Wednesday, April 19, 2017

REBUILD THE PEACE MOVEMENT NOW! STOP THE VIOLENCE! STOP THE INTERVENTIONS!


Harry Targ

Although most progressives preferred a Hillary Clinton victory in the 2016 election, strong reservations about her candidacy existed because of her historic association with foreign policies promoting the  globalization of violence, war, and covert operations in countries which challenged the neoliberal policy agenda. Candidate Trump made bold statements about avoiding escalation of United States involvement in Syria, staying out of the perpetual tensions on the Korean peninsula, pulling the plug on NATO, and opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Most of all Trump seemed to strike a rational chord with his call for improving relations with Russia.

The Trump campaign created concern among the two dominant foreign policy factions which have dominated United States foreign policy since the Reagan period: the neoconservatives and the humanitarian interventionists. The first group, particularly influential in the eight years of President George Walker Bush, argued that the United States was the world’s hegemonic power and it should use that power to transform the globe. Militarism should be the primary instrument of foreign policy, not diplomacy. The second group, primarily those affiliated with Presidents Clinton and Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton advocated a more selective use of military power, promoting neoliberal globalization through diplomacy and trade agreements, and covert interventions to destabilize regimes hostile to the global economic agenda of capitalism. Clearly, these two factions of the foreign policy establishment overlapped and both sought to promote global capitalism and imperialism. But their methods varied.

The Trump campaign foreign policy agenda was seen by both factions as a threat to the imperial project. It stressed economic nationalism, a more judicious participation in international affairs, and potentially to use the old hyperbolic label “isolationism.” Therefore, after Trump’s election, what some analysts called “the deep state”-- foreign policy institutions such as the CIA, NSA, DIA, FBI, leadership of both political parties, liberal and conservative think tanks, and the mainstream media--launched a campaign to embarrass Trump, primarily using loose charges of a Trump/Putin election season cabal. The pressure on Trump became so strong and so single-minded in the liberal media (particularly MSNBC) that Trump began a significant tactical shift in foreign policy.

After weeks of increasingly hostile rhetoric about Russia, President Trump launched a massive missile assault on targets in Syria (which took off the front pages an “erroneous” mass slaughter of civilians in Mosul one week earlier due to a “mistaken” US air attack). He adopted the deep state narrative that Syria had dropped chemical weapons on its population. He threatened more military action. The hostility was coupled with threats and counter-threats between representatives of the US and Russian governments. Trump escalated bombing of targets in Yemen, giving support to the Saudi driven war there.  And during the week of April 12, the United States dropped a “mother of all bombs” on alleged enemy targets in Eastern Afghanistan. This bomb had the largest explosive power of any bomb used since World War II. In addition, the president and his vice president increased threats on North Korea, pledging military action if they test-fired new missiles and/or nuclear weapons. Trump sent an aircraft carrier group to waters adjacent to the Korean peninsula; another act of provocation. In addition, and below the radar screen of brutal violence, anti-government protestors in Venezuela mobilized to challenge the government of Nicholas Maduro. These so-called “dissidents” have among them activists on the payroll of the United States government. The campaign against the Bolivarian Revolution is being manifested in diplomatic and covert assaults against Bolivia and Nicaragua as well.

In sum, the new Trump administration has embraced a foreign policy that combines the worst aspects of the two factions of the foreign policy establishment, the deep state. He has shifted US policy to a militarism on high alert. He has returned to a posture that calls for the overthrow of the Assad regime in Syria. He has put war against North Korea on the table. He has continued the covert operations in Latin America. And he has joined the neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists in a campaign to challenge the place of Russia in the international system. On this last point, Russian expert Stephen Cohen, warns that we are closer to nuclear war with Russia than at any time since the Cuban Missile crisis. And as he and British journalist Jonathan Steele point out, the arguments for the new militarism are based on no evidence of new danger.

The one card that remains unclear, and perhaps the best hope for avoiding global war is the resistance of other powers in the world. Trump’s meeting with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in Washington and China’s role in efforts to forestall war in Korea remain unclear. Also representatives of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) met after the recent US attack on Syria to discuss a common response.

Without demeaning the centrality of the climate crisis, the title of Naomi Klein’s recent book, “This Changes Everything,” might be applied to the latest developments in United States foreign policy. New louder voices must be raised in the peace movement—and as part of every movement it is allied with—to Stop the Violence, Stop the War. In addition the clear connections between the $54 billion increase in military spending and the parallel cuts in non-military spending needs to be highlighted.

The famous clock of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has been moving toward midnight, total darkness. The peace movement must act now.

Monday, April 10, 2017

ON KOREA: SOME REPOSTS


Seeds of an imperial policy:
'Our Forgotten War' in Korea

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / June 21, 2010

"If we stand up to them [the communists] . . . they won't take any next steps. There's no telling what they'll do if we don't put up a fight now."
-- President Harry Truman at the outbreak of the Korean War, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 2010

"On June 25, 1950, communist-backed troops from North Korea invaded a hopelessly overmatched South Korea. American-led U.N. forces quickly came to the aid of South Korea, but the war unexpectedly escalated five months later when China, in support of North Korea, launched a massive attack on U.N. forces near the Yalu River.

"Three years of brutal fighting followed as both armies hurled each other up and down the Korean peninsula. More than 54,000 U.S. soldiers died during the war, which technically has never officially ended but has been in a prolonged cease-fire since 1953.

"North Korea often states that it is still at war, but the reality is that tenacious fighting by U.S. and U.N. soldiers successfully repelled the invading communist forces and pushed them back across the 38th Parallel border. South Korea remains a free nation, one of the most prosperous in Asia, while North Korea is one of the most repressive."
-- Chris Gibbons, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 20, 2010

The annual fantasy

Americans relive and debate the Vietnam War. Analysts discuss “the Vietnam Syndrome,” the “albatross” that shackled every president, and/or claims about where every candidate for public office was during Vietnam. To the contrary, the Korean War, which in the words of the U.S. government was launched by the aggressive invasion of North Korean armies below the 38th parallel into South Korea 60 years ago on June 25, 1950, is beyond question.

