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“Embracing The Possibilities”: Martin Luther King And The Dream That Came True

He would be an elder statesman now, a lion in winter, an American hero perhaps impatient with the fuss being made over his birthday. At 83, he’d likely still have his wits and his voice. Surely, if he were able, he would continue to preach, to pray — and to dream.

For the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., dreaming was not optional. It was a requirement of citizenship to envision a fairer, more prosperous nation no longer shackled by racism and poverty. It was a duty to imagine a world no longer ravaged by senseless wars. His most famous speech was less an invitation to share his epic dream than a commandment.

In these sour, pessimistic times, it is important to remember the great lesson of King’s remarkable life: Impossible dreams can come true.

This is not a partisan message; King was every bit as tough on Democrats as Republicans. His activism even transcended ideology. His call for social justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War were rightly seen as liberal, but his insistence on the primacy of faith and family was deeply conservative. His birthday is a national holiday because his words and deeds ennoble us all.

Thinking about King’s legacy reminds me that this is hardly the first time our society has been bitterly divided and fearful of an uncertain future. When he led the 1963 March on Washington and gave his indelible “I Have a Dream” speech, many Southern whites, including officials, were still determined to resist racial integration by any means necessary. Many black Americans were fed up, no longer willing to wait patiently for the rights promised them under the Constitution.

We were inured to television images that today would be shocking. Police dogs turned loose on peaceful protesters. Columns of smoke rising from cities across the land following King’s assassination.

As he predicted, King did not live to reach the mountaintop. But his leadership — and that of so many others in the civil rights movement — set us on a path that changed the nation in ways that once seemed unimaginable. Racism, sexism and all the other poisonous -isms have not been eradicated, but they have been dramatically reduced and marginalized. It is difficult for young people to believe that overt discrimination — “You can’t have that job because you’re black” or “I’m going to pay you less because you’re a woman” — used to be seen as normal.

Today, the nation is suffering what I see as a crisis of confidence. Economic globalization and advances in productivity have hollowed out the U.S. manufacturing sector, eliminating millions of blue-collar jobs. For the first time, parents have to worry whether their children’s standard of living will decline rather than improve. Demographic change is about to make this a nation without a white majority; by the middle of the century, we’ll be an increasingly diverse collection of racial and ethnic minorities — held together, even more than in the past, by the ideals of the nation’s founding documents.

We’re struggling to climb out of the worst recession in decades. We’re deeply in debt. Most of us agree on the need for a social safety net but not on how to structure it or how to pay for it. Our political system is sclerotic if not dysfunctional. The past few elections have not produced a consensus on the way forward. The next won’t, either.

I consider myself fortunate that, when I’m feeling pessimistic about all of this, I’m able to visit the new King memorial that was dedicated in October. The towering statue of King looks out toward the Jefferson Memorial, which honors the man whose stirring words now apply to all Americans, not just a few. Behind King is the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to a leader who shepherded the nation through days much darker than these.

The plaza surrounding King’s statue opens up to the Tidal Basin as if to demonstrate how our nation, at its best, embraces possibility.

The first time I visited the memorial, I ran into former senator George Allen from Virginia. He and I disagree on almost everything — and since he’s running for office again, I’m sure we’ll be on opposite sides of many issues. But on a crystalline morning, we were able to stand together, awed by King’s moral vision and humbled by his challenge: We can be better. We must. We will.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 13, 2012

January 14, 2012 Posted by | Martin Luther King | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An “Authentic Inauthenticity”: Mitt Romney’s Al Gore Problem

Following Mitt Romney on the campaign trail is a painful yet familiar experience.

Painful, because of the wince-inducing moments when you realize that, for all of Romney’s success in imitating human attributes, there remain glitches in the matrix that reveal him to be different from the rest of us.

In the past few days alone, he claimed to take pleasure in firing people, expressed his phony fears about getting a “pink slip” from the job that swelled his wealth to nearly a quarter-billion dollars and asserted misleadingly that he worked an “entry-level” job after Harvard Business School.

Romney further alleged that “I never thought I’d get involved in politics” — though he has been in politics for two decades. And he claimed that he didn’t seek reelection as Massachusetts governor because “that would be about me” — as if running for president, which he did instead, was a gesture of sacrifice and altruism.

Romney, the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg argued this week, has an “authentic inauthenticity problem.”

And that is precisely why his struggle is so familiar. He is the political reincarnation of Al Gore, whose campaign I covered with an equal amount of cringing a dozen years ago.

