Generally speaking, as I have expressed herein numerous times, I am opposed to the use of force to deal with international conflict.  I have roundly criticized the use of drones, which has markedly increased since I last wrote.  Also, I believe that sovereign nations that do things wrong to its citizenry are not a direct threat to another country’s national security.  The recent Syrian attacks on civilians with the nerve agent Sarin are, indeed, heinous and should be condemned on humanitarian grounds at the very least.  However, I do not assent to the claim that the act itself approaches a level that is dangerous to the United States.  The explanation of the current Trump administration in launching fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles upon the Syrian airfield, from which the chemical attacks that killed one-hundred civilians emanated, was in reaction to the horrific acts by the government of Bashar al-Assad and a considerable threat to our national security.  Both aspects of that explanation, in my estimation, do not rise to the level of military violence by one country against another country.

In 2013, former President Barack Obama was perched on the edge of his seat to launch a military strike against Syria for murdering innocent children and other civilians with chemical weapons.  Obama was prepared to utilize the same missiles from vessels on the Mediterranean Sea.  At the last minute, so to speak, he constrained himself from so doing because he was being criticized for proceeding unilaterally, i.e., without consulting with the U.N Security Council and our Allies.  At the time, the atmosphere of racism in the U.S. Congress and the concomitant opposition to anything Obama sought by Republicans politicized their denial of Obama’s request allegedly on the grounds that Syria’s odious internal aggression did not constitute a threat to U.S. security.

Donald Trump did not want to wait on the majority Republican Congress to discuss the matter.  Instead, he made up his mind to demonstrate his willingness to use the military to reprimand Assad.  His decision went deeper than his expressed aversion to the sight of poisoned, incapacitated, and dying children.  He has been trying desperately to change the narrative of all the concerns with his campaign and presidency concerning Russian, his low approval rating, and the dysfunction of his administration.  Without a real plan for dealing with Syria and other countries in the Arab world, this operation could only address domestic issues rather than reveal any coherent foreign policy.  But the media is adept at allowing Trump to change the focus of their coverage of the executive branch.

His criticism of Obama is intentionally deceptive, if it is not subtle or incisive.  Clearly, he is not aware that his desires to distort Obama’s legacy must be based upon facts and not fictions or illusions.  For were he about the truth, Trump would indicate how he had agreed with the decision not to bomb Syria back in 2013.  Now that he’s in power, he wants to exercise it because he has demonstrated an obvious ignorance on how to govern.

We shall see what happens next.  I forever long for the day when nations will seriously and sincerely try to settle differences peacefully.  I don’t want to think it is a pipe dream, but as time marches on, I’m afraid, my idealistic faith is far from hopeful in waking up to such a day!

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America, Wake Up!

In the last section of the final chapter of his June 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, Martin Luther King, Jr., focuses on the evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. Analyzing and assessing the persistence of discrimination, the wealth gap, and warmongering, he proclaims that the United States needs a “true revolution of values.” He characterizes the urgency of the moment and argues for a redistribution of income and assets, a restructuring of society that embraces a democratic socialism like Sweden, and stronger diplomatic efforts to build a safer, more harmonious world.

At the time, there were many critics of his book. People announced the end of the civil rights movement and eulogized King as a has-been who was now out of his element and could not conjure up any type of leadership for the future. Of course, these death-knell commentaries and punditries were primarily attempts to divert attention from the issues of poverty, institutional racism, and American exceptionalism by making ad hominem attacks against King. However, this xenophobia and fear mongering did not deter him from delivering countless speeches supporting a guaranteed annual income, educational opportunities, affordable housing, job training and retraining, and affirmative action. He was wont to aver, “the whole Jericho Road must be changed,” and pointed to altering the status quo through concerted, continual, and nonviolent confrontation with the socioeconomic and political structures, processes, policies, and services of our society.

