Saturday, July 31, 2010

21ST CENTURY HIGHER EDUCATION HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION

Harry Targ

The Modern University

At my home university, only Coca-Cola products can be distributed on campus as a result of contractual agreements. Agriculture specialists train military personnel to teach agribusiness to farmers in Afghanistan. Students struggle against university contractors who have purchase agreements with companies such as Nike, which produce t-shirts and hats with university logos made with sweatshop labor. Research and teaching programs are established to highlight the significance of unregulated markets, electoral democracy, religions, and other ideas celebrated in the United States.

The president of the university, the director of athletic programs, and some athletic coaches earn ten times more than experienced clerical staff and 7 or 8 times more than new assistant professors. In addition to corporate style salary differentials, members of the administrative staff, like those in corporations, work on logos, “branding,” and lobbying state and national legislators. Human relations bureaucracies, again like those in corporations, make personnel decisions that bear on substantive policy; in this case relating to education.

Shifting Finances, Academic Workers, and Access to Higher Education

The enduring economic crisis has begun to open up debate on the direction of modern higher education. For example, The Delta Project supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education has recently issued a report, “Trends in College Spending: 1998-2008: Where does the money come from? Where does it go? What does it buy?” that deserves study and reflection. Inside Higher Education (July 9, 2010) summarized some of the project’s major findings:

Between 1998 and 2008 public research universities (such as Big Ten institutions) increased rates of expenditure on top administrators, lawyers, and accountants twice that of spending on faculty and instructional materials.

Students at what the Project calls, “Public Research Universities” are now subsidized over three times as much per student as those attending community colleges.

Resources channeled to instructional purposes have modestly declined while slight increases in moneys find their way to computers, libraries, and administrative expenses.

The 51 page Delta Project report concluded that if the trends identified between 1998 and 2008 (with data that does not include the 2008-2010 recession) continue significant aspects of higher education in the United States will decline, particularly in comparison with other developed countries. The trends increasingly affect access to higher education, job security among educators, and the quality of education. In the project’s words:

“Revenue shortfalls in both public and private institutions have become the occasion, once again, for steep increases in student tuition, cutbacks in enrollments, and reductions in course offerings. Employee furloughs are becoming common, along with layoffs and program closures.”

Higher education administrators and government officials, the Report asserts, have adopted “the dominant model to manage revenue shortfalls,” including tuition increases, expanding class size, and reducing staff and faculty wages and benefits.

And changes in institutions of higher education, as in virtually all institutions, involve questions of class and inequality. “Turning this trajectory around will require huge attention to the deep issues of educational inequality, and the leaky pipeline that persistently disadvantages first-generation and low-income students.”

Some Proposals for Change

In a recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus make a series of proposals to address some of the crises of higher education today. They begin by noting that tuition for public and private colleges has doubled compared with a generation ago. Rising educational costs require parents to commit large financial outlays, second only to house mortgages, to their children’s education. Alternatively students have to take out loans that will burden them for their entire lives.

Among the proposals these authors make are the following:

-Institute free higher education for all who seek it.

-Maintain course requirements that lead to knowledge in history, the arts, sciences, and reasoned discourse.

-Provide secure full-time teaching jobs for every classroom. Eliminate the system of staffing classrooms with graduate students and temporary adjuncts who receive one-sixth the pay of the regular faculty.

-Pay presidents and other administrators salaries commensurate with public employees, not CEOs of Wall Street banks and corporations.

I would add that the connections between systems of higher education and sports, the military, and the corporate sector must be examined as well.

While our wealthiest and most powerful institutions-- corporations and banks, the military, and the health care system-- have come under some scrutiny in the new century, until recently higher education has remained hidden behind a wall of mystery even though everyone pays lip service to it as the hope for the future.

With enduring economic stagnation coupled with rising gaps in the distribution of income and wealth, education is offered as an escape route from poverty. We need to broaden public discussion about our assumptions concerning higher education, assessing its costs, accessibility, educational quality, and workplace security.

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.












