Friday, December 30, 2011

"I SUPPOSE THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO"

Harry Targ

While I sleep through some of the news shows hosted by Ed Shultz, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC every night I am conscious of at least part of each. In addition, I watch an hour’s worth of whoever is hosting the daytime news program on this “liberal” channel as I limp along on the treadmill at the gymnasium.

The framing and information about the world provided by MSNBC is often useful. Some stories I would not have access to any other way, such as the growing Michigan program to replace local officials with state-appointed financial officers who will have authority to supersede decisions of those elected. Sometimes hosts present materials on grassroots struggles that more “mainstream” media would not dare cover. We who engage in such grassroots politics know that the world is changing. But most of the media have ignored uprisings, until the Occupy Movement temporarily made such inattention impossible.

Contrary to providing useful information, the cable liberals of MSNBC have done a disastrous job on other stories. They ridicule U.S. defined enemy leaders without providing any context for their disdain. This is the case for Kim Jong Il, Muammar Gaddafi, the leadership of Iran, and others from the Global South. More damaging still, the liberal cable stations provide little coverage of world affairs aside from an occasional report from Afghanistan or an anti-drone story, which is good.

Even more negative, in my view, are the hours upon hours of coverage of the Republican presidential nominating process. We have heard more about the daily ups and downs in the fortunes of the various Republican candidates for president in Iowa than any combination of stories on jobs, the environment, or the European debt crisis.

Since I occasionally doze off, I may have missed coverage of the Durban conference on the environment, the recent formation of a bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) to assert regional self-determination, the post-war Libyan political situation, or the decision by the Obama administration to send U.S. marines to protect Australia from Chinese aggression.

Therefore, MSNBC communicates some good information, exaggerates the importance of certain stories, and ignores material that represents the bulk of the experiences of humankind. This may be OK. We have the internet, left blogs, list-serves, and web pages (which raise different issues of Left censorship) to supplement our knowledge about the world.

Political junkies, particularly activists, find ways to build cognitive data banks and analytical abilities. Good alternative radio, television, and internet outlets exist. Amy Goodman’s qualitatively different news program, “Democracy Now,” can be seen and heard on radio and television stations and online around the country. Even though it has its own agenda (don’t we all) the English language Aljazeera, which is available mostly on the internet, at least portrays a world that does not begin and end with the United States and Western Europe.

So while liberal media inform consumers, it also distorts or ignores news. Watching MSNBC on the treadmill yesterday raised to my awareness a level of media malevolence I had not thought about before. A glib panel of inside the beltway commentators provided useful information about the disparity of wealth and income between our political leaders, such as Congresspersons, and average Americans. They portrayed, with some data, a political system that was at best an aristocracy and at worst a system driven by an economic ruling class that has bought and paid for political elites who serve its interests. One can only recall Marx’s profound assertion that the state represents the “executive committee of the ruling class.”

These five pundits skillfully presented the data, albeit with a posture suggesting that the data was humorous. After discussing whether all people who are part of the one-percent lack empathy for the poor (after all FDR and JFK were concerned about the poor), one of the professional hacks concluded by saying that he supposed that “there is nothing we can do.” Alas, inequality, poverty, powerlessness, and the multitude of problems humankind faces will always be with us.

Many thoughts raced through my mind (I almost fell off the treadmill). This conversation did not include any reference to the Occupy Movement. No mention was made of the recent Supreme Court decision that legitimized massive private spending in elections. It failed to include a discussion of campaign finance reform. And it ignored the fleeting possibility of grassroots activists such as the Progressive Democrats of America, the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party in California, the recall movement in Wisconsin, the successful campaign to overcome anti-worker laws in Ohio and on and on.

Of course, not all of these or many other campaigns can fully and/or successfully address the problem. But there are millions of people in the United States and around the world who are giving their time, resources and sometimes their lives to change rule by the few.

And finally, such discussions willfully ignore the proposition that the economic and political systems that dominate our lives are the problem. At least some would say that these systems must be overturned and new institutions created. And, if history is any guide, such things have happened before.

But where would these pompous, overpaid, and under-worked journalists be if the society did change? They in fact have a stake in promoting the message that nothing can be done.

This speaks, then, to an alternative media, education, and role for intellectuals, which can present information about the world and realistically analyze the programs and possibilities for action that work on behalf of the interests of the many, not the few.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

LET'S BE FRANK: THE UNITED STATES HAS BEEN IN PERPETUAL WAR

Harry Targ

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 sixty 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 US 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 four 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 thirty 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 ten 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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

THE STATE OF INDIANA ABOUT TO VIOLATE THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Harry Targ

The massive atrocities of World War II led nations to commit themselves permanently to the protection of basic rights for all human beings. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the wartime President, Franklin Roosevelt, worked diligently with leaders from around the world to develop a document, to articulate a set of principles, which would bind humankind to never carry out acts of mass murder again. In addition, the document also committed nations to work to end most forms of pain and suffering.