As newspapers often title Korea, “Our Forgotten War,” the story is simple: Communist aggressors (inspired by Moscow) invaded a free nation (South Korea). The Americans mobilized United Nations support and boldly counter-attacked forcing the Communist aggressors back North.

Then, the story goes, the US-led army of the free people went north of the 38th parallel to liberate North Korea from its dictatorship. This invasion was foiled by a massive Chinese Communist military response. While a ceasefire was established in 1953, conflict on the peninsula remains between the prosperous and free South Korea and the poor and totalitarian North Korea.

Key facts

This fantasy, created in 1950, set the stage for a 60-year rationalization for trillions of dollars of military spending, hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded, and the deaths of millions of people, largely from the Global South, who were unwilling hosts of wars, interventions, and domestic violence related to the Cold War.

Just a brief examination of the history of the Far East suggests that the fantasy is just that. The Korean Peninsula was colonized by the Japanese before World War I. At the end of World War II, with their defeat, Koreans all across the peninsula believed that they, at last, would be able to establish their own independent government. “Peoples Assemblies” began to meet to plan for a post-war Korean government. However, at the urging of the United States, it and the Soviet Union agreed to divide the peninsula at the 38th parallel until such time as an independent government, desirable to the victorious powers could be established.

The United States government over the next three years brought exiled Korean Syngman Rhee back to the country to establish a government in the U.S. occupied zone. Rhee, an √©migr√© with ties to large landowners, was not popular with South Korean farmers, many of whom rebelled against the new government imposed by Washington. In areas where rebellions were stifled, the United Nations held “elections” for a new government. Rhee and his party were victorious. And in the North, a regime allied with the Soviet Union was established, led by Kim Il Sung, long-time Korean Communist party organizer.

In 1948 Soviet troops were withdrawn from the North and in 1949 U.S. troops from the South. Both leaders, Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Sung, declared their commitments to liberate the other half to establish one Korean government. Some U.S. congressmen began to balk at Truman's requests to continue funding the corrupt Rhee government in the South.

In May 1950 Republican spokesman on foreign policy John Foster Dulles visited South Korea and spoke in support of Syngman Rhee, whose domestic support was faltering, and then Rhee and Dulles flew off to the Tokyo headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur, overseer of post-war Japan. It is important to note that shots had been fired both ways across the 38th parallel for months before these events.

Finally, as the official story suggests, North Korean troops invaded the South on June 25, 1950. South Korean military forces, heavily subsidized and trained by the United States, fled South and within a month much of the country below the 38th parallel was occupied by Northern armies.

Then the U.S., with UN support, launched a counter-assault in September 1950, led by General MacArthur, who already had declared his vision of creating a Christian and anti-Communist Asia. North Korean armies were forced back north of the 38th parallel and with the urging of MacArthur and other virulent Cold Warriors in the Truman administration an apocryphal decision was made to take the war to the North. The Chinese, fearful of an invasion of their own land, entered the war on the side of North Korean armies. The Korean War was extended until 1953 and a troubled ceasefire was established that still prevails today.

What the real history suggests

First, as historian Robert Simmons wrote: “There were constant and sizable armed clashes and border incursions between the North and South for over a year before the final crisis... the Seoul regime enjoyed little popular support... it had announced its intention to invade the North and appeared to be preparing to do so...”

Second, the division of Korea in 1945 defied the wishes of the Korean people, Communist and non-Communist alike. In the South, Syngman Rhee was regarded as an outsider and representative of the small land-owning class of Koreans (a character similar to Chiang Kai-Shek in China, and Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam).

Third, the Korean War was in fact a civil war which the Truman administration chose to define as the first great conflagration in the global struggle against worldwide Communism. Many scholars suggest to the contrary that North Korean Kim Il Sung’s decision to invade the South was made by him without approval or support from the Soviet Union.

In fact, the Soviet delegate at the United Nations was boycotting the Security Council at the time the Council voted to condemn the invasion of the South. If the Soviet delegate was aware of the planned invasion he probably would have attended the Security Council session to veto the U.S. resolution condemning the North Korean invasion.

Consequences of 'Our Forgotten War'

The decision by the Truman administration to enter the war to “save” the Rhee regime in the South signified a permanent commitment to an imperial policy that continues to this day. As political scientist Hans Morgenthau once wrote, after the Korean War started reversing U.S./Soviet conflicts and the militarization of the world was no longer possible.

The Korean War gave support to those Truman administration advocates for the full militarization of United States foreign policy and U.S. society. National Security Council Document 68 had been circulating inside the administration at that time. It called for a dramatic increase in annual military spending based on the proposition that each president should give the military all it wanted before any other expenditures for government programs were adopted. Specifically it called for an immediate four-fold increase in military spending, a proposal that some fiscal conservatives had opposed. After Korea virtually all restrictions on military spending were lifted.

Additional byproducts of the new U.S. commitment to a Korean War included the following: finalizing the construction of an anti-Communist Japanese economy to balance the new Chinese Communist regime; making permanent the U.S. financial commitment to the French in Indochina (a prelude to the next big war, in Vietnam); circulating the idea of an Asian military alliance to be called the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO); expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); and stimulating anti-Communist repression domestically.

As we reflect on the limited economic development in the North and the dramatic growth in the South, both products of the Cold War, the impacts of “Our Forgotten War” on the Korean people should be recalled. As Joyce and Gabriel Kolko wrote:

“The United States air force had completely destroyed all usual strategic bombing targets in North Korea within three months time, and by the end of the first year of combat it had dropped 97,000 tons of bombs and 7.8 million gallons of napalm, destroying 125,000 buildings that might ‘shelter’ the enemy. In mid-1952 it turned to the systematic destruction of mines and cement plants...” and the "...Suihu hydroelectric complex on the Yalu.”

They added that Syngman Rhee rounded up 400,000 South Koreans who were put in concentration camps. The authors wrote: “The Korean War, in effect, became a war against an entire nation, civilians and soldiers, Communists and anti-Communists alike. Everything -- from villages to military targets -- the United States considered a legitimate target for attack.” At least four million Koreans, North and South died, were wounded, or were made homeless (Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1945-54).

