MLK’s Civil Discourse Provides Guide for Today

Last week, President Obama issued a call for civility in light of the AZ tragedy.  Passionate debate is a freedom we should cherish in this country and doing so means exercising it with critical thought.  We should engage our adversaries rather than viewing them as enemies to be taken down.  Just because we disagree with someone, does not give us the right to demonize them. It’s easier to allow our rage to guide us, but it takes a great deal of restraint, critical thinking and empathy to fully resist violence while fostering change. 

One of our country’s most famous non-violent resisters is Martin Luther King, Jr. and there is much more to him than his “I Have a Dream” speech. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is arguably one of the most well crafted persuasive pieces ever written.  In it, King eloquently argues without name calling or character attacks, but his passion is evident throughout his letter and the result is something all Americans can benefit from studying especially now.

The climate of America in 2011 and in 1963 is very different in many respects, but we still struggle with trying to create a better nation.  All Americans want this, but we differ on how to achieve the goal.  Real conversation followed by hard work is the key to our success.  It was in 1963 and it is in 2011.

In 1963, King was arrested for participating in a march because no parade permit had been issued by city officials. While in jail, he responded to a letter published in a city newspaper from eight clergymen called “A Call for Unity.” King’s response is extremely well crafted especially considering it was written in the jail cell on scraps of paper smuggled in for him.

When this letter was written, King was not the wildly known and respected civil rights leader we know him to be today. In the views of many, he was just a black man in a jail cell up to no good. But King was extremely well educated. He graduated from Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary and Boston University. His education, passion and control are evident throughout his letter.

The best arguments use a combination of all three appeals—the emotional, logical and ethical to persuade. King uses all three appeals to persuade his readers. It is nearly impossible to determine how readers make their decisions, so strategic arguers use all three methods.

King uses the emotional appeal to attempt to get his readers to feel something and does so quite successfully especially when he draws upon examples any parent can relate to. He says, “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people…”

Thankfully, we no longer confront formal segregation.  Still, we deal with adults acting poorly and this continues to confound children and their parents.  Today’s parents struggle as they try to explain to their children how and why the AZ tragedy happened. 

King uses the logical appeal when he provides facts and evidence in his appeal. At times, he even appears to be educating his readers. He says, “in any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.” The ethical appeal is also evident throughout his letter as he builds his creditability by using fair-minded language, citing experts and explaining his own expertise. King does this very convincingly when he tries to explain the difference between just and unjust laws. He says, “In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” King continues, “There is nothing new about this type of kind of civil disobedience.” He cites the early Christians, the Boston Tea Party and even the Hungarian freedom fighters confronting Adolph Hitler’s legal actions in Germany as examples.

The use of fair-minded language is far too rare today.  We also need rely more upon facts, and evidence when we argue with one another. 

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is worth viewing, but it is by no means his greatest work and it does not adequately reflect the true measure of Martin Luther King Jr. We can learn a great deal about civil discourse by studying King at his best.  “Letter from Birmingham Jail” provides an excellent example of how to craft a persuasive argument without using violent rhetoric.


America Needs a Makeover

Our country needs a makeover.  From our political system, to the economy to our very selves, we need an overhaul.  We’ll talk about the upcoming elections, the Gulf Coast and personal physical improvements on tomorrow’s Critical Thinking in the Real World radio show. 

Americans are unhappy with our elected officials and the job government is doing.  According to the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, public confidence in President Obama has hit a new low and approval of Congress is even worse. This has motivated Americans to act and political campaigns across the nation are fueled by a new enthusiasm and desire for considerable change. With the midterm elections less than four months away, now is the time to get involved.  We’ll talk about some of the candidates running for office and the latest strategies they are using to engage voters.

President Obama and his family will vacation on the Gulf Coast in August.  This trip will hopefully encourage tourism in a region hard hit by the BP Oil Spill and change perceptions that the beaches and resort areas have been devastated by this disaster.  The Gulf Coast businesses are the ones facing imminent disaster.  On their previous trips to the region, both the president and Mrs. Obama have made a point of encouraging people to visit Gulf Coast beaches that are open and oil-free to help boost an area economy battered by the sharp decline in tourism that followed the spill.  If you’d like to help by traveling to the Gulf Coast, we’ll speak to Sandy at Bayside Travel who will tell us about all the deals to be had.   