Over 60 years ago, on December 10, 1948, delegates from the United Nations General Assembly signed the document which they called “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It consisted of a preamble proclaiming that all signatories recognize "the inherent dignity" and "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as the "foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." The preamble declared the commitment of the signatories to the creation of a world “…in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want…”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights consisted of thirty articles, with varying degrees of elaboration. The first 21 articles refer primarily to civil and political rights. They prohibit discrimination, persecution for the holding of various political beliefs, slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Persons have the right to speak their mind, travel, reside anywhere, a fair trial if charged with crimes, own property, form a family, and in the main to hold the rights of citizenship including universal and equal suffrage in his or her country.

The remaining 9 articles address what may be called social and economic rights. These include rights to basic social security in accordance with the resources of the state in which the persons reside; rights to adequate leisure and holidays with pay; an adequate standard of living so that individuals and families have sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; and education, free at least at the primary levels. In addition, these nine articles guarantee a vibrant cultural life in the community, the right to enjoy and participate in the arts, and to benefit from scientific achievements.

While each article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a rich and vivid portrait of what must be achieved for all humankind, no article speaks to our time more than Article 23. It is one of the longer articles, identifying four basic principles:

*Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

*Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

*Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself (or herself) and his (her) family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary by other means of social protection.

*Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his (her) interests.

Using the language of our day, the principles embedded in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute a bedrock vision inspiring the global 99 percent to rise up against their exploiters from Cairo to Madison, to Wall Street, to cities and towns all over the world. The global political economy is broken. The dominant mode of production, capitalism, increasingly cannot provide work, fair remuneration, rights of workers to speak their mind and organize their own associations, and the provision of a comfortable way of life all because the value of what they produce is expropriated by the top 1 percent of global society.

While each locale experiences this dilemma in its own way, the Republican controlled legislative and executive branch of state government in Indiana is poised to pass legislation reestablishing itself as a so-called Right-To-Work State. The RTW laws which can be found in over twenty states allow workers to gain the benefits of union representation on the shop floor without joining unions or paying for union services which are provided to all workers. The basic goal of RTW laws is to bankrupt the labor movement. The end result, as data suggests in every state, is to reduce rights, benefits, and working conditions for all workers. The National Right to Work Committee, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and other rightwing groups funded and organized by the 1 percent, want to eliminate hard-fought worker rights which will reduce the costs of labor, wages, working conditions, and the standard of living of all workers, unionized or not.

Data about the world and data about the United States make it clear that there has been a thirty year trajectory in the direction opposite to the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Global inequality is growing. The rights and abilities of workers to form unions are shrinking. Standards of living of most of humankind are declining. The ability of most workers everywhere to acquire secure jobs is declining. Globally there has been a quantum shift from agricultural, manufacturing, and service employment to the informal sector, oftentimes “street hustling.”

Not only is this condition being put in place in the state of Indiana but well-financed organizations such as ALEC foresee victory in Indiana setting off a “domino effect;” Indiana, then Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. To paraphrase a late nineteenth century geo-politician; “he who controls the heartland then can control the rimland.”

And in the end, anti-worker politics in the United States, like anti-worker politics virtually everywhere around the globe, violates the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially its precious Article 23. The workers’ agenda is fundamentally the human rights agenda.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

VETERANS UNPLUGGED: A HOOSIER ANTI-WAR ACTIVIST CONNECTS RETURNING VETERANS TO THE 99%

Harry Targ

I grew up in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Working-class family, father was a Union Ironworker…mother was a stay at home Mom.” Vince Emanuele joined the Marines after graduating from high school. “I came out of boot camp a hard chargin’ Devil Dog.” He served in the Marines from 2003 until 2005 stationed in California, Kuwait, and Iraq. His eight month deployment in Iraq involved him in street patrols, looking for snipers and land mines “…along with shooting at innocent civilians, destroying their property and beating up prisoners….”

While in Iraq the fascination with war that he had acquired as a kid playing video games dissipated. His father sent him reading material--Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Hunter Thompson, the Nation--and he and friends began to reflect on what they were doing in Iraq. He came to the view that the war was “illegal, immoral, unjustified, and unneeded.” He was not spreading “democracy” or “peace” and the U.S. war effort was not winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.

After returning to the U.S., Emanuele joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, has been organizing vets in Indiana and Illinois, created a weekly radio show called “Veterans Unplugged” which is available on-line, and has become a prominent activist for social, economic, and political justice in the heartland of America while finishing an undergraduate political science degree.

Emanuele recently spoke on a panel organized by the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition. He elaborated on the current plight of veterans, particularly veterans who served in the two longest wars in U.S. history, Afghanistan and Iraq. While acknowledging that the current military force has chosen to enlist in regular army or reserve units, the 21st century enticement to serve is really an “economic draft.” With declining incomes, wages, job opportunities, and rising educational costs, more and more men and women, he said, have seen military service as the only escape from lives of economic marginalization.

He spoke of the culture of militarization to which every new recruit was exposed: a process of dehumanization; the spread of racism, particularly targeting stereotypes of Muslims; sexism; and homophobia. In reality the military experience of young people, Emanuele said, involves placing raw, uneducated, teenagers in a war zone, with weapons and a license to kill. The victims of the actions of these raw recruits, schooled in video games and super-patriotism, were the millions of Iraqi and Afghan citizens who most fervently wanted the young foreigners off their land.

