Sunday, February 12, 2017

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF INDIANA 2017


Harry Targ

Social and Economic Wellbeing Survey Shows No Progress

A flurry of newspaper stories appeared the first week of February in The Wall Street Journal and several Indiana newspapers reporting on data from a “health and wellness” national survey about the performance of the 50 states. Indiana according to several measures was ranked as the fourth “worst state” in the country. The national survey consisted of data from 177,281 people interviewed by the Gallup and Healthways organizations. Data included responses to questions about feelings of community support and pride, physical health, and financial security.

According to the survey The Times of Northwest Indiana, (February 8, 2017) reported, “31.3 percent of Indiana residents are obese, 30.6 smoke, and 29.4 percent don’t exercise at all.” Only 24.9 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree (one of the lowest percentages of any state).  The NWIT article indicated that median household income of Hoosiers was $5,000 less than the national median income.

As The Wall Street Journal put it: “Indiana is one of just a handful of states to rank worse in every category of well-being--sense of purpose, social life, financial health, community pride, and physical fitness--than most other states…”  On all these measures combined Indiana’s rank was only ahead of Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Previous Data on the Indiana Economy


The centerpiece of Indiana public policy since 2004 has been corporate and individual tax cuts and reduced budgets for education, health care, and other public services. Indiana was one of the first states to begin the privatization of the public sector, including transferring educational funds from public to charter schools. It established a voucher system to encourage parents to send their children to private schools. Also Indiana sold public roads; privatized public services; and recruited controversial corporations such as Duke Power to support research at the state’s flagship research universities. Meanwhile the manufacturing base of the state shifted from higher paying and unionized industrial labor (automobiles, steel, and durable goods) to lower paying service jobs and non-union work such as at the Amazon distribution center.

The narrative about Indiana economic growth presented by the former Governor Mike Pence varied greatly from data gathered between 2012 and 2014. For example, between 2013 and 2014, despite enticements to business, Indiana grew at a 0.4 percent pace while the nation at large experienced 2.2 percent growth.

Indiana’s economy historically was based on manufacturing but has experienced declines since the 1980s (with only modest increases in recent years).  However, newer manufacturing between 2014 and 2016 has been mostly in low-wage non-unionized sectors.   For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county paid wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (www.iiwf.blogspot.com).

Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “…wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.

Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers,” and developing universal pre-kindergarten and programs to rebuild the state’s crumbling infrastructure. They may have added that declining real wages also relates to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.

Thomas recommended in 2012 that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should have taken these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 

More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, introduced the concept of  Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:

-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

-specifically, 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.

-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.

-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.

Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who have struggled to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014, Roger.Frick@iauw.org).

Assessing these recent studies and the 2017 report cited at the outset leads to the conclusion that an evaluation of the current state of the Indiana economy depends upon where one is located in terms of economic, political, or professional position. Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 37 percent of households who earn less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. For them, the tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not positive. 

Indiana Politics

Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions, then the state with the third highest union density. By the dawn of the second decade of the twenty-first century only 11 percent of workers were in trade unions. Recent legislation has disadvantaged Hoosier workers including passage of a Right to Work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Mitch Daniels/Mike Pence administrations (2004-2016) have used charter schools and vouchers to weaken teachers unions. In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order abolishing the right of state employees to form unions. 

In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Voters were required to secure voter identification photos. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ended voter registration in the state one month before election day. And polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses. 

Republican control of the executive and both legislative branches led to redistricting which further empowered Republicans and weakened not only Democrats but the young and old and the African American community. Nine solidly Republican congressional districts were drawn in 2000.  In 2014, of 125 state legislative seats up for election, 69 were uncontested.  2014 Indiana voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest state turnout in the country. The Governor’s office has been held by Republicans since 2004 and Republicans have had majorities in both legislative bodies since 2010, when statewide redistricting was implemented.

Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, many legislators and the two most recent governors have been friends of or received support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) funded by major corporations and the Koch brothers. 

With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has been able to initiate some of the most regressive policies in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation in the country. And as the data above suggests, the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state. Other data suggests that the quality of health care, education, the environment, and transportation have declined as well.

The political picture is made more complicated by the fact that Indiana is really “three states.” The Northwest corridor, including Gary and Hammond, are cities which have experienced extreme deindustrialization, white flight, and vastly increased poverty. Political activists from the area look to greater Chicago for their political inspiration and organizational involvement. Democratic parties are strong in these areas but voter participation is very low. 

Central Indiana includes a broad swath of territory with small cities and towns and the largest city in the state, Indianapolis. Much of the area is Republican, many counties have significant numbers of families in poverty, and some smaller cities have pockets of relative wealth. Democrats hold some city offices but the area is predominantly Republican.

The southern part of the state, south of Indianapolis, in terms of income, political culture, and history resembles its southern neighbor Kentucky, more than the northern parts of the state. The state of Indiana was the northern home of the twentieth century version of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920s, the KKK controlled Indiana state government. That reality, the institutionalized presence of overt racism, remains an aspect of Hoosier history that may still affect state politics.

