Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lincoln and the Civil War: Separating Myth from Fact

In February, 2009, I wrote a piece on Lincoln in honor of his birth, titled Lincoln: 200 Years Later - Debunking Myth from Reality.  As an admirer of Lincoln, but also a student of sociology, I had grown wary of the almost saint-like status accorded the 16th President of the United States.  With a newly elected president, Barack Obama, also an ardent admirer of Lincoln, I felt a more, shall we say, realistic reading of the man, along with a healthy debunking of some myths, was in order.

With the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War having just passed, I decided to revisit the whole matter.  And while I realize I'd be ripping myself off, I'm more than sure my past self wouldn't mind one bit.

In every way imaginable, the Civil War was the bloodiest war in our nation’s history, even bloodier than the Revolutionary War.  And while the principal battles that took the lives of so many brave men ended long ago, in many ways the War itself has never ended.  The major reasons why?  Basically it boils down to two: a misread of the causes leading up to hostilities between the North and South; and the motives behind Lincoln's decision to go to war in the first place.

There are many things about Lincoln that to this day remain more myth than fact; the greatest of these was his reason for fighting the Civil War. Back in my college days I wrote a paper on Racial Inequality for my Sociology class. Naturally, the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction period in American history were quite illuminating. Lincoln, like his protégé Barack Obama today, was more pragmatic than idealistic. His primary concern was not the condition of black slaves in the South, but the preservation of the Union and, more importantly, the future direction of the Union. This does not diminish his accomplishments; he did afterall have the stomach to end slavery - no matter his motives - when lesser leaders wanted nothing to do with it. Below is the body of that paper, as written back in 1994.  Keep in mind, it is, basically, a sociological paper rather than a historical one.

One of the great myths about the Civil War was that it was a war to end slavery. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. It was, to put it bluntly and more accurately, America's version of the French revolution. Seven percent of the total population of the Southern States in 1860 owned nearly three million of the 3,953,696 slaves. In a country whose economy was still predominantly agricultural, the ownership of land, labor and capital was extremely concentrated in the South. At the start of the war, an estimated three billion dollars annually was owed in no small part to the labor of slaves; this represented the bulk of the Southern economy. No such concentration of wealth existed in the North; it had yielded to democracy, but only because democracy was curbed by a dictatorship of property and investment which left in the hands of the leaders of industry such economic power as to insure their mastery and their profits. The Northern and European industries dictated the price for Southern cotton, leaving a narrow margin of profit for the plantation owner. Thus, his only means of making money was the continued exploitation of his slaves. The thought of his principal source of labor suddenly being freed out from under him not only was abhorrent to every bone in his body, it was deeply feared in the North and Europe, as well.

Thus, a rift of monumental proportions existed between the latent sixteenth century feudalism of the South and the nineteenth century capitalism of the North. Lincoln himself, owing to the pressures exerted on him by both sides, was deliberately non-committal on the subject of emancipation. "My paramount object in this struggle," he wrote in 1862, "is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery." It was a struggle primarily because of his wavering. While the South was fighting for the protection and expansion of its agrarian feudalism, it was continuing to utilize the services of its slaves on the plantations, thus freeing over 600,000 men of its more than five million white citizens to fight. The North, with its dearth of qualified men, lost thousands of positions in industry to the war, and the impact was reeking havoc on its already fragile economy.

But this was not the only cause of concern for Lincoln. The Union blockade of cotton from the South to Europe was having more than just a profound effect on the Confederacy's economy, it was beginning to turn public opinion in England and France decidedly against the Union. The prevailing sentiment in Europe was that the longer the war went on, the costlier it would be for all economies concerned. As late as the fall of 1862, England, which was building and harboring Confederate warships, was ready to formally acknowledge the Confederate States as being Independent. Such a move could have meant British intervention, a thought too ghastly to consider.

At last, Lincoln had no choice. With the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he ostensibly killed two birds with one stone. Not only did he manage to stave off European discontent, which would have meant inevitable Union defeat, he freed up nearly four million slaves, the bulk of which were now eligible to enlist with the Northern armies. At once, the advantage that the South had enjoyed the first two years of the war had vanished.

That the newly freed slaves were ill-equipped and poorly outnumbered, or that they were facing the prospect of being homeless at the conclusion of the hostilities, did not in the slightest bit concern the President. He had helped facilitate the end to the fiercest and bloodiest war the young nation had yet witnessed, and at the same time managed to preserve the Union. Lincoln would go down in history as the President who freed the slaves, but now the business of the country turned to incorporating them into its fabric.

The end of the Civil War, Emancipation and Reconstruction did not end the misery for blacks. Legal, intellectual, economic and population changes were occurring that provided support for continued discrimination against them. For over three hundred years the nation relied on an exploitative formula, which had been ingrained into the collective conscious of the masses. Slavery had been justified on the basis of racial superiority of whites over blacks. The nation now faced the prospect of four million freed slaves it had been told were inferior to them. To say it did not know what to do with them would be an understatement.

The South had risked war to protect its system of labor and to expand it into a triumphant empire; and even if all of the Southerners did not agree with this broader program, even these had risked war in order to ward off the disaster of a free labor class, either white or black. Now, beaten and demoralized, it faced all sorts of difficulties. Its entire military, naval, and commercial systems were in ruin; the people, particularly the plantation owners, were broke and destitute. There was at the end of the war no civil authority with power in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas; and in the other states, authority was only functioning in part under Congress or the President. The destruction of the South was more complete than that of the nobility and clergy in the French revolution.

So here we are 150 years later, and the resentments still linger.  The country's first truly pragmatic president risked everything to reunite a nation that had torn itself apart over ostensibly which type of economic system would dominate its future.  There were three choices in front of Lincoln.  The first was to allow the South to secede, which was a non-starter for him; the second was to permit the status quo to remain, which would've meant a huge disadvantage for the North against a Europe, which was gearing up for an industrial revolution that would eventually sweep the West, again not permissible; the third, eliminating the agrarian South's domination of the American economy, was the only logical choice open to him.  That the only path to victory meant the total destruction of the South was regrettable, but necessary.  The Confederacy had given him no other option.

Friday, April 29, 2011

They Will Never Shut Up!

The title on the cover of the New York Daily News could not have been more emphatic. In big bold letters read the following words:




The words alluded to the surprise release the other day by the White House of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate that confirmed what every thinking and sane person already knew and were directed squarely at Donald Trump and the entire birther movement, the latter of which has for almost two years engaged in the most overt display of racism witnessed in this nation in over a generation. Not since the 1960s has this segment of the population been this open and transparent about the extent of their ignorance.