Have you ruled out cosmetic surgery because it’s too dangerous, invasive and expensive?  Gaile Coleman at Estetika Skin & Laser Specialists will tell us all about affordable non-surgical options including the latest in skincare, Thermage, Latisse, cosmetic dermatology, and facial & body rejuvenation. 

Listen to Critical Thinking in the Real World from 1:00 to 2:00 pm CT Wednesdays on

General McChrystal’s Criticism of the Obama Administration Results in a Change in Personnel

President Obama announced June 23 that he will accept General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation and is replacing him with General David Petraeus. 

 McChrystal’s “poor judgement” resulted in significant  repercussions, but relieving a general of his duties during war is not without precedent because President Truman fired General MacArthur at the height of the Korean War. The general continued to support expanding the war while the president was working towards peace negotiations with North Korea and China.  Truman was clear about his reason for firing MacArthur when he said, “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the president.”

Obama said, “This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy.”  He continued, “I believe that it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.”

Obama acknowledged that it is hard to lose the general, but the “war is bigger than any one man or woman” and that while he welcomes debate among his team, he won’t tolerate division.

The relationship between McChrystal has been a rocky one with a great deal of public attention.  Obama put him in charge of the war in Afghanistan and then last fall, Obama was very angry with McChrystal’s call for more troops in a report that was leaked to the press.  According to a June 22 article on, “Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan only after months of study that many in the military found frustrating. The White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing troops home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.”

With that deadline a little over a year away, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to meet it given that the Afghanistan government is far from stable. Afghan President Hamid Karzai continues make controversial and troublesome comments.  A June 7 New York times article, “Karzai’s Isolation Worries Afghans and the West” asserts that Karzai is insecure and acts erratically.  It says that this insecurity “has left Mr. Karzai alternately lashing out in anger and searching for new allies, turning to Iran and elements within the Taliban. Both are antagonistic to American interests.”

The Rolling Stone article reports, “In June, the death toll for U.S. troops passed 1,000, and the number of IEDs has doubled. Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the fifth-poorest country on earth has failed to win over the civilian population, whose attitude toward U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile. The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a bleeding ulcer.”

This month Afghanistan officially outpaced Vietnam as the longest war in American history.  Like Vietnam, the constant onslaught of bad news over time has many Americans losing faith in our ability to win this war.

Critical thinkers must ask, can we win this war without our own military leaders’ support of their Commander in Chief and President of the United States?

McChrystal and his team criticized Obama administration officials and Obama personally in an upcoming article for Rolling Stone magazine called, “The Runaway General.” This upcoming article, which appears in the July 8-22 edition, has already launched debate over President Obama’s command of the war in Afghanistan. 

President Obama is the Commander in Chief and we are at war.  In fact, violence continues to increase as counterinsurgency efforts appear to be stalled. Is this the time for criticism or the time for support?  Why would McChrystal consent to an interview with Rolling Stone and how does he have time to critique the administration especially when two of the United State’s biggest allies, the Dutch and the Canadian’s, have recently announced plans to pull their combat troops out of Afghanistan?

McChrystal’s remarks are also confusing because they consist more of personal attacks rather than ones on strategy.  Some argue that his remarks indicate the frustrations of a general who knows he can’t win this war. Did he then make these comments with the hopes of getting a way out?

If Obama can’t rely upon our allies and military leaders for their support, what is left?  Will the change in personnel help Obama maintain control? 

McChrystal issued a statement in Kabul on Tuesday that said, “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.” He continued, “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.” 

It’s interesting that he hasn’t retracted what he said, however.

Is Obama’s Plan to Remove Certain Words from National Security Document an Example of Political Correctness Gone Too Far?

The April 7, 2010 Associated Press (AP) headline, “Obama Bans Islam, Jihad From National Security Strategy Document” causes critical thinkers to ask many questions.  Firstly, is this an example of political correctness gone too far? 

According to the AP article, “President Barack Obama’s advisers will remove religious terms such as ‘Islamic extremism’ from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror, counterterrorism officials said.”