In sum, the working people of Indiana enter the coming period with little economic hope, a politics of red state dominance, and the number two person in the White House who bears some responsibility for the economics and politics left behind. Social change in Indiana, as with the nation at large, will require a vibrant, active progressive program in the electoral arena, the 2018 elections for example, at the same time that mass movements direct their attention to improving the lives of the 99 percent.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

THE THEORY OF BAGEL CAPITALISM

04 March 2010

Harry Targ : The Theory of Bagel Capitalism :A Repost in Honor of National Bagel Day


Political theory and the tower of bagel. Image from Neurotopia.

Bagels and the theory of capitalist development
I think Marx had a pretty good analysis of how capitalism works but even I recognize that his theory did not adequately come to grips with the political economy of the bagel.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / March 4, 2010

A long time ago Karl Marx theorized that in capitalist societies the class of people that own and control the means of production -- the machines, the factories, the workers -- constituted an economic ruling class. The only thing that workers owned was their ability to do work.

The workers would sell their ability to do work for a wage. The capitalists would hire workers, work them hard, and sell the goods and services produced. The capitalists would sell the products and/or services for more than the workers would get paid. They would keep the difference and that is where profit came from.

Over time, Marx said, the number of capitalists would get smaller and smaller and what they owned and controlled would get bigger and bigger. Marx’s predictions pretty much have come to pass with a few hundred corporations and banks controlling about one-third of all that is produced on the face of the globe.

The political economy of the bagel

Now I am one of those people who think Marx had a pretty good analysis of how capitalism works but even I recognize that his theory did not adequately come to grips with the political economy of the bagel. The bagel originally was a round roll with a hole in the middle that began to get hard as soon as it came out of the oven. Water bagels, the authentic bagels, were plain, hard, and flat when cut so that cream cheese could be spread evenly or in chunks over their surface. Also, bagels could just as easily be used to throw at targets during a popular uprising as they could be used to stifle hunger.

Bagels used to be produced in small Jewish bakeries that dotted neighborhoods in Eastern and Midwestern cities. Along with the generic food/weapon, the plain bagel, more adventurous Jewish bakers began to experiment with the production of garlic bagels, onion bagels, and poppy seed bagels. Bagel bakers were highly skilled craft workers, probably descendants of the powerful medieval bagel guilds of Central Europe.

In sum, the introduction of the bagel in Jewish communities provided for the nutritional needs of the community, a means of defense and deterrence against aggression from outside the community, and over time a source of cultural identity. As Jews migrated throughout the United States, they maintained an identification -- even if not articulated -- with the bagel.

The rise of monopoly capitalism and the production of the bagel

Although followers of Marx have carefully analyzed the accumulation of capital on a national and global scale and have linked the concentration of economic power with control of the modern state, hardly ever did they notice the transformation that was going on right under their noses concerning the political economy of the bagel.

The small bagel bakeries of old were closing their doors. Many people rejecting their heritage began to eat croissants and muffins for breakfast instead of bagels. And as the traditional consumers of bagels left the working class and joined the bourgeoisie, they no longer wished to stockpile old bagels as weapons in the class struggle.

These events led some to predict the demise of the bagel as we had known it. But then the economic ruling class, suffering from declining rates of profit, discovered the bagel and began to reconstitute the global capitalist system. First, some food processing companies started selling packages of frozen bagels -- small, tasteless, harmless little bagels. Then, new bagel bakeries/sandwich shops began to open in urban centers. These spread like wildfire around the country. Pretty soon the word “bagel” was on everyone’s lips.

Then newer bakery shops, part of global conglomerates, would come to town, underprice their product, and force out their competitors -- both bakeries and coffee and sandwich restaurants. The bagels they produced and sold were big, puffy, and mushy inside, and had bizarre flavors such as chocolate, cinnamon, or basil. Everybody was ordering a bagel with a “schmear” (heretofore a technical term). Perhaps most importantly these bagels would be as powerful a weapon as a pillow.

The process of production of bagels had changed as well. No longer were the bagel bakers craftsmen and women who carefully crafted their products with pride. Now bagels were partially assembled in huge bagel factories and shipped, uncooked, to the hundreds of thousands of stores in the chain to be baked and sold to the untutored and the young.

Today the bagel industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, dominated by a handful of bagel monopolies. Even the traditional doughnut conglomerates are selling their own bagels in thousands of stores.

When Marx wrote Das Kapital in the 1860s, he could not have predicted the rise of bagel capitalism. He would not have guessed that the bagel trust would increasingly control global capitalism transforming the bagel from a working class nutrient to a yuppie affectation and from a weapon of potential mass destruction to a coffee table adornment. In fact, if he had eaten a chocolate bagel, he might have thrown up.

[Harry Tarq is a professor who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

The Rag Blog

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

HIGHER EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL ELITES: THE HARVARD MODEL


Sin Eun-jung, Verita$: Harvard’s Hidden History, PM Press, Oakland California, 2015.
A Review by Harry Targ, Purdue University in Socialism and Democracy, November, 2016.

About 25 years ago I was listening to one of the premier conservative radio pundits claim that the only institution “we” do not yet control is the university. That statement was prophetic in that the profusion of books and articles today document the multiple ways in which colleges and universities are being transformed by the neoliberal economic agenda, the pursuit of so-called STEM-based education, and the seizure of power in higher education by the Koch Brothers.