As for Trump, well let’s just say his ignorance and arrogance are second only to his innate ability to shamelessly promote himself and sensationalize an issue he deems important enough, with all the tactfulness of a whore turning tricks on 42nd Street. In the birther movement he found the perfect canker sore and rubbed it till it bled. Any other man would’ve took the hint and shut up after the White House announcement. Not Trump. He persisted in his stance, even taking credit for the release, saying how proud he was of himself. And, in true Trump style, he dug the hole still deeper by insisting that Obama should now disclose his college records.

Buffoons, all of them. And that is why, despite the demand by the Daily News, I have some bad news for all of you. They will never shut up, and the reason should be crystal clear. This was never about a birth certificate, or, as in the latest and offensive demand by Trump, college records. This was and has been about the fact that a black man is living in the White House and running the United States of America. Period.

In September of 2009 I wrote the following piece, titled, It’s not a political circus, Mr. President! While I was critical of Obama on several fronts, I was particularly alarmed at the growing hatred being directed at him from the Right.

“Like most political pundits, we all figured that the true test of the nation was whether we were mature and advanced enough to elect an African American to the office of President. What we did not count on was that the real test would not come until you actually assumed the office. It was at that moment that we as a nation came face to face with an even uglier truth about ourselves: that there were certain elements in our society that simply could not accept being governed by a black man, especially a black man who is the chief executive of the country. They are mad as hell and they aren’t shy about strutting their racism.”

No, they aren’t shy, are they? And that is why they will never shut up and why they will never go away. The classic mistake many otherwise rational but naïve people often make with respect to such groups is that somehow tuning them out and ignoring them, or, as was the case with the Daily News, telling them to shut up, has any impact whatsoever. It doesn’t and it never will.

Hatred never heeds to reason, because it is lost in its own make believe world of self-justification. In the 1930s, a deeply disturbed man with a laughable mustache managed to convince an entire nation that the Jews were responsible for the problems that were besetting them. Facts were irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was his intense hatred and need for scapegoating. Before he was done, six million people had been murdered and all of Europe was in ruins.

That’s the way all racists work. They desperately need to blame others for what is wrong. It is the only way they can reconcile the volatile emotions that reside within them. And while Donald Trump may seem like just your run of the mill publicity hound looking to cash in on yet another gimmick, the fuse he is fanning has been burning for centuries.

More than 150 years have passed since the beginning of the Civil War, and still, even after all these years, the nation has never truly healed from its wounds. Whatever your take on how and why the war started – and I for one see it more from a sociological perspective than a purely racial one – know this much: the bitterness that existed within the South back then is alive and well in many parts of it today, as well as, sadly, parts of the North. To these people Barack Obama represents a lightning rod in the middle of a gigantic thunderstorm: a thunderstorm that continues to rage unabated and unrelenting.

And before this storm runs its course, it may well end up consuming the whole damn country.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Case for Regulation

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we. No one likes being told what to do. Obeying the speed limit, getting to work on time, taking out the trash, curbing the dog, paying the bills, doing the taxes, etc, let’s just save everybody the trouble and agree, for the sake of argument, that few, if any, have a fondness for these activities. Left to our own devices, I dare say none of us would bother to observe most, if not all, of them. The sad truth is, deeply embedded within the human psyche is a natural resistance to taking direction, no matter how good it might be for us. From a biblical perspective, the story of Man’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden is a perfect analogy. Given the choice between living under the auspices of a loving Creator who provided every need and asked but one thing in return – to obey his simple instructions – Man chose to go his own way and, as a result, forfeited paradise. Sad, but true.

Now imagine, if you will, how much more dicey things get when, instead of individual people hating to observe the most basic of rules, laws and social mores, we add to the mix the vast majority of companies, small and large, to the equation that have an equal aversion to taking direction. You can appreciate where this is going. The airline that doesn’t perform routine safety checks on its aircraft, the meat and packing company that doesn’t inspect its beef for botulism, the chemical manufacturer that thinks it’s okay to dump its waste into the water supply, or the oil producer that doesn’t ensure its rig is safe before it starts drilling for oil, are not just the rare exceptions to the rules; they represent the standard operating procedure for how corporate America would and often does behave, absent any semblance of rules and regulations.

Even with a plethora of regulations already on the books, corporations still push the envelope to see how far they can go without getting caught. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a case in point. Can you imagine how much worse things would be if those regulations were to suddenly disappear?

And it isn’t just our physical well-being that would be in jeopardy. Our financial health would forever be at risk. The recession of 2008-09 was the direct result of a failure to properly regulate an industry, which thought nothing of marketing sub-prime mortgages it knew were worthless to unsuspecting consumers. When the mortgage bubble burst, the entire world economy went into the tank and countless millions were adversely affected. Believing industries can regulate themselves without outside agencies overseeing them is the epitome of delusional thinking.

The costs associated with these regulations aren’t cheap. Critics of government regulation on the Right have long held that these regulations place an undue burden on the economy, which eventually get passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, and there is some truth to that. The airline ticket, the steak dinner, the cleaning products, the gas at the pump, all cost more in an economy that is well regulated. The comeback from the Left? That’s the price you pay as a society to live in a safer world.

This is the fundamental dilemma that plagues the nation. Everyone hates having to pay higher prices for government regulations, yet few, if any, would opt to strip them away entirely. Truth be told, the world we live in would be radically different without some form of government regulation. The issue for most is how much regulation to have and how effective it must be.

We have seen, first hand, what happens when corporations take advantage of loopholes in the poorly written regulations, or, as was the case with the great recession, non-existent regulations in the first place. The repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 set the stage for the mortgage meltdown by eliminating the dividing line between Wall Street investment firms and commercial banks. The year before the repeal, sub-prime loans made up just five percent of all the mortgages written in the U.S.; by 2008 they comprised almost thirty percent. This cannot be a coincidence. Once more, in an attempt to placate a private sector desirous of greater profits, the government made the fatal error of assuming these financial institutions could and would adequately police themselves.

And yet, with an overabundance of data supporting the need for greater regulation, forces on the Right are doing everything within their power to either strip away those regulations they deem too costly, or simply rendering ineffective those regulations they can’t repeal. The failed attempt by Congressional Republicans to prevent the EPA from enforcing its greenhouse emission regulations during the recent budget battle was a case in point. Regulations that lack enforcement are analogous to tigers with no teeth, or speed limits without cops.

Yep, no cops, no tickets. Imagine such a world. No limits, no rules, no consequences. Make believe, you say? Not to some. This is the reality that awaits us if Republicans have their way. They have made their intentions crystal clear. They want to eliminate virtually every law and regulation that “costs” corporate America its precious profitability and trust that the great engine of capitalism can govern itself, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Polluters won’t pollute and swindlers won’t swindle. Why? Because that would be against their best interests, that’s why. And in this crazy, upside down world we call politics, a lot of supposedly intelligent politicians are peddling this nonsense to an awful lot of gullible voters, who, quite frankly, should know better.