Emanuele presented some figures on the impacts of military service on returning veterans. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 there were 20.2 million men and 1.8 million women who had served in the military). In 2011, Emanuele reported;

-Rates of unemployment of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are higher than in the non-veteran population, both men and women

-African-American vets experience double the unemployment rate of white vets

-80,000 returning veterans are currently homeless (56 % of homeless vets are African American or Latinos)

-20% to 50% of 21st century returning veterans suffer some form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (an estimated 350,000 to 1 million vets)

-1,000 returning vets attempt suicide each month

Emanuele, connected the plight of returning veterans to the military/industrial/complex and imperial wars. As a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, he highlighted the long tradition of soldiers resisting participation in unjust wars. He referred to patterns of resistance to war running throughout U.S. history:

-In 1781 the Pennsylvania militia mutinied against war profiteers and for food

-Between the 1870s and the 1890s, National Guard soldiers often refused to fire on striking workers
-In 1919 unknown numbers of U.S. soldiers refused orders to go fight against the Bolsheviks who had come to power in Russia

-Thousands of World War I veterans, known as the Bonus Army, assembled in Washington D.C. in 1932 to demand back pay due them from their active duty experience.

--From 1964-75 a massive GI anti-Vietnam war resistance movement emerged with over 300 GI anti-war newspapers produced, 10 % of all Vietnam era soldiers going AWOL or deserting, and a broad array of other forms of anti-war resistance, and opposition to military recruiting.

Emanuele stressed the commonality of experience and vision that is shared by most veterans with the Occupy Movement. He suggested that peace and justice activists must understand that returning veterans are a vital part of the 99% movement committed to radically restructure American society. He argued that the 99%, including vets, must see the vital connections between the global capitalist system, the military/industrial complex and the pain and suffering that have generated war and economic insecurity in the twenty-first century.

Emanuele ended his talk with reference to the frank admission of General Smedley Butler who oversaw the effort to crush the army of Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua in the early 1930s. Butler admitted that he, as a Marine General, had served as an instrumentality of Wall Street, putting down popular rebellions in the service of profit.



To learn more about Vince Emanuele and his weekly radio show check out http://www.veteransunplugged.com/


To learn more about Iraq Veterans Against the War see http://ivaw.org/



See my blog at http://www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com/






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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

VISITING WITH SYDNEY GLICK: AUTHOR OF "BAGEL CAPITALISM"

Harry Targ

Back in the late 90s I came upon an essay called “Bagel Capitalism: the Theory of Capitalist Development.” While I revised it for my huge blog audience, the original was written by Sydney Glick, a once well-known Marxist theorist. After developing the original theory of bagel capitalism, Sydney disappeared from public view so when I recently saw him sitting in a booth at Schmutz’s Bar and Grill I was taken aback.

I sat down and almost speechless asked him where he had been for the last several years. He told me that he was so deluged with requests to speak before political groups after the draft of his theoretical work on the transformation of the production, distribution, and consumption of the bagel that he decided to drop out. He said he could no longer take the publicity and he was glad that I drew upon his work so he could withdraw to a life of private contemplation, particularly since it looked like the prospects for building a mass movement-this was the late 1990s-were dim. (I told him that I had published an essay on his ideas about bagel capitalism. The audience for the essay, I reported, swelled to the high two figures. And six of my readers were not relatives).

I asked Sydney what he had been doing all these years and what he was doing now. He reported that his work recently has been stalled by the horrible fire that occurred at Kaufman’s Bagel Bakery and Delicatessen in Skokie, Illinois. According to Kaufman’s website-even a real bagel bakery has to have a website-the bakery would be closed for several weeks until they could renovate it.

So, Glick said, he had been going down to Occupy Chicago from time to time and was following as best he could the Occupy movements elsewhere in the country. Also he said he was working on a new theoretical work that links the crisis of bagel production to the broader global and national economic crises of capitalism. In addition, he had begun to think more seriously about how to build a progressive majority and thinking about ways to plant the seeds for a socialist future.

With much excitement, I asked him if he would be willing to talk to me about these subjects. And, I asked if he would mind if I taped his remarks. He was reluctant because he said he was so bothered by the celebrity status he had garnered when the theory of bagel capitalism was first leaked out that he wanted to avoid that happening again. He did, however, indicate that he was willing to share his ideas with me if I, rather than he, communicated them to the public. Since I knew I could handle all the publicity my blog generated I readily agreed.

So, for starters I asked Glick for his thoughts on the Occupy Movements that seemed to be spreading around the country. His eyes perked up, he began to stammer with delight, and he spoke rapidly in response. Glick said that the spirit of revolt was spreading like wildfire from the Middle East, to the Heartland of America, to Wall Street, to college campuses.

He said the mass protests now were mirroring the massive movements against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization of the 1990s. The global character of these movements seemed to be putting the spirit of the World Social Forum into action.

The metaphor of the one percent versus the 99 percent was catching on and resonated with workers, people of color, women, young and old, indigenous peoples and all different sectors of global society. Glick said it was unclear what will happen next, sort of like in Egypt, but it is exciting to watch, reflect on, and to participate in whatever activities were occurring in various locales.