This new literature, however, is only half correct because as Sin Eun-jung richly documents, the world’s premier university, Harvard, had established the model for a higher education that would serve economic and political ruling classes well before the twenty-first century. Armed with direct childhood experience of state repression of students in Gwangju, South Korea and growing up in a culture that lionized United States universities, particularly the image of Harvard, the author provides a detailed narrative of the “model” for the modern university that had its roots as far back as in its participation in the Salem Witch Trials.
Verita$ is a popularly written text that takes the reader through the history of Harvard University addressing most of the issues raised by the burgeoning critical literature on higher education. The author describes in detail the authority structures at Harvard and their very modest evolution since the student protests of the 1960s. The Harvard Corporation and a tiny executive elite have ruled with little regard for faculty, students, or staff input. When protests arose in the 1960s, the Harvard Corporation dispersed some measure of control to separate colleges, but control by the oligarchs remained.

More importantly, in every historical period CEOs at Harvard have been largely hand-picked representatives of the economic ruling classes. They have been conscious of the need to train continuing generations of stewards of an oligarchical capitalist system. As one student put it, “it’s hard to say exactly how it happens. But after four years here you feel as though the world has been created to be led by Harvard men.” (7)

Verita$ provides a useful historical narrative about the multiple ways in which Harvard CEOs, faculty and students have served the status quo. Harvard graduates and Corporate Board member Cotton Mather served on a trial that convicted George Burroughs of being a witch in Salem in 1692, He was hung for his crime. Harvard executives, professors, and graduates also figured prominently in the defense of slavery. They actively opposed women workers who went on strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912 and Harvard students hit the streets to oppose Boston police who went on strike in 1919. Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell chaired a committee that reviewed and endorsed the judicial ruling to convict and execute Sacco and Vanzetti. Harvard president James Conant welcomed a rich German alum who was a close aide to Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, and while formally opposing McCarthyism in the 1950s, scholar Ellen Schrecker in No Ivory Tower points out that faculty with radical views were often dismissed from their positions.
Not only has Harvard been the paradigmatic training ground for generations of young men of the ruling class but it also is an institution which provides the research and education to cement ruling class rule. Richard Levins, an idiosyncratic Harvard professor reported that “Harvard is an organ of the American ruling class whose mission is to do the intellectual labor that class needs.” (7)

Harvard scholars were recruited by and had ready access to the White House during the Vietnam War. McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington and others were instrumental in fashioning the escalating Vietnam War policy. Kissinger urged President Nixon to launch the brutal Christmas bombing, hitting civilian targets all across North Vietnam in December, 1972, and Samuel Huntington, a contract researcher for the CIA contrary to Harvard policy, warned David Rockefeller and other members of the Trilateral Commission in the 1970s of the “excesses of democracy.” Earlier, 1962, he had designed the “Strategic Hamlet Program” that displaced Vietnamese peasants from their homelands. Harvard administrators, scholars, and alumni have been involved in virtually every odious movement, policy, and government in modern history; from eugenics, to Nazism, to militarism, to the promotion of atomic war, to the development of economic policies referred to as “shock therapy” that impoverished millions of Russians and Eastern Europeans, to sexism, racism, and class exploitation.
To be sure, Harvard has not been the only university that has served economic ruling classes and imperialism throughout United States history but it has been the model for which most other major institutions follow. And as the author, a South Korean, points out, Harvard has trained the ruling classes of many of the world’s nations and has inspired wealthier families from many of these countries to send their children to Harvard as well.

Verita$ also describes how Harvard financial wizards used its endowment funds for purposes of financial speculation, beginning in the new century, only to experience major losses after the financial crisis of 2008. Researcher, and Harvard graduate, John Trumpdour, wrote that “others have said that Harvard is a giant financial, stock market, and real estate investment firm that happens to have classes on the side so that it can keep its tax-exempt status.” (167).
This case study of the history and political economy of one university, albeit the most important one, adds immeasurably to a knowledge base that can be used by activists who see the need to defend the idea of the university from the neoliberal onslaught. Its contribution could have been even greater if the author added a chapter that explicitly addressed the dominant paradigms influenced by Harvard scholars over major disciplines, particularly since the end of World War Two. How did distinguished economists, psychologists, social scientists, and humanists shape what became “legitimate” knowledge in the academy? What approaches to these disciples were shunned by academic researchers? To what extent was the definition of legitimate knowledge shaped to meet the interests of the United States and the capitalist system? Examples are presented as President Conant or Dean Bundy proclaim that Harvard research and teaching must serve the needs of the military/industrial complex. But the question of linking institutional power to knowledge could have been addressed in greater depth.

I am sure that Shin Eun-jung would have agreed that academic fields are shaped by paradigms, or theories that justify the existing economic and political order. The university is not usually a haven for discussions about the fundamental structures of inequality, racism, patriarchy, the devastation of the environment, or war. In the end, Boards of Trustees, think tanks, university administrators, and federal programs, are committed to a university system that supports the capitalist state. Only limited and circumscribed debate about issues fundamental to economic vitality and political democracy are allowed. Therefore, the university was not created for nor does it prioritize today discussions of fundamental truths.
Despite the lack of discussion of the connection between substantive knowledge and Harvard as a ruling class institution Verita$, a book written to complement a documentary film of the same name, provides a rich, data and historically-based description of America’s premier educational institution. The book demonstrates how Harvard has impacted through research, education, and policy-making around the globe. The author, Shin Eun-jung, filmmaker, author, activist died prematurely at age 40 but her writing and film-making leave an important legacy.