Yes, rules and regulations are a drag. They are inefficient, costly and most definitely unpopular. But, in the long run, having them is better than the alternative. Democrats must connect the dots on this issue and drive home the point to the electorate or else the unspeakable will happen and they will have nobody to blame but themselves. They must convince voters that despite the added expense, regulations have helped make the country a safer and more secure place to live in than it was decades ago.  Imagine what it must’ve been like in Cleveland in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River caught fire because it was so polluted. Or how hard it was to breath in downtown Los Angeles because of the smog in the 1970s.  Think it can’t happen again? Guess again.

Still not convinced? Next time you’re late for work and the boss reads you out, tell him you find his rules counterproductive to your personal best interests. Let me know what happens.  In the meantime, I'll leave with the closing words to a Randy Newman song many of you know quite well.

Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
Now the Lord can make you tumble
And the Lord can make you turn
And the Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can't make you burn

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Calling a Spade a Spade

I would like to congratulate Grady Warren for so skillfully and sincerely articulating not only his opinion, but for speaking up “on behalf of the tea party” and for having the courage to say you are “sick and tired of being called racists.” Your recent YouTube video was a testament in moral courage that will forever be remembered for its boldness and daring. And I was particularly moved by your attack – a teahad you called it – on the “political correctness”  that has infected our national dialogue. Time was when a man or woman was unfettered by any social mores that would inhibit them and could go right up to someone and speak their mind without having to worry about how it was received or what someone in the liberal elite media (or was that elite liberal media, I can never tell) might think about it. Back where we come from we just call that freedom of speech, right? I commend you sir for putting it all out there for everyone to see and hear. Bravo!

But, as gutsy as your performance was, and it did leave a lump in my throat, you didn’t quite nail it for me. You stopped just short of truly seizing the moment and saying the word every one was dying to hear you say. Oh, you came close, trust me. I haven’t heard that word since the good old days of the segregated South. Ah, it almost brought a tear to my eye when you repeated it: Niggro. But, you must admit, that was a little beneath you brother. I mean, really, with all that venom and pep, I would’ve thought you better than those poor southern folk of a bygone era. I mean they could only say it privately amongst themselves, usually at a gathering of the elder statesmen who were professional enough to bring their own hoods and carry their own crosses. All you had was a video camera and a sweatshirt with guns on it. You poor thing.

But I want you to know that, in the words of one of those commie-pinko presidents who had the nerve to occupy our beloved White House, I feel your pain, and I’m here for you. I want to encourage you to break free of that last inhibiter that has you all bound up and prevents you from speaking the ultimate truth. Come on, now, you know you want to say it; you’ve been dying to say it for years, ever since you went to that first cross burning when you were just a young pup. Ah, those were the days. Certain people knew their place, didn’t they? And just in case they forgot, well that was what God made rope for, right?

So, give it up, open wide and let’s have it. Say the magic word. It’s right there on the tip of your tongue. I can almost feel your anguish as you wrestle with each letter. But it’s not that hard; all you have to do is move a consonant around – that would be letters like N or R – and change one vowel – that would be letters like E or O.

Okay, ready now? We’re almost there. Bite down, swallow hard and remember you’re doing this not for you, but for all those tea partiers out there who look to you as their spokesman and leader.

So, here goes.

N I G G E R!

Ah, sheer ecstasy! Didn’t that just take a load off your mind? Wow, imagine having to carry that around with you all that time and not be able to express your true inner feelings. Now this is true freedom.

Calling a spade a spade must be exhilarating. I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never had your courage. I was too preoccupied with silly things like decency and a soul. But you, my friend, you are quite a piece of work. You define not just a movement, but a seething resentment that is centuries old, and, like the cavalry charging up San Juan Hill, you have arrived at just the right moment in history to set us straight. Armed only with your truth – what other truth can there be? – you boldly go where few have dared venture.

And the best part of all is putting them back in their rightful place, just like the good old days. Take that socialist, Kenyan-born nigger in the White House – our White House, tissues please. What nerve he had putting his feet up on that oval office desk. Who does he think he is? Back in the day, he’d be polishing that desk and shining our shoes, right? Well, we’ll show him, won’t we? After we take back our country and put things back the way they were – which would mean shipping all the Chinks, Spics, Moslems, and darkies back to wherever they came from – we’ll finally have the country we were supposed to have. Of course, then there’s that matter of the Wops, Micks, Krauts, and Pollocks, but at least they’re all white, and most of them speak good English, so for now, we’ll let them stay. Oh, I forgot the Jews, how stupid of me. Well we can’t get rid of them. I mean, who’s going to make the movies and run the banks?

You know this moral courage thing can get a little exhausting. But for now, Grady, you can relax and enjoy your moment in the sun. You’ve earned it. Tomorrow’s another day. So much hate and so many potential victims to bestow it on. It practically sends shivers up and down my spine.

P.S. Give my regards to The Donald.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Attack of the Dumb-Dumbs

Wanna know how off the deep end the “Birther” movement in the United States is? None other than Jan Brewer – yes that Jan Brewer, the illegal immigrant lady – actually had to step in and veto an Arizona bill that, had it passed, would’ve been the nation’s first official “Birther” bill. It would’ve required every presidential candidate, including Barack Obama, to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, in other words show that damned birth certificate.

As Rod Serling would say, “You have now entered the Twilight Zone.” There is no polite or dignified way to put this: the Republican Party is nuts. When Jan Brewer is the voice of reason in the room talking you down from the ledge, you know you have problems. And just in case you thought Arizona was the only state dumb enough to flirt with such lunacy, I give you the Peach state, Georgia.

Georgia’s bill, HB 401, went even further than the Arizona bill, if that’s possible. It would’ve required candidates for President to submit long-form birth certificates showing their birth parents’ places of residence, along with many other items of irrelevant information. It also would’ve required candidates to have two U.S. citizen parents, a requirement beyond what is in the Constitution. The bill’s aim was to obviously embarrass Barack Obama and, at the same time, play up to the Tea Party conspiratists within the GOP. Mercifully, it failed to get the necessary number of votes to pass the legislature, which I guess means that there were at least a few Republicans in Georgia who hadn’t completely taken leave of their senses.

I swear between Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump, I’m beginning to think the Mayans were onto something.  Or maybe it's a plot by those aliens at Area 51 to systematically replace our people with theirs.  Nah, couldn't be.  No other race would be this stupid.  I'm exhausted.  Only one thing left to say.

Beam me up, Scotty, there’s no intelligent life down here!

Is Mitt It?