Words matter. We change the way we speak to indicate a change in the way we think. It works the other way too. Words influence our views. It comes down to a difference between denotation and connotation. A word’s dictionary definition is its denotation. The feeling or image a word evokes is its connotation. The spirit behind political correctness is an admirable one because of this.

But the era of political correctness has held us back in some ways because it seems to justify an absence of critical thought. Americans are at war, but is it the War on Terror as President George W. Bush called it? President Obama refuses to call it that.

The events of recent months prove we are still very much threatened.  Our enemy seems to be hard to define, however. Just consider the attack at Fort Hood as well as those arrested in Denver, Detroit, New York and Pakistan in connection with potential threats to American’s safety this winter. There are threats, but who or what is the enemy? These threats come from extremists who have declared jihad against the United States. Why is it politically incorrect to call them Islamic extremists? What unifies these terrorists if not their religious fanaticism? Can you be tolerant of religious differences while still distinguishing when one group hides behind a religion to push forward a criminal agenda?

Or is the argument one against profiling?  Americans aren’t condemning an entire faith or race.  We must embrace Muslim nations while still being mindful of those extremists intent on attacking our nation.  Most believe racial profiling is wrong in that it is discriminatory.  This can be true as profiling has often been a tool misused by law enforcement. Shouldn’t we concentrate on how to use the law enforcement tool properly and effectively?

Obama wants to distinguish his National Security Strategy from Bush and Obama’s administration seems to find fault with the word terrorist.  In some ways this makes sense since one country’s terrorist is another country’s freedom fighter.  The phrasing frames the reaction. We cheer the freedom fighter and attack the terrorist. Therefore, I can understand why anyone involved in a cause would like to have freedom in the title. But Americans are left wondering what to call our enemies. 

The Bush Doctrine stated, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”  Is this no longer true? 

Will this debate over language be so distracting that it will cause us to be more vulnerable to our enemies?

Please cheeck out The Americano website for more. 

Gaps in Health Care Protection for Children

When will children with pre-existing conditions be covered with the new health care reform legislation?

The Associated Press reported March 23, “The Obama administration is scrambling to fix a potential problem with a much-touted benefit of its new health care law, a gap in coverage improvements for children in poor health, officials said Tuesday.” 

This is a big concern for many Americans including myself because I have a four year old son who was first hospitalized with respiratory syncytial virus (commonly known as RSV) and Bronchiolitis at five months old.  Since then he has had pneumonia and several other respiratory problems a few times a year.  This history of respiratory problems could be considered a pre-existing condition and if we choose to switch insurances, I worried a new insurance company could refuse him coverage. 

President Obama has talked about how the new protections for children in this bill at nearly every speech advocating its passage.  This was one of the things in the health care bill I supported whole-heartedly. 

When as spokesperson for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said full protection for children would not come until 2014, I felt misled and angry.  Why is the legislation so complex that even the President can’t understand it fully? Or did Obama knowingly mislead the American public? 

On Friday March 19, Obama spoke to an audience at George Mason University in a campaign-like speech and said, “This is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids.  Starting this year, thousands of uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions will be able to purchase health insurance, some for the first time.  Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage–this year.” The crowd cheered and I was also pleased. 

Obama didn’t sound a bit confused then.  How could he have been wrong about something so important?

The administration assured reporters on March 22 that Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would resolve the situation by issuing yet more regulations.  HHS spokesman Nick Papas said, “To ensure that there is no ambiguity on this point, the secretary of HHS is preparing to issue regulations next month making it clear that the term ‘pre-existing’ exclusion applies to both a child’s access to a plan and his or her benefits once he or she is in the plan for all plans newly sold in this country six months from today.” 

I don’t feel assured and I’m left with more questions.  Why isn’t legislation more transparent?  Is it written to intentionally mislead and confuse Americans?  Critical thinkers must demand more of our elected officials.

Can the Ends Really Justify the Means?

If the cause is just, shouldn’t the means to pass health care reform be free of legal trickery? Most of the 37 representatives that voted no on the bill last time around are up for reelection and are therefore very concerned about how their constituents will react to this most important vote that will impact all Americans.

