26 April, 2011

My Country

"America is a glorious promise and a passionate ideal or it is a sham. America will not be the best place for any to live in until and unless we resolve to make it a good place for all to live in."

My country bears malice toward none
My country shows charity for the weak and the small
My country hopes that all will give some
My country gives thanks to those who gave all

My country strives to create true freedom from fear
My country seeks to be the real land of the free
My country welcomes many from far and from near
My country belongs to you and to me

My country is known as the home of the brave
My country’s flag waves and may it never fall
My country once housed both master and slave
My country must strive for justice for all

My country has colors of red, white and blue
My country was born in a fight for a theme
My country has made many mistakes it is true
My country will rise and realize the dream!

17 April, 2011

Honor the Father

During the 2010 mid-term election campaign, Republicans rarely missed an opportunity to boast of their patriotism and broadcast their devotion to the Constitution. When they regained the majority in the House of Representatives, they began the session by reading an edited version of the Constitution and requiring that any bill introduced stipulate the precise section of the Constitution that supports it. Unfortunately the patriotism of which the Republicans boast and the Constitution they profess to adore, are not the same ones non-ideological Americans honor.

Few Republicans demonstrate the twisted nature of their brand of patriotism and their warped view of the Constitution better the Representative Peter King of New York. In an interview with the Daily News, King denied he was on a witch-hunt and cited recent homegrown plots to bomb the subways and Times Square, saying the threat of terrorism "is now more from within" than from abroad. [http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-03-07/local/28681172_1_radicalization-witch-hunt-muslim-community] This statement is disturbingly reminiscent of Joe McCarthy who used to ask those summoned before his sub-committee, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
In contrast to Representative King, Denis McDonough, the White House deputy national security adviser, speaking at a Virginia mosque known for cooperating with the FBI asserted, "We must resolve that, in our determination to protect our nation, we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few," McDonough said. "In the United States of America, we don't practice guilt by association."

Mr. McDonough is right and Representative King is wrong. Unfortunately, as the New Pittsburgh Courier states in a guest editorial of the March 23-29, 2011 edition, “There’s something in the DNA of American culture that is blind to the fact that racism, sexism, homophobia, and all stereotypes persist whenever someone other than a White man does something wrong.” The fact that men professing the Islamic faith crashed planes into American buildings and killed innocent, non-combatant individuals does not justify placing all Americans who profess the same faith under suspicion. It most emphatically does not justify Congressional hearings investigating the purported radicalization of this same subset of the American populace.

If the Republicans are authentically patriotic and genuinely revere the Constitution, they would heed the advice of the Father of the Constitution in this context. James Madison said at least two things that are directly relevant to proper patriotic, Constitutional treatment of American Muslims. First, “Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect.” Reactionary politicians are famous for both their professed piety and their intolerance of less conventional varieties of religious preference. Despite this predilection on the part of the right wing, the Founder and the Framer’s admonition must be the standard and American Muslims must be accorded “the perfect equality of rights” to which they are entitled by the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Any true patriot would know the thinking behind the Constitution and adhere to it in his use of political authority. It is not sufficient to gain political office. One must reflect credit on the office as well.

Mr. Madison further advises, “Equal laws protecting equal rights the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country.” We forget this at our peril. Representative King is making a mockery of the document and principles he is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend. There is no evidence that American Muslims are in league with terrorists. There is no evidence that American Muslims are disloyal. Such evidence as there is suggests precisely the opposite. The overwhelming majority of American Muslims are loyal citizens who do not sympathize with al-Qaida or its imitators. They would and have denounced terrorists’ plots and actions. More importantly, they are Americans and by solemn bond of Constitutional provision and civic value; they are entitled to full equality before the law and all the privileges and immunities of citizenship. Any infringement of their rights as citizens endangers the rights of us all.

Some may object that James Madison and his contemporaries did not fully implement the lofty principles they so well articulated. This is true. Nonetheless, this merely demonstrates the humanity of the Founders and the Framers. Their glory is not that they said the last word or took the last step for the realization of the American promise; it is that they said and took the first. Considering the utter novelty of their perspective and pronouncements at the time, their failings do nothing to detract from the veracity of their assertions or the nobility of their insights. Rather it is for us, the living, to summon renewed dedication to the great work lying before us. We will betray our heritage and fail in our duty if we allow bigots and mountebanks like Representative King to abuse his official position to harass and hassle our fellow Americans.

Representative King’s selective outrage and aggression against American Muslims is compatible with a nasty streak that has run through Republican politics at least since the late sixties. This is thinly veiled bigotry. The Republicans previously often and Representative King now feel safe in cynically arousing and callously exploiting the tendency of too many White Americans to be unduly fearful of those caricatured as other. Contemporary examples are the deplorable “papers please” law in Arizona, the lunatic obsessions with President Obama’s place of birth and religion, the ravings about Shania Law, and the somewhat more genteel demands for English as an official language. These are ignoble aspects of contemporary culture and both the right wing media and the Republicans exploit them for partisan gain regardless of the poison they inject into the body politic and the rents they tear in the social fabric.

