Martin Luther King & Barack Obama

by Paul Olson,
NFP President Emeritus

I write on Martin Luther King Day: a day we celebrate being nice to each other—no bad racist talk, no insults, diversity—and that’s about it. Ronald Reagan, an affable old man who never said nasty things to black people’s faces, declared the day. But Reagan’s White House, according to Secretary of Education Terrell Bell, was full of talk about “Martin Luther Coon,” and Reagan himself ran a racist campaign for president and destroyed the livelihoods of millions of members of our underclasses, both persons of color and white. In his Red-baiting days as the head of the movie actors’ union, in his union-busting days as the governor of California, and throughout his presidency, he deliberately destroyed unions and Affirmative Action, and shifted money to the military to destroy the social safety net.

Reagan hated King’s values. He destroyed unions for whose cause King died in Memphis. He multiplied military budgets, fostering spiritual death (see poster in Nebraska Report). And counter to Dr. King’s dream, the “sons of former slaves” and “sons of former slave owners” never sat down on the red hills of Georgia “at the table of brotherhood” during Reagan’s presidency. Nor, with catsup being declared a vegetable, did they get real food. (A lot of them don’t now—in the nation and in Nebraska, 20-25 percent of our kids are hungry or nutritionally challenged.)

Reagan escalated the class war by using government to impoverish the laboring and middle classes. Every president since has followed him. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, in their 2010 Winner Take All Politics, show that “while the share of America’s income gains between 1979 and 2005 for the bottom middle- and lower-income 60 percent of the population was just 13.5 percent (and most of that gain came from working longer hours), the top 0.1 percent’s share was over 20 percent. In other words, the top 300,000 Americans gained half again as large a slice of income as the bottom 180 million.” Hacker and Pierson demonstrate that the lower and middle classes’ impoverishment—and the ballooning of the robber barons—did not result from educational deficits in our workers. Government created it: bank deregulation, union-busting, and tax-cuts for the rich. The 1 percent used government to destroy the 99 percent.

Winner-take-all-politics now prepares us for more war, more domination of the world’s resources by the 1 percent.

The other day Barack Obama gave a speech purportedly announcing cuts to the military budget. In my excitement, I immediately called the NFP State Office to say, “Barack is going to cut $487 billion from the current budget, almost what NFP had been advocating!!” Then I gradually realized—I am a little dense—that no real cuts from the present budget were implied and virtually nothing from immediately future budgets. All the ‘cuts’ were at rainbow’s end. These putative cutbacks, it turns out however, will in no way spell the end of America’s military adventurism, as the President explained that, henceforth, we will now be going after “the Pacific”—i.e. China.

Imagine I dream of a $400,000 Lamborghini, then realize I am broke. So, still broke, I go purchase a $75,000 Land Rover to drive up Mount Everest. Everest in this metaphor is China. We are going to take on China with our ‘littler’ budget.

All observers agree that Obama’s shift from the Middle East to “the Pacific,” as he calls it, is a shift to confront China. We are preparing new bases in Australia, ramping up our military in South Korea and Japan, creating our somewhat secret and movable bases in the Philippines, and giving a lot of military aid to Taiwan. Our efforts to control North Korea, to separate Myanmar from its Chinese patrons, and to drive a wedge between Iran and China are less inspired by democratic sentiment than antipathy to China’s allies—all admittedly rogues. But limiting the damage possible from these countries is more appropriate to the United Nations and the international community than to the U.S.

Remember how Obama once spoke about how international dialogue rather than war creates our strategic future. No dialogue now. Obama’s recent speech envisages war with China and, prior to that, endless military spending.

War with China? Why?

China is our banker, source of cheap goods, and buffer against Russia: the largest military power in the world next to us. Obama said, in the same speech, that we plan to keep our military expenditures at least ten times those of our nearest rival, i.e. China. But why? Why confront China?

Because it is there! We are little kids playing ‘king-of-the-mountain’ with the world’s future.

Nothing more illustrates the power of the Military-Industrial Complex than what has happened to Obama. Elected as a peace candidate, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he has become the apologist for cutting what: A fictional $489 billion—about what the sequester budget requires, nothing more. Defense spending will still grow about 20 percent per year and be more than it was in 2007, a high-water mark in the George W. era.

Obama knows that we do not need such a budget: 1000 overseas bases, endless weapons systems dreamed up in the pork barrel, weapons all over space. He knows that now about one third of U.S. people are poor, that 20-25 percent of its children are hungry, that essentially one in ten are unemployed, and that military spending generates very few jobs. He knows our security is our people. But he knows and fears the power of ‘superpacs’ and corporate spenders. He should channel Ron Paul on defense spending and wars. He should channel Roosevelt and Johnson on poverty in America. He should channel Martin Luther King in everything.

Write to Mr. Obama. Write to your Congress. Write while we have a country to gain or lose.

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