Nel's New Day

January 20, 2014

Honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s Beliefs

Today the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born on January 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968. The history books accent King as a civil rights leader, but he also championed issues of poverty and income inequality while being a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War. Forgetting that the leading Republicans in the United States opposed honoring him with a paid “holiday” for over 30 years, a county GOP organization co-opted his name for a fund-raising project.

greek orthodox churchThe GOP party of Multnomah County (OR), a small red enclave in strongly blue surroundings, got the attention it wanted when it announced its raffle for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to honor—get this?—“two great Republicans,” Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Originally, the group planned to announce the raffle winner at a Lincoln Day dinner on Feb. 15 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in northeast Portland. Church leaders pulled their offer to rent space to the GOP for the party after protests such as this one by United Church of Christ minister Chuck Currie: 

“You don’t honor a minister who preached non-violence by auctioning off the same kind of weapon used in the mass killings of children [at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CN.]”

The GOP organization is still making its money. All 500 tickets were sold for $10 each, very possibly because of all the publicity. Yet they are suffering ridicule. Lincoln’s form of Republicanism was anti-slavery and anti-secession while promoting economic growth through high tariffs and high wages and providing generous pensions to Union veterans. The opposing party at that time, Democrats, followed the same policies as today’s GOP. King wasn’t even a Republican: he refused to endorse either party.

Anne Marie Gurney, the county party’s vice-chair, said that county party leaders didn’t even think about the fact that both Lincoln and King were killed by guns; they just remembered that both of them are celebrated at this time of the year.

A few Republicans weren’t quite as clueless as party leaders. Bruce McCain, a Portland attorney and conservative blogger, said.  “Why would you tie that to an assassinated president and an assassinated civil rights leader?” He added that the party may make a few thousand dollars but will turn off urban voters already sour on the GOP that comprises only 15 percent of the county’s registered voters.

Yesterday, Manhattan’s Middle Collegiate Church honored King by transforming a gun into a mattock. The Bible verse in Isaiah 2:4 states: “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Colorado Springs resident Mike Martin, 31, began converting guns into useful objects after the shootings at Newtown (CN). He lives about an hour away from Aurora where a man shot and killed 12 people in 2012.

Every day people with guns kill an average of 32 people. Martin said, “It’s like a Newtown is happening every day, it’s just scattered across the country.” A schoolchild is fatally shot every three days, making each month the equivalent of the Newtown massacre.

david sarasohnLong-time columnist David Sarasohn cut to the center of the issue. When referring to the disappointment about the church canceling a venue for the GOP dinner, he wrote: “The Multnomah GOP no doubt has lots of other big events to come. It’s a little terrifying to imagine how they plan to mark Easter. Or even Passover.” Or the 176th celebration of John Wilkes Booth on May 10. In commenting on Gurney’s assertion that no one thought about both Lincoln and King being assassinated with guns, Sarasohn wrote, “This is a little bit like talking about Vietnam and forgetting it had a war.”

Sarasohn hit the bull’s eye when he pointed out that “the basic goal of a political party is not to conduct successful raffles, but to win elections….  In Multnomah, Republicans are approaching third-party status, awkward when there isn’t a second party. With their repeated rifle raffle approach, Multnomah Republicans are counting on the success of a strategy because it’s loud and gets attention. That actually works some days; just not Election Day. Maybe not Martin Luther King Day, either.”

Gun legislation protesters also try to persuade people that King was in favor of no gun legislation. He did apply for a permit to carry a concealed handgun in 1956 after his house was bombed. Police found him “unsuitable” because he was black and denied him the right. Bayard Rustin Rev. Glenn Smiley both tried to convince King that the guns lying around his house were inappropriate, and King soon agreed with them. Three years later he traveled to India to study Gandhi’s form of non-violence. 

In September 1962, when a 200-pound white man, the 24-year-old American Nazi Party member Roy James, attacked King during a speech, King dropped his hands and spoke calmly to his attacker, making no effort to protect himself.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy almost six years before his own death, King said:

“Our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.

“So in a sense we are all participants in that horrible act that tarnished the image of our nation. By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle, by our constant attempt to cure the cancer of racial injustice with the Vaseline of gradualism, by our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

As King said in his speech, the Second Amendment is like all the other amendments: it does not give unrestricted rights to people.

Today honors the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that gave far more control of the government to the wealthy and the big corporations through allowing them unfettered donations to campaigns. Both these anniversaries concern racial and economic inequality because justice for minorities depends on economic opportunities. Conversely, racial anxiety produces hostility toward broad distribution of wealth as shown by the tax breaks, deregulation, and reduced social spending that benefits only the wealthy.

MLKvaluesRemembering Martin Luther King, Jr. also means remembering his words:

“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee? … What does it profit one to be able to attend an integrated school when he doesn’t earn enough money to buy his children school clothes?”

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above trhe narrow confines of his individualist concerns to the broader concerns of humanity.”

It’s time for all the people who vote only for people and laws that will further themselves consider that without caring for others, all humanity will dissolve.

