Sunday, October 2, 2016


Kirsten West Savila wrote: “Angela Davis—scholar, freedom fighter, former political prisoner, icon and my personal hero—told attendees at the “Black Matters: The Futures of Black Scholarship and Activism” conference at the University of Texas at Austin, that she is not so “narcissistic” to say that she won’t vote for Hillary Clinton,” in The Root, September 30,  2016.

Harry Targ

The Dickens opening to The Tale of Two Cities—it was the best of times and the worst of times-- continues to be relevant again and again. That is what dialectics is all about. 2016 gave us an exciting and inspirational presidential campaign led by Bernie Sanders: an older, Jewish socialist. Best of all was the enormous enthusiasm he generated among millennials, who were excited by his political vision and not deterred by his age.

On the other hand, the Republican pool of presidential candidates were among the most reactionary, racist, sexist, and homophobic collection of politicians ever assembled in national political life. This characterization was not always true of past Republican leaders who occasionally stood up for social and economic justice and against war. However, Republicans since 2008 have sought to rekindle the deep structures of racism for their own political gain.

The long-time presumptive Democratic Party nominee, at least from the standpoint of the mainstream media, offered a program of national policy that more or less supported finance capitalism at home and “humanitarian interventionism” overseas. 

But the Democratic contest energized the passions of the young, expanded political discourse to include visions of a more just future, and buried the virulent anti-communism that undergirded the political rhetoric of American politics since the onset of the Cold War. The vibrant support for the Sanders candidacy shifted domestic political discourse to the left and led to the construction of a Democratic Party platform that spoke to the needs for achieving a single payer health care system, raising the minimum wage to a living wage,  providing free tuition to students entering public universities,  creating real banking reform, passing meaningful immigration policies, reforming the criminal justice system, and addressing climate change, the most fundamental threat to humankind. Although platforms are just words, they articulate guides for policy advocacy and social movement mobilization. 

Finally, the Sanders campaign has stimulated the continuation of grassroots mobilizations to support progressive candidates for local, state, and national office. At this stage at least, the Sanders “Our Revolution” organizing efforts promise to continue the democratic socialist upsurge between elections as well as during them.

The “best of times” leaves much undone and gives pause to the most excited Sanders activists but the seeds have been planted for a new politics among the progressive majority and inspiration for older and younger sectors of the left to participate in mass movements in the years ahead.

As to the November, 2016 election, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is close enough to be frightening. The Trump/Pence candidacy has mobilized white supremacists, religious fundamentalists, citizens virulently hostile to immigrants, second amendment dogmatists and others who stand for returning to a past that can only be recreated with even greater state violence.The complicated election season raises questions about where progressives, particularly Sanders activists, should channel their political energies.

First, the Trump/Pence candidacy must be defeated. Trump has mobilized reactionary sectors of American society who support reversing gains made by women, people of color, and workers. The long march for economic and social justice of workers, women, African Americans, Latinos, and religious minorities has taken too long and required too many sacrifices, to be reversed.

Second, the centrists Democrats who support candidate Clinton might blame the new progressive majority if the Democratic candidate wins only by a narrow victory or loses. In fact, a Clinton victory will clearly depend upon the support of the masses of people, young and old, black and white, many of whom worked with passion for Bernie Sanders. A Clinton victory will be a Sanders victory. 

And in the 2016 context, the progressive majority will be in a position to demand that the Democratic Platform be supported in policy. The new administration will be obliged to put its full resources behind significant reform in health care, wages, the criminal justice system, immigration, and bank regulation. And, in addition, the new progressive majority will be in a position (even beyond former candidate Sanders) to challenge the military-industrial complex and demand a withdrawal from the expanding US empire in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

In fact, a Hillary Clinton electoral victory will be a defeat for the legitimation of racism and reaction and a demonstration that it was the progressive majority that insured it. The new progressive majority will have the right to “sit at the table.” If not it will be fully justified in hitting the streets.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Harry Targ

The idea of the deep state is a metaphor to alert the citizenry to policies that are made mostly in secret, or if not in secret at least with very limited public visibility, in the states as well as in the federal government. Often public policy decisions, made by powerful political elites in relative secrecy or by invisible groups, are only announced or uncovered after they are made. Policies secretly implemented become difficult to challenge because decisions have already been made and appear irreversible.