Thursday, July 15, 2010

DISSIDENTS, POLITICAL PRISONERS, CONTRACTORS, SPIES, AND CRIMINALS: DIFFERENT LABELS FOR DIFFERENT NATIONS

Harry Targ

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Jewish community in the United States to raise its voice in support of Agency for International Development “contractor,” “human rights activist,” supporter of the “isolated Jewish community in Cuba,” Alan Gross who is currently in jail for bringing unauthorized communications equipment to distribute to Cuban citizens.

The Clinton speech resembles the Cold War efforts of various administrations to get the support of ethnic groups to advocate for United States imperial policies: Poles, Hungarians, Koreans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and counter-revolutionary Cubans. The Reagan administration launched a phony campaign in the 1980s to convince the American people that the Sandinista-led government in Nicaragua was anti-Semitic. Despite the efforts of a few holocaust survivors, a delegation of Jewish leaders, including rabbis, visited Nicaragua and reported that after careful investigation, the charges were false.

In addition, several dozen convicted violators of Cuban law, who probably had ties to U.S. efforts to undermine the Cuban government, have been referred to in the media as “dissidents,” or activists for “democratization” on the island. Curiously, the five Cubans who have been in U.S. prisons for working to uncover Cuban-American terrorist plots against the island are called “spies.”

Eleven Russians who have been living in the United States for years and all of a sudden have been identified as “spies” are being returned to Russia in exchange for spies funded by the United States who were serving prison terms in Russia.

Finally, a story just broke that an Iranian scientist who left his country and via Saudi Arabia came to the United States, presumably as a defector, is returning to Iran. Was he a defector? Is he an Iranian spy? Was his family in Iran threatened by the regime?

There are several morals from these stories. First, the United States continues to work to undermine, destabilize, and destroy the Cuban revolution. Gross is claimed to have been a conduit for humanitarian assistance to marginalized Cubans at the same time that Walter Lippman, CubaNews@yahoogroups.com, reports that the State Department is increasing the dispersal of funds to anti-government dissidents in Cuba: more money for “contractors” like Gross.

Second, the mainstream media never tells the story of the Cuban Five, who with the full knowledge of the FBI, were working to uncover violent plots against their country hatched in Miami.

Third, the spy story, Cubans, Russians, Iranians, or others captures the imagination and interest of the mainstream media. What makes stories like the capture of the Russian spies so silly is that most information any operatives from one or another government might want is available on the internet. But the spy story reminds us of the good old days of James Bond and Matt Helm and the Cold War.

Fourth, as to the old Cold War adversaries, bureaucratic institutions were established, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and KGB, to stimulate fear, justify bizarre militaristic policies, and stifle dissent. The FBI and the successor to the KGB need spies. In fact these two bloated and irresponsible bureaucracies, parallel to the military establishments of the former Cold War adversaries, need each other and so-called “spies” to justify their existence.

Finally, as to Cuba, Karen Wald has pointed out that Alan Gross, the humanitarian USAID “contractor” had not contacted Cuban Jews to distribute the communications technology that was supposed to improve their lives. Several years ago I visited the synagogue and community center, Patronato, in Vedado in Central Havana. The then Jewish community leader, Dr. Jose Miller, welcomed me and asked where I was from. I told him Indiana. He responded: “Ah Congressman Burton.” He knew that the Helms/Burton Act of 1996 tightened the economic blockade of Cuba. I took from his response the idea that the primary kind of humanitarian assistance the Jewish community of Cuba wanted from the United States was an end to the economic blockade.

But United States policy remains buried in the Cold War days: trying to undermine regimes, calling people who agree with us “dissidents,” “contractors,” humanitarians” and “political prisoners” and those we still oppose “spies,” and the regimes they serve dictatorships.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

CAPITALISM IS ABOUT PROFIT, NOT SAVING FINGERS

Harry Targ

I have been thinking a whole lot about the virtual destruction of the Gulf of Mexico, the rich animal life that once lived there, and the lost jobs of perhaps millions of those who fish, work in the tourist sector, or somehow depend on the resources of the Gulf Coast for their livelihood. Almost everybody, with the possible exception of libertarians and some Republicans, are condemning British Petroleum for the disaster that they and their corporate sisters such as Haliburton, Deep Water Horizon, and Transocean have wrought. Virtually everybody who comments on the disaster sanctimoniously attacks BP, granted an easy target. Somehow this seems to me to be mistaking the trees for the forest.