It is instructive to note that Representative King was once a brash and insistent supporter of the Irish Republican Army [IRA]. Three distinct differences between the IRA and the 9-11 Attackers are [1] their professed religious faith, [2] their complexions, and [3] the site of their atrocities. Representative King clings to number three as a justification for his persecution of American Muslims. This is pure fiction, however, because American Muslims did not attack anyone anywhere. Their difference from those Representative King seeks to court are the faith they profess and [often] the hue of their skin. Actions based on differences in creed and complexion are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution and are generally recognized as instances of bigotry.

Despite the sound advice from the Founders and the Framers, America has not been the unblemished citadel of liberty and justice for all we truly ought to be. From slavery for Americans of African ancestry to slaughter of Native Americans, to subordination of female Americans, to internment of Japanese Americans, the bullying of Joe McCarthy and torture under George W. Bush we have often fallen short of our ideals. The errors of the past are no excuse to persist in error during the present. All American citizens have a Constitutional right to freedom of and freedom from religion. Muslim Americans have this right, as do we all.

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad who wrote to Representative King provides one indication of the stance of Muslim Americans regarding national security –
"The threat of violent extremism to our nation is a profoundly serious issue. We agree with you that political correctness should not interfere in any serious investigation of threats to our nation. However, we do believe that reliable witnesses and verifiable information are crucial to properly evaluating the threat. We therefore respectfully request that you drop Walid Phares* as a witness for your planned hearing and reiterate our request that you meet with national leaders of the American Muslim community to discuss the negative impact your hearings could have on ordinary American Muslims."

These are reasonable remarks and requests by one American citizen to another. They should have been acted upon, but they were ignored. If Representative King were solely concerned about threats to national security and/or domestic tranquility, he would have given Mr. Awad’s statements the response they merited, rather than the silent treatment. Like others before him, Representative King is motivated by other impulses and pursuing other ends.

We must ask – “Where was the investigative frenzy when Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma and killed over 100 innocent people including children?” Where was the Congressional outrage when a Christian Fundamentalist killed Dr. George Tiller? Where are the investigations of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency that spies on America? The Republicans are silent in these cases because the actors are White. From the reactionary point of view, Tim McVeigh, Christian Fundamentalists, and Mossad agents are not other. Consequently, they are not the objects of investigation.

It is imperative that ordinary Americans step up to their civic responsibilities and demand that Representative King and those who support him cease and desist in this bigoted action toward American Muslims. If we do not do our duty in this regard, we will fail the Republic, our forebears, our children and ourselves. Now is the time to honor the Father of the Constitution and implement his admonition that, “Equal laws protecting equal rights are the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country.” Let us all work together to identify and eliminate all threats and wrongdoing without impugning honorable Americans whatever faith they profess.

16 April, 2011

Keeping from Pettiness - What If?

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for lives that are less than the ones, we are capable of living or accepting a world that is less than the one we are capable of building.” Nelson Mandela

By thinking big thoughts rather than small ones and using the best words rather than the worst ones, each of us will enhance the quality of our thinking and our communication. If we stop looking for faults in others and start looking for improvements in ourselves, we will be more accepting of and helpful to others. By seeking the best for all rather than just the best for ourselves, we can release the talents of those around to make progress on the issues and challenges we all care about.

If we abandon pretense, and encounter each other honestly with minds liberated from spite, resentment, and prejudice will it not be more likely that we act on the ideals and ideas that unite rather than the suspicions and delusions that divide us. Once we are honestly united, can we not make more considered and considerate decisions? Could we not be more genuine and generous in our actions?

If we give each task, each thing, each person the time they deserve and resolve to grow calm, strive to remain serene and dare to be gentle, might the world both look and become a more enchanting and empowering place?

If we allow life to teach us to act upon our better impulses and attend to our better angels, might we not simply demonstrate the courage of our convictions and be the people we truly ought to be.

By acknowledging, the little things of life create difficulties and dissension, might we not recognize and realize that the big things bring us together and challenge us to build a better world.

If in every instance, we persist in being kind, could we not transform the earth from a vale of tears and a house of horrors to a safe haven and loving home for all humanity?

10 April, 2011

A Party Once Again!

When youthful fire was in my blood
I knew of Democratic champions,
Of Jack and Bobby who firmly stood,
And bravely called for equality and freedom;
And then I dreamt I yet might see
Their like arise again,
And Dems, so oft a patsy, be.
A Party once again!

A Party once again,
A Party once again,
Our Dems, so oft a patsy, be
A Party once again!

