A mixture or collection of different things
by Steve Timmer
Jan 19, 2015, 12:30 PM

Miscellany on MLK Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day across the country. It is also Robert E. Lee Day in some states in the south, including Alabama, observing the birthday of the general who lost the Civil War. But he had a great horse. The choice of date is obviously not coincidental: it’s a spit in Martin Luther King’s eye.

Here’s a quote from letter written by Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, published today:

This Martin Luther King Day is a special one. We’re on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, perhaps King’s most triumphant moment, and the film Selma has brought him vividly to life.

Dr. King’s speech at the conclusion of the march is remembered for its soaring rhetoric, for King’s declaration that segregation was on its deathbed and for his unshakeable belief that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.

But it was King’s deep political analysis that day that may have the most relevance for us today.

King reminded the nation that Jim Crow segregation was the result of a political strategy engineered in the wake of Reconstruction by white Southern aristocrats who feared that poor whites would unite with the newly freed African Americans to form a powerful voting bloc.

The aristocrats “took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow,” King said. When low wages left the white man hungry, “he ate Jim Crow … no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than a black man.”

The strategy, of course, worked. African Americans were disenfranchised, and Jim Crow stood astride the South for nearly a century.

The strategy has changed, continues Dees, but the goals remain the same.

– o O o –

 The segregation of schools, lunch counters, public accommodations, and even water fountains was part of Jim Crow. I recently read a story about how — just now — the convictions of the “Friendship Nine” will be vacated. Nine young, black men were convicted and jailed for sitting in at a whites’ only lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1961. Even though under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the South Carolina law under which the Friendship Nine were convicted was invalidated, their convictions were not automatically vacated. They will be now.

I thought there was a certain symmetry between that civil rights action in 1961 and the one that took place at the Mall of America in December, and I wrote a story about it.

– o O o –

In a recently published story, the Washington Post reports that now more half the nation’s public school kids live in poverty. From the article:

“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

Martin Luther King’s words quoted above ought to be ringing in your ears about now. The so-called “achievement gap” is really a poverty gap. And if blacks and whites of modest means don’t get together to protect and improve public schools, King’s aristocrats will just steal all the money again through their ongoing “deform” efforts. They’ve got a good leg up on it already.

– o O o –

And speaking of stealing from public education and health care, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is, perhaps unsurprisingly, in favor of it. Scott Brenner, writing for the Chamber, said this in a piece in the Strib on Sunday:

We need to invest in a way that does not make our cost of doing business any less competitive than it is today. Many other states are just now debating gas tax increases, while Minnesota raised its gas tax less than 10 years ago [but it’s still lower than many states, including Wisconsin and Montana]. The most recent increase happened in July 2012. We also raised significant sales, income and corporate taxes to the tune of $2.1 billion less than two years ago.

The debate should not proceed without first asking: Are other government services, like health care, any less long-term and in need of stable funding than transportation? If the answer is “no,” then why is it appropriate to fund health care services with general-fund dollars but not transportation? The idea might be new to Minnesota, but 33 states use money from the general fund to supplement financing for state roads and bridges.

Using the general fund also may trigger scrutiny and potential reform of other programs. Everyone will have to redouble efforts to redesign the delivery of state programs and services.

In case you missed that day at the Frank Luntz seminar, “trigger scrutiny and potential reform” means “cut.” Brenner talks of health care specifically — put Grandma out of the nursing home and leave all those severely disabled people to look after themselves — but you can be sure that K12 and higher education will take a hit if we start buying a lot of pavement out of the general fund.

– o O o –

Well, that all hung together thematically pretty well until now. I will finish with a link to Jon Tevlin’s column, also from the Sunday Strib, about the clumsy self-unawareness of two Minnesota state senators, David Tomassoni and Scott Nienow.

Sen. Tomassoni’s taking a job as the paid executive director of an organization that is funded by the state, and lobbies the Legislature for more, is the more odious to me. It is a plain and grievous conflict of interest. Tomassoni bats it away with the most tin ear for the practice of politics that I’ve seen in a while.

– o O o –

Update: I recommend you read Charlie Pierce’s post Seeing Selma.

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