So despite the fact that the Korean War has become “Our Forgotten War,” the decision to enter Korea globalized, militarized, and institutionalized a U.S. policy that has rationalized wars on entire populations ever since.





Thursday, July 22, 2010

THE KOREAN WAR NEVER ENDS: A 60 YEAR COVERUP

Harry Targ

"We continue to send a message to the North. There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North," Mrs. Clinton said alongside Mr. Gates on Wednesday, as they stood just feet away from leering North Korean soldiers stationed across the North-South border. "But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Korea." (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2010).

In a political about-face, a South Korean commission investigating a century of human rights abuses has ruled that the U.S. military's large-scale killing of refugees during the Korean War, in case after case, arose out of military necessity.

Shutting down the inquiry into South Korea's hidden history, the commission also will leave unexplored scores of suspected mass graves believed to hold remains of tens of thousands of South Korean political detainees summarily executed by their own government early in the 1950-53 war, sometimes as U.S. officers watched.

The four-year-old Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea probed more deeply than any previous inquiry into the country's bloody past. But a shift to conservative national leadership changed the panel's political makeup this year and dampened its investigative zeal.

The families of 1950's victims wanted the work continued. (Charles J. Hanley and Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press, July 11, 2010).

Back to Korea

I keep coming back to the Korean War. Maybe it is an occupational hazard of those who teach foreign policy. Perhaps it is because virtually every administration since World War II has made their narrative of the events on the Korean peninsula a centerpiece for justifying United States foreign policy. And, from the standpoint of those of us who view United States foreign policy from a critical perspective, the Korean War represents a model of what that policy continued to be ever since the 1940s.

I wrote recently about “our forgotten war,” the Korean war, arguing that the U.S. commitment to “defend” the Korean regime south of the 38th parallel militarily opened the door to massive increases in military spending, the unquestioned commitment of the United States to a global anti-Communist agenda, defense of the reactionary Chinese on the Formosa Islands, the total funding of the French effort to crush Vietnamese anti-colonial forces, and the rapid expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Also, with the Korean War, domestic repression of dissent was broadened and deepened, unleashing the FBI, Congressional and state legislative investigative committees, and moves to standardize American popular culture.

I thought I had written enough on Korea for a while until I read a July 11 wire service story announcing that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission established five years ago in South Korea was terminated. The Commission was created to investigate charges that the U.S. puppet government in South Korea before and during the war was responsible for the rounding up and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of anti-government dissidents in the South (with U.S. military support). Also the Commission was to examine claims by historians that South Korean president Syngman Rhee may have slaughtered 100,000 or more of his own citizens in the early stages of the Korean War because they were deemed unsympathetic to the anti-Communist regime in Seoul.

Then on July 21, Secretaries of State and Defense Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates visited the 38th parallel which has divided the Korean peninsula for over 60 years. Photo images of Clinton peering North with binoculars underscored the definition of North Korea as mysterious and demonic. To support the imagery she announced that sanctions against the “Stalinist dictatorship” would be escalated. The North, she claimed, was responsible for the destruction of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, on March 26, killing 46 sailors. She accepted this interpretation from official South Korean government sources.

The Hidden History

I had read many books over the years on the Korea War but just recently took I.F. Stone’s The Hidden History of the Korean War off my shelf. As one of the first definitive studies of the onset of the Korean War, published by Monthly Review, in 1952, it tells a story of how that war started that is radically different from the official story: “the evil communists in the North invaded the democratic South on orders from the Soviet Union and China.” Even for me, the I.F. Stone narrative was shocking about Korea then (and now). Most troubling were the suggestions about how lies, deceit, messianic ideology, and personality disorders along with imperial structures and processes may have affected United States foreign policy in general. Reflecting on these foreign policies led me to realize that their impacts have included the deaths of millions of people, mostly people outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

Stone’s narrative highlights the interests, behavior, ideologies, and personalities of a handful of players who had most to do with creating and prosecuting the Korean War. Most central was General Douglas MacArthur, commanding officer of the U.S. occupation of Japan, headquartered in Tokyo. MacArthur saw himself as the future leader of all of Asia, bringing Christianity, capitalism, authoritarian democracy and his own historic destiny to the region.

His partners including John Foster Dulles, key Republican spokesperson on foreign policy, former representative to the United Nations and U.S. negotiator of the Japanese Peace Treaty which welcomed back that country into the “family of democratic nations.” Dulles had a long legal career, working with corporations and banks that did business with Nazi Germany. He regarded the rise of Communism as a manifestation of the anti-Christ.

Other partners in the Korean War drama were Syngman Rhee, dictatorial president of the South Korean regime who was on the verge of being ousted from power after his party lost parliamentary elections and Chiang Kai Shek, leader of the anti-Communist forces who were defeated by the Chinese Communists in a thirty-year civil war. Chiang’s Koumintang was forced to retreat from the mainland of China to the Formosan islands and he was desperately seeking a commitment from the United States to defend his beleaguered armies on the islands.

The narrative, of course, includes defense department officials and military contractors who remained, even in 1950, under the yoke of fiscally conservative legislators. They wanted a justification for massive increases in military spending such as those recommended in the secret document National Security Council Document 68.

In addition, Republican politicians were looking for an issue to finally end the twenty year domination of the Democratic Party in national political life. Issues such as the “fall of China,” “the spread of Communism,” the “lack of attention to Asia,” and “subversion inside the State Department” became part of their public agenda. And President Truman, his Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and other key advisers saw the need to expand U.S. military reach to Asia as well. With “the fall of China” Japan and the Korean peninsula were central to the geo-political expansion of US empire and the institutionalization of vibrant capitalist systems in Asia to challenge Communism.