And from that time, through deepest woe,
That hope made the burden light,
Ne'er could any summer’s brightest glow
Outshine that radiance bright;
It seemed to drift above my head
In forum, field and fane,
Its angel voice sang round my bed,
A Party once again!

It whispered too, that freedom's ark
The Republic high and holy,
Would be profaned by feelings dark
And passions vain or lowly;
The Republic comes from a noble band,
And needs a worthy train;
And virtuous men must take their stand
A Party once again!

So, as I grew from boy to man,
I bent me to that bidding
My spirit of each venal plan
And spiteful passion ridding;
For, thus I hoped some day to aid,
Oh, can such hope be vain?
My dear Democrats now remade
A Party once again!

A Party once again,
A Party once again,
Our Dems, so oft a patsy, be
A Party once again!

03 April, 2011

Come On People

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“On this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and equal before the law.” Robert F. Kennedy [Speech, May 6, 1961].

In an insightful article in the New Pittsburgh Courier, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, discusses Demographic shifts and Black political power. Dr. Malveaux remarks on changes in Washington D C and Detroit MI. Then she states that her concern is political and observes “The world is no longer a narrow White or Black occasion, it is Neapolitan. Will African-Americans play well with those who are neither White nor Black, just here and pursuing the American dream? Will there be those who, insensitive to our nation’s racial history, assert that the playing field now is level, even though it never was?” I share her concerns.

Almost a full fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy identified the enduring moral challenge facing the American people; we live in an age of missed and diminishing opportunities. The Republic is ragged with the rips and tears of divisive discourse and bitter accusations against one group or another. The national government writhes in a perilous struggle to remain operative. Many states are slashing services that millions need to sustain a dwindling faith in any credible version of the American dream. Therefore, questions and concerns about the moral dimensions of political power assume a renewed and urgent pertinence.

When the recently elected Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, assumed office, he attended a mass at the cathedral in Harrisburg. Yet, he immediately began to condone a pattern of no tax payments by 70% of corporations in the commonwealth. He also refuses to tax the natural gas industry though many states find this to be a lucrative source of revenue. Then, based on revenue shortfalls, Mr. Corbett pushed further cuts to public education, public transit, and other programs upon which poorer people genuinely depend. His Education Secretary callously remarks, “Money won’t make better schools.” In fact, the Education Secretary, Ron Tomalis, declared, “Education achievement or achievement of any kind cannot be measured in dollars and sense.” Yet both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Tomalis clearly believe that dollars and cents are vital when it comes to extending tax breaks to their wealthy backers or the corporations they are courting. How do these remarks and these actions align with the Governor’s displayed piety? Did he receive divine guidance directing him to beleaguer the poor and bolster the wealthy? That seems unlikely given the benign tenor of most Christian pronouncements on the topic of the poor and the downtrodden.

Furthermore, Governor Corbett apparently decided to cut a minimum of $1 billion from the education budget. In doing so, he divided the cut between Basic Education and all other programs. Then, he used a devious method for calculating the cut. This method did not cover the real needs of students and school districts. It relied on a peculiarity of the prior year’s education budget that included $655 million from the federal stimulus program. The state funds in last year’s budget had decreased by a like amount. Therefore, the governor started cutting from an improperly determined base. Furthermore, the stimulus funds went mostly to the poorest school districts and this caused the governor’s cuts to be largest in these same poor school districts. Because the poor school districts have far more chocolate in their version of Neapolitan than the affluent school districts, Black families and children suffer most from these drastic cuts.

On a national level, the wealthy who invest in or run corporations are living in a new Gilded Age. The American Dream is thriving as far as they can tell. Rules and even laws are being changed or interpreted to favor them more than they previously did. In 2010, the nation’s largest corporation, General Electric, paid no taxes on $14.2 billion in profits. Billions diverted to Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya in wars by other names, are unquestioned while the social safety net transforms into a scrap flapping in the winds of change. The pillars of the middle class such as college loans and collective bargaining have weakened almost to the point of collapse. For most of the society, the American Dream has become “a ragged blanket too short to cover them, but they still buy into it.”

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision swept away all semblance of a level playing field in political campaigning. With the current attacks, raging on public employees and public employee unions, the wealthy and their corporations will soon be beyond challenge in elections at the state and national level. The politicians who most benefit from this transformation of America from a Republic to a Plutocracy speak unblushingly about shared sacrifice and fiscal responsibility. All the while, they use their positions to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. They refuse to consider reductions in war spending, but they hint at slashing entitlements. In so doing, they ignore that people have paid for what they dismissively smear as entitlements. When did it become acceptable to deprive people of something they have paid for their entire working lives while concurrently, benefiting people through inheritance tax changes who have earned not one cent of the windfall coming their way?