In July of that year, King addressed the “present crisis in civil rights” by declaring the need for “a radical redistribution of economic and political power.” He asserted, “An edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.” By November and December of 1967, with the prodding of Marian Wright and Sen. Robert Kennedy, King announced the SCLC’s intention to organize a Poor People’s Campaign in the nation’s capital, beginning in the late spring/early summer of the following year: to demonstrate the plight of the needy, to demand fundamental change in capitalist structures and processes, and to insist monies supporting the futile war in Vietnam revert back adequately to fund the domestic War on Poverty. Subsequently, he set out to publicize this campaign of civil disobedience across the country and to secure commitments from people of every hue.

However, King got waylaid in Memphis, Tennessee, by the garbage workers’ strike, and he was assassinated before he could establish the campaign in D.C. For many, it was a relief that King was gone, for he was whittling away at those who still supported U.S. escalation of the war in Vietnam. It turned out he was right about that unwinnable involvement, right about the use of poor and disadvantaged young men to die on the battlefields, right about the crippling increase in the chasm between the rich and the poor, right about the white backlash and the entrenchment of institutional racism after the walls of segregation came tumbling down, right about racial profiling and the absence of community policing, right about the need for increasing the minimum wage, and right about the necessity of effectuating positive social change. Most of his critics were wrong, for they were ignorant of how the revolution King sought would redound to the favor of the entire citizenry. Their reactionary stance against his opposition to gradualism, or inertia, eventuated in the worsening of income inequality, the prison-industrial complex, Western imperialism, our resort to war, and the arrogation of power and authority to corporate America and narrow special interests.

King’s patriotic dissatisfaction with and dissent against U.S. domestic and foreign policies gave voice to those forced, or compelled, to be silent and straightened the backs of the numberless people suffering under “the iron feet of oppression.” We rarely hear that palpable, barefaced eloquence in our contemporary society! Instead, we listen to the many and sundry excuses for staying with the current state of affairs and not rocking the boat—despite the devastating turbulence of establishment structures and processes. We are fed the lines that revolution is not possible and change is unrealistic. Balderdash! The saying by George Santayana is so true: “Those who cannot remember the past [and learn from their mistakes] are condemned to repeat it.”

Even though a pervasive revolutionary spirit forged the formulation and formation of a new nation, we have thenceforward repeatedly decried and suppressed advocates of revolution–even if their causes were intent on constructive social change.  Often, many who would benefit from such change have opposed it because of overwhelming uncertainty, neurosis, or dread about being in a different environment.  Just as voters frequently cast ballots against their interests, today, would-be beneficiaries of change routinely have regularly allowed xenophobic people in power—who would profit from maintaining the status quo—to scare them into submission and discourage them from pursuit of a more egalitarian society.

The brilliant King was characterized as stupid, lacking in specificity regarding his blueprint for change, incapable of discussing American foreign policy, and unable to lead the ongoing nonviolent struggle for equity, justice, and peace.  He kept going anyhow, although suffering intermittently from bouts of depression.  In retrospect, we realize his critics were primarily blowing smoke, so to speak, and as Shakespeare put in the mouth of Macbeth, they were “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!”  They were trying to despoil King’s seeds of change by arguing he was on infertile ground and little, if anything, could come of it!  Unfortunately, many listened. Sadder still, many were colleagues in the earlier battles against Jim Crow, yet they joined in the calumny—abandoning King for greener pastures among perpetuators of the status quo!  They were blinded by the cataracts of greed, selfishness, complacency, and contentment and could no longer envision the bright future of an emerging beloved community. They opted for cowardice, popularity, prudence, and convenience, instead of for morality, ethics, compassion, and sacrifice.  They embraced and personified Mahatma Gandhi’s explication of the seven deadly social sins–wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, and politics without principle–and relinquished King’s appeal for distributive justice and a more equitable democratic republic.  For shame!