The Mysterious “Real Alternatives” Contract With the State of Indiana

For example, on October 15, 2015, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana announced that Indiana had signed a $3.5 million contract for one year of anti-abortion counseling with Real Alternatives, a multi-million dollar non-profit organization. The contract would be funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money. He reported that Real Services has a “pro-life mission.” It does not provide advice concerning contraception and most women’s reproductive health services. Its goal is to “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.”

The Governor indicated that this contract follows a prior one year $1 million pilot program carried out in Northern Indiana. He claimed that the contract provides important health services for women and families. The stated purpose of RA is to “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The CEO of Indiana Right to Life praised the pilot program and the new contract.

What Is “Real Alternatives” and Where Did It Come From?

It turns out that Real Alternatives is among a growing industry of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) that have sprung up around the country to oppose abortions, contraception, and family planning. Jenny Kutner (“How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Are Using Taxpayer Dollars to Lie to Women,” Salon, July 14, 2015) points out that there are three times more CPCs than abortion clinics. They do provide some modest services, such as pregnancy tests, some basic childcare resources, and diapers for new born children of poor women. However, CPC services are typically “…misleading, manipulative or downright coercive, pushing a distinctly antiabortion agenda that relies heavily on lying to clients.” CPC counsellors are usually religious and misrepresent themselves as healthcare professionals.

At least 11 states provide millions of dollars to fund largely religiously-based CPCs. One of the largest CPC organizations, Real Alternatives, began operations in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. Former Democratic Governor Robert P. Casey put RA services in the state budget to actively oppose abortions. Over the years the state’s support for RA came from the legislature’s “pro-life” caucus and was followed by public money being used by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to fund Morning Star Pregnancy Services and the Pennsylvania Alternative to Abortion Services Program. By 1997 72 CPCs received public reimbursements.

Support for RA spread to other states but Pennsylvania’s former Senator Rick Santorum failed in his effort to introduce the Women and Children’s Resources Act to fund CPC programs like RA in 1999, which would have been a federally-funded program. RA gave support to parallel CPCs in Florida, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. In 2001 Pennsylvania support for RA increased and the program was funded by money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. By 2011, the RA model was used to establish anti-choice services in Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, South Dakota, and in 2014 Indiana. Pence said that “We fund Real Alternatives because it’s the right thing to do! We know that the work that you all do is critical to making Pennsylvania a better place. We know that what you do every day is making a tremendous difference in the lives of our children and families.” 

The Deep States and the Anti-Choice Agenda

While so-called right-to-life groups are aware of CPCs and particularly the work of RA, most of the public had little knowledge of the pilot Indiana program. In addition, aside from a brief report on Indianapolis television, the Pence extension of the RA program with public money received little attention. The small but determined opponents of the right of women to control their bodies, including particularly religious organizations, create semi-public organizations such as RA and then set about building support among the political class to gain state funding for their efforts. By the time the public is aware of the state funding, it is too late to mobilize adequate political opposition.

In the case of RA, and most CPCs, state funding is in violation of the separation of church and state and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Progressives need to become familiar with the “deep state,” those semi-invisible centers of power that shape the public policy agenda and at the same time work against policies that challenge the fundamental rights of all citizens. And voters reflecting on if and how they cast their vote should be aware of the semi-secret anti-women policies implemented by the vice-presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, Mike Pence.

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Harry Targ

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 as an organization of corporations, lobby groups, and state-level politicians to propose and implement model legislation; prioritizing such policies as promoting educational vouchers and charter schools,  limiting the role of trade unions, restricting environmental regulations, and instituting voter identification rules. ALEC has established think tanks that address key issues of public policy. One such issue is education.

In a 2015 article Lindsey Russell, an ALEC Director of its Education Task Force, wrote an essay entitled “STEM-Will It Replace Liberal Arts?” In it he reports Bureau of Labor Statistics projections that from 2012-2022 there will be a growth of 13 percent in the STEM related workforce. As a result he poses the question reflected in the title of his article. His answer, although he does not say so directly is a qualified “yes.” He does quote a Forbes magazine article that suggests that STEM graduates need “critical thinking skills” to pursue their careers. These skills, the article asserts, along with those in communication, are what a Liberal Arts education can provide. In an interesting statement he says about STEM and Liberal Arts:

“STEM is the present and the future, and STEM related fields are projected to grow by more than 1 million by the year 2022….Liberal arts education may seem irrelevant today, but it is necessary if America’s youth are to become successful members of today’s STEM-dominated workforce.”

