Archive for August 29th, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.

We have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I was too young to remember that day. But I do remember when MLK was killed.

It was a spring day in New York City’s Morningside Heights. The neighborhood has since been gentrified, but back then it was a working class neighborhood – with expensive apartments overlooking Riverside Drive on the west side of the neighborhood, and the inner city of Harlem on the east side.
I was six years old. The day was clear so you could easily see down to the end of our street on Amsterdam Avenue. A portion of the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine covered the eastern portion of our street so that you could not drive through. In those days there was a very tall flag post that stood there flying a huge American flag. (In later years it was replaced by a rather hideous statue – I don’t know if that is still there.)
That day, my six year old eyes saw the flag was half way down the flag post. Someone had explained to me that this was called “Half-mast” and it was done to honor someone who had died.
My friend Roger was riding his five-speed Stingray bicycle, with the Monkey handlebars and the Banana seat. Roger was a year younger than me and his older sister Francine was in the same grade as my brother Leo. Roger’s older brother Bryan was in the same grade as my brother Roman. Roger’s Mom worked for Columbia University in the computer department. Columbia University was my Mom’s employer too. They lived in the building next door. I even remembered the day they moved in, excited about seeing that there was a family with kids the same ages as our – kids we could hang out with.
Our families were close.
I looked at Roger and said, “They are flying the flag at Half-mast,” showing off my new vocabulary.
Roger said, “I know. It’s for Martin Luther King. They killed him.”
In the living room of Roger’s family apartment there were pictures. Almost like the ones that my parents put up of Catholic saints and being Polish, the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa. But the pictures in the “shrine” area in Roger’s house weren’t reproductions of paintings; they were black and white photographs: of the youthful President John F. Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. These were their heroes.
Roger started to ride away on his bicycle in slow turning loops looking down the street at the flag. Usually Roger would race his bike quickly down the street – peddling fast and then braking hard to make the tires squeak. That day he was just not in the mood.
Roger was Black. That’s what we called it in those days rather than African-American. It was a bit of an odd term for Roger because his Afro was not entirely dark like his siblings, it was highlighted with Auburn. This made Roger stand out in any crowd and the consensus in the neighborhood was that he was just the cutest boy around. Since Roger was raised to be very polite by his parents, most adults liked him immediately.
I remember looking at Roger slowly ride his bike that day and feeling bad. I knew that killing a famous man, a good man like Martin Luther King was wrong. But now it was personal. Whoever had killed MLK had made my friend sad. They had hurt Roger. That made it worse.
Over twenty years later I would be fortunate enough to meet Coretta Scott King, MLK’s widow, at a charity event. In the brief time I got to spend with her I tried to express my admiration for her and her husband. I’m sure I feel short.
While nothing I felt could have compared to what Mrs. King must have suffered in 1968, my six year old mind could comprehend a simple thing.
Someone had hurt Roger – and that was wrong.

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Syria: Standing Steadfast or Slippery Slope?

Mark Salter, who used to write for Sen. John McCain, is advocating that President Obama get tough on Syria.

Bill O’Reilly advocates a strike on Syria even though two of his guests, both retired military officers disagree.

The point being made is that if President Obama does nothing, then the “Red Line” of chemical weapons use that was drawn a year ago will mean nothing. President Obama and the US will lose respect around the world.

Okay, that is a valid point. But what credibility does the US have in the Middle East right now anyway?

We abandoned Egypt’s President Mubarak after decades of mutual support. Mubarak was a dictator for sure, but he was co-operating with US interests. We abandoned him to the famed “Arab Street” in the Arab Spring.

It led to the Muslim Brotherhood being elected to power, and now overthrown by the self same Egyptian military we supported with training, weapons and financial aid for years. Only now they don’t trust us. (Proof of who is behind the military crackdown in Egypt is the fact that Mubarak was released from prison – these are the folks who propped up Mubarak for decades.)

A side note – the military crackdown in Egypt included invading a Mosque to capture a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood. This is precisely that type of action that the US military was forbidden in Iraq or Afghanistan for fear of arousing the “Arab Street.” What result in Egypt? The “Arab Street” has quieted down. US diplomats have been more afraid of the “Arab Street” than the Arab leaders.

The Saudi Arabians are now backing the military in Egypt – which puts us at odds with the single Arab county with real clout that has been quietly been backing our policies for the past twenty years.

We bombed Libya to achieve regime change – even though Dictator Kaddafi had given up his WMD programs and started giving us intelligence in the war on terror.  What did that get us? It got us Libya as a no-man’s land and a dead US Ambassador in Benghazi.

Meanwhile, Russia has stayed faithful to Assad. Yes, they are backing an unsavory character, but they are showing themselves to be a faithful ally. Plus, they have the reason of having a port in Syria – a legitimate strategic interest. If I were a Middle-Eastern leader, I would place more stock in Russia as an ally, than the US.

This, along with the Snowden affair, has put a damper on US-Russian relations. It is really a shame. Right now, the Middle East tensions are shooting up the price of oil – the whole reason the entire world cares about the region.

With the recent advancements in Shale Oil production and discoveries in the United States and elsewhere (along with the political will to create infrastructure such as the Keystone pipeline and ports that can support large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers) the US can become a large exporter of energy.

With Russia and the US cooperating – as large energy exporters – they can make the Middle Eastern oil states much less important. Together, Russia and the US cooperating on energy strategy can also hold the ambitious Chinese in check. But those considerations seem not to be considered by the media and Washington.

Humanitarian concerns are important. But this is a civil war. There are bad people on both sides (Al Qaeda partisans are a large part of the Assad opposition.) As crass as it seems, aren’t we better off with them focusing their violence on each other instead of us or Israel?

If we just launch a few cruise missiles (at the cost of several million dollars and possible civilian casualties) and Assad survives, then what was the point? If we go all in to remove Assad’s regime we risk igniting the region. A third war in the Middle East in twelve years. And all we have to gain is the respect of President Francois Hollande of France?

It does not seem worth it.

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