With all the huffing and puffing among Tea Party Republicans about how they’re going to “take back” America and rid the nation of emperor Obama, you want to know which candidate keeps the White House and Democrats up nights? Mitt Romney, that’s who.

Seriously, assuming he could actually emerge from what would be a grueling and bitter primary race – dubious at best – Romney is the only Republican at the moment who can defeat Barack Obama in a general election. And here is the reason why:

Not since Reagan, has the GOP had a presidential candidate who could appeal to more than one or two geographical areas of the country. As of now, the leading traditional contenders – Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and Michele Bachmann (spare me with Trump) – while all scoring solidly in the South and Plain states, as well as a couple of Midwestern states, do extremely poorly in the Northeast and west coast, and are running below par in the mid-Atlantic states. Translation? If Obama manages to win at least two Midwestern states and either Virginia and / or North Carolina, as well as Colorado, it’s lights out for the GOP.

So how does Romney change this paradigm? As far as the South and the Plain states go, while there is no great love for Romney in those areas, the antipathy for Obama is so great, I’m thinking a pet rock could win against him in 2012. In the end it’ll come down to who they hate less, the black socialist or the liberal RINO. In a toss up, the RINO wins by a nose.

But here’s the monkey wrench, the random element if you will, that gives Dems agida. A Romney candidacy in the general election not only wins those regions of the country that Republicans traditionally win, it puts in play areas that haven’t been in play since the ‘80s. Right off the top, Romney would win Massachusetts and maybe even New Hampshire and Maine. While Obama would hold New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, his prospects in the Midwest, with the exception of Illinois, have now been thrown up in the air. As for the mid-Atlantic, moderates and independents who have grown a little leery of Obama, but not inclined to vote for an extreme candidate like Bachmann, would find Romney’s middle of the road approach far more appealing. It is not inconceivable that Republicans could sweep the whole region. And even if he takes the west coast, Obama could well come up short on election night. By my math, Romney would win by anywhere from 20 to 40 electoral votes, and that’s being kind.

Scared? You should be. While the Republican Party continues to swim in the polluted waters of birthers, conspiracy theorists, race baiters, death panel proponents, and pseudo Constitutionalists who tend to drive away independent voters, the potential winning lotto ticket continues to be ignored and scorned. And so long as that remains true, Obama and the Democrats can breath easy.

But there is still that slim possibility that the Republican Party could wake up in time and nominate the former Massachusetts governor. While Romney does have his own baggage to contend with, his resume is considerably stronger than any of the other candidates in the GOP tent. And because Romney is not by nature an ideologue, he would be seen by many as someone who could bridge the gap between Left and Right. Truth be told even some Democratic voters might be tempted to vote for him. Another George W. Bush? Hardly. More likely another George H. W. Bush or perhaps Gerald Ford.

Go ahead, laugh if you want. But in the White House and at the DNC, they are not laughing. They are holding their collective breaths and hoping and praying with all their might that the crazy train that is currently rambling down the tracks of the GOP continues on its sorry trek for the next eighteen months. But history has shown that, sooner or later, even the most insular of movements eventually runs out of steam and relinquishes its grip on its hitherto moribund surrogates. And while I’m no mind reader, I’m betting Obama would prefer later rather than sooner.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eliminate ‘Em.

Know this about Republicans: they may not be able to add, especially when it comes to solving the debt problem, but they can sure read polls. And it is becoming painfully apparent to them that they are losing the momentum they gained last November among independent voters. Thanks to the overreaching of Republican governors like Scott Walker, Ron Kasich and Rick Scott, and the death wish mindset of “America’s accountant,” Representative Paul Ryan, GOP operatives are absolutely in a tizzy about the one eighty their political fortunes have taken recently. What was shaping up as a very promising 2012, has now been thrown into a state of uncertainty. Suddenly, Democrats, barely eight months after getting their butts kicked, are setting their sites on retaking the House and growing their majority in the Senate. As for the White House, don’t make me laugh. With Donald Trump currently leading the pack in New Hampshire, the real question to be answered is how long will we have to stay up on election night before the networks call it for Obama?

And it isn’t just their prospects in 2012 that are starting to fade; it’s 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and so on. Missing from the Tea Party mobs last year – so responsible for Republican gains in Congress and the State Houses – was even a semblance of African American or Latinos. With the odd exception or two, they were virtually a no show. Despite claims to the contrary, the Tea Party is ostensibly a whites only club, and mostly white men.

Of course, as any pollster will tell you, white males are, as a demographic, the slowest growing segment of the population in the country. The fastest growing? You guessed it, blacks and Hispanics. And not by a thin margin, either. In some parts of the country, they are on a pace to equal the white population within the next couple of decades. Of particular concern to Republicans are – believe it or not – deep-south states like Georgia and Texas, long considered to be untouchable. Both Atlanta and the Metroplex are witnessing large increases in minorities, a group that historically has tended to lean toward more progressive candidates.

No matter how you slice it or dice it, the future is looking dark for the GOP, no pun intended. The white population, which presently comprises roughly 90% of the Republican vote, is fading into that long good night. It’s enough to make old Mr. Melting Pot himself, Pat Buchanan, practically disconsolate.

None of this is a secret to senior officials within the GOP. They have known their fate for quite some time. In deed, had it not been for the worst economic downturn in over seven decades, Republicans might well have suffered three consecutive election cycle losses. But with the economy slowly on the mend, voters – particularly independent voters – are starting to feel a bit more optimistic about the future. And with the freshman class of Tea Partiers behaving like a bunch of rowdy kids without adult supervision, you can see why they are burning the midnight oil over at the RNC. Clearly this problem demands an out of the box solution.

Not to worry. Plan B is well under way. There is an old saying in politics: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Well, the GOP has put a new spin on that saying. It goes something like this: If you can’t beat ‘em, eliminate ‘em. That’s right, boys and girls, you heard right. Unable to beat the opposition in a fair fight, the Republican plan for 2012 is to make sure they don’t get in the way.

While all of us were preoccupied worrying about the House and Senate last year, the real battleground was the state capitals, where several Russ-belt governors’ races were up for grabs. Losses in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin not only robbed Democrats of long-held seats of power, it permitted the GOP an opportunity to rewrite Congressional district lines, as well as enact legislation aimed at solidifying their power grip. The intended result of all this was to make Barack Obama’s road to reelection a bit more bumpy. The orchestrated attacks on labor by these newly elected governors has been referred to in the mainstream press as a miscalculation by over-zealous leaders driven by the rush of power and propelled solely on the basis of ideology. Part of that was true. These are ideologues, in the strictest sense of the word. And they have overreached, no doubt. But this was hardly a miscalculation. It was carefully planned down to smallest detail.