I asked him what the mainstream media and older leftists had been asking for two months now. What is their plan? What do they want? How can they know when victory has been achieved?

In response, Glick pointed out that the Occupy Movement was a little like an ‘everything’ bagel. “You know the kind of bagel that has some garlic and onion on it, and some poppy and sesame seeds, and a few other spices and seeds that could not be identified. In other words, the movement is made up of an extraordinary array of individuals and groups, each with their own flavor. But, in the end, the movement like the metaphor is a bagel.”

I asked him if the metaphor had any additional meanings. “Sure,” he said. “The bagel, as I wrote a few years ago, is a nutritious food-at least filling. It has a nice taste to it-particularly with onion and chive cream cheese. So you could enjoy consuming it. Social movements can be like that as well.”

Then he added, “Remember I said that during the height of intense class struggles in the 1880s and the 1930s in the United States, and during the Russian Revolution, workers could use day-old bagels as weapons. Czarist forces, cops in the U.S. and others were intimidated by the power of the bagels that were available to be thrown at them. In fact, I would argue-and am developing the thesis in my latest book-that the National Labor Relations Act guaranteeing workers the right to collective bargaining in 1935 would not have been passed without the existence of stockpiles of bagels that the ruling class knew existed.”

Let me get this straight I said. “You are suggesting that like the bagel, the Occupy Movements taste good, provide joy to those who consume them and also could be a weapon in the struggle for progressive social change.”

Glick responded that I had understood the subtlety of his argument. But, he said, he was having a little heartburn, and had to go home to take some of his medicine. I asked him if we could meet again. I wanted to ask him what he thought about President Obama’s foreign policy, such as his sending 2,500 marines to Australia to protect that country from a Chinese invasion.

As he meandered off I heard him say: “Oy. Let’s leave that subject for next time.”


The original essay about Bagel Capitalism can be found on www.ragblog.blogspot.com or www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE PATERNO EFFECT: THINKING ABOUT CAPITALISM, HIGHER EDUCATION, AND MORAL REPUGNANCE

Harry Targ

“And when I think of all the talent and energy which daily go into devising ways and means of making their torment worse, all in the name of efficiency and productivity but really for the greater glory of the great god Capital, my wonder at humanity’s ability to create such a monstrous system is surpassed only by amazement at its willingness to tolerate the continuance of an arrangement so obviously destructive of the well-being and happiness of human beings.” Paul Sweezy in Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital,1974, xii-xiii.

The scurrilous news about Penn State University has led me to reflect upon the context in which higher education, sports, popular culture more broadly, and political, economic and cultural institutions are created, flower and grow, and in Paul Sweezy’s view destroy “the well-being and happiness of human beings.”

Numerous political economists have described capitalism as an economic system that has its roots in global trade, enslavement, and expropriating commodities produced in the “new world” and then processed in Europe into finished goods that were traded on the world stage. Capitalism emerged out of rudimentary trade and production into the most productive, innovative, and technologically creative economic system in the world. The 500 year journey, from an early capitalist stage in which the transport of natural resources and commodities took months or years to a transnational global system that has obliterated differences in space and time, has truly transformed what it means to be human.

The positive features of capitalist development that Paul Sweezy and others recount also are grounded in analyses of the pain and suffering that has been caused by the unbridled pursuit of profit and capital accumulation. The growth, development, transcendence of natural barriers (again ultimately space and time) has come with a price, as millions were enslaved and slaughtered. In addition, capitalism brought wars, starvation, the tearing up of the natural environment and the perpetuation of human misery on a massive scale.

This is a story about the political economy of world history that came to mind while observing the evolving scandal at a major university in November, 2011. The rape and molestation of numerous boys over many years on the campus of Penn State University has been discussed in the context of sociopathic coaches, iconic sports figures, negligent university administrators, bought-off government officials, thoughtless students, and the exigencies of public relations.

Are there connections between the “political economy of world history” and rape on one college campus? I think so. And these connections that have inspired my thinking I am calling “the Paterno effect.”

First, reflections on the capitalist system must include an historical sense of the 500 year struggle to overcome any and all barriers to the pursuit of profit. Words like genocide, massacre, plunder, while not used in polite and proper academic company, are important to jar the conscience of humankind.

Second, the rise of capitalism necessitated the construction of political, economic, cultural, social, and religious institutions that supported it. These institutions stimulated scientific discovery, the organization of production, the facilitation of consumption, the creation of entertainment and culture, and the invention of political/spiritual systems of myths, symbols, and rituals that legitimized the global pursuit of profit.

Third, systems of education have played vital roles in training workers, organizing discovery, and convincing the young of the virtues of the system in which they live. In short, education at all levels is the institution that links the “needs” of the system to the generation of talent and the legitimating of its perpetuation.

Fourth, since the industrial revolution institutions of higher education have served the capitalist system in important ways. Early universities trained clerics or lawyers. By the dawn of the twentieth century, the modern university was constructed to meet the needs of capitalism: for inventors, accountants, engineers, and those who would transmit sanitized histories and cultural artifacts from generation to generation.