Everybody Has an Interest in War

After describing the central characters in the Korean War drama, it becomes clear that they all would benefit from a massive and irrevocable U. S. military commitment to the anti-Communist regime in South Korea. Such a war would cap the distinguished military career of MacArthur, bring Christianity to Asia, shift foreign policy influence to missionary Republicans such as Dulles and others who wanted to expand U.S. domination to all of Asia, and would save the faltering political fortunes of the dictators in South Korea and Formosa who lacked support among their own people. Last, and not least, a Korean War would institutionalize, militarize, and globalize a United States foreign policy that would bring capitalism and democracy to the world.

The story Stone then tells is of lies and deceit designed to threaten and entice the North Koreans into making war on the South, changing the United States/United Nations response from defending the territory below the 38th parallel to expanding the war to the North, and doing whatever could be done to scare the Chinese into entering the war in full combat. Stone’s narrative shows how desperately the Chinese resisted all-out military response and how MacArthur’s headquarters at every turn resisted peace overtures.

The Stone narrative is long and complicated. Of course many have written about the Korean War since. But what so impacted me reading the book almost 60 years after its publication was the plausibility of the descriptions about how broad economic and political forces shaped and encouraged key decision-makers to act in despicable ways to serve their own interests, as well as United States empire. I am afraid that the United States approach to the Korean peninsula and foreign policy in general has not changed much since.

Any Way Out?

The best alternative to current U.S. foreign policy toward Korea and the world was recently expressed by the Veterans for Peace President Mike Ferner in a press release remembering the 60 year anniversary of the Korean War:

The recent unfortunate sinking of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, should not be used as an excuse by any parties to renew the armed conflict that the armistice was supposed to address on July 27, 1953. Rivers of blood, mountains of pain and a permanent war economy in the U.S. are the true costs of this conflict. This sad anniversary renews VFP's commitment to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

The press release concluded:

As we observe the 60th anniversary of the Korean War of 1950-1953 today, it is time to end this tragic war, not re-ignite it. We urge all concerned parties in the Korean War--both Koreas, the United States, and China--to begin negotiations for a peace treaty and an official end to the war.






Harry Targ : Korea and the U.S. Policy of Perpetual War

With the onset of the Korean War, the politics of fear converged with the politics of empire.

By Harry Targ | The Rag Blog | December 27, 2011

Liberal cable commentators have been waxing eloquent about the withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq while ridiculing and scorning the recently deceased dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. They fail to see the historic connections between the onset of war along the Korean peninsula in 1950 and the Iraq war of our own day.

If pundits reflected on the causes of the Korean War and the consequences following it they might see the culpability of the United States in launching a 60-year war system that has cost the lives of millions of people all across the Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American landscape.

To use the language of our own day, we need to “Occupy Our Minds,” or “Occupy Our History.” We need to understand where the North Korea of Kim Jong Il came from and why the United States created a dictator in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and then destroyed him, his country, and hundreds of thousands of his people. This revisiting of the American past is painful but necessary.

Consider the Korean peninsula. It was a colony of expansionist Japan from the dawn of the twentieth century until the end of World War II. After that war, Korea was “temporarily” split at the 38th parallel by the United States and the former Soviet Union for “administrative purposes.” As the war ended, the Korean people fully expected to create their own independent state. “People’s Assemblies” were held throughout the peninsula to serve this purpose.

In the South, under U.S. control the assemblies were ignored. Over the next five years, using the new United Nations as the stamp of legitimacy the United States created an unpopular regime in the South led by Syngman Rhee. Rhee, tied to western anti-communist interests and domestic wealth very much like Chiang Kai Shek in China and later Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, established a brutal dictatorship. The Soviets, in the north, established a Communist regime led by Kim Il Sung.

In 1950 powerful foreign policy interests promoted a global U.S. foreign policy that would benefit from war. General Douglas McArthur, overseer of post-war Japan; John Foster Dulles, anti-communist foreign policy spokesperson of the Republican Party; and Rhee, on the verge of losing his power in South Korea, met in Tokyo in May. Conversation ensued that likely included making war on North Korea.

Back in Washington, Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, and his key aide, Paul Nitze, were lobbying for a new bold military policy, proclaimed in the secret National Security Document 68. It called for military spending to be the number one priority of each American administration. The reason, the document claimed, was the world-wide threat to civilization represented by international communism.

George Kennan’s “containment” policy, beefing up U.S. and allied forces to protect against any aggressive attack from a prospective enemy, was not enough. By 1954, the document predicted, the former Soviet Union would be as powerful as the United States.

As Acheson himself admitted in his memoirs, he felt the need to exaggerate the threat to United States security to gain support for a more global U.S. foreign policy. In other words, support for empire required lying to the American people. In the Korean case, an artificial division of the Korean peninsula, contestation between competing political forces, and a North Korean military attack on the South was reframed as a worldwide war on freedom and democracy. The Korean War institutionalized the big lie.

Then the Truman Administration, the Defense Department, big corporations, the major media, and many religious institutions launched a campaign of fear based on a fantasy of a dangerous communist subversion. Who could question a dramatic military response to a nation under siege.

With the onset of the Korean War, the politics of fear converged with the politics of empire. In sum, the United States redefined a civil war between Koreans, north and south of the 38th parallel, into a struggle between the “free world” and “international communism.”

The Korean War led to the deaths of 4 million Koreans and 54,000 U.S. soldiers. Between 1950 and 1995, the United States continued to develop the largest military force in the world, with hundreds of bases in 30 or more countries, dozens of covert military operations, and support for countless dictators in countries of the Global South. In wars in which the United States had a role during these 45 years, some 10 million people died, most of them civilians.

Fifty-three years after the onset of the Korean War, the United States launched a war on Iraq based on lies. The American people were told of the dangers the Iraqi regime posed for United States security. The threat was no longer communism but terrorists. And Saddam Hussein was framed as a supporter of terrorism against the West who possessed weapons of mass destruction.

These were lies based on significant historical distortions of the politics of the region. The details were different but the arguments for war on North Korea and the war on Iraq were both based on lies. The same case can be made for most U.S. interventions and wars from Korea to Iraq.