Although not central to discussions of the vitality of the Liberal Arts, it is useful to briefly refer to empirical studies that challenge the claims about preparing for a “STEM-dominated workforce.” Such analyses, and claims about shortcomings in the American educational system, go back as far as the Soviet Union’s launch of “Sputnik.” In a 2014 volume,  Michael Teitelbaum, Falling Behind? Boom, Bust and the Global Race for Scientific Talent, Princeton Press, challenges the periodically claimed view that the United States is somehow “falling behind” in the production of scientists and engineers and in his words, “advocates of these shortage claims have had a nearly open field in politics and the media.”

In addition, in a Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review, May 2015 article entitled, “STEM Crisis or STEM Surplus? Yes and Yes,” the following conclusions are reached based upon extensive research:

*Since the STEM labor market is heterogeneous there are both shortages and surpluses depending on the particular job market segment.”

*In the academic market there are noticeable oversupplies of Ph.D’s.

*In some sectors of government jobs there are shortages of STEM-trained personnel.

*In the private sector, there are some areas were STEM demand is great, in others where oversupply exists.

*Levels of oversupply or demand vary by geographic region.

Perhaps the most damning statement on STEM training and jobs comes from an article by Hal Salzman, “STEM Grads Are at a Loss,” US News, Sept. 15, 2014 declaring that: “All credible research finds the same evidence about the STEM workforce: ample supply, stagnant wages and, by 
industry accounts, thousands of applicants for any advertised job.”

While debates continue about the need to prioritize STEM in the educational process, a more important discussion should involve the substance and role of what usually is called “the Liberal Arts.” Should Liberal Arts be seen as only a training ground for honing critical thinking and communications skills or does the Liberal Arts project go much deeper? Henry Giroux, Professor of English and Cultural Studies, McMasters University, Hamilton, Ontario, posted an essay he called “Neoliberal Savagery and the Assault on Higher Education as a Democratic Public Space,” on September 15, 2016. His language is vivid, his critique of the growing connections between higher education and market needs is controversial. His grounding of the political pressures to change and marginalize Liberal Arts has its roots in the theory and practice of neoliberal ideology, an ideology based on a crude vision of markets, privatization of public institutions, and the reduction of all of social life to commodification.

The most important element of Giroux’s essay is the proposition that the university represents a “public trust” and a “social good.”  He correctly claims that in an age of concentrating media and a profusion of unsubstantiated information on the internet, the university remains a scarce and valuable venue for exposing young people to rich, complicated discourse and analysis of society—past, present, and future. Giroux’s words ring true in this regard as he claims the university is  “a critical institution infused with the promise of cultivating intellectual insight, the civic imagination, inquisitiveness, risk-taking, social responsibility, and the struggle for justice.” Giroux quotes Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis: “how will we form the next generation of intellectuals and politicians if young people will never have an opportunity to experience what a non-vulgar, non-pragmatic, non-instrumental university is like?”

The tasks cultural theorists such as Giroux lay out do not, or should not, suggest that only through Liberal Arts can the civic responsibility of the university be maintained. But, and this is critical, Liberal Arts should be seen as a necessary partner in the intellectual development of each and every student and should be a vibrant contributor to the larger society in which we live.

Conceiving of Liberal Arts as just a limited instrumentality of a narrowly defined STEM education, as advocates such as the ALEC spokesperson above suggests, demeans not only the fundamental importance of the Liberal Arts for pursuing an intellectually curious and socially just society but the basic project of higher education.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Harry Targ

September 15, 2016

(With the return to colleges and universities for the fall, 2016 term, the issues of academic freedom have reappeared in the mainstream media. Recently a story was published about a letter the University of Chicago sent to its incoming students warning that all discourse was fair game, that “safe spaces” and warnings of uncomfortable subjects would not be encouraged in the class room. The hallowed idea of academic freedom was justified by University of Chicago authorities and echoed by administrators at various universities. Ironically, as two prior posted essays suggest, academic freedom has always been constrained or censured in higher education, not by radical students demanding more attention and sensitivity to issues of class, race, gender, sexual preference, and violence at home and abroad but those who oppose such discussions. Recently there has been a campaign to stifle those who are critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people. Often, the defenses of academic freedom are designed to stifle the demands for open discussion on controversial issues rather than encourage them. The two essays written and posted in 2015 illustrate this contradiction. HT) 


Harry Targ

May 21, 2015
Purdue University has become the first public institution of higher education to adopt a free speech policy called the ‘Chicago principles,’ condemning the suppression of views no matter how ‘offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’ they may be. (Tyler Kingkade, “Purdue Takes A Stand For Free Speech, No Matter How Offensive Or Unwise,” Huffington Post, May 15, 2015).

“Colleges and universities often boast of their diversity in terms of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation, but too often they fail to encourage diversity of thought.” (Kathleen Parker, “In Name of Free Speech at Purdue, Beyond,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, Thursday, May 21, 2015, 7A).

To its credit, the Purdue University Board of Trustees recently passed a resolution defending free speech on its college campus. The new policy was strongly endorsed by the Purdue President Mitch Daniels who, quoted by Parker, condemned universities that spawn “a bunch of little authoritarians with an inverted view of our basic freedoms.”

While the policy is correct, the implied narrative of the threat to academic freedom and diversity of thought as coming from the Left, progressives or liberals, constitutes an extraordinary rewriting of the experience of a hundred years of higher education. Any serious revisiting of the history of the modern university shows clearly that the ideas, disciplines, purposes of higher education have been shaped and transformed by money, power, the perceived needs of United States national security, and conservative ideology.

For example, Ellen Schrecker documented the enormous impact that the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s had on higher education in her book, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (1988).  She interviewed academic victims of McCarthyite attacks on faculty at prestigious universities.  They were subpoenaed to testify before state legislative or Congressional committees about their former political affiliations and associations.  As was the requirement of the times, those ordered to testify could not just admit to their own political activities but were obliged to give witness against others whom they may have known.

Some victims were former members of the Communist Party, others were signatories to petitions supporting the Spanish loyalists during their civil war, and still others had supported banning atomic weapons.  Perhaps the most troubling element of the Red Scare story was the fact that university administrations refused to defend those of their faculty who were attacked. Furthermore, Schrecker reports that some university officials demanded that their faculty cooperate with these committees.  Her subjects reported that they received little or no support from administrators because officials wished to protect their universities from funding reductions.

Since the end of the Cold War, some scholars have begun to examine other aspects of the anti-communist hysteria as it related to the academy. Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, in Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism: 1945-60, addressed the multiplicity of ways in which funding priorities, rightwing assaults, official pronouncements from government officials, lobbying efforts by big business groups, and shifting electoral political currents affected and shaped the content of academic programs since World War II

For example, disciplines then, and now, have been shaped by dominant "paradigms," or approaches which have included assumptions about the subject, aspects of the subject that deserved study, theories that were most appropriate for understanding the subject of the field, and the methods that should be used to study subjects in the field. 

Most important, all the social sciences and humanities adopted views of their disciplines that did not challenge ongoing U.S. Cold War assumptions about the world. In each case, dominant paradigms of the 1950s and beyond constituted a rejection of 1930s and 1940s thinking, which were shaped by the labor and other struggles of the Depression era.

In the words of scholar Henry Giroux, the military-industrial-academic complex influenced personnel recruitment and retention and the substance of research and teaching.  Disciplines with more ready access to research dollars -- from engineering to psychology -- defined their research agendas to comport with the interests of the government and corporations.

However, students in the 1960s began to demand new scholarship and education.  Opposition to the Vietnam War particularly stimulated demands on professors to rethink the historical character and motivation of United States foreign policy.  William Appleman Williams and his students, the historical revisionists, articulated a view that the United States practiced imperialism ever since it became an industrial power. 

Classrooms where international relations and foreign policy were taught became "contested terrain" for argumentation and debate between the older and more benign view of the U.S. role in the world and the view of the U.S. as an imperial power. 
The contestation spread.  Students demanded more diverse and complicated analyses of race and racism in America, patriarchy and sexism in gender relations, and working-class history.  Every discipline and every dominant paradigm was subjected to challenge.  The challenges were also reflected in radical caucuses in professional associations and even in some of the more upright (and "uptight") signature professional journals.  As a result there was a diminution of Red Scares in higher education, for a time.

The spirit of ideological struggle in the academy diminished after the Vietnam War and especially after Ronald Reagan became president.  Reagan brought back militant Cold War policies, radically increased military expenditures, declared Vietnam a "noble cause," and developed a sustained campaign to crush dissent and reduce the strength of the labor movement.  The climate on campus to some degree returned to the 1950s.

However a whole generation of 1960s-trained academics was now tenured faculty at universities around the country.  They had institutionalized programs in African American Studies, Women's Studies, Peace Studies, and Middle East Studies.  Critical theorists populated education schools, American Studies programs, and other pockets of the university. Faculty continued the debate with keepers of dominant paradigms, created interdisciplinary programs, and developed programs shaped by key social issues such as racism, class exploitation, gender discrimination, and war.

But by the 1990s, a new version of the Red Scare was surfacing.  Some conservative academics and their constituencies talked about declining standards they said were caused by the new programs.  Others criticized what they regarded as an insufficiently rosy view of United States history.  They claimed that the United States was being unfairly condemned for the killing of millions of Native Americans or because slavery and racism were presented as central to the history of the country.  They formed academic associations and interest groups to defend against critical scholarship.

Then David Horowitz came along.  Overseeing a multi-million-dollar foundation funded by rightwing groups, Horowitz launched a campaign to purify academia of those who had records of teaching, research, and publication that he saw as unduly critical of the United States, ruling political or economic elites, or the global political economy.  He opposed those scholar-activists who participated in political movements or in any way connected their professional and political lives.  And he opposed those academics who participated in academic programs that are interdisciplinary, problem-focused, and not tied to traditional fields of study.  

Horowitz published a book in 2006, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, in which he presented distorted profiles of illustrative faculty whom he believed violated academic standards.  Most of those identified either engaged in political activity and/or participated in interdisciplinary scholarly programs that he found offensive: Middle East Studies, Women's Studies, African-American Studies, American Studies, and Peace Studies.

In conjunction with the book and similar assaults on those he disagreed with on his electronic news magazine, Horowitz encouraged right-wing students to challenge the legitimacy of these professors on college campuses and encouraged  conservative student groups to pressure state legislatures to endorse so-called "student bill-of-rights legislation."  Such legislation would have established oversight by state legislatures of colleges and universities, especially their hiring practices.

In addition, with campaigns led by Lynn Cheney, the former vice-president's wife, and former Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, an organization called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni was created.  As Giroux summarized it, ". . . ACTA actively supports policing classroom knowledge, monitoring curricula, and limiting the autonomy of teachers and students as part of its larger assault on academic freedom" (Giroux, The University in Chains, Paradigm, 2007, 162).

Horowitz, ACTA, and others conservatives who attacked the university targeted visible academics for scrutiny and persecution.  Ward Churchill, a provocative professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, was fired after a university committee was created to review his scholarship because of controversial remarks he made off campus.  Norman Finkelstein, a DePaul University political scientist who had written several books critical of interpreters of Israeli history and foreign policy, was denied tenure after a coordinated attack from outside his university led by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.  Distinguished political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt became the subject of vitriol and false charges of anti-Semitism because they published a long essay and book analyzing the "Israeli lobby." More recently, the University of Illinois reversed its contractual relationship with Professor Steven Salaita who posted electronic messages strongly critical of the state of Israel.

In addition, the new Red Scare has reinforced and legitimized the dominant paradigms in various academic disciples and created an environment of intellectual caution in the academy.  While the impacts are not easily measurable, untenured faculty cannot help but be intimidated by the public attacks on their senior colleagues.  The system of tenure and promotion in most institutions is vulnerable to public pressures, individual reviewer bias, and honest disagreements among faculty about whether published work and teaching is worthy of promotion and tenure.  Therefore, just as the administrators and faculty of the 1950s felt vulnerable to outside assault on their institutions, those passing judgment on today's faculty might see the necessity of caution in hiring and retaining faculty whose perspectives are new, different, radical, and engaged.

In short, the real threats to academic freedom and free speech on college campuses have almost always come from those who wish to defend the status quo in scholarship, teaching, advocacy, foreign and national security policy, and the way the economy is organized. 

One would hope that the new defenders of free speech and academic freedom, such as Kathleen Parker and the Purdue University Board of Trustees, will defend faculty who are critics of various public policies and the prevailing distributions of wealth, income, power, and unequal privileges based on class, race, gender, and sexual orientation. This would be an historic change from the practice of silencing progressive voices in higher education.