Phase one – eliminating collective bargaining in both Wisconsin and Ohio – is now complete. Barring a recall election of both governors, or an overturn of the laws by their respective judicial branches, the laws are likely to hold up, despite the overwhelming disapproval of a majority of voters. Effectively, what Scott Walker and Ron Kasich have done is cut the legs out of one of the largest organized contributors to the Democratic Party. You think the prospect of Barack Obama raising a billion dollars seems a bit obsessive and over the top? Well he might end up needing every penny of it if he plans on winning the industrial Midwest. And make no mistake about it, he will need to win at least two of those swing states to get back to the White House.

But if depriving Democrats of a major contributor in 2012 wasn’t bad enough, phase two is now well under way. In Ohio, House Republicans have just passed what many are calling the most restrictive voter identification law on the books of any state. The new law, if it gets enacted, will require voters to show one of five forms of ID to vote in person: an Ohio driver’s license, state ID, military ID, U.S. passport, or “a new, free photo ID that State Bureau of Motor Vehicles would dispense to indigent citizens who qualify.” Currently, voters must show a photo ID or present a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or government document with a current name and address. Unlike other states’ photo ID laws, the Ohio bill would not even allow students to use IDs issued by state colleges.

Republicans claim the new law is necessary to eliminate voter fraud, despite the fact that they can't seem to offer up any concrete evidence of it.  When confronted with this fact, the bill’s sponsor, state representative, Bob Mecklenborg (R) said, “I believe it happens and it’s impossible to prove a negative.” Of course, it’s also impossible, it seems, to prove that Republicans have souls, though hope remains eternal.

Mecklenborg’s belief notwithstanding, representatives from the Board of Elections, the League of Women Voters, and the former Secretary of State office “have never even heard of one” instance of voter impersonation in Ohio. As the Brennan Center for Justice noted, a statewide survey found four instances of ineligible persons voting or attempting to vote in 2002 and 2004 out of 9,078,728 votes cast — “a rate of 0.00004%.”

Of course the real reason for this law has nothing to do with voter fraud, either real or imagined. It’s intent is to restrict or exclude potentially millions of people nationwide – similar measures will undoubtedly be passed in other GOP stronghold states – from voting. Most of these voters will be seniors, the disabled, low-income voters, students, and minorities. In Ohio, alone, as many as 890,000 people would be effected by the new law. If polling within these groups is consistent and reliable, that would mean a net loss of more than 500,000 voters from the “D” column in 2012, turning Ohio from blue to red.

And that’s how the GOP plans on holding onto power, at least for the foreseeable future. It will, no doubt, lose many of the independent voters it picked up in the midterms, but if it can effectively thwart or suppress Democratic turnout enough, it can stave off what many political pundits are predicting will be their inevitable Waterloo. Parties that pander to race baiting and fear mongering eventually peter out and, like a black hole, collapse of their own weight. But before collapsing, they can suck everything imaginable into their gravitational well. What is going on in Ohio, Wisconsin and other “swing” states is the political equivalent of a black hole.

Progressives must step up their attempts to unseat those governors who have overstepped their mandates, so that these draconian laws can be repealed before next year’s election. This nation cannot afford the specter of someone so grossly unqualified as a Michele Bachmann or, worse, Donald Trump being elected to the highest office in the free world. It would be catastrophic. And to those who think such conclusions a bit premature and somewhat histrionic, I give you three words to chew on:

George Walker Bush.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Devil’s in the Details

Barack Obama today offered up his vision of America and surprise, surprise, it stood in stark contrast to the one offered up by Paul Ryan and the Republicans. For the first time since he became president, Obama was the progressive his voters thought they were voting for in ’08. If that was a smile on your face, you weren’t alone.

For a change, the nation saw a combative Obama. Gone was the amenable, pragmatist. Instead this president, who never met a cause he couldn’t compromise on or an opponent he couldn’t capitulate to, seemed to draw a line in the sand and, in Clint Eastwood fashion, dared the Republicans to “Go ahead, make my day.”

One look at the transcript is all you need to realize this president meant business. He threw down the gauntlet and in the process defined what the 2012 election will end up being about. Finally, this president woke up and decided to create his own narrative instead of having it created for him by his opponents. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised.

There were several highlights worth noting.

First off, Obama drew a contrast between the Clinton years and the Bush years, something conservatives just hate being reminded of and something many voters tend to forget.

“Our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit. They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush and President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and a Republican Congress. All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice, but they largely protected the middle class, our commitments to seniors, and key investments in our future.

“As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt-free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

“But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

“And so, by the time I took office, we once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a Baby Boom retirement that is now starting to take place. When I took office, our projected deficit was more than $1 trillion. On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession that, like most recessions, led us to temporarily borrow even more. In this case, we took a series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs, kept credit flowing, and provided working families extra money in their pockets. It was the right thing to do, but these steps were expensive, and added to our deficits in the short term.”

But the President wasn’t done with just a history lesson. In typical Obama fashion he spoke to what government must do to put its economic house in order. He did not sugar coat the challenges ahead nor the threats they pose.

“Now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s. We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments [spending/taxes] we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future.

“Ultimately, all this rising debt will cost us jobs and damage our economy. It will prevent us from making the investments we need to win the future. We won’t be able to afford good schools, new research, or the repair of roads and bridges – all the things that will create new jobs and businesses here in America. Businesses will be less likely to invest and open up shop in a country that seems unwilling or unable to balance its books. And if our creditors start worrying that we may be unable to pay back our debts, it could drive up interest rates for everyone who borrows money – making it harder for businesses to expand and hire, or families to take out a mortgage.”

Then Obama did something unusual in politics; he got honest about what’s causing the deficit in the first place.

“You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but they like the stuff it buys. Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense. Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research. Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare. And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political skills tell me that almost no one believes they should be paying higher taxes.

“Because all this spending is popular with both Republicans and Democrats alike, and because nobody wants to pay higher taxes, politicians are often eager to feed the impression that solving the problem is just a matter of eliminating waste and abuse –that tackling the deficit issue won’t require tough choices. Or they suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1% of our entire budget.

“So here’s the truth. Around two-thirds of our budget is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security. Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans’ benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20%. What’s left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That’s 12 percent for all of our other national priorities like education and clean energy; medical research and transportation; food safety and keeping our air and water clean.

“Up until now, the cuts proposed by a lot of folks in Washington have focused almost exclusively on that 12%. But cuts to that 12% alone won’t solve the problem. So any serious plan to tackle our deficit will require us to put everything on the table, and take on excess spending wherever it exists in the budget. A serious plan doesn’t require us to balance our budget overnight – in fact, economists think that with the economy just starting to grow again, we will need a phased-in approach – but it does require tough decisions and support from leaders in both parties. And above all, it will require us to choose a vision of the America we want to see five and ten and twenty years down the road.”