The policies of fear, empire, and military operations continued in the 21st century. The war in Afghanistan, begun in 2001, still goes on. We now celebrate the ostensible end of the Iraq war after nine years. About 10 thousand U.S. soldiers and probably a million Afghan and Iraqi people have died in these two wars. Economists predict that the Iraq war alone will have cost the U.S. government 3 trillion dollars by 2030, a total similar to U.S. military expenditures between 1945 and 1990.

So when pundits ridicule the dictatorship in North Korea and make grandiose statements about the millions imprisoned, killed, or starved, no mention is made about why the Korean War was launched, whose interests it served on the United States side, and how U.S. aggressiveness was used by North Korean political elites to justify dictatorship there.

And, the failures of the North Korean economy are presented as solely the result of their socialist economy, not the 60-year war and economic embargo on that country perpetrated by the world’s most powerful country.

Ironically, while media pundits condemn poor North Korea for constructing deliverable nuclear weapons, they fail to point out that countries defined as enemies of the United States, such as Iraq and Libya, were subject to U.S. military attack because they did not have such weapons to deter military assault.

The death of the current dictator of North Korea and the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq should encourage a frank and serious discussion about the United States foreign policy of perpetual war that has been a central feature of the U.S. role in the world since Korea. As masses of Americans mobilize in parks, reoccupy foreclosed homes, and in other ways petition government to change its ways, elimination of the system of constantly preparing for and engaging in war must be included in demands for change.

Friday, April 7, 2017

WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY, AGAIN! (a Rag Blog repost)




20 June 2013

(Reposted April 7, 2017)


After promising improved relations with Russia and avoiding military involvement in Syria, the new Trump Administration has joined its predecessors in launching additional violence on the Middle East; bombing targets in Syria, irrespective of the consequences for improving relations with Russia and reducing the pain and suffering of the Syrian people. Since the original post below, it is estimated, some eleven million Syrians have been forced to migrate from their homes, six million of whom have desperately fled to other countries in the region, European countries, and even the United States (although former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, tried to restrict the settlement of Syrian refugees in his home state). The United States bombing of an airfield in Syria is designed, the Administration said, to send a message to the Syrian government that its own bombing of Syrian targets allegedly using chemical weapons is unacceptable. Members of the international community might ask what consequences the United States should suffer for its own bombings two weeks ago, with over 200 deaths of innocent civilians, of targets in West Mosul, Iraq.
The only rational United States policy to reduce the extraordinary pain and suffering in the Middle East is to withdrew military forces and to work with others, even competitors such as Russia, Iran, and Syria, to stop the violence against the Syrian people. However, there is no evidence now that the new administration will do anything other than has been done before; bombings, drone strikes, funding competing military factions in the civil war, sending U.S. troops, all which promote more death and destruction. (HT. April 7, 2017)
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One more time: Waist deep in the Big Muddy

June 20, 2013

The case is clear that increasing the United States' military involvement in Syria has negative consequences for the Middle East, international relations, the inspiration of Arab Spring, American politics, and the people of Syria.


In 2011 the grassroots revolts that spread all across the Middle East caught the traditional imperial powers in the region -- the United States, Great Britain, and France -- by surprise. Even more so, the Middle East theocracies and dictatorships -- Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and others -- were threatened by those young people, workers, unemployed, and women, who took to the streets motivated by the vision of another world.

The United States watched the street protests hoping against hope that the authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt would weather the storm. The Obama administration did not move publicly to aid these regimes to crush the protest but withheld its endorsement of the grassroots democracy movement.

The idea of popular revolt spread to places all across the globe including Madison, Wisconsin; Santiago, Chile; Athens, Greece; Madrid, Spain; and Quebec, Canada. The Occupy Movement in the United States expanded.

Globally, movements for a 21st century democratization seemed to be replicating 1968.

In this historic context, the imperial powers needed to transform the Middle East narrative from demands for jobs, worker rights, women’s rights, and democratization, to the more traditional religious and ethnic conflict model of Middle East politics.

The United States organized a United Nations/NATO coalition to intervene to encourage rebellion in Libya coupled with a game-changing air war against the Libyan military. The result was the overthrow of the government of Muammar Gaddafi and its replacement by a quarrelsome ungovernable regime rife with ethnic strife.

The UN/NATO war on Libya was billed as the next phase of Arab Spring, while actually it imposed religious and ethnic conflict on a relatively stable but authoritarian regime.

The anger over the U.S. encouragement and military intervention in the Libyan civil war was reflected in the killings by Libyan terrorists of CIA operatives in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. What intervention in Libya did was to destabilize that society and eliminate its former dictator who was opposed to the growing U.S. military expansion in North Africa.

Most important, it took off the front pages and the hearts and minds of youth, the poor, women, and trade unionists the hope of mass movements to bring about democratic change in the region.

U.S. covert and military intervention has shifted now from Libya to Syria. Mobilization against the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria was applauded by the United States. As the protest escalated into civil war in that country with contestants including secular and religious groups fighting against Assad’s army, the United States, Sunni countries of the Arab League, and NATO countries escalated their support to the rebels.

Another Libya-style UN/NATO military operation was thwarted by strong opposition from Russia and China and the threat of growing military support for the Syrian regime by Iran.

Part of the ongoing story of Syria is the following:

The United States launched its diplomatic involvement in the Syrian civil war by insisting that Bashar al-Assad must step down. This precluded any possibility of a diplomatic settlement of the civil war and the eventual dismantling of the Assad regime. Most important, the United States' non-negotiable demand made diplomatic collaboration between the United States and Russia all but impossible.

Support for various rebel factions, diplomatic and presumably covert, has encouraged the escalation of opposition violence which has been matched by state violence.

Rebel factions, ironically, have included groups with profiles that resemble the terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 murders in the United States and terrorist attacks on various targets in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Violence and political instability have begun to spread to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and have drawn Israel and Iran closer into regional war.

As the Syrian civil war has escalated it has become a “proxy” war between the United States and Russia and Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In the United States, the civil war in Syria has rekindled the war factions. These include the “neoconservatives” who were responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Using 9/11 and lies about weapons of mass destruction, the neoconservatives influenced the Bush administration to pursue their agenda to use United States power to transform the globe in its interests.