Therefore, I am as concerned as is Dr. Malveaux, about Black political power as well as the political power of unions and the middle class generally. Some may think my argument is alarmist or faulty in some partisan way. If so, consider this from Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, “the size of this upward redistribution to the richest 1 percent over the last three decades is roughly large enough to double the income of all the households in the bottom half of the income distribution” [http://www.truth-out.org/the-deficit-hawks-target-nurses-and-firefighters68817].

It is vital to recognize, understand, and acknowledge that this robbing of the ordinary citizens for the benefit of the extraordinarily affluent is a deliberate effort. The policies and practices pursued since the Reagan Revolution have sustained higher than necessary unemployment to weaken workers’ bargaining power. They have promoted globalization of the economy to free the elite and their corporate vehicles from the burdens of taxation and regulation, the borders of nations, and the bonds of patriotism. They pursued a “high dollar trade policy” so that American workers felt downward wage pressure in manufacturing fields and they encourage the exportation of jobs to places without unions and with comparatively low wages and standards of living. In this context, unions have not left the private sector; the private sector has left them for third world countries.

Something has clearly changed in our country and for most Americans this change has not been beneficial. In April, it is fitting to remember that one of America’s greatest leaders used his last ounce of courage to campaign for jobs and justice. Forty-three years ago, Dr. King declared in Memphis, TN, “Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land.”

Dr. King was not concerned only with Black political power. He knew that the quest for economic justice united Americans from middle and lower economic classes regardless of race. Poverty afflicts a diversity of races, regions and backgrounds. Dr. King told his aides that the SCLC would have to raise nonviolence to a new level to pressure Congress into passing an Economic Bill of Rights for the nation’s poor. He made this clear as follows: “We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty.” His words were true then and they are true now. We need to recall and act upon them. Dr. King "made clear connections between what he called “our glorious struggle for civil rights” and collective bargaining rights. He called the labor movement “the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress . [and] gave birth to .. new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life.” [http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/from-mlk-a-dream-for-the-middle-class-that-cannot-be-allowed-to-die/2011/04/01/AFhz6TXC_story.html] Unfortunately, for the Republic and us all, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. died at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.

After Dr. King’s murder, only one leader remained to carry on the highest patriotism. This leader was Robert F. Kennedy. He had earlier stated his views on poverty and government as follows: “I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil. Government belongs wherever evil needs an adversary and there are people in distress who cannot help themselves.” (RFK Speech, Athens, Georgia, May 6, 1961) Unfortunately, this last, best voice of benevolence and economic fairness in American politics fell silent roughly two months after Dr. King due to an assassin’s bullet. He was not quite 43 years old.

These closely spaced murders left a vacuum for a rising star of the corporate campaign to transform politics in America. Ronald Reagan on the way to becoming the “Great Communicator” was able to effectively, though deceptively, persuade millions of ordinary Americans that the corporations were liberators and the government an oppressor of the working class. In so doing, Reagan sold a gullible electorate an inverted vision of American politics and the Republic that has plagued us to this day.

Now we are approaching the end game of this decades’ long contest for the soul of the Republic. In the national and state capitals, the heirs of King and Kennedy battle against those of Reagan. Will we be one nation indivisible with liberty, justice, and prosperity for all? Alternatively, will we become two nations separate and unequal with abundance for the few and subsistence for the many? According to the New York Times, amidst the struggle to avoid a government shutdown, House Republicans prepare a proposal for next year and beyond that is likely to spark an ideological showdown. E. J. Dionne observes, "This week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will announce the House Republicans’ budget plan, which is expected to include cuts in many programs for the neediest Americans. The Ryan budget’s central purpose will not be deficit reduction but the gradual dismantling of key parts of government. Remember that Ryan wants both to preserve the Bush tax cuts and, over the long run, to enact more breaks for the wealthy, including the elimination of the capital gains tax." [http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-end-of-progressive-government/2011/04/01/AFQbjTXC_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions] This will go beyond numbers and make policy prescriptions. According to Mr. Ryan, “We have a moral obligation to the country to do this.” Mr. Ryan is correct about the moral obligation and wrong about virtually everything else.

When the shutdown and the showdown come to pass, history will judge we, the living, by how well we uphold the highest ideals of the Republic as expressed by its most noble leaders. In the next few months and the next several years, let us so conduct ourselves, that these leaders neither lived nor died in vain. Dr. King and Bobby gave American politics a moral dimension it has not had since their assassinations. This is apparent if we reflect on their remarks shortly before they died. Dr. King’s near to last words appeared above and Bobby’s appear below.

“What I think is quite clear is that we can work together in the last analysis we are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running over the period of the next few months.” [RFK June 5, 1968] Moments later the forces of fear and hatred drove a disturbed individual to shoot him in the head. Finally, as he lay mortally wounded, Bobby whispered to his wife, "Is everyone else all right?"

More than forty years after Martin and you died, we must sadly answer, not everyone else is all right, but Bobby, we promise you both, we are working on it.

Come on people!