We are today* one week and two days out from the forty-second anniversary of the execution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a killing that took place exactly one year – almost down to the hour – after his famous “Break the Silence” speech against the U.S. War on Vietnam at the Riverside Church in New York City.
“The black revolution,” King wrote before his death, “is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that the radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”
The changes we needed to avert catastrophe and build a human civilization, King felt, could not be limited to the periodic re-shuffling of the names and faces and parties in nominal power. It had to go deeper than replacing one brand or shape or color of corporate- and military-captive office-holders with another such brand once every two, four or eight years.
The democratic socialist Dr. King was calling for deep change, for systemic change, for radical reform, and even for revolution from the bottom up beneath and beyond the quadrennial, top-down big money mass marketed corporate-crafted, candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas” that pass for the only politics that matter in the United States.
The Persistence of the Old Killing Regime
As the title of my next book (The Empire’s New Clothes”) suggests, I see more continuity than change in the transition from Republican and Bush to Democrats and Obama. Beneath the Great Re-Branding, beyond shifts in style and partisan rule and behind the symbolically powerful color-change in the oval office there lives on the same unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire….the same parasitic and bipartisan corporate state, the same deadly bipartisan planetary militarism, the same globally unmatched and racially disparate mass incarceration state which puts 2.3 million Americans behind bars and saddling one in three black adult males with the lifelong mark of a felony record, the same rigged and narrow elections and policy system whereby nobody reaches and stays long in higher office unless they please the top 1 percent that owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth, the same right wing and so-called mainstream media railing against big government and deficits though not against the vastly expensive $50 billion a year prison state, not against the $1 trillion a year Pentagon budget, not against the trillions of dollars worth of federal corporate subsidies that make the rich yet richer and not against the regressive tax structure that feeds government debt by letting the Few off the hook ……all of this along with persistent gender oppression, the continuing and ever-more deadly, soon perhaps to be irreversible corporate assault on livable ecology, the same deadening and soulless dehumanization of work in alienating hyper-authoritarian workplaces; the same contingency of employment for the Many on the profit prospects of the Few; the same persistent demonization and misunderstanding of immigrants and the same far-from-post-racial world where blacks and Native Americans and Latinos continue to live under harshly separate and unequal circumstances while white folks in Northbrook watch Oprah and Tiger and vote for Obama.
Speaking of Empire and the persistence of old substance beneath the style change in the White House, I hope that some of you saw the courageous left journalist Allan Nairn assessing Obama’s first year in power on the left television show Democracy Now! last January. “Once he became president, by virtue of his actions, just like every US president before him,” Naiirn told the interviewer Amy Goodman, “Obama became a murderer and a terrorist.” The “US,” Nairn said, “has a machine that spans the globe, that has the capacity to kill, and Obama has kept it set on kill.”
Strong words. Actually, “kept the machine set on kill” may be an understatement. As the radical U.S. foreign policy critic Edward S. Herman has noted, Obama has possibly “exceed[ed George W.] Bush’s [global] bullying and power-projection.” Certainly this is true in relation to Bush’s second term. As Herman explains:
“Obama’s …Iraq ‘withdrawal’ is a phony, just as his expansion of the Afghan-Pakistan war is real. His collapse in supposedly pushing for a just settlement in Palestine has been complete, ending up with a crude attack on the UN Goldstone Report on Gaza and no resistance whatever to escalated Israeli ethnic cleansing….Obama and his secretary of state are once again threatening Iran with intensified sanctions, if not more…”
“…The U.S. collabora[ed] in the overthrow of the elected, populist government of Honduras,” Herman notes, adding that “Bush could hardly have surpassed Obama’s atrocious performance in Haiti, where the U.S. response to their devastating earthquake was almost completely military—a lagged occupation, with minimal food-water-medical-shelter aid, and even obstruction to aid as airports were preempted for the U.S. military occupation forces and the landing of Hillary Clinton.”
“Elsewhere in Latin America,” Herman notes, “Obama’s policies have been regressive, with more open hostility to left regimes in the region, collaboration in the Honduras coup, and acquisition of seven new military bases in Colombia that all send a message of ‘change’ for the worse.”
“Across the globe,” Herman writes, “U.S. military bases are expanding, not contracting. The encirclement of Russia and steady stream of war games in the Baltic, Caspian, Mediterranean, and Western Pacific areas continue, the closer engagement with Georgia and efforts to bring it into NATO moves ahead, as do plans for placing missiles along Russia’s borders and beyond.” 
Yikes. As John Pilger noted last October, “Like Bush’s America, Obama’s America is run by some very dangerous people.”