Another great reason to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
We never speak so loudly as when we amplify the voice of another. No voice deserves amplification more than that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King is a martyr for peace, for non-violent protest, and for civil disobedience in the face of an immoral and unethical government.
One part of Dr. King's dream that people may not be aware of is his call for an end to capitalism, at least as it is currently practiced in the U.S. In a January 15, 2018, article on the Paris Review, Princeton Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor describes an essay by Dr. King that was published posthumously and called for "a radical reconstruction of society itself" to address the "interrelated flaws [of] racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism."
Taylor writes that King's strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience and coercion of the "political establishment" succeeded in defeating the Jim Crow laws of the South. However, the approach wasn't effective against racial inequality in Northern cities, where the problem was "the insidious but obscured actions of the real-estate broker, the banker, the employer, the police officer, and other agents."
When King turned to "the legal menace of segregation" in Northern cities, he tied it to "slum conditions, unemployment, and police brutality." By expressing anti-capitalist sentiments, King joined the "global revolutionary left" in criticizing market-based economies. Just before his assassination in April 1968, King was quoted in a New York Times Magazine article as saying the struggle to eliminate poverty and inequality in the U.S. would “be a long and difficult struggle, for our program calls for a redistribution of economic power.”
Taylor concludes by noting King identified "the elemental human suffering that is produced by our profit system" and stressed how central the fight for racial equality was in solving economic inequality.
For the record, Katie Halper has compiled the "11 most anti-capitalist quotes from Martin Luther King Jr." in a January 16, 2017, article on Raw Story. Here's my favorite:
"[T]he solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed matter: the guaranteed income.… The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.”
Capitalism's fatal flaw: Self-interest ultimately equals selfishness
Are humans essentially selfish and materialistic, or are they motivated primarily by mutual gain? According to Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen in a January 16, 2018, article on AlterNet, every culture's "causation story" is based on one of these two dynamics. We are living the result of an economic system predicated on self-interest, where "the market" dictates who wins and who loses.
Everything is now privatized, including schools, prisons, and communications. Paralleling the shift in power to private citizens is growing distrust of government. According to Moore Lappé and Eichen, the "market doctrine has convinced us to view the success of the few as deserved, or at least an inevitable side-effect of what’s conveyed to us as virtually a law of nature."
This is a myth, and it is used to keep poor people poor and rich people rich. In this system, money inexorably travels from poor people to rich people, never the other way around. Poor people are told their poverty is their own fault -- as Rep. Paul Ryan puts it, poor people are "takers" not "makers" -- when in fact they never had a chance.
The second evil of an economic system driven by self-interest is that economic power always includes political power. Two-thirds of the $6.4 billion spent on the 2016 U.S. federal election was received from 1 percent of donors, according to Open Secrets. As Moore Lappé and Eichen put it, there are very good reasons why the U.S. form of a market economy is referred to as "brutal capitalism."
The only way to rewrite our society's causation story is to base it on the "rich complexity of human nature." The new story values "the three essentials we need to thrive": a sense of personal power, a meaningful life, and active membership in a community. Moore Lappé and Eichorn claim in their book, Daring Democracy, that "a vigorous and unprecedented democracy movement is emerging" as grassroots organizations focused on single issues join forces to ensure voting rights and defend other fundamental rights at the community level.
What does your car company know about you? If you're driving one of the 78 million vehicles that come with a built-in connection to the internet, maybe a lot more than you imagine. The Washington Post's Peter Holley writes in a January 15, 2018, article that your car may be disclosing how fast you drive, how hard you brake, how much fuel you use, and what entertainment you like.
But that's just the beginning. Your car vendor may also record when and where you shop, where you park regularly, even whether you've gained or lost weight. Holley points out that many third parties would pay a high price for this information, including law enforcement and insurance companies. While tracking your driving habits isn't as invasive as the personal data collection done by financial, health care, and education industries, third parties can tell a great deal about you simply by recording your travel habits.
The auto makers argue that they put much of the data they collect from their vehicles to good use to improve safety and enhance the driving experience. The data can also help city planners and other government agencies and organizations. Also, auto companies have a much better track record for protecting the privacy of their customers than other industries. However, Gartner forecasts that by 2021, 98 percent of all cars will be connected, and they'll be gobbling up more and more personal data. Holley writes that it will be increasingly difficult for auto companies to decline the opportunity to capitalize on this valuable asset.
Remember: Google never 'deletes' anything. The new version of Google's Art & Culture app has jumped to number one on the iTunes App Store for its ability to match selfies to faces from works of art. The Washington Post's Hamza Shaban reports in a January 16, 2018, article that people are going ape over the app, even submitting their dogs' faces and those of celebrities.
Google downplays the privacy concerns some people have raised about submitting a picture of your face to Google's image database. The company claims it uses the images only for art matches, not to train machine-learning systems, create a facial-image database, or any other purpose. Company spokesperson Patrick Lenihan is quoted as saying Google “will only store your photo for the time it takes to search for matches.”
The adage that echoes in my head when I read this dates back to the 1980s: "Online is forever." Once something has been uploaded to a public network, it is nearly impossible to remove it entirely. Those facial images will persist somewhere, and if they have value, Google will find a way to realize it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Face Recognition page highlights the many privacy dangers and other risks associated with the use of facial recognition systems.
Consumers are the forgotten voice in the encryption debate. The U.S. government and those of other countries frame the encryption debate as cops vs. robbers. They claim law enforcement agencies need a "back door" to be built into encryption systems so they can crack them. Otherwise, criminals can operate without fear of detection.
The counter-argument made by civil liberties proponents points out that law enforcement's back doors will inevitably be used by bad guys to commit crimes against the government, businesses, and consumers. Hard-encryption backers argue that there are many other ways for government agencies to gather evidence, techniques that don't require breakable encryption.
Consumers Union has issued a white paper entitled Beyond Secrets (pdf) that focuses on the benefits of hard encryption to "consumers and society," as stated in a December 21, 2017, post. According to the CU report, encryption ensures "the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of data transmissions [and] provides essential safeguards across many aspects of people’s lives." These include medical records, financial transactions, public communications, and "nationally important infrastructure, including air traffic systems."
Encryption: As American as apple pie.
I like to think people all over the world are as American as they want to be. America isn't a place, it's an idea. Not just any idea, but the greatest idea anyone ever had. People are American in their minds who have never (yet) set foot on U.S. soil. What do you say we give them an old-fashioned "wretched refuse, golden door" welcome.
As long-time San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen once wrote (in a slightly different context), "Wave 'em in and watch 'em grin."
See you next Weekly!