Fifth, as the “golden age” of U.S. capitalism developed, 1945 to the 1970s, higher education expanded. Whole university systems were constructed in states such as New York and California. Growing percentages of young people entered college. Job credentials increasingly required college degrees.

Sixth, university campuses began to reflect more the characteristics of parallel institutions and evolved even more directly into instrumentalities of corporations, banks, and the state. Major universities became businesses in their own right.

Today universities produce the human resources for the capitalist system. They collaborate with monopolies in agribusiness, technology, food service and tourist industries, and every other industrial and financial sector of the society. It has been suggested that former President Eisenhower was considering addressing the “military/industrial/academic complex” in his famous farewell address. Although he did not include the “academic,” the connection is clear.

Universities are also big businesses themselves. They regard their students as “customers” and their corporate friends as their “investors.” On campuses and in host communities they sell products. University administrations and campus towns are beholden to corporate and government dollars. The university systems of modern America parallel the quest for profit and capital accumulation characteristic of the corporate and finance institutions of the society at large.

Therefore, a reading of the political economy of world history would lead the observer of higher education to realize that the cover-up of grotesque violence against young boys in one major university occurred in the context of a capitalist institution that craves profit and funding, investors, the celebration of star power in athletics, and the creation of icons in the sports and/or “educational” spaces of the college campus. Scandals that reduce the legitimacy, and hence the profitability, of the total institution must be ignored, explained away, or excused.

Perhaps the Paterno effect can encourage a progressive turn in higher education. There exists a principle of academic freedom that is solemnly defended by most academic administrators and faculty. There is also a legacy of debate and discovery in the history and mythology of higher education. And, finally, in various places in the academy there exist traditions of advocacy research and teaching that engage students and communities in discussions of alternatives to the brutalities of the present order. Advocacy research and teaching is based on the proposition that the validity of ideas comes in part from whether they improve or harm “the well-being and happiness of human beings.”

The tragedy of Penn State University should stimulate a reexamination of the purposes, functions, goals of the modern university that addresses how it can participate in the dramatic changes humankind desperately needs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BUILDING A NEW SOCIETY

Harry Targ

A powerful concept animated the vision of young people in the 1960s, the idea of community. Many of us came to that decade with little interest in politics. We were not “red diaper” babies but we became outraged by Jim Crow, McCarthyism, and war. Our education had communicated an early version of Margaret Thatcher’s admonition, “ there is no alternative,” and our impulses told us then that “another world was possible.”

New and old ideas about a better world began to circulate from college campuses, the streets, some churches, and popular culture. A whole body of engaging literature caught the fancy of young people. For me Paul Goodman’s description of youth growing up in the sterile 1950s, Growing Up Absurd, resonated. He wrote about alternative possibilities in such books as Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals.

Perhaps most startling to a young reader was the earlier analysis Goodman published with his brother Percival, Communitas. In that book the Goodman brothers argued that societies, big and small, were products of values. Architecture and the organization of space, social and political forms, and the ease with which people could communicate and interact with each other varied. And the variations created in space and social forms affected whether communities valued life and sociability or consumption and profit maximization.

The Goodman’s opened up new intellectual doors for me. I looked at earlier anarchists, such as Peter Kropotkin, who argued that humans-if not separated by time, space, and power structures-often lived in solidarity with their neighbors. A “mutual aid” principle was natural to human existence. And, as a result “the state" sought to stamp it out and replace it with top down authority.

Martin Buber, in Paths in Utopia, identified a “centralistic political principle” that emerged when groups and states sought control of markets and natural resources and “the most valuable of all goods,” the lives of people who lived with each other changed as “…the autonomous relationships become meaningless, personal relationships wither; and the very spirit of…” being human “…hires itself out as a functionary.” The alternative for Buber was what he called a decentralized social principle, or community which is “…never a mere attitude of mind” but of “…tribulation and only because of that community of spirit; community of toil and only because of that community of salvation….”

In 1974, I wrote in summation about these theorists and many others that “the architectural forms and social structures of the Goodmans can profitably be blended with the spiritualism and socialism of Buber to construct a synthesis of all that the utopians and anarchists set out to achieve. The Goodmans show how community can be created in the industrial age and Buber illustrates how the best features of the entire community tradition fit together.”

The ideas of community, empowerment, and social justice spread from these and other sources. They were articulated for the sixties in The Port Huron Statement, written by founders of the Students for a Democratic Society. While written by and for a relatively privileged sector of disenchanted youth in a period of booming economic growth and military expansion, the document spoke to the passion for justice, participation, and community; “…unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity.” It called for the creation of “human interdependence” replacing “…power rooted in possession, privilege, or circumstance…” by “power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason and creativity.”

By the late sixties many of us were identifying a new society that must be built on core principles. These included;

- local control and participatory democracy
- racial justice
- gender equality
- equitable distribution of resources and the collective product of human labor
- commitments to the satisfaction of minimal basic needs for all of humankind
- the development of an ethic that connects survival to human existence not to specific jobs
- human control over technology
- a new “land ethic” that conceives of humankind as part of nature, not in conflict with it.