The fate of health care reform is at stake and on March 17 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Obama helped to persuade many including Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) despite the fact that the bill does not contain the public option he fought for. He said, “This is not the bill I wanted to support.” But after a trip to his district and much discussion, Obama got Kucinich’s vote.

Some representatives refuse to vote in favor of the Senate bill because they don’t like some of what is in it and they don’t want it held against them in November. But it must pass before any of the changes House members want can be made. How then can this be accomplished? A little known rule called “Deem and Pass” may be the solution. The House would not vote on the Senate bill directly, but would vote on a separate bill that does contain the changes and then the Senate bill would be “deemed to have passed.”

In a very contentious interview on March 17 with Bret Baier of Fox News, Obama was challenged to explain why, after weeks of saying “the United States Congress owes the American people a final up of down vote on health care” he could support use of the deem and pass rule. Obama responded, “But here’s the thing, Bret, I mean, the reason that I think this conversation ends up being a little frustrating is because the focus entirely is on Washington process. And yes, I have said that is an ugly process. It was ugly when Republicans were in charge, it was ugly were in Democrats were in charge.”

The process is ugly. But when the bill represents one-sixth of the U.S. economy, it seems a traditional vote is necessary even if it takes longer to pass.

What are the changes respresentatives are so concerned about? One is the impact this bill may have on the deficit and on March 18, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its estimated cost of the updated package. CBO said it would cost $940 billion over the next decade. This would not add to the deficit which remains a key concern for many representatives. House Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) said, “We are absolutely giddy over the great news that we’ve gotten from the CBO.”

Obama promised to expand coverage while slashing the deficit. This strategy is intended to win over fiscal conservatives. He delivered on this promise. But there are other concerns.

Rep. John Boccier (D-OH) voiced another concern on CNN’s “American Morning” March 18. He said, “I’m encouraged by that. But there needs to be changes. The Senate version — there’s no way Ohio should have to pay for Nebraska. I want those deals out.” Boccier was referring to “deal” in the Senate’s bill which exempted Nebraska from the costs of expanded Medicaid coverage in order to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE).

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has argued that he could not support the Senate bill because it would, “ban illegal immigrants from using their own money to buy insurance on the exchange.” Some reports indicate Gutierrez may be willing to change his vote if there are trade-offs which could help immigrants with housing issues.

 The vote will not occur before Sunday because House Democrats are upholding their promise to post the bill 72 hours before a vote. It will take time to read this bill and even longer to comprehend it all.

These convoluted deals and trade-offs leave a bad taste in the mouths of most American voters. Critical thinkers must ask, why do they have to be there?

True Exchange of Ideas Could Lead to Less Partisanship

In  President Obama’s State of the Union address this week he acknowledged  the partisanship that has so frustrated Americans and prevented political action by calling it a “poisoned political era.”

Today he went to a meeting of Republicans.  Obama took questions and defended his positions for more than an hour at the House Republicans Annual Meeting in Baltimore.  It was televised live and that makes it unlike those that former President George W. Bush attended with Democrats during his administration and the one that Obama did last year.  Television provides a transparency that we so desperately need.  After all, seeing is believing and far too often we rely of what others say about an event, speech or document instead of watching, reading and deciding for ourselves. 

During today’s meeting, Republicans voiced anger that their ideas and proposals were ignored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and said that this culture has pervaded his administration. Republicans handed Obama a book of all their proposals and alternative solutions to current legislative initiatives.  Obama acknowledged fault on both sides, but said he has read Republican suggestions and incorporates the good ones. 

Obama said not having more communication between the legislative leaders of the major parties was “a failure on my part” and that he would try to do more on that issue this year.

Republicans also confronted the president for breaking promises on transparency referring to the many commitments he made during his campaign about televising debates on healthcare.   He defended this by saying most congressional hearings on healthcare were televised on C-SPAN, but did admit it was a legitimate criticism and took responsibility. 

Obama said he was having fun towards the end of the meeting.  You know what?  An intellectual exchange of ideas is fun.  That’s what argument really is.  It’s not name calling and pointing fingers.  We can disagree in the country.  That’s what makes America so great.  In order to be critical thinkers, we must talk and listen to those with different ideas.  Partisanship has prevented this and perhaps today opened the door to a more productive era.