Friday, January 27, 2017

RACISM ON THE CAMPUS: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES: a repost


Sunday, November 15, 2015

(In November, 2015 Purdue students rallied in solidarity with African American students at other universities. One year later, Purdue University students protested the appearance of racist, Islamophobic, and anti-semitic flyers around the campus attributed to a neo-fascist national organization. Subsequent to the November 20, 2016 protest a series of demands were made to the administration that would recognize the rhetorical threat the flyers represented. They also called for educational opportunities that would explain why the flyers created a threatening campus environment. Currently a group of students are sitting in at the executive building to dramatize their concerns. The essay below helps to ground the student activism today in the history of struggles to create a climate free of discrimination at one university).
Harry Targ

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Frederick Douglass

The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line. W.E.B. DuBois

What a proud contrast to the environments that appear to prevail at places like Missouri and Yale. Mitch Daniels

All across the country students, black and white, hit the streets and the campus malls to protest racism; structural and interpersonal. One thousand students rallied at Purdue University on Friday, November 13, 2015 to show solidarity with students at the University of Missouri and to announce 13 demands they were making to address racism at Purdue; a racism that the university president says no longer exists.

Of course nationally and locally the struggle for social and economic justice is historic. Rev. William Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays Movement, points to the “Three Reconstructions” in post-Civil War American history. The First Reconstruction occurred in the 1860s and 1870s when black and white farmers and workers came together to write constitutions and to create a new democratic Southern politics. The hope this first reconstruction raised for a truly democratic America was dashed by a shift to the right of the federal government, the reemergence of the old Southern ruling class, and the rise of a brutal violent terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan. Racist policies, coupled with terrorism, instilled formal racial segregation in the South and subtle forms of institutionalized racism throughout the rest of the country.

The Second Reconstruction, Barber asserts, was inspired by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision which declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional. With militant sectors of labor, a grassroots Southern civil rights movement revived all across the country. In the 1960s, it culminated in civil rights legislation that outlawed racial segregation and guaranteed voting rights. Also the “war on poverty” was launched. Shortly after these victories, the Republican Party presidential candidate Richard Nixon employed the so-called “Southern Strategy” to shift federal and state politics to the right. The forerunners of today’s Tea Party rightwing reaction expanded their political power at the federal and state levels.

Rev. Barber believes that, with the movement that elected President Obama, there has emerged a Third Reconstruction. It features the mobilization of  masses of people--blacks and whites, men and women, gays and straights, blue collar and white collar workers, young and old, people of faith and those who choose no faith--coming together to reconstitute the struggle for the achievement of a truly democratic vision. This vision is of a society that is participatory, egalitarian, and economically and psychologically fulfilling.

The resurgence of protests on college campuses, although narrowly focused, represents the contemporary form of the kinds of struggles for social justice Frederick Douglass talked about.  For example, on the campus of Purdue University, the struggle for racial justice has a long history. For the first 60 years of the twentieth century the African American population was less than one percent of the student body.  The numbers of African American students grew to a few hundred in the 1960s. And in the context of the Second Reconstruction and activism around civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam, some students organized a “Negro History Study Group”(which later became the Black Student Union). In 1968, to dramatize what they saw as institutional racism coupled with an environment of racial hostility, more than 150 Black students carrying brown bags marched to the Executive Building. At the building they took bricks from the bags. The bricks were piled up and a sign “Or the Fire Next Time,” was set next to the bricks. The students submitted a series of demands including the development of an African American Studies Program and a Black Cultural Center. 

The demonstration was dramatic. The demands clear. The justice of their motivation was unassailable. Administrators and faculty set up committees to discuss the protests. And in the short run, only minor changes were implemented, such as Purdue’s 1968 hiring of the first African American professor in Liberal Arts.

One year later, after an African American member of the track team was castigated for wearing a mustache and his verbal response led to his arrest, Black students launched another protest march with more demands. This time the Administration and the Board of Trustees authorized the establishment of the Black Cultural Center, which today is an educational, social, and architectural hub of the campus. In 1973, Antonio Zamora, educator, accomplished musician, and experienced administrator was hired to lead the campus effort to make the BCC the vital embodiment of the university that it has become.

One of the leaders of the 1969 protest, Eric McCaskill, told then President Hovde by phone during the protest march and visit to the Executive Building: “We are somebody. I am somebody.” Forty-six years later one thousand similarly motivated students rallied together on Friday, November 13 on the Purdue campus. They expressed outrage at the systematic violence against people of color throughout the society and the perpetuation of racism in virtually every institution. On the Purdue campus they protested the lack of full, fair representation of African Americans on the faculty and in the student body, a climate on and off campus that perpetuates racism, and the continuation of all the old stereotypes of minority students that has prevailed for years. They also shared their solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri and they made it crystal clear their disagreement with the statement by the Purdue University President that the Purdue campus was different.