Many of us began to explore the impediments to the construction of a society based on human scale that celebrated both individual creativity and community. Growing familiarization with the critique of capitalism suggested that the capitalist mode of production, dominant over two-thirds of the world, was based upon the exploitation, oppression, dehumanization, and repression of the vast majority of humankind.

Incorporating an understanding of the workings of capitalism did not contradict the vision that Buber called the decentralized social principle and the many eloquent calls by others for “community.” It did suggest that building a new society entailed class struggle which would manifest itself in factories and fields, in rich and poor countries, and in political venues from the ballot box to the streets. Bringing about positive change was a much more complicated affair than activists originally thought but the sustained and sometimes brutal opposition to our visions validated the general correctness of them.

Today, new generations of activists, along with older ones, are reflecting and participating in diverse social movements in our cities and towns. They observe with enthusiasm the mobilizations, the militancy, and the passion for justice still unfolding in the Middle East. The efforts of Venezuelans, Bolivians, Ecuadorians, and the Cubans who inspired us so much over the years are applauded. Important debates about social market economies, workers’ management of large enterprises, this or that candidate or political party are occurring on the internet and in the streets.

Although the times are so different from the 1960s, perhaps the vision of community that animated our thinking then (which we in turn learned from those who preceded us) may still be relevant for today. Without creating new documents or dogmas perhaps it can be proclaimed that we remain committed to the sanctity of human life, to equality, to popular control of all our institutions, to a reverence for the environment, and to the idea that the best of society comes from our communal efforts to make living better for all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY DOES NOT RESPECT HUMAN LIFE

Harry Targ

"The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner...We value life and human dignity. They don't care about life and human dignity." General William Westmoreland interviewed in Hearts and Minds (1974), a documentary about the Vietnam War.

This past week American politics took a peculiar turn. A new narrative about the Obama administration began to be systematically presented to the liberal media audience. Reviewing his three-year-old administration, the new construction is that on the national security front Obama is markedly more tough and effective than Republicans claim.

The brutal murder of Muammar Qaddafi by rebellious opponents on global television, followed by celebratory remarks by the President, his Secretary of State and other members of the administration, capped three years of U.S. violence on people of the Global South. Many critics of Obama’s less than forceful advocacy of economic justice have shifted their focus to a frame of the President as resolute in protecting American national security in the face of a challenging world. They even have implied that Obama is more of a tough guy than his predecessor ever was.

What is the evidence for this? Frankly, President Obama has unleashed new variants of the U.S. killing machine. Violence against Asian, Middle Eastern and African people has been visibly celebrated in public view. The numbers of victims killed may not be greater than that of prior administrations but the celebration of public murders seem to have increased.

Early in the Obama administration, the president made a decision to assassinate Somali pirates, pirates who had kidnapped westerners off the Horn of Africa. Last May, with the President’s diplomatic team staring at a television screen during a nail-biting meeting, Navy Seals invaded the compound housing Osama Bin Laden who was unceremoniously killed and dumped in the sea. The media highlighted Americans who celebrated this killing.

Four months after the successful murder of Bin Laden, Obama’s crack team assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki, American citizen and alleged leader of Islamic terrorists, who threatened the United States. Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki, his teen age son and others were summarily executed for crimes for which they had not been accused or tried.

In addition, President Obama agreed to work with allies, Great Britain and France, who held colonial empires in the Middle East and North Africa in the twentieth century. They mobilized a campaign in the United Nations to gain public legitimacy for military intervention in Libya to overthrow the long-time idiosyncratic leader, Qaddafi, whose tiny nation from time to time supported dissidents in the Arab and African worlds. The initial claim was that the force, a NATO operation, would be humanitarian, saving the lives of those who were rebelling against the Libyan dictatorship.

The rebels, contrary to the non-violent activists in Tunisia and Egypt where western support was minimal, were armed, probably by the West, and launched a civil war against the regime. Then NATO air power was used for seven months to pound Libya until the Qaddafi military collapsed. The “humanitarian” intervention took between 30,000 and 50,000 lives, dissidents as well as Qaddafi loyalists. Shortly after the war ended with the death and mutilation of the dictator’s body on a street in Sirte, President Obama declared victory for the Libyan people--although who the rebels were remains unclear--and pronounced what he referred to as a new measured and wise U.S. foreign policy.

The new foreign policy, what might be called the “Obama Doctrine,” has four parts. First, the United States, as the last remaining superpower, and as the defender of the global moral standard, could once again assume the right and responsibility to intervene militarily to preserve and enhance human rights around the world. As the President put it reflecting on the recent killings in a press conference after the death of Qaddafi was announced, U.S. actions have demonstrated “…the strength of American leadership across the world.”

Second, U.S. humanitarian interventions will be carried out in conjunction with military operations with our friends, presumably equally committed to high moral standards. In Obama’s words; “We’ve demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century.” NATO, an alliance established in 1949 to protect Western Europe and North America from security threats from “international communism,” now would police the world.

Third, new technologies make it possible for the United States to police the world without “boots on the ground.” Given the new technology, the free world can intervene virtually anywhere, anytime, through the use of incredibly sophisticated drone warfare. In the Libyan case, as the President said, “without putting a single service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end.”

US/NATO warriors can target enemies without personal danger to themselves while working in antiseptic offices in the United States or Europe, or on small bases in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, or Africa. Nick Turse, author of The Complex (2008) estimates that at least 60 drone bases are operational around the world ready to hit enemy targets virtually anywhere.

Fourth, the Obama Doctrine makes it clear that human life is not sacred and that due process, the hallmark of western legal traditions, is now superseded by the unilateral right of key decisionmakers to kill potential, as well as actual, enemies of the United States. To paraphrase the old definition of the state as that institution that holds the monopoly of the legitimate use of force, the state now holds the monopoly of legitimate use of murder.

In the end, the oft quoted remark by General William Westmoreland about the Vietnamese enemy in the 1960s may more accurately be restated: “The United States government does not put the same high price on human life as other countries.”

Fortunately for progressives, mass movements exist that show the world that many Americans do not stand with their government’s use of violence. Progressives oppose mass murder, targeted executions, the death penalty anywhere, and despicable drone warfare. Progressives also respect the right and responsibilities of others to choose their own political destinies.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

DRONES, BANKS, AND MULTITUDES

Harry Targ

In this age of tweets, sound bites, and short-hand references to broad and complicated swaths of history, what political scientist Murray Edelman called “symbolic” politics, becomes “real” politics. Three symbols represent politics today; “drones,” “banks,” and “multitudes.”

Drones refer metaphorically to state-directed murder, often using the latest technology to target and assassinate those who have been defined by officials as the enemy or as threats to society, or just plain criminals. Based on recommendations by key decision-makers, civilian, military, and police, the U.S. has increasingly relied on new high-tech instruments of murder. Drones, smart bombs, and chemicals are used to kill, maim, and disable people abroad and at home with little or no threat to the safety of the personnel pushing the buttons, dropping the bombs, or spraying the victims. These newer forms of murder continue to be paralleled by a variety of police beatings and shootings and executions sanctified by governments attributing crime to the poor and people of color. The 21st century nation-state, to paraphrase sociologist Max Weber’s original definition, is the organization that holds the monopoly of the “legitimate” implementation of murder.

Banks are real but as symbols refer to a capitalist economic system which organizes workers to generate wealth which is increasingly appropriated by the few. In reality, the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century saw huge manufacturing corporations mobilizing working classes and stealing the wealth that they produced. When rates of profit began to decline the corporate elites collaborated with the heads of banks, institutions which at one time served as the accountants and vaults for accumulated profits. Great mergers of manufacturing and banking capital in the early twentieth century and more so since the 1970s contributed to a new kind of capitalist economy based on finance. Most transactions now are speculative: buying and selling stocks and bonds, the creation of hedge funds, and real estate and insurance investments. Banks and investment houses are global. They produce enormous profit without creating useful products for people to use or consume. And, the banking metaphor represents a vision of an economic system that has become grotesquely unequal.

The third metaphor, the multitudes (borrowed from abstract formulations by Italian theorist Antonio Negri) refers to the rising up of masses of people-- the traditional working class, the unemployed, youth without hope, youth with vision, women long oppressed, people of all races, and people who clean streets or live on them, serve coffee at Starbucks, and even write software programs for big corporations. The multitudes, Negri suggests, represent the underside of a new global order, an economic empire that traverses the earth bursting out of its national and sovereign boundaries.

Drones and banks represent both the coercive and the manipulative power of capitalism. Americans see examples of each on television or computer screens every day. Just in the last two weeks U.S. drones killed U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen. Troy Davis, despite evidence raising reasonable doubt that he was guilty of a murder, was executed by the state of Georgia. And, the Bureau of the Census reported the rise of rates of poverty not seen in the United States since the 1990s and numbers of persons living in poverty larger than any time since the 1960s.

What is also becoming a regular feature of our electronic experience is resistance, anger, and collective mobilization. This is occurring all across the globe--Arab spring; student protest in Santiago, Chile; angry Israeli citizens; workers in Athens, Greece; students and public workers in Madison, Wisconsin, Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis, Indiana--and now undifferentiated groups occupying Wall Street and metaphorical Wall Streets around the United States.

It is unclear what will come of all of this except that the contradictions between drones and banks versus the multitudes is becoming more clear and that the transformation of society that is so desperately needed just might be emerging. Hope so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

REMEMBERING THE GREAT SOCIETY

Harry Targ

On Monday, September 26, the Reverend Jesse Jackson visited Ohio University, located at the northern edge of Appalachia. President Lyndon Johnson had introduced his vision of a “Great Society” in 1964 at this site and Jackson was returning 47 years later to call for the establishment of a White House commission to address poverty and hunger in America.

Jackson pointed out that Athens County, Ohio, where he spoke, represented “ground zero” as to poverty in America today. Thirty-two percent of county residents live in poverty.

The fact that increased poverty is a national problem was underscored in a September 13 press release from the United States Census Bureau. The Census Bureau reported that 46.2 million people lived below the poverty line in 2010, the highest number in 52 years. In 2010, 15.1 percent of Americans lived in poverty, the highest percent since 1993. The poverty line for a family of four was $22,314. The New York Times (September 14, 2011) quoted Professor Lawrence Katz, economist, who said that “this is truly a lost decade. We think of America as a place where every generation is doing better, but we’re looking at a period when the median family is in worse shape than it was in the late 1990s.”