The neoconservatives, advocates of United States military intervention in Syria, are now joined by the “humanitarian interventionists” who in the Clinton Administration supported bombing campaigns in Iraq, Serbia, and Bosnia and live by the ideology that the United States must use its military power to promote human rights around the world.

It is important to note that recent polling data suggests that only a small percentage of the American people, about 20 percent, give any support to United States involvement in Syria. Most Americans are suffering from declining jobs, income, and social safety nets, and reject the war economy and militarism that has characterized the U.S. role in the world since 1945.

The escalation of the civil war, the growing military role of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, NATO, Hezbollah from Lebanon, and Israel has led to nearly 100,000 Syrian deaths and more than a million refugees. As in most international wars, innocent people suffer and die as military decisions are made in government capitals.

The case is clear that increasing the United States' military involvement in Syria has negative consequences for the Middle East, international relations, the inspiration of Arab Spring, American politics, and the people of Syria.

The hope for a more just and peaceful future requires support for the resumption of the spirit and vision of the original Arab Spring that began in Tunisia and Egypt and spread all across the globe. Otherwise the United States will once again be “waist deep in the big muddy” as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

THE CENTRAL AMERICAN REFUGEES ARE 21ST CENTURY DESCENDANTS OF IMPERIALISM (reposted from The Rag Blog July 19, 2014)

Harry Targ

A Military Coup in Honduras

Sunday, June 28, 2009 the Honduran military carried out a Coup ousting duly elected President Manuel Zelaya from power. Almost immediately leaders of Western Hemisphere nations condemned the actions taken in Tegucigalpa, the capital city. For example, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) asserted that the days of military coups as a mechanism of the transfer of power were over in Latin America.

President Obama said on the following day that "it would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections…. The region has made enormous progress over the last 20 years in establishing democratic traditions in Central America and Latin America. We don't want to go back to a dark past."

On June 30, the United Nations General Assembly passed by acclamation a non-binding resolution condemning the military action and demanding that Zelaya be returned to office. Political opposites from former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, to Barack Obama took the same position on the events in Honduras, although Chavez articulated the view that the United States had a role in the Coup.

The New York Times reported on the Coup and the mass mobilizations in Honduras protesting it. The story did editorialize by pointing out that Zelaya, who was elected in 2006, was closely allied with Hugo Chavez and had linked Honduras to the Chavez led “leftist alliance, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.” The Times further reported that there were large scale protests in the capital of Honduras in support of the Coup. And they claimed that Zelaya would have had no world significance if it were not for the Coup which made him famous.

Subsequent to the worldwide condemnations, including from the Obama administration, two elections were held ignoring the Coup, one later in 2009 and another in 2013. In other words, former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted was never allowed to return to office.

Journalist John Perry wrote three years after the Coup that Honduras had distinguished itself by its escalating violence. “…the murder rate is four times that of Mexico and it has become the world’s most dangerous country for journalists with 23 having been assassinated over the last three years.” Perry pointed out that in the Northeast of the country big landowners struggled against small farmers who sought to keep control of their land and the area has become a transit point for drug smuggling (John Perry, “Honduras--Three Years After the Coup,” OpenDemocracy.net. June 27, 2012.) 
The Relevance of Central American History for Today

The horrific migrations of the young and their families from the Central American war zones in 2014 (and earlier) are explained by media and politicians as caused by the quest of migrants for an improved standard of living to be found in the United States, or flight from homegrown drug gangs, or loose talk from President Obama about asylum for refugees, or failures of the Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform legislation. These common narratives ignore the history of United States imperialism in the Western Hemisphere and particularly the grotesque U.S. inspired violence against the Central American peoples launched by the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Also, they do not address the economic devastation in the region caused by neo-liberal economic policies imposed by the debt and trade systems. Any serious discussion of the current refugee crisis of thousands of young people fleeing poverty and violence should include the following:

First, the Western Hemisphere has experienced hundreds of years of shifting external interference, mass murder and economic exploitation of natural resources, agricultural lands, cheap labor, and sweat shop workers. The Spanish, the British, and the United States figured most prominently in this unhappy story, referred to by Eduardo Galeano as “five centuries of the pillage of a continent.”

Second, twentieth century Central America was dramatically shaped by over thirty U.S. military incursions and occupations in Central America and the Caribbean between 1898 and the 1930s. For example, U.S. troops were sent to Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, and 1924-25.

Third, economic ruling classes in the Hemisphere and their foreign partners increasingly were forced to rely on strong military forces to crush domestic opposition to elite rule and devastating poverty and exploitation. Particularly in Central America, the military as an institution became a material force, sometimes independent of the economic ruling class. From the early 1930s until the end of World War II military dictatorships ruled each of the five Central American countries. Later, in the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, 2/3 of the land mass and population of Latin America was ruled by brutal military dictatorship: Argentina, Brazil, and Chile being the most prominent.

Fourth, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan brought the struggle against “international communism” to Central America. He launched and supported brutal wars against the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan people and looked the other way as the Guatemalan generals engaged in genocide against the majority indigenous population of that country. An estimated 400,000 Central America peoples died in these U.S. supported wars.

Honduras, before 1980, was a country with less violent military rule and only received modest amounts of U.S. military aid. However, as a result of Reagan’s wars in Central America, Honduras became the military base for U.S. operations in the region; training the contra rebels fighting against the Nicaraguan government and providing training and military support operations for Salvadoran troops fighting against FMLN rebels. Honduras received more military aid from the United States in the mid-1980s, than it did during the prior thirty years. Thousands of U.S. troops, numerous air strips, and field exercises for summer National Guard troops made Honduras a U.S. armed camp.

Fifth, parallel to the war on communism in the Western Hemisphere, the Reagan administration forced on the countries of the region the neo-liberal economic policies of downsizing government, deregulation, privatization, free trade, and shifts to export-oriented production. In the 1980s, the economic consequences of these policies were referred to by Latin American scholars as “the lost decade.”