Bill Maher, on his Real Time program, said pretty much the same thing when he compared the cuts that Republicans are proposing to basically slicing a tiny sprig of parsley on your plate while ignoring the main entree.

But before moving on to how he plans on dealing with the mounting debt, Obama took aim at Paul Ryan and the Republicans. This is where if you were a progressive listening, you finally had something to crow about. For once you were proud of this president instead of apologetic.

“A 70% cut to clean energy. A 25% cut in education. A 30% cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s what they’re proposing. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kind of cuts that Republicans and Democrats on the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic.

“It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America – the greatest nation on Earth – can’t afford any of this.

“It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck – you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

“This is a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. And who are those 50 million Americans? Many are someone’s grandparents who wouldn’t be able afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.

“Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty-three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

“The fact is their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.”

Wow! You are now free to exhale. Obama hasn’t thrown down like that or been this passionate since his campaign days. Last, but not least, the President spoke about the shared sacrifice we all must make.

Like Ryan and the Republicans, Obama also proposed to cut $4 trillion off the deficit but in a more “balanced approach. It’s an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table, but one that protects the middle-class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future.”

Ostensibly, it’s a one/two punch: cuts in domestic and military spending combined with elimination of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2%. He seemed to show regret over the compromise he made with Republicans in the lame duck. “In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.”

His bravado notwithstanding, Obama will have a difficult time with House Republicans over that pledge, but it was refreshing to see him show some spine. As for how he will pull off his feat, the devil, as they say, is in the details. For starters, slashing defense spending by only $400 billion over twelve years is peanuts and won’t even begin to deal with the waste that is in the Pentagon. And while eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is all fine and dandy, the truth is that only by eliminating all of them will you begin to significantly increase treasury revenues back to where they were during the Clinton Administration. And while Obama is quite correct in saying that at the moment Social Security has not added to the deficit, it must be dealt with at some point. By 2037 the fund will be paying out more than it takes in. He had an excellent opportunity to propose an elimination of the cap on FICA contributions that employees make. He punted.

But overall, I was quite impressed with his demeanor and his boldness. You get the feeling after more than two years of pussyfooting around and hoping Republicans would be reasonable partners, he finally woke up and smelled the caffeine. They are never going to play ball with him, so this time he brought his own ball with him. He looked far more presidential than he has ever looked, and that is a refreshingly good thing for the country to finally see. We were all wondering if this day would ever come to pass. Now that it has, let’s hope it isn’t a temporary faze.

The days and months ahead will test the mantle of this president and tempt him to seek middle ground and compromise. The debt ceiling issue will soon come to a head. Obama must resist his lesser angles with all the earnestness at his command irrespective of what it might cost him temporarily in the polls. He must hold onto this moment and convince the electorate that his plan is not only the best road ahead; it is the only choice possible for the country. Failure would not only spell defeat in 2012; it would mean the ruination of the country as a whole.

In the end Paul Krugman may have summed it up best. “So what we got today was much better than some of the hints and trial balloons; it’s a plan that we could live with. But it’s a center-right plan already; if it’s the starting point for negotiations that move the solution toward lower taxes for the rich and even harsher cuts for the poor, just say no.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Von Ryan’s Express

For all the talk about how courageous Paul Ryan’s proposed budget is, the simple truth is not only is it not very good at delivering on its signature promise – that of balancing the budget, which Ryan concedes under his plan wouldn’t happen until 2040 – it would actually blow up the budget deficit to record highs. And while it is NOT balancing the budget, it would simultaneously gut virtually every program aimed at helping seniors and middle and lower middle class people, including Medicaid and Medicare, while taking not one dime out of the defense budget, and conveniently leaving Social Security alone. Yes, a profile in courage if ever I saw one.

Let’s break it down one gut-wrenching fact at a time.

Social Programs: Ryan proposes to strip $3 trillion (Okay $2.9 trillion) over the next decade out of valuable programs for the working poor. That’s about $290 billion per year for those of you with a calculator at home – the lion's share of the federal budget set aside to deal with this demographic. In short, the Ryan plan would virtually destroy the safety net that millions of people desperately need to stay afloat, and it does so unabashedly and unapologetically.

Tax Reform: I’ll be polite here and allow Ryan the benefit of the doubt that he truly believes his proposed budget represents tax reform. But the fact is that Ryan calls for reducing the tax brackets even further than they currently are. Additionally, he wants to reduce the corporate tax rates from 35% to 25% and make up the difference by eliminating loopholes. How he proposes to do this, however, is, shall we say, murky at best. How much will this tax “reform” cost? Roughly $3 trillion in lost revenue over the next ten years. So between the Bush tax cuts, which Ryan wants to make permanent, and the further tax reductions he proposes, the hit to the treasury comes in at around $7 trillion. Nice math, Paul.

Medicare and Medicaid: Ryan’s plan would require seniors to purchase their own private insurance, which the government would then subsidize them for in the form of a voucher. Yes, you heard right, voucher: that four-letter word that Republicans can’t seem to rid their vocabulary of. And if your premiums go up under the Ryan plan, tough luck.  You're on your own.  That’s what you get for getting old and relying on a fixed income. As for Medicaid recipients, the federal government would issue block grants to the states to pay for benefits. Block grants would give them the “flexibility” to administer the money as they see fit, and we all know how well that worked out the last time it was tried.

Healthcare: We’ve saved the best for last. The GOP’s fixation and obsession with repealing the healthcare law has taken on epic proportions. As expected, one of the key provisions of the Ryan plan would be to, you guessed it, overturn the Affordable Care Act. Ryan claims he will save $725 billion by repealing the subsidies that customers would have received to help buy health insurance. However, according to the CBO, which scored the healthcare law, a repeal would actually have the opposite effect by adding to the deficit. Curious how Ryan is so vehemently opposed to subsidizing the general population in the purchase of affordable healthcare, yet has no problem subsidizing seniors so they can purchase their own health insurance. Can you spell ideology?

So there you have it, in black and white. Captain Courageous and his brave new world, where Robin Hood steals from the poor and gives to the rich. It all makes perfect sense, just like tax cuts pay for themselves and only lazy people need government assistance. If only us socialist hordes would know our place and allow the true leaders of our nation to work their magic, just like they did in the ‘80s under Reagan and the 2000s under Bush.

Tomorrow President Obama will address the nation on the debt. Once more he has an opportunity to frame a debate and distinguish himself and his party from the Republicans. It is too late to reverse previous stances where the narrative was unfortunately framed. Like it or not Obama has tied his own hands and must concede the importance of deficit reduction, even though virtually every prominent economist has insisted that slashing spending now would hurt the fragile recovery we are witnessing.