To see Romney, in his Gap jeans, laughing awkwardly at his own jokes and making patently disingenuous claims, brings back all those bad memories of 2000: “Love Story.” Inventing the Internet. Earth tones. Three-button suits. The alpha male in cowboy boots. The iced-tea defense. The Buddhist temple. The sighing during the debate.

It’s familiar, as well, to Michael Feldman, a longtime Gore aide who watched his boss get undone by the inauthentic label. “When an impression like that hardens, you’re communicating into a stiff wind,” he told me. “These caricatures can form impressions that are really hard to turn around.”

If anything, Romney’s problem is greater than Gore’s because it is rooted in his frequent repositioning on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and health care. In substance, Romney’s troubles may turn out to be closer to John Kerry’s: As my colleague Greg Sargent has written, the undermining of Romney’s business acumen by the attacks on his work at Bain Capital is similar to the undoing of Kerry’s record as a Vietnam War hero by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Romney, with his many homes, also shares certain rich-guy vulnerabilities with Kerry. Newt Gingrich used an image of Kerry windsurfing in an ad attacking Romney this week, closing with a supposed insult: “Just like John Kerry, he speaks French, too.”

But in temperament and style, Romney is closest to Gore, another politician’s son from Harvard with pedantic tendencies who, in public, never quite seems comfortable.

The media tend to assign each candidate a character flaw as a form of shorthand (John McCain was volatile, George W. Bush was dopey, Obama is all talk). Ominously, Romney’s descriptions are the same applied to Gore 12 years ago: assuming “personas,” going through “makeovers,” attempting “regular-guy” traits, exhibiting “robotic” behavior and issuing new versions, such as “Romney 3.0.”

For Romney, the problem now becomes that reporters, and opponents, are perpetually on the lookout for new examples to add to his dossier of awkwardness. “It’s a self-perpetuating cycle,” explained Chris Lehane, who sought, with limited success, to help Gore defy his “wooden” image. “You’re trying so hard to think through what you’re going to say that you get mental handcuffs every time you speak. You’re so nervous about the archetype that you fall into the archetype.”

In Romney’s case, there is already abundant support for the archetype: his belief that “corporations are people,” his talk about hunting “small varmints,” the story about driving with the family dog in a kennel strapped atop the Romneys’ car, his attempted $10,000 bet with Rick Perry, his singing “Who let the dogs out?,” his pretending to be pinched on the behind by a waitress, his bizarre jokes about Hooters and hollandaise sauce, and his tendency to ask debate moderators for protection from his opponents.

None of those is, by itself, disqualifying — and, as in Gore’s case, not all the examples are fair. But, combined with Romney’s frequent fluctuations on the issues, his awkwardness has left an impression that he is a phony and not to be trusted. Romney isn’t necessarily doomed — Gore, after all, received more votes than the other guy — but this much seems clear: Over the next 10 months, Romney will be getting the Gore treatment.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 13, 2012

January 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?: “Current Presidential Race Has Demonstrated That A Million Dollars Is Nothing”

Back in the late-1950s there was a TV show called “The Millionaire” about a mysterious rich man, named John Beresford Tipton, who would anonymously give checks for $1 million to total strangers.

Usually, the recipient was a poor schlub who was over the top with joy until it turned out that the money didn’t buy happiness. Clearly, we were all better off in our humble homes, clustered around our 14-inch TVs.

I am bringing this up because the current presidential race has demonstrated that a million dollars is nothing — nothing — these days. Nothing! A million dollars is what they give you for designing the best pantsuit on a reality TV show.

Now, if you want to impress people, you have to be a billionaire, for sure. There are about 400 billionaires in the United States, and, while some of them are famous, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, many have profiles so low that their own families may not recognize them. Really, it could be the guy living down the block, if your block happened to contain a 30,000-square-foot Tudor with 10 bathrooms.

But even the humblest billionaire wants to be on the campaign trail this year. They’re everywhere. Rick Santorum has Foster Friess, a mutual fund manager who likes the fact that Santorum starts the day with 50 push-ups. (“That’s the kind of energy level that the Republican Party needs right now.”) Friess has vowed to give Santorum’s super-sized political action committee at least a million. Which certainly is the least he could do for all that exercise.

Newt Gingrich’s “super PAC” got $5 million from billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a casino owner, in what Adelson’s associates said was an act of friendship. I certainly hope so, since giving money to the Gingrich-for-president effort at this point is like betting that the New York Jets will win the Super Bowl. You would think that a casino owner would know what futile acts of desperation look like.

Jon Huntsman’s dad is a billionaire, which didn’t seem to help as much as you would think. (Once again: not buying happiness.) Mitt Romney is probably only a quarter-of-a-billionaire, which, in this company, is kind of the equivalent of playing the harmonica for lunch money on the street.

But it’s hard to be sure about Mitt’s wealth because he has refused to release his tax returns. This is something every major presidential candidate in recent history has done, but so what? If every major presidential candidate in recent history jumped off the roof, would you expect Mitt to do that? How many other major presidential candidates in recent history came from the business sector? How many drove to Canada with their family dog strapped to the roof of the car? So, really, stop with the sweeping generalizations.

Romney does appear to have more billionaire pals than anybody — 10 percent of all the billionaires in the country are already giving money to Mitt, including Sam Zell, Destroyer of Great Newspapers, and John Paulson, a hedge fund operator who made a killing in 2007 by betting against the housing market. Forbes, which put Paulson at No. 17 on its list of richest people in America in 2011, said he had made $4.9 billion in the preceding year.

People, how much TV time do you think a person like that could buy if he put his mind to it? Seriously, by September we could be seeing entire networks devoted to nothing but Mitt Romney. Every week, Mitt will solve crimes, save patients with extremely rare diseases, build a house for a deserving family, help Zooey Deschanel with her dating problems and win bids for abandoned storage lockers all around the country.

Not that President Obama won’t have enough money to buy a channel of his own, if he wants one. So far, the president is behind Mitt in the billionaire donor sweepstakes, but he is still doing fine, thank you very much. So well, in fact, that a spokesman for the re-election campaign has been forced to denounce the idea that Obama will raise $1 billion. There’s that number again.

All these billionaires would not be so worrisome if the Supreme Court had not totally unleashed their donation-making power in the Citizens United case. Gingrich, who loved that decision, was furious when Mitt’s rich friends chipped in to run anti-Newt ads in Iowa.

He declined to acknowledge that the two things had any connection whatsoever.

“In fact, this particular approach, I think, has nothing to do with the Citizens United case. It has to do with a bunch of millionaires getting together to run a negative campaign, and Governor Romney refusing to call them off and refusing to be honest about it,” he told MSNBC.

Except for the part where the law that the court overturned had to do with keeping a bunch of millionaires from getting together to run a negative campaign. But, really, if they’re only millionaires, how much harm could they do?


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 13, 2012

January 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America Is Not A Corporation

“And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.”

That’s how the fictional Gordon Gekko finished his famous “Greed is good” speech in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” In the movie, Gekko got his comeuppance. But in real life, Gekkoism triumphed, and policy based on the notion that greed is good is a major reason why income has grown so much more rapidly for the richest 1 percent than for the middle class.

Today, however, let’s focus on the rest of that sentence, which compares America to a corporation. This, too, is an idea that has been widely accepted. And it’s the main plank of Mitt Romney’s case that he should be president: In effect, he is asserting that what we need to fix our ailing economy is someone who has been successful in business.

In so doing, he has, of course, invited close scrutiny of his business career. And it turns out that there is at least a whiff of Gordon Gekko in his time at Bain Capital, a private equity firm; he was a buyer and seller of businesses, often to the detriment of their employees, rather than someone who ran companies for the long haul. (Also, when will he release his tax returns?) Nor has he helped his credibility by making untenable claims about his role as a “job creator.”

But there’s a deeper problem in the whole notion that what this nation needs is a successful businessman as president: America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.

Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.

Most relevant for our current situation, however, is the point that even giant corporations sell the great bulk of what they produce to other people, not to their own employees — whereas even small countries sell most of what they produce to themselves, and big countries like America are overwhelmingly their own main customers.

Yes, there’s a global economy. But six out of seven American workers are employed in service industries, which are largely insulated from international competition, and even our manufacturers sell much of their production to the domestic market.

And the fact that we mostly sell to ourselves makes an enormous difference when you think about policy.

Consider what happens when a business engages in ruthless cost-cutting. From the point of view of the firm’s owners (though not its workers), the more costs that are cut, the better. Any dollars taken off the cost side of the balance sheet are added to the bottom line.

But the story is very different when a government slashes spending in the face of a depressed economy. Look at Greece, Spain, and Ireland, all of which have adopted harsh austerity policies. In each case, unemployment soared, because cuts in government spending mainly hit domestic producers. And, in each case, the reduction in budget deficits was much less than expected, because tax receipts fell as output and employment collapsed.

Now, to be fair, being a career politician isn’t necessarily a better preparation for managing economic policy than being a businessman. But Mr. Romney is the one claiming that his career makes him especially suited for the presidency. Did I mention that the last businessman to live in the White House was a guy named Herbert Hoover? (Unless you count former President George W. Bush.)

And there’s also the question of whether Mr. Romney understands the difference between running a business and managing an economy.

Like many observers, I was somewhat startled by his latest defense of his record at Bain — namely, that he did the same thing the Obama administration did when it bailed out the auto industry, laying off workers in the process. One might think that Mr. Romney would rather not talk about a highly successful policy that just about everyone in the Republican Party, including him, denounced at the time.

But what really struck me was how Mr. Romney characterized President Obama’s actions: “He did it to try to save the business.” No, he didn’t; he did it to save the industry, and thereby to save jobs that would otherwise have been lost, deepening America’s slump. Does Mr. Romney understand the distinction?

America certainly needs better economic policies than it has right now — and while most of the blame for poor policies belongs to Republicans and their scorched-earth opposition to anything constructive, the president has made some important mistakes. But we’re not going to get better policies if the man sitting in the Oval Office next year sees his job as being that of engineering a leveraged buyout of America Inc.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 12, 2012

January 14, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Investment Baining”: Bitter Politics of Envy?

You’re just jealous. At least that’s how Mitt Romney sees it. The millionaire who posed for a picture with the boys at Bain Capital with the long green clinched between their teeth and poking out of their collars and jackets now says that people who question what he did there, and what rich people do now, are just green with envy.

In his New Hampshire victory speech on Tuesday, Romney lambasted his Republican opponents (who have raised real issues about his role at the private equity firm Bain Capital) for following the lead of President Obama, whom he described as a leader who divides us “with the bitter politics of envy.”

The next day on “Today” on NBC, Romney defended the statement, rejecting the notion that there were questions about Wall Street behavior, saying the whole discussion was about class warfare. He even went so far as to suggest that such talk shouldn’t even be openly entertained. When the interviewer asked, “Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?” Romney responded, “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.”

In quiet rooms? That’s the problem. Too many have been too quiet for too long. And, on this point, we must applaud the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It took income inequality and corporate responsibility out of the shadows and into the streets.

A report released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that about two-thirds of Americans now perceive a strong conflict between the rich and poor in this country. That was up 19 percentage points from 2009.

As The New York Times pointed out in regard to the report, “conflict between rich and poor now eclipses racial strain and friction between immigrants and the native-born as the greatest source of tension in American society.”

And this has nothing to do with envy and everything to do with fairness.

Elizabeth Warren, who is now running for the Senate seat that Romney ran for in 1994 and didn’t get, probably rebuts this myth of class warfare best by reframing the discussion in terms of a “social contract” between the rich and the rest of society. At one of her campaign events, she explained:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there, good for you. But, I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea. God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

That is the corporate Contract With America: societal symbiosis. We create a society in which smart, hard-working people can be safe and prosper, and they in turn reinvest a fair share of that prosperity back into society for posterity.

Everyone benefits.

But somewhere along the way this got lost. Greed got good. The rich wanted all of the societal benefits and none of the societal responsibilities. They got addicted to seeing profits go up and taxes go down, by any means necessary, no matter the damage to the individual or the collective. Those Maseratis weren’t going to pay for themselves.

And the resulting income inequality helped to stall economic mobility.

As The New York Times reported last week, “many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe.” The Times report speculated that: “One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.”

Indeed, a November report by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project pointed out, “In the United States, there is a stronger link between parental education and children’s economic, educational, and socio-emotional outcomes than in any other country investigated.”

Pew has found that most children raised at the top of the income spectrum stay there and most raised at the bottom stay at the bottom.

An equal opportunity to success is central to this country’s optimistic ethos, but income inequality and corporate greed are making a lie of that most basic American truism. The rich and their handmaidens on the political right have consolidated America’s wealth on the ever-narrowing peak of a steep hill and greased the slope. And they want to cast everyone at the bottom as lazy or jealous, without acknowledging the accident of birth and collusion of policies that helped grant them their perch.

Income inequality is a threat to this country and the middle class that made her great. If Romney wants to be president, he needs to understand that.

As Alan Krueger, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on Thursday, “I think it is clear that we can’t go back to the type of policies that exacerbated the rise in inequality and threatened economic mobility in the first place if we want an economy that builds the middle class.”

Not envy Mr. Romney. Opportunity.


By: Charles Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 13, 2012

January 14, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare, GOP, Middle Class | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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