King was smarter than most. After he received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston University, many prestigious universities sought him out to teach at their universities. King refused. He humbled himself and journeyed back to the South to become a country preacher and to become a pastor that stressed the importance of community outreach. Ralph Waldo Emerson captured it well: “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

The story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving was poignant for King. He lifted up the fact that as the character went up one of the Catskill Mountains to get away from his nagging wife and the drudgery of work, a picture of King George III of England was posted on a sign at the town’s inn; but when he came down from the mountain, twenty years later, after falling asleep from some powerful moonshine, a picture of George Washington was on the sign. According to King, the essence of the story was not the length of time Van Winkle had slept or that his wife was dead or he had a son who bore his name—oh, no! Rather, it was that “he had slept through a revolution that would alter the course of human history”! Van Winkle had slept through a revolution! Today, we, too, are sleeping through a revolution in our midst. Awake!

Awake! Before it is too late!

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Original Intent of the Second Amendment

It is very clear to me that the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was not a provision for the individual citizen to own and carry arms. Rather, it was obviously a collective right to defend the nation’s independence and to preserve the constitution. Following on the heels of the American Revolution, a major concern for the members of this young country was to make sure that other nations would not try to take over and to guard against our own government from becoming tyrannous. Consequently, states were given the ability to have armed citizens who would together serve to protect the state and the nation from attempted coups and sedition.

The interpretation of the Second Amendment as a permission for citizens to own guns for their individual pleasure, for sport, for intimidation and threat, and for the protection of personal property is a blatant misconstrual of its meaning and purpose. The beginning of the amendment is clearly a statement of intent, and not simply an example picked willy-nilly by James Madison or Thomas Jefferson. The express direction is in defense of the democratic republic and not for citizens to stockpile arsenals of any and every kind for whatever tacit reason.

Today, the right to bear arms is mostly defended as an individual right with no regulation or infringement by government. That perspective reveals a distorted version of history and does not reflect the collective nature of the statement. After all, why would there be any discussion of a militia, if the purpose were to affirm and ensure a recreational and/or vindictive individual activity? The reason why militia is in the statement is simply because it is referring as a whole to the collective defense of the rights and liberties of the new republic.

There are a number of reasons why there is a twenty-first-century debate in this country over the Second Amendment. They all boil down to the politicization of the violence in our society. Despite the fact that violence has declined over the past decade in the nation as a whole, violent incidents in certain communities have increased and mass killings have become more frequent and devastating. The proliferation of gun sales and the increase in accidents demonstrate the emphasis on individual rights, on the one hand, and the stupidity of gun possession, on the other hand. The lobbying efforts of the well-financed National Rifle Association, the acquiescence of elected officials to the NRA, and the feckless decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 have conspired to promote the amendment as a statement anchoring individual and state’s rights rather than as its original purpose of collective protection of the United States. These misdirected forays in the midst of violence and terror alerts nevertheless fly in the face of the will of the masses of people who express a desire for further gun regulation.

These rigid supports for the faulty interpretation of the amendment forced Pres. Obama to go around them to respond to the majority of the people. Certainly, his executive orders will not end violence, especially while a surfeit of guns are out there and many who have them like to take the law into their own hands or to go on the offensive with them for a multiplicity of excuses. Regardless, a variety of actions need to occur to tackle the proliferation of gun possession and the continuation of gun violence in our society. Obama’s executive order is just the beginning of a renewed effort to tackle this intransigent, multifaceted issue. True to form, opponents of these endeavors are criticizing the president’s and similar others’ actions for selfish, individualistic reasons rather than for the defense and preservation of our democratic republic, i.e., the collective. For this reason, it is understandable why the Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, would slip up and call his state “practically a nation-state” during a recent interview with a BBC newsperson on National Public Radio. Clearly, his concern was not for the whole.

Let’s reread the Second Amendment, sharpen up on our understanding of the English language, and grab a few historical references to investigate the shaping of the Bill of Rights. I am confident that an honest and sincere look will seriously call into question the individualistic interpretation and a newfound appreciation for the collective-right view!

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Nonviolent Approach to Terrorism?

The recent decision to send combat troops to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq comes as no surprise. Pressure was rising against Pres. Barack Obama’s ostensible indecisiveness over how to curtail the encroachments of the Islamic State in the region, so much so that this new initiative was rather predictable.

It is not as if the Obama administration has been doing nothing with regards to the terrorist insurgents. After all, he has been droning them continuously and increasingly conducting airstrikes against them. What is striking, however, is the absence of any discussion about nonviolent, diplomatic means of grappling with international conflict. We keep alive the notion that “we do not negotiate with terrorists,” and we do not engage in substantive debate over proportional use of force or effective alternatives to outright war.

Nowadays, we easily accept the quick resort to surging our military presence and attacks. As a matter of fact, we deride and/or dismiss people who seek to battle against our hawkish predisposition while offering a rigorous and sustained diplomatic approach. Often, those who have pacifist inclinations are reluctant to face the barrage of criticisms that claim they are weak, idealistic, sentimental, and illogical. It is, indeed, overwhelming at times to receive captious remarks about impracticality, incompetence, and perfectionism and still seek to persuade leaders and the masses to ponder the possibilities of another way.

Last year, it was very disturbing to hear former CIA director Leon Panetta projected that tangling with ISIL and other terrorists in Iraq and Syria would transpire over thirty years and would more likely expand to Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere! We are already in a war that has been longer than any other war in our history; imagining that we will be embroiled in this battle for three decades more is simply mind-boggling! We cannot be resigned or insouciant to this prognosis, for to do so would eventuate in a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Edmund Burke asserted in his Letter to Sheriffs, “A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.” He also taught us, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Such a statement is a clarion call for all of us to work together to reach for a just, sustainable, and peaceful society.

From my perspective, the most certain way to accomplish international accord is through the coherence, or unity, of means and ends. Well aware that we do not live in a perfect world, I try not to be absolutist in my outlook on foreign affairs. But I do believe that we should attempt to reach harmony in a manner that fundamentally upholds the dignity and worth of human beings. Simply put, if we desire real peace, we must purport to achieve it by concord, reconciliation, and amity.

Special ops over a long period of time mean military and civilian casualties all around as well as a coterie of collateral damages. Because of our growing distance from the horrors of war, we are impervious to the resultant traumas and ignore mutually assured destruction. We have no compass of disdain. Echoing again from Burke, we understand “the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”

In one sense, I feel governmental leaders are like children who just can’t seem to discuss matters civilly. The primary resort is quickly to develop a military operation and to attack. What has historically been the result of such action? It has not defeated the enemy we were seeking—even when high-profile terrorist leaders have been apprehended and killed. Somehow and someway, the leaders’ organizations have continued to operate: attracting new members and becoming entrenched in some other location, where fight training resumes for future attacks. We cannot continue to react in the same manner and expect a different result. Other strategies are necessary as well as alternatives to such insanity.

Yesterday, the British parliament voted to support Prime Minister David Cameron to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Within less than twenty-four hours, the attack had begun. This type of unilateral response is bad foreign policy, for it does not show any intention of seeking a unified coalition of countries in anti-terrorist activities or consultation with the United Nations’ peacekeeping endeavors. Singular military action does not bode well for the future formation of partnerships to confront and eliminate international conflict.

It is always time to search for alternatives to violence and to find effective approaches to terrorism and other kinds of warfare.  This research should not be left up to pacifists, who are attacked and ridiculed.  Rather, this exploration should be conducted continuously by the two houses of Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government.  When we do not try to discover and put to use these nonviolent means, we increase the possibilities of new and different sorts of killing in the world. The hard work needs to be done on an ongoing basis to address and hopefully redress—as well as prevent—the heinous atrocities taking place around the globe.

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The extension of U.S. troops in Afghanistan comes as no surprise, for the Taliban and al-Qaeda have ramped up their terrorist efforts in that war-torn country. The governmental troops have had some recent success, but they are still ill equipped to defend the nation without the assistance of international forces. This position is the stance of the Obama Administration, and it appears to be a righteous one on the surface.

The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan since 2001, and its involvement in actions there makes the war against terror the longest combat endeavor in U.S. history! Part and parcel of the presence of American servicepersons in Afghanistan has been to train indigenous troops to become effective gatekeepers against guerrilla and terrorist insurgencies. For a decade and a half, the United States, Great Britain, and other countries in NATO and in the Mediterranean have been engaged in this confrontation. Why is it that such a long period of time has not fortified Afghan forces to counter rebellion? Why are we given an earful that another year before drawing down troops from Afghanistan will make a difference—especially when nearly fifteen years has not accomplished that goal yet?

We all have heard that doing the same thing over and over again while expecting the same result is a clear definition of insanity. Espionage, drone attacks, military presence, economic sanctions, and a variety of threats have not been able significantly to reduce the reign of terror in the world. Why are we determined to persist in failed foreign policies? Despite the fact the United States has not been attacked on its own soil does not mean that the world, including our country, is a safer place. Evidently, it is not.

Human beings make mistakes, and many of those mistakes are serious. Whereas mistakes are often transcendable and forgivable, and we understand and appreciate that fact, we must also dispose ourselves toward comprehending the necessity of the interplay of theory and practice and apprehending the lessons from our intermittent faux pas. In other words, George Santayana told us a long time ago that “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

One thing we need to do at this time is to find creative ways to engage in diplomatic efforts with our opponents. After all, in this game of life, we are all culpable, imperfect, and self-serving. Surely, it would be in our selfish interests to make the world a safer place in which to live and to help others outside this nation to become fuller participants in the world. This position does not originate from naiveté. However, as long as we maintain an us versus them posture, we will not be capable of contributing to reducing violence around the globe. In addition, we have to own up to our own imperialistic methods that have perpetuated our economic stance in the world and perpetrated material dependency ubiquitously.

Yes, it means re-envisioning our character upon the global stage and how to make international relations a more harmonious process. The emergence of this new stance is something that will take a lot of reconfiguration and a more reasonable self-concept. American exceptionalism must be abandoned as the supercilious tomfoolery it always was, and a willingness to work cooperatively for the development of a synergistic global village must come to fruition.

This new vision of the United States can only happen through the coming together of like-minded individuals, the inculcation of others to this way of thinking, and holistic organization that focuses on massive, unrelenting constructive criticism of our government and its structures, processes, policies, and services. This proactive advocacy for a different worldview will take indefatigable work for a long period of time.

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Without exception, I am opposed to the death penalty.  Regardless of the heinousness of the crime, I do not believe state-sponsored killing is appropriate.  I am a nonviolence practitioner and hold to the pacifist faith; hence, my firm disagreement over capital punishment is coherent with my individual and social ethics.

Some argue in favor of the death penalty from a punitive perspective: the degree of justice must be commensurate with or proportional to the extent of the pernicious perpetration.  If a person kills another, especially in a premeditated manner and not out of self-defense, then the murderer should also lose one’s life.  This point of view seems fair and logical on the surface.  However, there are different forms of justice: retributive, procedural, procedural, and distributive, to name a few.  When determining what best suits a particular homicide, relevant types of justice should always be considered.  Killing the murderer is a tit for tat, quid pro quo, eye for an eye reaction to what horrifies or scandalizes us.  Ostensibly, it is fair; but decisions about fairness depend on values and morals, sociocultural ethos, emotional intelligence, context, and so forth.  Retribution might appear to be equal justice, but its goal inveterately remains revenge, i.e., getting one’s condign deserts.

