A Note on Dr. King’s Birthday


For the next 24 hours the US Congress is taking a brief respite from its busy efforts to slash unemployment benefits, Food Stamps, real wages, and corporate taxes, to “honor the memory” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To those of you who are too young to remember him, Dr. King was what used to be called a “civil rights leader.”

This means that he organized and led daring mass campaigns for racial and social equality, social justice, and peace, and against union busting, unjust, costly wars, gun violence, domestic spying, and restrictions on immigrants, often at great personal risk to himself. Believe it or not, that sort of thing actually used to happen in the USA — all the time!

Of course, Dr. King was tragically gunned down by right-wing extremists in April 1968. But that was decades ago.  Some say that our country has come a long way since then.
After all, we now have a black President, a black Attorney General, our second black national security advisor, and a black First Lady who just celebrated her 50th birthday at Oprah’s 12-room mansion in Hawaii.

Still, if MLK were around today, I think he’d say that our real “civil rights” struggle – indeed, our “human rights” struggle —  is just beginning:

Over 15 percent (50 million) of all Americans, and 22 percent (16 million) of American children under the age of 18 are now living in poverty with incomes at or below $23,492 per year for a family of four. This is a 50 year high, well above the 12.8 percent that prevailed in 1968. Twenty million of our fellow citizens are living at or below the half-poverty income line of $11,746 per year for a family of four. This is almost as many people as the entire poor population back in 1968.  In 22 states the poverty rate is even higher, with “Mike” (aka Martin Luther) King’s home state of Georgia now featuring an 18.1 percent rate, and Mississippi topping the list at 22 percent.

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in Washington, D.C., on 28 August 1963. Español: Dr. Martin Luther King dando su discurso “Yo tengo un sueño” durante la Marcha sobre Washington por el trabajo y la libertad en Washington, D.C., 28 de agosto de 1963. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)the 12.8 percent that prevailed in 1968.

The net worth of the top 67 richest Americans, at $1.2 trillion as of January 2014, now exceeds that of all 45 million African-Americans.3 4 5 This is not just because these 67 people are extraordinarily gifted, but because the US economy has indeed become an inequality generator on steroids.

Despite the fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from over, we now have a pretty good idea of their total cost: at least $5 trillion, 1  in present value terms.
That would have been enough to give every poor kid in America a $300,000 nest egg for education, and end poverty forever. Of course dedicating even part of it to that would have also offended entrenched interests.

Congress has recently found time to “fast track” trade agreements and corporate tax breaks. But somehow it has not quite found time for basic legislation that is vital to poor people — like immigration reform, raising the real minimum wage above its current $1952 level, and finding the paltry $6 billion needed to restore long-term unemployment benefits.

Compared with the 1960s, we’re missing not only skilled political leadership inside the Beltway, but also a mobilized citizenry outside it.

Just as the number of racial hate groups and the practice of racial profiling by police departments has soared recently, government spying on American citizens has now become even more pervasive and sophisticated than it ever was back in the days of MLK, Watergate, and COINTELPRO. Indeed, if MLK were alive, he’d probably be the first prominent black activist to be spied on by a black Attorney General.

In any case, clearly there is a great deal of vital “civil rights” and human rights work left to do. So if there are any potential young activists out there listening, please consider this a job posting. The struggle continues, holidays or not.

James Henry writes on tax justice issues, his work has appeared in the Guardian, BBC and elsewhere.

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey