Monday, January 21, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Democratic Socialist Vision

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Vision

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you’re raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, “Where do We Go from Here?” (1967)

The year 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s leadership of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. On January 21st, the nation will celebrate the King national holiday while inaugurating for the second time Barack Obama, the first African- American President of the United States. If Dr. King were alive today, he would acknowledge that the USA has traveled some way along the road towards racial equality.

 But Dr. King would also urge us to deepen the struggle against the triple evils of bigotry, poverty and militarism. Yes we have a more diverse and inclusive society; but Dr. King recognized that political and civil rights do not bring about full human freedom absent good jobs and economic security for all. That’s why Democratic Socialists of America is helping to build a broad coalition to mark the 50th anniversaries of Michael Harrington’s classic anti-poverty work, The Other America (1962), the 1963 March on Washington, and the not-yet-completed War on Poverty (1964). This DSA Fund project will work to renew efforts to eliminate mass poverty in the United States. (See and

 This is a time, in the spirit of Martin Luther King, to reflect upon the real challenges facing America: growing inequality, increasing poverty and the scarcity of good jobs.

 The last-minute Congressional budget “deal" to avoid the "fiscal cliff" imposes modest tax increases on the super-rich, but it leaves most wage earners and the most vulnerable members of our society exposed to economic disaster.

 Since the tax deal does not provide sufficient new revenues to fund essential government programs or current commitments, let alone to satisfy the “deficit hawks,” the key battles over national priorities as expressed in the federal budget have merely been deferred to the next session of Congress, where powerful special interests will try to use a fake “debt ceiling crisis” to protect their tax breaks and Pentagon contracts at the expense of the needs of the people.

 In November, the majority of Americans voted for a society that would be more compassionate. However, our voices have not been heard in the clamor raised by Tea Party Republicans and the corporate billionaire-funded “Fix the Debt Coalition.”

Poverty and unemployment continue at disastrous levels in many communities of color. Because of a foreclosure crisis that exacerbates persistently high rates of unemployment and underemployment, African-American and Hispanic communities have lost most of their meager net wealth. Considerable disparities persist in education, income, life expectancy, health and incarceration. In all, 20.5 million Americans have an income less than half the poverty line.

 The impact on children is staggering. Among children under 18 living in households headed by single mothers, 47% are poor. Only 27% of poor families with children receive public assistance. In fact, there are now more children living in deep poverty, often lacking access to adequate nutrition, healthcare or decent education, than there were 50 years ago before the “War on Poverty” was launched.

A key cause of growing poverty in all lower income communities is the rapid growth of low- wage jobs. Half the jobs in the country pay less than $33,000 per year, and a quarter pay less than the poverty line of $22,000 for a family of four. In many sectors, unions no longer are able to negotiate decent wages and benefits that had sustained a modest middle-class life style.

Compassion dictates that the highest national priority has to be to create jobs that yield a living income so that families can provide support and security for their children.

At the same time we must adequately fund those domestic government programs that provide essential support for the working poor and most vulnerable, such as child nutrition programs, Title 1 education funding, housing and home heating assistance. These programs are threatened by impending automatic cuts in “domestic discretionary spending.”

To meet human needs we also must also protect and expand Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs that keep seniors and disabled persons out of deep poverty. We could both improve health care outcomes and cut our health care costs by one-third if we took the profit motive out of medicine and instituted a “Medicare for All” system.

We must cut non-essential and bloated forms of government spending that primarily benefit large corporations, particularly on military procurement. We need to raise more revenues by closing tax loopholes exploited by large corporations and crony capitalists who have prospered in recent decades at the expense of the rest of us.

 It was not seniors, the disabled, lower income communities, and the working poor that caused the economic crisis, but they are the ones still bearing the brunt of the crisis through austerity.


 “You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of the slums. . . . There must be a better distribution of wealth . . . And maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speech to the SCLC staff Frogmore, S.C., November 14, 1966

Change the USA. Join the DSA!

MLK: A Radical Democratic Socialist

“One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you’re raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's not over yet. MLK's Vision of Economic Equality

It's not over yet.

Dr. King knew the struggle for justice wouldn’t end with integrated lunch counters. In this rare footage shot only a year before his death, he explains his vision of “genuine equality.”

Martin Luther King, Economic Justice, Workers Rights and Multiracial Democracy

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cornel West: President Obama Must Declare War on Poverty

Number of working poor continues to rise even as unemployment drops - The War Room with Jennifer Granholm // Current TV

The unemployment rate is decreasing — and the ranks of the working poor are increasing. In 2011, 32 percent of working families made $46,000 or less, which wasn’t enough to cover their basic living expenses. That’s a 4 percent jump from 2007.
Meanwhile, the richest 20 percent of the nation’s wealthiest working families took home nearly half of all wages. Cornel West, a prolific author and a religion professor at the Union Theological Seminary, joins Jennifer Granholm to discuss.

DSA Honorary Co-Chair Cornel West joins Jennifer Granholm to discuss ways to eliminate poverty in the U.S.

Travis Smily Calls for White House Conference on US Poverty

Vision for a New America:  A Future Without Poverty

Inequality Rages as Dwindling Wages Lock Millions in Poverty

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Martin Luther King, Economic Justice, Workers' Rights, and Multiracial Democracy

Martin Luther King, Economic Justice, Workers’ Rights, and Multiracial Democracy
by Thomas Jackson

In 1968, a united black community in Memphis stepped forward to support 1,300 municipal  sanitation workers as they demanded higher wages, union  recognition, and respect for black personhood embodied in the slogan “I Am a Man!” Memphis’s black women organized tenant and welfare unions, discovering pervasive  hunger among the city’s poor and black children. They demanded rights to food and medical care from a city and  medical establishment blind to their existence. That same  month, March 1968, 100 grassroots organizations met in  Atlanta to support Martin Luther King’s dream of a poor  people’s march on Washington. They pressed concrete  demands for economic justice under the slogan “Jobs or  Income Now!” King celebrated the “determination by poor  people of all colors” to win their human rights. “Established  powers of rich America have deliberately exploited poor  people by isolating them in ethnic, nationality, religious and  racial groups,” the delegates declared.
So when King came to Memphis to support the strike,  a local labor and community struggle became intertwined  with his dream of mobilizing a national coalition strong  enough to reorient national priorities from imperial war in  Vietnam to domestic reconstruction, especially in America’s  riot-torn cities. To non-poor Americans, King called for a  “revolution of values,” a move from self-seeking to service,  from property rights to human rights.

King’s assassination—and the urban revolts that  followed—led to a local Memphis settlement that furthered  the cause of public employee unionism. The Poor People’s  March nonviolently won small concessions in the national  food stamp program. But reporters covered the bickering and squalor in the poor people’s tent city, rather than the  movement’s detailed demands for waging a real war on poverty. Marchers wanted guaranteed public employment  when the private sector failed, a raise in the federal minimum wage, a national income floor for all families, and a national commitment to reconstruct cities blighted by corporate disinvestment and white flight. And they wanted poor people’s representation in urban renewal and social service programs that had customarily benefited only  businesses or the middle class. King’s dreams reverberated back in the movements that had risen him up.
It is widely believed that King’s deep dedication to workers’ rights and international human rights came late in life, when cities burned, Vietnamese villagers fled American napalm, and King faced stone-throwing Nazis in Chicago’s white working-class inner suburbs. But King began his public ministry in Montgomery in 1956, dreaming of “a world in which men will no longer take  necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.”  He demanded that imperial nations give up their power  and privileges over oppressed and colonized peoples struggling against “segregation, political domination, and  economic exploitation”—whether they were in South Africa or South Alabama.
King’s commitments to economic justice and  workers’ rights are becoming  more widely appreciated today as we continue to confront all of the  unresolved challenges King confronted in his day.

Beyond Civil Rights
Around 1964, King announced that the movement  had moved “beyond civil rights.” Constitutional rights to free assembly, equality in voting, and access to public accommodations had marched forward with little cost to thenation, he said. Human rights—to dignified work,  decent wages, income support, and decent housing for all Americans—would cost the nation billions of dollars.  In other speeches, however, King recognized that human  rights and civil rights were bound up with each other, part  of a “Worldwide Human Rights Revolution.”
The practical experience of building a movement had already made these connections. In Montgomery’s struggle to desegregate bus  seating, for example, King heralded the American “right  to protest for right,” but discovered that it was inseparable from the human rights to work and eat. Why? Hundreds of  African Americans were fired or evicted or denied public aid for expressing themselves politically, and King was  intimately involved in campaigns for their material relief.  This pattern continued throughout the 1960s. The southern  struggle for rights became a struggle against poverty long before Lyndon Johnson’s wars in Vietnam and on poverty.
Similarly, in New York City in 1959, King joined A. Philip Randolph and Malcolm X in supporting the  white, black and Puerto Rican hospital workers of New York’s newly organized Local 1199. Over 3,000 hospital workers—laundry workers, cafeteria workers, janitors and  orderlies—struck seven New York private hospitals. At the bottom of the new service economy they were legally barred  from collective bargaining; excluded from minimum wage protections and unemployment compensation; and denied the medical insurance that might give them access to the hospitals where they worked. Harlem’s black community rallied to their defense. King cheered a struggle that transcended “a fight for union rights” and had become a multiracial “fight for human rights.”

Today We Continue the Struggles
King’s commitments to economic justice and workers’ rights are becoming more widely appreciated today as we  continue to confront all of the unresolved challenges King  confronted in his day. Joblessness is still pervasive under  the official unemployment statistics, and wages remain too  low to lift millions of people out of poverty. Conservative  politicians and globalizing corporations have relentlessly  chipped away at union rights and workplace safety. Tattered  safety nets have become even shoddier for poor people who  are not capable of earning. Forty-seven million Americans  are, medically, second-class citizens. Unequal landscapes of  wealth and opportunity in housing and schools still make the words “American apartheid” a dirty but accurate epithet.  And again, in a different part of the world, our military  wages a war of empire cloaked in robes of democratic idealism. On the right, complacent religious leaders  preach family morality and personal responsibility, while  neglecting our collective moral commitments to materially  supporting “the least of these.” But across the country too,  citizens are uncovering stones of hope and finding new  democratic determination. We have come a long way, but  we have a long way to go, as King would say. Lost ground  and shattered dreams are bearable, he would have preached,  as we continue the struggles for multiracial democracy,  economic justice, and human dignity that were begun long  ago, under even more challenging circumstances than we  face today.

Thomas F. Jackson is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, and author of the prizewinning From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Struggle for Economic Justice (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paul Krugman: US Economic Policy Resulting in 'Vast, Unnecessary Catastrophe' | Common Dreams

Paul Krugman: US Economic Policy Resulting in 'Vast, Unnecessary Catastrophe' | Common Dreams

A tax deal only the ultra-rich could love

A tax deal only the ultra-rich could love « Talking Union

By Harold Meyerson
Harold Meyerson
Harold Meyerson
How much do the newly enacted tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans actually affect them? Hardly at all.
Almost all of the debate that convulsed Capitol Hill in December concerned the reinstatement of the highest marginal tax rate on earned income — that is, on wages and salaries. But as Fitzgerald said, the rich are different from you and me, and one of the primary ways they’re different is that they don’t get their income from wages and salaries. Read more of this post

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Washington's Fiscal Deal A Bad Deal for Working Class?

The "Fiscal Cliff" deal brokered by the Obama administration and Congressional leaders passed the House and Senate, avoiding the over-hyped "fiscal cliff."  While the corporate mainstream media, and Wall Street cheered the deal, progressives have expressed concerns about where the deal leads the negotiations over the debt ceiling and federal budget.  Republicans are perceived as having lost this round, but they got 98% of the Bush Tax cuts made permanent, loosing over $200 billion in tax revenue, and they now insist the next round will be focused on cutting "entitlements," i.e., Social Security and Medicare.  Unless enough revenue can be made up in "tax reform" (closing loopholes, or new taxes on dividends and stocks (Financial Transaction Tax), most of the deficit reduction will come out of Medicare and Social Security.

Progressives did get some things we wanted, like extension of unemployment benefits and the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits.  And taxes on some of the rich did go up for the first time in 20 years, but more tax revenue is needed to avoid deeper cuts in social programs.

So now the progressive/left must prepare to fight the Austerity Bandwagon.  We must insist on NO CUTS to Social Security and Medicare BENEFITS.

Progressives: Washington's Fiscal Deal a Predictable, Terrible Mess | Common Dreams

Obama Brokers Lousy Fiscal Deal

Obama's Offer on Fiscal Talks is "Insanity"

Paul Krugman: Perspective on the Deal

Business Insider: Great News , Rich Americans! Congress Just Raised Taxes on Workers While Saving Investors Millions

Wall Street Gears Up for Austerity Battles in 2013

Here's a summary of the Deal from the Coalition for Human Needs

What Congress Enacted:

You've seen the press accounts.  First the Senate voted 89-8 in favor of The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 in the wee small hours of New Year's Day.  Then, after a flurry of opposition by House Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Republican caucus took stock to see if they would have the votes to add a package of more than $300 billion in spending cuts to the Senate bill, although with only hours left to this Congress, it was clear that making such a change would doom the bill.  The House Republicans decided not to go there, and voted late on January 1 on the Senate bill unamended.  The bill passed 257-167, with 85 Republicans joining 172 Democrats in favor, and 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats voting no.  The President will sign the bill.
The bill raises about $620 billion in new revenues over the next 10 years (maybe $750b counting interest savings), and provides few spending cuts.  President Obama, although preferring a bigger deal with more revenue and a comprehensive replacement of the across-the-board cuts, makes the point that we are making deficit reduction decisions in stages.  Stage 1:  the initial $1.5 trillion in spending cuts (to appropriations including education, housing, community services, energy, environment, etc., as well as the Pentagon).  Stage 2:  what just passed; almost all revenue, but the new revenues are only about half the size of the spending cuts in Stage 1.  Stage 3:  what comes next - which could be another $1 trillion or so.  We strongly agree with the President that whatever savings come next must have a very substantial new revenues component, beyond what was just passed.  House Republicans want more spending cuts, but ix-nay on the axes-tay.
What to think about all this:  
It is very welcome that the unemployed and low- and middle-income families were helped and that harmful service or benefits cuts were largely avoided.  But the new revenues are simply inadequate to the task of long-term deficit reduction.  Because the debt ceiling was not raised, and is expected to get to crunch time by the end of February, the next round of replacing the sequestration (across-the-board) appropriations cuts will be decided in the midst of House proposals to tie increases in the debt ceiling to spending cuts. 
Over the next two months, we must work hard to emphasize and re-emphasize the harmfulness of cuts to programs that would be subject to sequestration - Head Start, housing, WIC, education, training, community services, LIHEAP, so much more - as well as the harm from cuts to Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, Medicare, or SSI, all of which are threatened.  We must also include in our messages that it would be the height of recklessness for some in Congress to tie the increase in the debt ceiling to damaging service cuts.  As the President has rightly pointed out, the debt ceiling must rise to pay for expenses Congress has already "racked up."  Threatening to take us over this new cliff is grossly irresponsible, and we must add to a loud clamor against such threats. 
Details about the new bill:
  • Unemployment Insurance:  The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for long-term unemployed was extended for 1 year, sparing 2 million jobless people from going without benefits starting at the beginning of January, and 5 million people by the end of the year.  Very good news.
  • New Revenues:  $620 billion over 10 years, far less than the President's previous proposals of as much as $1.6 trillion.
    • Income tax rates go up permanently for individuals with incomes above $400,000 and joint filers with incomes above $450,000.
    • Restoration of Clinton era limits on income tax personal exemptions (start phasing out on income over $250,000) and on itemized deductions (start phasing out on income over $300,000).
    • Capital gains and dividends taxed at 20 percent rate, up from 15 percent.
    • Payroll tax cut is allowed to expire (will rise from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent starting this month).  This cost $120 billion a year; so ending it will take that out of people's incomes, costing a $50,000 earner about $83 a month.
  • Estate Tax:  Although the rate rises from the current 35 percent to 40 percent, the exemption level for estates stays at $5 million for individuals/$10 million for couples, and is indexed for inflation, so will rise to $15 million in 2020.  Estimated to maintain most of the current extremely generous estate tax break.  The President had sought to reduce the exemption levels and rate to its 2009 level ($3.5 million/$7 million, 45 percent).  Big disappointment.
  • Tax Reductions:
    • Below income levels listed above, everyone retains current law tax rates permanently.
    • Low-Income Tax Credits:  the improvements in the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and college American Opportunity Tax Credit that were enacted in 2009 are extended for 5 years.  Excellent that they are continued; distressing that they were not made permanent like the other income tax provisions.
    • Business and individual tax breaks extended for 1 year:  These, nicknamed the "extenders," are generally renewed each year, including Research and Development credits, housing credits, low-income worker hiring credit, investment credits, etc.; also deductions for individual taxes for state and local sales tax, tuition, teacher expenses, etc.  Includes energy tax credits.
    • Permanent fix for Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT), to prevent middle class households from being subject to the higher AMT.
  • Sequestration (across-the-board) cuts delayed two months.  Costs $24 billion, with $12 billion from new revenues (higher taxes in the short-run from transfers by individuals from regular IRA's to Roth IRA's, but which would lose revenues in the long term), and $12 billion evenly split between Pentagon and domestic appropriations cuts, not yet specified, but spread over FYs 2013 and 2014.
  • Medicare Physician Payments:  The "doc fix" is extended for a year (preventing the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR, from being reduced, saving physicians a 26.5 percent reduction in their Medicare payments.  Costs $30 billion, paid for by reducing payments to hospitals, including Disproportionate Share hospitals that serve uninsured patients.
  • Tax Refunds Disregarded in Calculating Eligibility or Benefits for Means-Tested Programs:  existing provision made permanent.  (Disregarded as income; also disregarded as resources for one year.)
  • Transitional Medical Assistance extended for a year.
  • Farm Bill extended through September.  SNAP mostly untouched, except for nutrition education program cut in 2013.
Want more detail?  See Congressional Budget Office analysis; Joint Committee on Taxation analysis.