I empathize with those who suffer loss; most of us do.  The unnecessary and sudden demise of a person is always tragic and can be understandably infuriating, yet vengeful killing does not accomplish anything constructive and gratification or fulfillment is utterly elusive.  It is not justice.  Rather, it is a weird kind of selfishness that cannot really satisfy for obvious and subtle reasons.  Any amount of punishment meted out against the perp will not bring back the dead.  The loss will always be sad and difficult.  Killing the criminal precludes the possibility of redemption.  And the state colludes with the posture of payback instead of exercises its transcendent moral and judicious authority.  Nothing is accomplished save another death, and the void among the mourners lasts as long as their memory cords lengthen.

Furthermore, I am not a fan of restorative justice in the sense of seeking to reconcile perpetrators with mourners.  That kind of appeasement is too saccharin for me, and unrealistic, in my opinion.  Perhaps, such conciliation might momentarily lighten the burdens of family, relatives, and friends, and assuage the guilt of murderers.  However, I think of these psychological maneuvers as cosmetic gestures and not germane to the provision of justice and fairness.  I guess I incline towards ensuring public safety, making bereavement services available to those in need of it, requiring due process under law for offenders, and balancing sentencing with rehabilitative services, education, and medical treatment.  Violence breeds violence, and one salient way to stop that vicious cycle is to offer effective alternatives that do not mirror the brutality of the offense or palliate the vengefulness of the bereaved.

So what next?  If not capital punishment, then what?  From my vantage point, the answer depends on what paradigm we use for our society.  I am not overly idealistic: I realize that malignancy and inhumanity abound in every place on this globe.  Nevertheless, I maintain that character can change and people who were once obstreperous and abusive can become disciplined and mannerly with intervention and assiduous effort.  Whereas I note that sentencing life without the possibility of parole has numerous supporters, I stand unconvinced that this ruling ought to be universal for all murderers.  Social facts and contextual circumstances must be examined together in order to analyze a situation comprehensively.  “Without the possibility of parole”—could such a sentence ever be too extreme, restrictive, and not generalizable?  I believe it could.  If we believe that people can actually change for the better, then peremptory sentencing must answer to the axiological, personalistic, and communitarian aspects of moral law.

In what type of society do you want to reside?  That is the fundamental question.  I want to live in a land where we work indefatigably to prevent the marginalization of people and afford every person the opportunity to participate fully in the body politic.  This endeavor requires us to remove the obstacles to success and continually to identify the causes and effects of lawlessness, chicanery, and resort to violence.  Once these ills are known, we could develop ways to eradicate them and, at least, shape a society in more wholesome, compassionate, and purposeful ways.

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All the negative hoopla about President Barack Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, February 5, 2015, should stop. First of all, it was a brief reference to the Crusades and the Inquisition, to which Obama alluded in demonstrating that even Christians have engaged in immoral violence. I do not believe that Obama really offended anyone, except those who do not understand their own humanity. Obama cautioned humility when referring to one’s faith, for as long as we are all on this side of the Jordan River, so to speak, we make many mistakes and commit many atrocities. We all need to do better—even Christians!

It is very peculiar that very few are making comments about Obama’s references to slavery and Jim Crow. Or is it? Of course not! Slavery and Jim Crow are too close to home—for the pernicious practices of those two historical facts were committed primarily by people who confessed and professed Christianity. Institutional discrimination that still continues to this day is perpetrated fundamentally by Christians. It is as if most of the commentators slamming Obama have no comprehension of lynching and treating human beings inhumanely in this country. Just because we now have the Internet and social media galore does not mean that the hidden killings of countless individuals of indigenous, African, and Latin descent is not as egregious as the horrific beheadings and burning of people by Isis.

I ask that you do an Internet search and discover the whole speech by Obama at the prayer breakfast. You will find that Obama received numerous applause throughout his remarks. In actual fact, his address was quite poignant, piquant, and moving, and I would suggest that everyone take a look at it. I do not necessarily like a head of state waxing religious or sharing one’s personal faith in public settings, so I did feel a bit awkward when I first perused his remarks. However, in light of all the criticisms levied against Obama, I want to lift up his statement as an example of what adherents to Christianity should consider and should do.

It is so easy to grab an excerpt of a person’s speech and to parade it around as if that is all the person said. Inevitably, doing so results in distortion or corruption of the original full comments—and that is, indeed, what has happened with Obama’s talk at the prayer breakfast. Whether the juxtaposition of Muslim extremists with Christian perpetrators of evil seems a bit untimely or ill-advised or awkward in some way, let us not forget that we can find people of murderous malevolence in all religions and in all humanity regardless of their philosophies or worldviews. Such is the nature of human affairs—but isn’t it great that such evil is not the practice of the majority of us?

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I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong:
He’s left so many signs that tell his mind.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

His care for those who ached all the day long
Engrossed him humane solutions to find.
I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong.

He spoke inspiring words to lift the throng,
Compelling them to treat each other kind.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

He read of Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong;
With Jesus, Gandhi, Niebuhr, he aligned.
I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong.

A revolution of values crooned Chong;
From Royce details of beloved he divined.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

I wish we all could hear his words so strong,
And share the melody he once opined.
I think with King most folks get the rhyme wrong.
What joy it is to sing his simple song!

Happy Birthday, Martin!

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During the last three years of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr., was making some changes in his approach to realizing his vision of the beloved community.

After having received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964 and witnessing the Voting Rights Bill enacted into law the following year; King was acutely aware of the challenges ahead. Issues concerning educational attainment, Job training, employment opportunities, poverty, and militarization became increasingly important since the so-called cosmetic changes relating to interstate travel, public accommodations, civil rights, and the franchise had been tackled.  King recognized the road ahead would be difficult and more complex because dealing with the multifaceted dimensions of economic development is a task that would impact and call into question the very nature of American society and its role in the world

It is easier for many of us to focus on the earlier King. As long as he was addressing racial discrimination in its overt forms, he was all right with us. Allowing a person to sit anywhere on a bus or to eat at whatever restaurant of one’s own choosing was not a serious concession to make.

However, attacking the gap between the haves and the have-nots in all of its social forms, which became King’s focus in the latter part of 1965until his assassination in April1968, met with much resistance. Why? Because it would concentrate on more subtle types of racial discrimination and call into question the very structure and processes of the American capitalist and militarist system.

King believed that the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites could be closed not only by improving the quality of schools in ghettoized neighborhoods, but also by improving the socioeconomic and political options available to the poor. He sought the cooperation of businesses to offer on-the-job training to help reshape the economic conditions of impoverished communities and improve the changes of the younger generation to realize success in life.

Since the employment picture was bleak, King also advocated a guaranteed annual income so that the poor would be able to meet the needs of their families. King championed a Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged to assist the indigent in becoming full participants in the fabric of our democratic republic.

In addition, King backed President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative. But because of the escalation of U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War, this endeavor was significantly diminished—much to King’s consternation. He believed that the war effort considerably diverted attention away from eliminating the concerns of the economically depressed and exploited, not to mention that the war sent young black men onto the battlefield abroad while they were continually locked out of equal opportunities at home.

King broadened the scope of his proactive concern for the poor by seeking by seeking to speak to all those who are economically strapped regardless of their racial and ethnic background. Thus was born the Poor People’s Campaign.

What King attempted to do was to gather people together in a tent city in the nation’s capital to bring the plight of the poor front and center. He wanted the Johnson administration and Congress to take seriously the War on Poverty by instituting steps to end economic injustice.

King was promoting a bold and dynamic nonviolent revolution that would take on the socio-structural problems of racism, poverty, militarism, materialism, and anticommunism. As a matter of fact, King had become increasingly convinced that the traditional tools of the civil rights movement—boycotts,sit-ins, demonstrations, etc.—were no longer effective in the new era of social action he was inaugurating.

He felt the time for depending on the largesse of the white population and for counting on governmental goodwill was over. Consequently, he was no longer averse to utilizing massive civil disobedience to sabotage the functioning of the social system until these structural problems were attended to and resolved. The world never got to see the radicalization of the Movement under King’s leadership. Today, we find the very things King desired to eliminate still plaguing us: racial and ethnic disparities in education, employment, economic class, health care, incarceration, home ownership, social mobility, and so forth. To honor King’s dream and to continue his search for the beloved community, we need to make a concerted effort to eliminate racism and poverty.

In 2015, 50 years after King’s decision to shift his focus and to wage a new nonviolent revolution, we should work together in creative ways to improve the lot of those who are suffering.

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Any representation of Martin Luther King, Jr., will always be hopelessly inadequate in my estimation—so enamored of the real deal am I!  I think the enactment by David Oyelowo is less than satisfactory; I feel he does not really capture the emotional intelligence, pathos, and warmth of personality that was Martin.  I realize that I am, perhaps, a bit unfair in my assessment, but I was less than thrilled by the acting in Selma overall.  I saw the film late at night after a long day of successive meetings, so maybe I was not in any condition to evaluate it properly.

The jumping back from the planning and beginning of Selma march to the September 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, depicting the murder of the four girls, was quite a shock and unexpected—since it was a year-and-a-half before Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965).  I’m not sure of director Ava DuVernay’s motivation for cutting to that tragic event, but it was certainly alarming to the audience and me.  However, maybe it was prescient.  For after the bombing of the church in Birmingham, a variety of activists began focusing on voting, including King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Even though a lot of attention was given to public accommodations in 1964, by the end of that year, the SCLC staff, through the encouragement of James Bevel and the invitation of Amelia Boynton, were inclined towards Selma and a multidimensional voting rights campaign.

What’s important here to realize is that the idea of focusing on voting was already underway in Mississippi.  After all, Freedom Summer was focused on registering blacks to vote.  The refusal to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City further brought home the necessity of demonstrating for elimination of de facto discrimination at election offices and at the polls.  Talk about a voting rights bill was happening long before the assassination of Pres. John F. Kennedy.

Consequently, the recent remark made by Joseph Califano that President Lyndon Johnson suggested a voting rights campaign to King in January of 1965 is preposterous.  Bevel had already proposed the idea and King and the SCLC staff had accepted it much prior to the latter’s conversation with Johnson to which Califano alludes.  Califano acts as if Johnson was a saint and was the lead orchestrator during this stage of the Civil Rights Movement.  That is absolutely false.  How soon Califano forgets that Johnson was opposed to King going into Saint Augustine, Florida, in the late spring of 1964 to continue to emphasize the need for passage of the civil rights bill.  Califano has a convenient amnesia that Johnson refused to seat the black delegation from Mississippi, despite King’s urging.  It was only through the dialogue between Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Joseph Rauh (among others) that suggested at least two persons from the MFDP be given a nonvoting seat.  Johnson was more concerned about reelection over Sen. Barry Goldwater, his Republican opponent, than the struggles for human decency being waged in the South.  Califano’s forgetfulness continues over Johnson’s initial conciliatoriness to Gov. George Wallace.  When an injunction was handed down against marching, Johnson was not supportive immediately after Bloody Sunday of the demonstrators to march unencumbered.  He was reluctant to federalize the National Guard.  How soon Califano forgets that King had to plead with Johnson to protect the marchers.  Some of Johnson’s staff was more progressive in this regard than the president.

In spite of the criticisms levied against the film, and regardless of my persnicketies about representations of King, I still strongly suggest people see Selma.  Most Americans since the generation of the 1960s are clueless about Jim Crow and the civil rights struggles starting during mid-twentieth century.  The film is not a documentary, but, rather, a popular screening subject to artistry, budgets, practicalities, and other creative and contingent factors.  Nevertheless, like all such projects—from media news to epic cinema—there is a mixture of fact and fiction, understatement and hyperbole, comic relief and melodrama.  Yet, because of our ignorance of past events or our revisionist histories à la Califano, watching the film can only enhance understanding of a part of our country’s development that ain’t too pretty and that can’t be denied!

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