I reflected on this general impression when I was listening to a radio report on National Public Radio on Sunday, July 4 about table saw accidents.It seems that some 3,000 people per year cut off fingers with table saws and ten times that number have accidents that require emergency room visits. Carpenters work with these saws. Backyard hobbyists work with them. And lots of students still take high school shop courses in which they learn to fashion wood products using these dangerous devices.

About a decade ago Steve Gass invented the “SawStop.” The SawStop does everything an old table saw does with one difference. The sharp rotating saw senses when the blade is making contact with a finger. The SawStop sensor shuts down the saw before it can endanger the finger of the wood worker. “When the safety brake is triggered, the blade slams down into the table and away from the person’s hand.”

A logical idea concerning human safety would suggest that all table saws produced subsequent to the invention of this new safety feature would include the new SawStop technology. However, the story indicated, the machine tool industry has resisted adding the safety feature to its product. A spokesperson for the trade association of tool makers, the Power Tool Institute, indicated why the new safety feature has not been adopted. First, tool makers have always been studying new ways to make their products safer and they think they have found additions to the product that can protect consumers more cheaply. Second, adding the SawStop feature would add cost to the product, cost that they said would have to be transferred to the consumer. Third, adding the SawStop feature to the product, instead of some other, albeit less productive devices, “…could increase the consumer’s cost of table saws and reduce the ability of consumers to choose from among safe alternative designs,” said Susan Young, Power Tool Institute spokesperson.

Finally, the new chairperson of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tenenbaum, warned that if the industry does not embrace voluntary standards for product safety, then the government just might have to set product safety standards, presumably at some time in the distant future.

After listening to this NPR report, I reflected on the Gulf Coast disaster.
I went back to read a long and technical article about why the Gulf Coast disaster happened, by a research team including David Barstow, Laura Dodd, James Glanz, Stephanie Saul and Ian Urbina called “Regulators Failed to Address Risks in Oil Rig Fail-Save Device (The New York Times, June 20, 2010). The article examined why appropriate deep water drilling technology was not installed to prevent oil “spills” such as the BP disaster.

Their article lists a multiplicity of problems from lack of adequate government regulation and oversight; the failure of the Obama administration to deal with “the well-known weaknesses of blowout preventers or the sufficiency of the nation’s drilling regulations;” or the false sense of security of all “stakeholders” including corporations, the Congress, and the regulators. Most prominently mentioned in the story was the decision of the relevant corporations, Deepwater Horizon, acquired by Transocean, and contracted by British Petroleum, not to install appropriate technology to stifle accidental failures of drilling equipment. “…neither Transocean nor BP took steps to outfit the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer with two blind shear rams.” Why?

The reporters noted that all participating corporations realized the necessity from a safety point of view to have “blind shear rams” on all oil wells. But they suggest that the technology was not made available because of cost constraints. Oil industry studies estimated that pulling up blowout preventers for repairs would cost $700 per minute. “Those costs could be enough to draw the attention of Wall Street.” Industry sources also indicated that drilling corporations “cut corners on federally mandated tests of blowout preventers.”

The authors added that “BP and other oil companies helped finance a study early this year arguing that blowout preventer pressure tests conducted every 14 days should be stretched out to every 35 days. The industry estimated the change could save $193 million a year in lost productivity.”

Reflecting on the table saw industry and the 80-day reporting of the tragedy of the Gulf Coast, I began to think of some parallels between severed fingers and environmental spoilation. First, corporations engaged in very different productive activities are, by definition, driven by the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of more and more capital. Second, whatever the product, the producing corporations must maximize their profits, meaning minimizing their costs. Third, the ways to minimize costs include cutting wages, increasing worker productivity, minimizing costly health and safety provisions at the work place, and more generally circumventing expensive rules and regulations that are designed to protect workers, consumers, and the environment.

Therefore, while we are appropriately outraged at British Petroleum or Black and Decker and should demand that they meet federally determined and enforced health and safety standards, we need to be aware of the fact that the economic system of capitalism shapes and conditions the behavior of all corporations and banks. Some behave better than others and they should be applauded. But, in the end, only a system of humane, democratic socialism can create the conditions for the protection of fingers, hands, wildlife, rivers, streams, and oceans.