While the economies of Central American countries have improved since the 1980s, they remain poor and dependent. Honduras is the poorest of the five countries in the region. In 2003 its per capita Gross Domestic Product was $803 (the regional figure was $1,405). A little over 9 percent of its earnings came from overseas remittances. Honduran debt constituted 66 percent of total GDP. And life expectancy was 66 years.

This brief review of some of the Latin American experience was part of the story of the 2009 coup, the escalation of domestic violence that ensued in the country since then, and the refugee crisis today. The histories of Guatemala and El Salvador have been similar. Even though elections in El Salvador brought former guerrilla members to power, U.S. and domestic elite opposition to radical reforms in that country have stifled the fundamental changes needed to transform the lives of the people there.

The Refugees as Victims of Imperialism

In general, we first should remember that whenever the interests of foreign investors (particularly from the United States), domestic ruling classes and/or military elites were threatened by international political forces and/or domestic mobilization of workers and peasants, the military moved in to reverse the forces of history.

Second, the United States has played a direct role in such interventions and has provided military assistance and training for military officers of all Latin American militaries ever since the end of World War II. (The training facility used to be called The School of the Americas and now is officially The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

Third, military interventionism and covert operations have been paralleled by economic intervention through the debt system, foreign investment, trade agreements, and quotas and embargoes of goods from Latin American countries.

Fourth, the winds of change that were initiated in the 1960s in the region were first stifled and isolated, then spread in the 1980s and beyond. Most recently, countries as varied as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela have begun to step in a new direction; away from the neo-liberal economic model, away from deference to traditional great powers, and in resistance to the United States. (Honduras had begun to move in this direction as well before the Coup).

Most importantly, these countries, and other countries from the Global South in Asia and Africa, have been constructing new economic and political institutions that might transform an international economic and political system based on 500 years of North Atlantic rule. The fact that 192 countries in the United Nations condemned the Honduran Coup in 2009 suggested that this battle has gone beyond the simplistic New York Times frame that the Honduran battle was merely about competing special interests.

President Obama evidenced a sense of the history of U.S. imperialism in the Western Hemisphere and the role that regional domestic economic and military elites played in Central American countries when he criticized the 2009 coup in Honduras. However, his subsequent support of those who carried out the Coup and who refused to allow the ousted President to return, signaled that he would be returning to the traditional U.S. approach to the region. And the traditional United States policy supporting the consolidation of foreign investments and domestic wealth in Central America and  profit derived from the drug wars is connected to the  pain and suffering of Central American peoples.

Of course, a serious effort to address the refugee problem today would have to include a U.S. shift to support popular forces in the region, rejection of draconian neo-liberal policies, regional  allocation of economic assistance to stimulate grassroots economic institutions with people producing for domestic consumption, and radical disarmament of Central American militaries, police, and drug gangs. It would be a tall order but a worthy one for solidarity activists in the United States and the rest of the Hemisphere to support.

Finally, in the short-term, progressives should demand that the children entering the United States be treated as refugees and provided safety and security. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream I Ever Dreamed Before. I Dreamed the World Had All Agreed to Put an End to War"


Harry Targ

I went to bed last night with a sense of impending doom as a handful of elected leaders announced plans to reduce access to health care for people who are poor and of moderate income. They already made it clear that they want to end women’s access to reproductive healthcare, programs delivering food to the elderly, and money for public institutions including schools, libraries, the arts, roads and bridges, and public transportation. And all the funds for these projects, meager though they were, will be shifted to a new generation of nuclear weapons, drones, armies, military contracts with multinational corporations and universities so that “we can win wars again.”

But I had a dream about a different kind of society that could be created not by financiers, CEOS of multinational corporations, generals, university presidents, think tank geniuses, heads of the national and local security apparatuses but by people at the grassroots.

Years ago I wrote about such a society with ideas culled from the literature on utopian thought and practice and the New Left and Black Liberation struggles of the 1960s.

Today I would deemphasize my grassroots bias and excessive fears about the possibility of creating humane national institutions. But what I think remains true about the vision below is not the details but the commitment to social and economic justice, equality of access to resources, the elimination of exploitation and oppression based on class, race, gender, or sexual preference, and a sensitivity to human compatibility with the natural environment.

The vision of a new society challenges inequality, hate, violence and war, and the view that humans are sinful creatures without the capacity for human empathy. The new social movements of 2017 offer the hope, indeed the necessity, of bringing this dream to reality. 

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ENVISIONING A NEW SOCIETY: LET THE DEBATE CONTINUE

(original post: November 9, 2013)

We live in a world dominated by global capital, a world in which capital divides us, setting the people of each country against each other to see who can produce more cheaply by driving wages, working conditions, and environmental standards to the lowest level in order to survive in the war of all against all….The most immediate obstacle, though is the belief in TINA (There is No Alternative, HT). Without the vision of a better world, every crisis of capitalism (such as the one upon us) can bring in the end only a painful restructuring--with the pain felt by those already exploited and excluded. (Michael A. Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century, Monthly Review, 2006, 50).

The material below is a revision of an essay I published some time ago inspired by youthful debates many were having about what kind of society we need to create to facilitate the full flowering of humankind (“Social Science and a New Social Order,” Journal of Peace Research, 1971). As Lebowitz implies we need to return to conversations about what a better future would look like. If we fail to talk about our preferred future we will become overwhelmed with cynicism and lose the capacity to do more than react to those who want to reverse legislative gains.

Specific features of a new society

Progressive visions of a new society draw upon real and imagined communities that provide for the socio-economic and psychic needs of their members. Many of these visions include the following principles:

a)    A new society requires equal or equitable distribution of economic resources. This principle presupposes also a commitment to racial justice, gender equality, the right to love and bond with whomever one chooses, and a vision of the oneness of humankind with nature.

b)    A new society should consist of basic socio-political units that do not exceed a size whereby all people in the unit can and do interact with each other. Voluntary face-to-face contact and knowledge of the values, beliefs, and desires of other community members will increase modes of cooperation which are central to the viability of the new society.

c)    Political, social, and economic decisions should be made on the basis of voluntary participation. Those decisions that affect people’s lives will be made on the basis of their involvement.

d)     Political decision-making may entail one of or a combination of three possible  modes. Some communities might decide to make decisions on the basis of complete consensus and others might decide on the use of majority rule. Some communities might create representative bodies to make decisions for the larger community with regular rotation of leaders.

e)    Political, social, and economic units might be defined as temporary so that the  
dissolution and adjustment of these units can be carried out at any time. Communities ought to continue only so long as they fulfill the needs of their members. However, while embracing change, communities might find virtue in providing some institutional continuity over time, particularly in terms of economic wellbeing.

