Archive for January, 2014

ImageThis week The Wall Street Journal decided to publish a letter from a San Franciscan billionaire, Tom Perkins, who claims that the 1% in this nation are being treated like the Jews were before the Holocaust. The absurdity is hard to even comprehend. He is obviously a billionaire that has become so enclosed in his own world of greed and egotism that he can actually paint himself as a victim.

However, the real question is why The Wall Street Journal would feel the need to publish such a letter which is so clearly over the top. An outlet such as The Wall Street Journal surely has hundreds of letters which to choose from, probably from various political perspectives. However, they choose to publish mind-blowing ignorance like this, and then try to take a step back and act like they are trying to respect all voices.

Well, not all voices should be equally respected. Not all voices are legitimate. Comparing anger at the inequality in society to the racial hatred and genocide carried by Hitler is not a legitimate argument. It not only is horrible historically (most Jews were on the political left in Germany). It is so mind-numbingly ignorant that it should be an embarrassment to print in one of the most widely read newspapers in the world.

It is an example of what some people of come to call Godwin’s Law. Essentially Godwin’s Law states that when have to compare whatever political or social issues you are discussing to Nazi Germany or Hitler you have automatically lost the argument and should not be taken seriously. I know the Wall Street Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and there ultimate goal is to protect the interest of the wealthy elite. However, they should be ashamed to be publishing this type of absurdity.


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downloadThere has been an idea in the United States going back to at least the 19th Century that if an individual works hard, they can move themselves out of poverty and up the economic ladder. These stories were popularized by writers such as Horatio Alger and became used as a justification for the inequalities that the capitalist system produces. Anyone could become wealthy and successful if they just tried hard enough.

There is no doubt that there have been cases where this has happened. There have been people who grow up in working class or poor families who become extremely wealthy. Andrew Carnegie was the best example of this back in the mid-1800s. However, what we need to realize is that these individuals are the extremely small exception to the rule. Most people born into wealth stay wealthy, and most people born into poverty stay poor. Those who do go from rags to riches usually had a brilliant streak of being at the right place at the right time, as hard work alone cannot account for the change.

This myth that if you work hard, you can become wealthy has always been overstated in the United States. It was exaggerated in the Gilded Age, and it is exaggerated now. In fact, among major developed nations, only the United Kingdom and Italy have less economic mobility than the United States. Any economic mobility we do have is almost exclusively because of public education, government college assistance, and programs to support low and middle-income families. Of course, these are programs that those on the right want to reduce or cut out completely.

While the rags to riches stories may be motivational, they are dangerous if they distort the true social realities and the extreme difficulties of economic mobility. They also can be damaging because they distract from a focus on building a better society to an individualistic dream of excessive wealth.  We do not need to hear more rags to riches stories; we need to see a society where all people are given real tools to succeed and where a nation’s success is shared by all not just a wealthy few.

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ImageTonight, Texas is set to execute Edgar Arias Tamayo who is a Mexican national. This is despite the fact that he was never given the option to talk with a Mexican diplomat at the time of his arrest, defying the Vienna Convention and international law. John Kerry has asked Rick Perry and the Attorney General of Texas, Greg Abbot, to hold off on the execution; however, they have refused.

Some may see this as just a minor technicality in a case of someone who murdered a Houston police officer. However, it is not insignificant or minor issue. It shows who we are as a nation. We are the nation where another governor from Texas ordered military strikes and started a war against Iraq for defying international law (which ironically was illegal as well). We cannot claim to be outraged against other countries that defy international treaties and then simply ignore them when we want to carry out our antiquated system of capital punishment.

More importantly, this case once again shows the blindness of the United States on this issue. Why are we the only western nation that still practices Capital Punishment? What do we gain from it? We certainly lose great respect from the rest of the world as we not only execute our citizens, but foreign citizens as well. We also live in a country where Edgar Tamayo would be less likely to be executed if he were rich and white. As a country that claims to be a force for good in the world, this is simply unacceptable.

If Obama had the courage, he should simply pardon Edgar Tamayo for execution (at the minimum to respect international law). Of course, he will not do that as it would inflame the right and make him a target for attack. So, tonight, Edgar Tamayo will most likely be put to death. Once again it serves as a shame to our nation, our values, and the faith we often flaunt publically, but fail to actually practice.

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King_Jr_Martin_Luther_093.jpgThis past Monday, Sarah Palin tweeted that in honor of Martin Luther King day and his dream of being judged by the content of your character rather than the color of your skin, Barack Obama should stop playing the race card. The absurdity of the statement is hard to even start to explain, but I think much can be understood by seeing how Martin Luther King’s real message has been all too often warped into a non-controversial message that justifies the status quo.

For one, if Martin Luther King were still alive today the likes of Sarah Palin would be calling him a Socialist and anti-American. They certainly would not be calling him one of their heroes. We often forget the radical nature of Dr. King’s message in condemning the inequality that our capitalist system brings, the extremely violent and unjustified foreign policy of the United States, and a call for a type of Democratic Socialist system.  There was a reason he made enemies of J. Edgar Hoover and was being spied on by the FBI.  It was not because he was just a lovable defender of the status quo which some want to make him out to be today.

Of course, Barack Obama has done anything but play the race card. If anything, he has shied away from talking about real issues of racial inequality and injustice out of the fear of being accused of using race as a political tool. However, what people like Sarah Palin need to understand was that any talk about racial injustice is not “playing the race card”. In many instances, it is pointing out true societal realities that the dominant class does not want to acknowledge. The sick irony of using Martin Luther King’s message to silence any talk of racial injustice is beyond belief.

It is hard for people in the dominant class like Sarah Palin to understand that real racism still exists. She has not been followed around in a store because of the color of her skin. She has never been discriminated for a job based on her ethnic background. The majority of the white population turn a blind eye to the fact that our criminal justice system is highly discriminatory to the black community.

Sarah Palin is right in saying that King did not want people to be judged by the color of their skin. However, she is mutilating his message by using it to say that we should never talk about issues of race or injustice in the society. We need to recapture the often radical message of Martin Luther King who was not interested in justifying the status quo or defending the ruling class, but rather making a more equal society through a non-violent, yet forceful resistance.

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