The organizers provided thirteen demands including:

-an acknowledgement by the President of Purdue University that a hostile and discriminatory environment still exists at Purdue.

-the reinstatement of a Chief Diversity Officer with student involvement in the hiring process.

-the creation of a “required comprehensive awareness curriculum.”

-the establishment of a campus police advisory board.

-a 30 percent increase of underrepresented minorities in the student body and on the faculty by 2019-2020.

-greater representatives of minority groups on student government bodies.

Frederick Douglass was correct.  Progress requires struggle. DuBois is still correct about the twenty-first century as he was about the prior one: the problem of our day remains “the color line.” And many of those who observed, participated in, and applauded the organizers of this latest protest at Purdue believe that the struggles are long, the victories sometimes transitory, and each generation of activists is participating in a process of fundamental change that will move society in a more humane direction. The generations of Purdue students of the 1960s and the second decade of the twenty-first century are linked in a chain for justice.


Monday, January 9, 2017

FOREIGN POLICY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM


Harry Targ
An Empire in Decline

United States global hegemony is coming to an end. The United States was the country that collaborated with the Soviet Union to defeat fascism in Europe and with Great Britain to crush Japanese militarism in Asia in 1945. The Soviet Union, the first Socialist state, suffered 27 million dead in the war to defeat the Nazis. Great Britain, the last great imperial power, was near the end of its global reach because of war and the rise of anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa.
As the beneficiary of war-driven industrial growth and the development of a military-industrial complex unparalleled in world history, the United States was in a position in 1945 to construct a post-war international political and economic order based on huge banks and corporations. The United States created the international financial and trading system, imposed the dollar as the global currency, built military alliances to challenge the Socialist Bloc, and used its massive military might and capacity for economic penetration to infiltrate, subvert, and dominate most of the economic and political regimes across the globe.

The United States always faced resistance and was by virtue of its economic system and ideology drawn into perpetual wars, leading to trillions of dollars in military spending, the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives, and the deaths of literally millions of people, mostly people of color, to maintain its empire.
As was the case of prior empires, the United States empire is coming to an end. A multipolar world is reemerging with challenges to traditional hegemony coming from China, India, Russia, and the larger less developed countries such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, South Korea, and Thailand. By the 1970s, traditional allies in Europe and Japan had become economic competitors of the United States.

The United States throughout this period of change has remained the overwhelming military power, however, spending more on defense than the next seven countries combined. It remains the world’s economic giant even though growth in domestic product between 1980 and 2000 has been a third of its GDP growth from 1960 to 1980. Confronted with economic stagnation and declining profit rates the United States economy began in the 1970s to transition from a vibrant industrial base to financial speculation and the globalization of production.
The latest phase of capitalism, the era of neoliberal globalization, has required massive shifts of surplus value from workers to bankers and the top 200 hundred corporations which by the 1980s controlled about one-third of all production. The instruments of consciousness, a handful of media conglomerates, have consolidated their control of most of what people read, see, hear, and learn about the world.

A policy centerpiece of the new era, roughly spanning the rise to power of Ronald Reagan to today, including the eight years of the Obama Administration, has been a massive shift of wealth from the many to the few. A series of graphs published by the Economic Policy Institute in December, 2016 show that productivity, profits, and economic concentration have risen while real wages have declined, inequality has increased, gaps between the earnings of people of color and women and white men have grown, and persistent poverty has remained for twenty percent of the population. The austerity policies, the centerpiece of neoliberalism, have spread all across the globe. That is what globalization is about.
Paralleling the shifts toward a transnational capitalist system and the concentration of wealth and power on a global level, the decline of U.S power, relative to other nation-states in the twenty-first century, has increased.  The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the spreading violence throughout the Middle East have overwhelmed US efforts to control events. Russia, Iran, China, and even weaker nations in the United Nations Security Council have begun to challenge its power and authority. Mass movements increasingly mobilize against vial regimes supported by the United States virtually everywhere (including within the U.S. as well).

However, most U.S. politicians still articulate the mantra of “the United States as the indispensable nation.” The articulation of American Exceptionalism represents an effort to maintain a global hegemony that no longer exists and a rationale to justify the massive military-industrial complex which fuels much of the United States economy.
Imperial Decline and Domestic Politics

The narrative above is of necessity brief and oversimplified but provides a back drop for reflecting on the substantial shifts in American politics. The argument here is that foreign policy and international political economy are “the elephants in the room” as we reflect on the outcomes of the 2016 elections. It does not replace other explanations or “causes” of the election but supplements them.
First, the pursuit of austerity policies, particularly in other countries (the cornerstone of neoliberal globalization) has been a central feature of international economics since the late 1970s. From the establishment of the debt system in the Global South, to “shock therapy” in countries as varied as Bolivia and the former Socialist Bloc, to European bank demands on Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, to Reaganomics and the promotion of Clinton’s “market democracies,” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the wealth of the world has been shifting from the poor and working classes to the rich.