But Obama can and must insist that any reduction in spending be met with a responsible increase in revenue. Allowing this fairytale to continue that Washington only has a spending problem will ultimately result in disaster for the country. The last time the nation had a balanced budget was when the top marginal tax rates were at 39.6%. That was eleven years ago, and the economy did just fine. The rich didn’t flee and corporate America enjoyed its best and most prosperous period since the 1950s.

If Republicans – particularly Tea Party Republicans – are so eager to return to the good old days of prosperity and fiscal responsibility, I say we give them what they want.

‘90s anyone?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Idiots’ Delight

I’ve been thinking of a new name for an old favorite posting of mine about those individuals so depraved of any sense of decency and/or intelligence as to earn my contempt and scorn. I’ve tried titles like You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, only to find that it pretty much doesn’t matter whether you can make it up or not, the sheer fact that it happens is sufficient. Then I thought of Stupid is as Stupid Does, a take off on Forest Gump, but somehow that just didn’t nail it.

Then a stroke of genius. Why not try to shame them, so I came up with what I thought would be the perfect title: Shame on You. Except I soon realized you can’t shame people who are shameless in the first place. So I decided to go more visceral. WTF seemed to sum it up perfectly. My indignation at what I thought were egregious and unconscionable actions would suffice. Except, well it didn’t. Truth is the very nature of WTF denotes a question, and I was definitely not asking a question; I was stating what I thought was an unequivocal truth. Besides if it had been a question, it was meant as a rhetorical one. No, what I needed was a title that needed no explanations. It would stand on its own merits and speak for itself.

Ladies and gentlemen I present to you what I hope will be the last name change for this blog posting – that is until I come up with a better one – Idiots’ Delight. The name denotes the obvious: one who delights in being a moron, imbecile, dolt, dullard, ignoramus. But more to the point, he or she is someone who doesn’t get how ignorant they are and probably never will.

Idiots’ Delight will be a monthly or semi-monthly entry, depending on how I feel that particular month, which will highlight the individuals, or individual as the case may be, who went above and beyond bringing disgrace not only upon themselves, but to those for whom they supposedly represent.

As was the case in past entries, I will go in descending order from best (or worst) to last (or not quite as offensive, but still a stinker). This month we have four distinguished winners who have earned the coveted award. Hopefully, next time the number will be smaller, but these days, you never know.

The envelope, please?

Donald Trump. If Trump’s ego were a state it would take up an area twice the size of Texas. The Donald, as he is known within his entourage and, sadly, among much of the press in this country, has been spending the last few weeks not only embarrassing himself – which is his norm – over the President’s alleged status as a U.S. citizen, a matter long since put to bed by the sane and reasonable, he is threatening any chance of a serious discussion and dialogue over other pressing matters, like job creation, the deficit, alternative energy, investment in infrastructure, education, entitlement reform, defense spending.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. Trump is running as a Republican. Make that, tax breaks for the rich, the continued pilfering of social programs for the middle class and poor, etc… Seriously, if you are a Republican operative, you have to be VERY concerned that a publicity hound with more than a few screws loose is running second to Mitt Romney in the New Hampshire polls, and among conservatives – who make up about 90% of the GOP these days – is a SERIOUS candidate for the nomination to run for president against Barack Obama. The laughter you’re hearing is coming from the White House. Somebody needs to “fire” this schmuck.

Representative Eric Cantor. You’d expect the likes of a Sarah Palin to be this ignorant on basic legislative rules and procedures, but when someone with the supposed intelligence of Cantor actually gets up in front of a mic and says that if the Senate and President don’t act on a House bill than it automatically becomes law, I have to assume either someone has performed a lobotomy on him, or the Mayans were off by a year in their doomsday prediction.

Things are getting pretty desperate in the House these days, what with the infighting between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party freshmen, but one would expect the Majority Leader of the House to have at least a modicum of awareness of just how asinine and profoundly wrong his comments were. Even more embarrassing was that there were several reporters present at the mic who never confronted him on his faux pas. Incredible. So that it wasn’t a total loss, Cantor’s screw up gave our good buddy Anthony Weiner a chance to do some old fashioned roasting, as he read “House Mouse, Senate Mouse” aloud on the House floor. Boy does Reckless Eric ever have some splainin to do to his caucus. Love to be a fly on that wall.

Senator Jon Kyl. When it rains, it pours. While Eric Cantor’s crime was that he had a senior moment and forgot basic Constitutional law, Kyl’s problem appears to be dyslexia. While addressing his fellow Senate colleagues on the issue of Planned Parenthood and why it should be defunded, this is what Kyl said:

“Everybody goes to clinics, to hospitals, to doctors, and so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

Seems, that Kyl was off just a bit; by 87%. Abortions constitute only 3% of what Planned Parenthood offers its patients, and none of them receive a cent of federal funding. The Hyde Amendment specifically prohibits federal funding of abortions. Kyl knows this, as does everyone in the House and Senate, Democrat and Republican. The attack on Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with stopping abortions; it is about eliminating yet another social program that rubs the far Right the wrong way. God forbid a single tax dollar gets spent educating a poor woman on how not to get pregnant. Are there no workhouses?

And bringing up the rear, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY). This one gets filed under stick foot in mouth and choke. The Democrat not only made a ridiculous and slanderous statement, she gave the wingnuts on the Right some additional ammunition to attack the Left yet again. While addressing a pro-choice gathering over the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood, this is what Slaughter said:

“This is probably one of the worst times we've seen because the numbers of people elected to Congress. I went through this as co-chair of the arts caucus. In '94 people were elected simply to come here to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. Now they're here to kill women.”

Okay, Ms. Slaughter, repeat after me. “I am an idiot, I will not pass go and I will not collect two hundred dollars. Furthermore, I will stay after class and promise never to get in front of an open mic again and utter another word on anything of import.”

This is the sort of thing that sets back Democrats. Just when they achieve the high ground on an issue they shoot themselves in the foot. Last year it was Alan Grayson who disgraced himself with that despicable ad attacking Daniel Webster over his faith; now this stunt by Slaughter.

How bad was this? All the following day Lord Fauntleroy, Sean Hannity, was practically beside himself exploiting Slaughter’s gaffe as evidence that Democrats – all Democrats, mind you – believe that Republicans are here to kill women. Never mind that we heard not a peep from him over the false claims of death panels during the healthcare debate  in deed Hannity and his coherts led the charge up San Juan Hill  he had his sound bite and he ran with it all day and all night. It’s hard enough keeping up with the rubbish Hannity and his lot shovel on a daily basis without having to contend with this nonsense. Talk about throwing one down the middle of the plate and having your opposition hit it out of the ballpark.

Next time representative, stay home, or better still, lock yourself in your office.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Who’s Driving This Bus?