Assumptions of the new society

Any new society that we envision, of course, will be based upon underlying assumptions. Evaluation of each plan necessitates a critical analysis of both its central features and the explicit and implicit assumptions embedded in it. For example the proposals made above make several assumptions:

a)    A new society based upon local control and participatory democracy assumes that this control in conjunction with equal distribution of resources will decrease the level of alienation among the population and hence the incidence of social bigotry. The more humans control their own social and physical environment, the less likely they will be to project hostilities onto others. Similarly, if they have equal access to economic resources, no material justification for hostility will exist.

b)    Although it is assumed that an equitable distribution of resources, community control, and the possibility of mobility will dramatically reduce conflict between socio-political units, conflicts from a variety of causes will probably persist. However, internal and cross- community conflict will be in what may be called 'human scale' because the scope and intensity of conflict among small communities will be greatly reduced.

The 'enemy' will not be an abstraction in the new society but the real person living across one's communal borders. As political scientist Quincy Wright put it a long time ago, “the larger the group and the less accessible all its members to direct sensory contact with all the others and their activities, the less available are instinct, custom, or universal acceptance as bases of group behavior, and the more symbols and opinions about them are the stimuli and guides for behavior. In the large groups which make war in modern civilization, symbols have been responsible for initiating and guiding that particular behavior.” 'Direct sensory contact' will replace symbol manipulation by economic and political elites in the nation state.

c)    The emphasis on primary political and social control at the community level and the creation of small-scale societies necessitate the existence of some significant cross-community or cross-national units, significant for certain functions such as dispersal of funds throughout a nation or region.

Three possible superordinate units could emerge. The most likely in the near future would be the mixed centralized-decentralized system proposed by Paul Goodman whereby 'non-human' actions are carried out at the national level such as the dispersal of resources to communities, accounting operations, and other computerized actions. Intermediate units such as state governments could be eliminated, and the significant decisions affecting individuals made in their communities. Another alternative involves the creation of domestic or international regions providing the superordinate functions in conjunction with the communities. Superordinate limited political units could emerge out of transformations of regional international organizations such as the European Union or the North American Free Trade Agreement. Finally, the breakdown of the nation-state might yield a new macro-micro community interaction system. Any of these possibilities requires that superordinate functions must be clearly defined, made as automatic as possible (not subject to technocratic manipulation), and structures must be continuously evaluated.

d) Central to the new society is the assumption that society can develop a new non-work ethos, that the system of economic abundance and automation, when stripped of its false productivity, consumption, featherbedding, and the imposition of scarcities, can reduce some of what we know as laborious work. Traditional labor could be reduced although other work such as care giving is likely to increase. And given the reduction of work, human beings can find ways to use life time for sociability and pleasure as well as necessary labor. This suggests several alternative life styles, including extensive continuous education and community participation in the arts.

e)It is further assumed that the wealth and income of the world would be redistributed transforming the economic system whereby basic needs and functional comforts are made available to all. National armies, hand-picked neo-colonial elites, and foreign corporations no longer will control the direction of change in the Global South allowing members of the latter to choose their destinies independently. Further as the new societies spread from territory to territory one might hope for the emergence of economic redistribution that provides comforts for the world’s citizens. The stimulus for change could begin locally and nationally and spread throughout the world.

f) Finally, the vision of the new society assumes the possibility and, indeed, the necessity of humans regaining control of the technological world. Developed societies have experienced the growth and dominance of organizational/technological rationality, a rationality committed to organizational maintenance and expansion irrespective of the human needs of its members. The goal of a new society is ultimately to achieve individual and community rationality based upon means and ends in human scale. Specifically, a new social order presupposes that technology can be decentralized, that efficiency necessary for modern existence does not require centralized political and social control. Social organization can determine technological organization.

Strategies for change

Political activists spend much time discussing strategies for change. Scrutiny of relevant history and assessments of contemporary practice are most beneficially used by progressives to guide their efforts to bring about change within communities, nations, and the international system. It is presumed that to bring about a new society such as that discussed above, a multiplicity of strategies need to be utilized, giving credence to personality, environmental, and systemic variations--and class, race, and gender--with particular emphasis upon spontaneity, creativity, self-doubt, and constant reappraisal.

Of continued importance to change and of utility for achieving a new society is continued education—education for change which would be truly revolutionary. 

Education involves, where relevant, academic argumentation, political organization around specific issues, and personal commitments in visible ways to new value systems and life styles. Substantial change requires mass support: hence large numbers of people must be exposed to the spirit of a new society so that they see alternatives and, hopefully, choose to work for their achievement.

Along with educational value, the building of new institutions may provide the skeletal structures of a new society within the parameters of the old. With increasing tension and disarray in 21st century societies, the existence of new, more appealing alternative embryonic structures will provide the substance for new loyalties and commitments when the threshold of tensions make new institutions crucial. As Staughton Lynd has argued, radical social change in the United States occurred when people, of necessity, built new institutions at the community level and crises stimulated the development of new loyalties to these institutions. Eventually the substance of these institutions spilled over from community to community across the nation. The growth of worker cooperatives might be an example.

Finally, those seeking the achievement of a new social order should involve themselves in the ongoing political process, openly and honestly articulating the substance of principles explicit in the quest for a new society. This means the utilization of electoral politics, street heat, and left organizing to communicate with the public, to build people power, and to achieve policies that move towards a new society.

Let us fight cynicism and resume the debate about building a better future!