Second, to promote neoliberal globalization, the United States has constructed by far the world’s largest war machine. With growing opposition to U.S. militarism around the world, policy has shifted in recent years from “boots on the ground,” (although there still are many), to special ops, private contractors, drones, cyberwar, spying, and “quiet coups,” such as in Brazil and Venezuela, to achieve neoliberal advances.
One group of foreign policy insiders, the humanitarian interventionists, has lobbied for varied forms of intervention to promote “human rights, democratization, and markets.” Candidate Hillary Clinton and a host of “deep state” insiders advocated for support of the military coup in Honduras, a NATO coalition effort to topple the regime in Libya, the expansion of troops in Afghanistan, even stronger support of Israel, funding and training anti-government rebels in Syria and the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was a major advocate for humanitarian interventionist policies in the Obama administration.

Humanitarian interventionists have joined forces with “neoconservatives” in the new century to advocate policies that, they believe, would reverse the declining relative power of the United States. This coalition of foreign policy influentials has promoted a New Cold War against Russia and an Asian pivot to challenge the emerging multipolar world. The growing turmoil in the Middle East and the new rising powers in Eurasia also provide rationale for qualitative increases in military spending, enormous increases in research and development of new military technologies, and the reintroduction of ideologies that were current during the last century about mortal enemies and the inevitability of war.
The “elephant in the room” that pertained to the 2016 election was growing opposition to an activist United States economic/political/military role in the world. Many center/left Americans, to the extent that they were motivated by international issues, saw the Clinton foreign policy record as emblematic of the long history of United States imperialism. Further, given the fact that U.S. interventionism and support for neoliberalism have generated growing global opposition, many voters feared a possible Clinton presidency would extend foreign policies that have already created chaos and anger, particularly in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Finally, to the extent that economics affected the electoral outcome (and the degree to which this is correct is being hotly debated), the neoliberal global agenda that has been enshrined in United States international economic policy since the 1970s, has had much to do with rising austerity, growing disparities of wealth and power, wage and income stagnation, and declining social safety nets at home as well. The Trans Pacific Partnership was both a possible reality and a metaphor for fifty years of failed international economic policy for American workers.
Since the election, foreign policy has become even more of an “elephant in the room” as millions of Americans struggle with the prospects of a devastatingly inhumane new administration (perhaps one that logically follows from the fifty year trajectory described above).

The Post-Election Narrative: Trump Won the Election Because of the Russians!
The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: the key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret. Glenn Greenwald, “Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence,” The Intercept, 12/10/16.

The “liberal” cable news outlet MSNBC, print media, and social media went ballistic Friday night, December 9, over the release of a story in the “objective” Washington Post that the CIA had found a connection between Russian hackers, WikiLeaks, and the release of damaging stories about presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Rachel Maddow was positively breathless as she reported the Post story which in effect explains the Clinton loss as a result of Russian interference. Weaving a yarn of conspiracy, Maddow also implicated the leadership of the Republican Party in Congress for opposing any investigation of the CIA warning before the elections. The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell questioned the credibility and partisanship of the CIA claims about a Putin/Trump collaboration. 

Maddow further linked the CIA claims that Russia used the distribution of hacked messages to embarrass candidate Hillary Clinton to Trump’s alleged close ties to Russia,  his investments in the Russian energy industry, and rumors that the next Secretary of State would be an Exxon/Mobil CEO, whose corporation has close ties to Russia. (She correctly pointed out that if Russia had sided with the Clinton candidacy, the Republicans would have been outraged). Maddow, the Post, and many social media outlets have suggested that all this adds up to a severe constitutional crisis. A foreign nation, Russia, had interfered with free elections in American democracy. She implied that the U.S. would never engage in such conduct overseas nor should it accept outside interference in the electoral process at home.
The story was flawed from so many perspectives it was difficult to disentangle the real threats to American society.

First, the United States has been interfering in elections all across the globe at least since the onset of the Cold War. The same CIA that is the hero in this story created Christian Democratic parties in Europe shortly after World War Two to challenge the popularity of Communist parties across the continent. It was instrumental in creating and supporting virulently anti-Communist trade unions in Europe and Latin America. And it funded the development of a panoply of anti-Communist scholarly networks inspired by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Some of the most revered scholars, writers, artists, were knowingly or unknowingly compromised by the CIA political agenda.
In recent times, anti-Communist and erratic Russia President Boris Yeltsin received aid and campaign advice from the Clinton Administration during the Russian leader’s 1996 run for reelection. Yeltsin was being challenged by candidates from Russian nationalist and Communist parties. The victory of either would have slowed or reversed the so-called “shock therapy” conversions from a state-directed to a neoliberal economy introduced by a compliant Yeltsin.

Of course, interference in the politics of other countries has been an unfortunate staple of United States foreign policy throughout the world, particularly in Latin America: Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and most recently, Honduras and Venezuela. These patterns of interference have not been merely gossipy stories leaked to the media but the funneling of money, sabotage, training and support of coup plotters, and other direct, physical forms of intervention.
As suggested above, inside the Beltway an influential group of foreign policy elites have been pressuring the Obama Administration to expand efforts to push back Russia, including undermining Vladimir Putin’s rule (Putin is no different a political dictator and supporter of crony capitalism than the earlier U.S. favorite Boris Yeltsin claimed Stephen Cohen, “CNN Gets Schooled by Stephen Cohen on DNC Hack, Trump-Putin Links, Video,” Russia Insider, Russia-insider.com August 1, 2016).