Like the sword of Damocles, the shutdown of the United States government loomed over all our heads, and with the two sides so close they could practically smell each other’s aftershave lotion, one wondered what the outcome would be. Would reason prevail over irrationality, or would we see a repeat of 1995? The sand in the hourglass was rapidly running out. Like a runaway train headed towards a major city, eight hundred thousand federal workers prepared for the worst. And a nation held its breath.

And then … the heavens parted. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. With less than two hours till a shutdown, a deal was finally struck between both sides that averted what would’ve been a disastrous situation. Make no mistake about it, a government shutdown would’ve set an already fragile economy back on its heals, perhaps back over the cliff into a double dip recession.

How could we have gotten into this mess? One word and one word only adequately describes the situation: insanity. If you want to see a living, breathing definition of the term just head down to Washington D.C. and visit the Capital building. Watching these characters is like watching a Looney Tunes cartoon, only at least Mel Blanc’s characters were funny and entertaining. This group is just dumb and hopeless.

Blame? Oh, trust me, there’s plenty to go around.

First up, the Republicans. After getting most of what they were looking for in cuts from the Democrats – or at least as much as they reasonably thought they could score – the GOP was set to let the government shut down over policy riders that defunded Planned Parenthood, healthcare reform and PBS, as well as preventing the EPA from enforcing laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

Republicans were demanding $40 billion in cuts; Democrats up’d their offer from $33 billion, which had been tentatively agreed to by both sides a week ago, to $38 billion. They eventually settled on $38.5 billion with no riders attached. Heavens to Betsy!  Add that to the $10 billion Republicans got in the previous two CRs and it was a pretty good day in GOP land.  Don't believe the hype that this was only about cutting 2.6 cents out of every dollar the government spends.  The truth is the entire budget was never on the table.  With defense and entitlements untouchable, the real number was closer to 20 cents out of every remaining dollar, virtually all of it social programs aimed at helping middle and lower income people.  Millions will be affected by this deal in a profound way.

And John Boehner? He now has about as much power as Superman under a pile of kryptonite. Let’s face it he was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. If he gave in and struck a deal with Democrats to prevent a shutdown, he risked a primary challenge from his own party next year; if he held the line and catered to the Tea Party, he ran the risk of repeating Newt Gingrich’s mistake of believing that temper tantrums woo independents. Hint, they don’t and Boehner knew that. In the end, he chose the lesser of two evils. He’s the only one who comes out a winner here, if only for a little while.

Second up, the Democrats, or as I like to call them Washington’s version of the Florida weather. If you don’t like their stance, wait five minutes and they’ll change it. Before you go crying for them Argentina it’s important to remember one essential fact. None of this nonsense would’ve happened had this party not had its head up its ass last fall and passed the 2011 budget when it had both Houses of Congress. Charges of GOP obstructionism can only get you so far. The threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans could’ve been overcome had Democrats simply worked together instead of fighting amongst themselves. It was the Blue Dogs and not Republicans who screwed the pouch.

The result is we now have a major political party in full retreat staring down the barrel of a gun held by the most irresponsible pack of hoodlums ever set loose on a nation in over seven decades. And yes, I know the parallel, and yes, they are one in the same, minus the brown shirts and dumb mustaches.  Make no mistake, the Tea Party controls the Republican Party.  Period.

So, as the clock kept ticking toward Armageddon, Democrats kept agreeing to a number that kept moving further and further to the right, and just like that famous Bugs Bunny scene where he dares Yosemite Sam to step over this line only to keep redrawing the line every time old Sam stepped over, Democrats eventually ran out of room and got themselves backed into a corner. Rule number one in politics, when you allow your opponents to define your narrative you deserve every ounce of crow you end up eating.

Yes, they kept Planned Parenthood and the EPA from being gutted, not to mention Big Bird from being roasted. But, in the end, that’s about all they won. The cuts that the Democrats agreed to will end up costing tens if not hundreds of thousands of workers their jobs, causing unemployment levels to rise, just at a time when economists were predicting we were starting to emerge out of the darkness of recession into the light of recovery. I can just hear the Republican sound bites for the 2012 election year already, especially if unemployment goes back over 9%. This is what happens when ideology trumps logic and leaders fail to lead.

And speaking of leaders, last, but not least, the leader of the free world and commander in chief, Captain Pragmatic, Barack Obama. As is usual old give and take – he gave, the Republicans took – remained above the fray and damn near allowed the children to burn down the schoolhouse. On the one hand, by staying out of the squabble, Obama came off looking like the adult in the room; on the other hand, by waiting until the last seventy-two hours before a shutdown to intervene, he came off looking too aloof and too distant. Like the Libyan no-fly zone fiasco, he once more became a spectator when the nation needed an actor. Back-seat drivers posing as presidents are a dime a dozen and almost never get reelected. Know this much, Clinton would never have allowed Boehner and Harry Reid that much time to negotiate without getting in his two cents worth.

If Obama doesn’t improve his game significantly, Republicans are going to walk all over him on the debt ceiling debate, which is coming up quickly, and the 2012 budget talks, which promise to be one helluva brouhaha. The man desperately needs to grow a pair if his party is to survive.

For now, the first battle is behind us. It will be months before we know the ramifications of the deal that was struck. But at least, for now, both sides can claim a moral victory of sorts, while collectively holding their breath for the next onslaught that promises to be even more stomach churning. And meanwhile, a nation has but one question to ask: Can anyone drive this bus, without driving it over the cliff?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Remembering King: Forty-Three Years Later.

On April 4, 1968, a violent act by a hateful man deprived the nation and the world of one of its true visionaries and men of peace. Martin Luther King, Jr., like Gandhi and Jesus before him, was that rare bread of leader: a man who spoke truth to power and challenged all of us to look in the mirror. As Robert Frost would say, he took the road less traveled and for millions of us that made all the difference.  More than forty years later, what he stood for is no less relevant than it was at the time of his untimely death.

Of all the eloquent and moving speeches King gave throughout his relatively brief life, none more crystallized the state of the nation both then and, sadly, now as the one he actually never gave but wrote from a Birmingham jail in 1963. Never one afraid to stir the pot, King held nothing back and, like the good parent with a wayward child, he did not spar the rod.

If his words make you squirm, so be it. For like Gandhi and Christ, King never seemed all that concerned with the comfort level of his followers. This letter – a rebuke to his fellow clergymen who were critical of his stances – is both biting and salient, for the issues it deals with are as old as society itself and they challenge much of what we have come to accept as our pre-conceived core values in this so-called Christian nation.

It needs no explanation, nor justification, for it suffices on the sheer merit of its truth, wisdom and conviction.

Bon Appétit!


While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension, which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may want to ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and awful. Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some---such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.

Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader era; and too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jai with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches; have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham, and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.