over 500 people were killed.  That was a mistake.  I reacted after listening to an account of the tragedy and I misunderstood the numbers.

58 people were killed and over 500 were injured.  

I apologize for the error.  I have corrected my post.  I know I may have contributed to the misinformation in the internet about a serious matter.  I will take care to prevent a repetition of this kind of error.

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