The United States and its NATO allies, violating promises from the 1990s, have been placing troops and bases in Poland and the Baltic states. The United States played a significant role in the campaign that led to the ouster of the elected leader of Ukraine (a plot organized by a neoconservative State Department ally of Hillary Clinton). In short, leading foreign policymakers have been lobbying for a New Cold War. And, the “liberal media” stereotype of an aging, macho, shirtless, dictator provides a superb visual image of the enemy. And to the contrary, candidate Trump hinted at the possibility of reducing tensions between the United States and Russia.
Further, the aforementioned media have assumed but not demonstrated in any way that the alleged Russian hacking and the use of WikiLeaks (an opponent believed inside the Beltway to be almost as nefarious as Putin) to publicize compromising e-mails determined the outcome of the elections. This is in juxtaposition to the electronic libraries of published articles seeking to explain the election outcomes.

Many election analyses have correctly highlighted factors shaping the election including such variables as class, race, region, anti-immigrant sentiments, voter suppression, and campaign tactics.  “Fake News” (as opposed to the usual mainstream media distortions) is the latest variable added to the list of explanations. It is the case that the allegations of Russian hacking uncovered by the CIA months ago and resurfacing now is the Washington Post, MSNBC, USA Today, CNN version of “Fake News.”
In the post-election period serious reflection and debate about who won and lost, why, and what can progressives do to resist and reorganize has been overtaken by an old story about foreign intervention. The old spies who had deviously worked in factories and tried to organize unions, marched with civil rights activists, taught a different history in schools that touched on the massacre of Nation Americans, slavery, the lack of voting rights, and segregation, have been replaced by cyber spies: hackers who sit at computers anywhere around the world bent on destroying American democracy. And these hackers get their marching orders from, whom? The Russians! Foreign policy remains “the elephant in the room.” Progressives need to add it to strategizing about the future.

 Harry Targ teaches United States foreign policy at Purdue University. He is a co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) and blogs at www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com


Saturday, December 31, 2016

OBAMA'S FAILED STRUGGLE AGAINST THE HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTIONISTS AND THE NEOCONSERVATIVES


Harry Targ

Richard Cohen is one of the Washington Post columnists who is published in small town, conservative newspapers. His December 30, 2016 column which appeared in the Lafayette Journal and Courier entitled “Syria, a Stain on Obama’s Presidency,” lays out a critique from the foreign policy establishment of the president’s foreign policy. Cohen starkly argues that Obama’s Syria policy is second only in its disastrous consequences to “the day of infamy” when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Why? Because...“Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Moscow to settle matters in the Middle East. The United States wasn’t even asked to the meeting.”

Cohen complains about the fact that the United States never engaged in the Syrian civil war. As to Aleppo, “the preeminent power of the region did virtually nothing.” Cohen indicated that Obama could have installed a “no-fly zone,” “established safe zones for refugees,” and demanded that Russia and Iran get out of Syria. But, alas, “Obama did not care enough.”

And, in the end, for Cohen, the cool, sometimes tempered President Obama was too dispassionate about foreign policy. Part of the Clinton presidential defeat resulted from the fact that she had to defend an Obama administration “that was cold to the touch.” The President “waved a droopy flag. He did not want to make America great again. It was great enough for him already.” As to Syria, “he threw in the towel.”

And Cohen repeated the mantra often articulated by Post editorial writers and columnists: “Since the end of World War II, American leadership has been essential to maintain world peace. Whether we liked it or not, we were the world’s policeman. There was no other cop on the beat. Now that leadership is gone. So, increasingly, will be peace.”

Cohen is wrong in virtually everything he wrote in this column. First, for the brutalized people of Syria any ceasefire and resolution of their civil war should be applauded. If the agreement between Turkey, Russia, and Syria holds it would be an extraordinary change from the relentless violence Syrians have suffered, from multiple parties.

In addition, the United States has been involved in the civil war since it grew out of Arab Spring protests in Syria in 2011. Most of the weapons various rebel groups have used since violence escalated have been provided by the United States, Saudi Arabia, or other partners. The U.S. hope was that the Assad regime would fall in a fashion similar to the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

Further, as Robert Kennedy Jr. points out (“Why the Arabs Don’t Want Us in Syria,” Politico Magazine, February 22, 2016), the United States has been interfering in Syrian affairs since the 1940s. Instability in the whole region-the Persian Gulf and the Middle East-has resulted from United States imperial policies since the end of World War II. What Cohen calls “American leadership” has included the 1945 oil for arms deal with Saudi Arabia; the creation of the state of Israel; growing involvement in the internal affairs of Syria, Iran, and Lebanon; opposition to the Arab socialism of Egypt and Syria; the Eisenhower Doctrine declaring the U.S. right and responsibility to protect the region from communism; to wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain in the contemporary period. Contrary to Cohen, the United States has done more than any other country to destabilize the region and destroy peace.