October 15, 2012

VP Debate Redux

Another debate looms tomorrow night, this one with questions from the elusive undecided voters. A couple of weeks ago, the first debate moderator, Jim Lehrer, was objective but failed to guide the presidential candidates, especially when Mitt Romney was determined to take over through his incessant interrupting. During the vice-presidential debate, Martha Raddatz’s questions occasionally wandered into an ideological position.

Her lead-in to Iran stated that “there’s really no bigger national security…this country is facing.” It’s hard to know what she said during the ellipsis because of Ryan’s interruption when he said, “Absolutely.” It was either “threat” or “issue.” Either way the statement is debatable and definitely not objective. Her follow-up questions failed to address whether the United States has the right to attack any country it wants. After the past decade, preemptive attacks have become de rigueur.

Raddatz’s question about domestic issues showed the same disregard for objectivity: “Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?”  The myth that both Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt has been debunked by many economists, but politicians are so intent on getting rid of the two programs that they ignore them.

Raddatz also asked the candidates how they felt about abortion because they are members of the Catholic Church. Yet she didn’t ask how they felt about the US government’s military aggression and its subservience to the wealthiest, two issues which the Catholic Church opposes.

One issue widely publicized after the VP debate was VP Joe Biden’s laughing, something soundly ridiculed by Fox News and their followers. In a Rolling Stone article,  Matt Taibbi strongly supported Biden’s actions, saying that everyone should be rolling their eyes at Ryan’s and Romney’s avoiding any concrete answers.

One example he gave was Raddatz’s question to Ryan about “how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut. Do you actually have the specifics, or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?” Ryan tried to convince the audience that they would succeed in doing this with Congressional bipartisan agreements. When Biden scoffed at him, Ryan said,

“Look–look at what Mitt–look at what Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill did. They worked together out of a framework to lower tax rates and broaden the base, and they worked together to fix that. What we’re saying is here’s our framework: Lower tax rates 20 percent–we raise about $1.2 trillion through income taxes. We forgo about 1.1 trillion [dollars] in loopholes and deductions. And so what we’re saying is deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers so that more of their income is taxed, which has a broader base of taxation …”

Once again, Ryan refused to answer the question about specifics, probably because there aren’t any. Instead, he and Romney will set the framework and then work out the specifics of getting there with the Democrats. He said in front of over 50 million people that the tax plan won’t be worked out until after the election. And by the way, he also said in front of 50 million people that he and Romney plan to get rid of Social Security.

Raddatz said, “No specifics, yeah.” And VP Biden laughed.

My favorite perspective of last week’s debate, however, comes from Oregon’s own David Sarasohn. His most recent column begins: “When Paul Ryan doesn’t want to be clear about a position, he tells a story. As we heard Thursday evening, that means it’s very often story time. So when Ryan was asked about Mitt Romney’s position on bailing out Detroit, or letting GM and Chrysler go under, he went into full storyteller mode.” Sarasohn then quotes Ryan about Romney helping a family that had been in a car crash. Nothing to do with Romney’s refusing to bail out Detroit, but a charming story about what a wonderful guy Romney is.

About the effect of Ryan’s budget on Medicare that leaves recipients without help? Ryan gave a lovely story about his mom and his grandmother. And Ryan’s belief that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) supported him, “a claim that always turns Wyden an interesting shade of purple, according to Sarasohn’s column. We in Oregon certainly know that Ryan was lying about his Medicare policy having bipartisan support.

What about the U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014? Ryan’s story this time was when he “sat down with a young private in the 82nd from the Menominee Indian Reservation who would tell me what he did every day.” Raddatz tried to move him along. Ryan moved into another story about one of his best friends from Janesville. Abortion? This time Ryan used an anecdote explaining why his firstborn was nicknamed “Bean.”

The benefit of these stories is that Ryan can talk a long time, look like a friendly fellow, and not address any issues. As Sarasohn said, “Politicians, of course, tell stories all the time: to humanize themselves, to connect with an audience, to provide an example that illustrates a policy. And sometimes, you get a story without the policy. That’s the story meant to lull you to sleep.”

Back to the elusive voters asking the question tomorrow night. Although 11 states (plus possibly Arizona) comprise the “swing states,” three may decide the president: Colorado, Florida, and Virginia. An average of the last two general elections shows that approximately 12 million people might vote in these three states; undecided voters are possibly six percent of these 12 million voters. That means that 720,000 voters may actually determine the next president. At least the rest of get to determine state and local elections.

Andy Borowitz has some acid remarks to make about tomorrow’s debate and the reaction to the first presidential debate:

“With his polite and well-mannered performance widely panned in the first Presidential debate, President Barack Obama is under mounting pressure to prove that he can act like an asshole in the second debate tomorrow night, a campaign aide confirmed.

“In America, we demand that our President remain cool and calm in a crisis but go batshit in a debate,” the aide said. ‘Tuesday night is all about that second piece.’ But even as Mr. Obama worked around the clock to practice being a douche, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, doubted his efforts would succeed. ‘Being an asshole isn’t a skill that you can just pick up overnight,’ Mr. Rhoades said. ‘Mitt Romney’s been working on it all his life.’”

Aside: Yesterday I talked about the American Dream, and today this gem dropped into my email box: information about James Gustave Speth’s new book, American the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy, that explains how America is not broke. The money is just in the wrong places. More about this later.

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