In terms of the general character of United States foreign policy, President Obama’s biggest failure has been his wavering from the pragmatic path he proposed in 2008 campaign speeches. Candidate Obama articulated the view that diplomacy should be the first tool any administration uses in foreign affairs. Diplomacy involves bilateral and multilateral negotiations, using various institutional venues such as the United Nations, regional organizations, and international economic institutions. And the use of diplomacy is particularly important in relations with countries that are enemies or potential enemies. The United States needs to have channels of communications with those nations who may not share its values or interests.

In addition, the Obama election was greeted with elation all across the globe because he presented the view that the United States needs to respect other countries, cannot be the world’s policeman, and must not act unilaterally has had been done in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in numerous other countries since the last World War. Perhaps Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements have involved diplomacy with Iran, Cuba, and even sometime cooperation with Russia. Early in his first term he attended a meeting of the G20 countries and seemed to endorse a greater international decision-making role for the countries of the Global South.

But President Obama was subjected to the pressures, the advice, and the sabotage of his pragmatic approach to the U.S. role in the world by a confluence of “humanitarian interventionists,” those who justify intervention on the grounds of promoting human rights, democratization, and markets. Richard Cohen and The Washington Post are exemplars of this perspective.

And also Obama could not withstand the equally powerful pressures of the neoconservatives who take the view that as the most powerful country militarily the United States should intervene everywhere to remake the world in its image. For the neocons, world affairs are ultimately about power. The neoconservatives populate Washington D.C. in think tanks and other institutions. Some were foreign policy advisers in the Bush administration and some hold positions of influence within the Obama administration.

Whether inspired by humanitarian interventionists or neoconservatives, the dark side of Obama’s foreign policy has been illustrated by expanding a military presence in Afghanistan, returning to Iraq, working with NATO to overthrow the regime in Libya, collaborating with Saudi Arabia to crush rebels in Bahrain and Yemen, dramatically increasing drone warfare on a multitude of “enemy” targets, participating in the destabilization of the government of Ukraine, launching a new cold war against Russia, pivoting U.S. military resources to Asia against China, and funding rebels in Syria.

In sum, the track record of President Obama has been tragically flawed not because he “threw in the towel” but because he did not adequately pursue the pragmatic foreign policy agenda he promised his supporters in 2008. Mike Lofgren, (The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, Penguin Books, 2015), writes about a “deep state,” a set of non-transparent institutions, think tanks, and long-time political influentials who determine most of United States foreign policy without any semblance of visibility to the public. As Andrew Bacevich once wrote, the role of the public is to be compliant and supportive of whatever foreign policy decisions are made by these less than transparent influentials.

Occasionally, the President and key spokespersons and publicists are called upon to explain ongoing foreign policies to the public and/or to criticize deviations from the direction of policy a President might initiate. The Washington Post and its pundits explain what the U.S. role in the world should be, “the world policeman,” and call into question any efforts, such as Obama’s pragmatism, when they deviate from what the wise men and women and the deep state institutions demand.

Finally, what Richard Cohen, and other humanitarian interventionists and their neoconservative colleagues, does not realize is that the United States is no longer the hegemonic power in the world. United States foreign policy is going to have to adjust to a multipolar world and a world mobilized for radical economic, as well as political change. The supporters of Obama’s foreign policy vision were inspired by an approach to international relations that while still based on big power muscle was at least tailored for a more complicated world. The alternative might be World War III.

It is unclear what the direction of U.S. foreign policy will be in a Trump administration but most signs point to greater militarism and interventionism. A first response from the peace movement might be to rearticulate the vision of a foreign policy pragmatism that was promised but not delivered by President Obama when he first ran for the presidency.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn

A Reposted Essay for the Season

Harry Targ : Season for Hope, Season for Struggle


‘I swear it’s not too late’
Turn! Turn! Turn!
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn (chorus)
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
(repeat chorus)

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
(repeat chorus)

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
(repeat chorus)

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

(Words from Ecclesiastes; text adapted and music by Pete Seeger)
We received a wonderful Chanukah present the other day, a children’s book called Turn! Turn! Turn! It is an illustrated adaptation by designer Wendy Anderson Halperin, of words from the Old Testament and music by Pete Seeger.

This present rekindled for me emotions, as I am sure it does for others, as I remembered things past; youth, family, naïve images of peace and tranquility. There is poignancy for us now too as we move towards the holidays at the same time that we struggle over the range of issues that will shape the destiny of humankind: peace, saving the environment, jobs, and health care reform.

This season progressives are debating whether we have been betrayed by Barack Obama; who is the biggest scoundrel — Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe; how to revitalize the peace movement; and whether to finally break with the Democrats.

But then “Turn, Turn, Turn” reminds us that “to everything there is a season.” The song suggests that the ebbs and flows of history are not bound by calendars, dates and times, and heroes and villains. A “season” is defined by its historic projects.

And these historic projects, the words suggest, include “a time to reap,” “a time to build,” “a time to break down,” “a time to cast away stones,” and “a time to gather stones together.”

Our projects, our seasons, entail defeats and victories, tears and laughter, but the seasons go on and encompass “a time to love” and “a time to hate.” And in the end the song declares, “I swear it’s not too late.”

So if we are inspired by the song, as we were in the 1960s, we remember that the struggles for peace and justice are not about individuals, political parties, and calendar deadlines but about the continued commitments which we have made to create peace, save the planet, put people back to work, and provide secure health care for all.