In a press release, the Census Bureau identified some additional data which reflects the economic status of large numbers of Americans:

-The number of Americans below the poverty line in 2010 increased by 900,000 over 2009.
-Proportions of Black and Hispanic citizens living in poverty increased from 2009 to 2010. Black poverty rose to 27 percent from 25 percent; Hispanic poverty 26 percent from 25 percent.
-48 million Americans, 18 to 64 years of age, did not work at all in 2010, up from 45 million in 2009.
-Median income declines were greatest among the young, ages 15 to 24, who experienced a 9 percent decline between 2009 and 2010.
-Childhood poverty rates rose from 20.7 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.

Timothy Smeeding, Director, Institute for Research and Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, was quoted in the New York Times article: “We’re risking a new underclass. Young, less-educated adults, mainly men, can’t support their children and form stable families because they are jobless.”

Arloc Sherman, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reminded readers that the level of poverty was higher and median income was lower in 2007 than 2001.

In this economic context, it was surprising that the calls by Reverend Jackson for a new Great Society largely were ignored by the liberal blogosphere as well as most of the mainstream media.

One impressive exception was an interview on Up with Chris Hayes, MSNBC, on Sunday, September 25. On this program, Jackson pointed out that if it had not been for President Johnson’s disastrous Vietnam War policy he would have been recognized as one of the transformational presidents in American history.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has pointed out in an interesting essay entitled “Race, Class and Economic Justice” that the Johnson programs, the “Great Society,” and its “War on Poverty,” were grounded in the civil rights struggle for jobs and justice. When LBJ’s program got mired in the escalating war in Vietnam, Dr. Martin Luther King launched the “Poor People’s Campaign.”

Both the Great Society and the Poor People’s Campaign need to be revisited as young people, workers, men and women of all races and classes, mobilize along Wall Street and in virtually every city and town in America to demand economic and social justice. And as the Reverend Jackson reminded students and citizens of Athens County on September 13, LBJ’s program was a comprehensive one linking government and community groups. Among its major achievements the following need to be celebrated:

-The Food Stamp Act (1964) provided low income families with access to adequate food.
-The Economic Opportunity Act (1964) created the Job Corps, VISTA, and other community-based programs.
-The Tax Reduction Act (1964) cut income tax rates for low-income families.
-The Civil Rights Act (1964) outlawed discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations.
-The Wilderness Preservation Act (1964) protected over 9 million acres of national forests from developers.
-The Elementary and Secondary School Act (1965) provided federal aid to schools with low-income students, including the establishment of the Head Start program.
-Amendments to the Social Security Act (1965) established Medicare for retirees and Medicaid for low-income health care recipients.
-The Voting Rights Act (1965) ended racial discrimination in voting.
-The Water Quality Act (1965) required states to clean up polluted rivers and lakes.
-The Omnibus Housing Act (1965) provided for low income housing.
-The Clean Air Act (1965) amended legislation to add requirements for auto emissions standards.
-The Higher Education Act (1965) created scholarships for college students.
-The School Lunch and Child Nutrition Act (1968) was expanded to provide food to low-income children in schools and day care facilities.

Between 1964 and 1968 the United States Congress passed 226 of 252 bills into law. Federal funds transferred to the poor increased from $9.9 billion in 1960 to $30 billion in 1968. One million workers received job training from these programs and two million children experienced pre-school Head Start programs by 1968.

Progressives should revisit this history and tell the story of the successes and failures of the 1960s vision and programs and work for the fulfillment of the dream articulated by Dr. King and LBJ. Both visions presupposed the connection between government, communities, and activists. And, it should be made clear that the Great Society floundered, not because of errors in the vision or programs, or because of “government bureaucrats,” or because the “free market” could serve human needs better, but because of a disastrous imperial war that sapped the support for vibrant and needed domestic programs. Slogans about Money for Jobs and Justice, Not for War, constitute the lessons for today. The Reverend Jesse Jackson should be supported in his efforts to revive the vision of the Great Society.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PLANTING AND RESEEDING: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Harry Targ

Naomi Klein, in her fascinating book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, argued that over decades free market capitalists and empire builders organized themselves to be ready when the opportunity to seize power, after a shock, occurred.

Progressives need to organize for the future when a shock could compel masses of people to join the struggle for their liberation. In the meantime, they must keep at it; plant the seeds and reseed as much as energy and spirits allow. This is what Lafayette area activists were doing this month.

For example, a panel discussion “Rebuilding Our Future and Empowering Voters,” sponsored by Yes We Can Tippecanoe, which began as the local Obama campaign group, was held at the Tippecanoe County Public Library, Lafayette, Indiana, Sunday September 18. Speakers representing the Indiana State legislature, the labor movement, Common Cause Indiana, area teachers, and the local Democratic Party shared their concerns for Indiana’s future.

Sheila Klinker, state representative from District 27, who joined the five-week legislative walkout last spring to forestall Indiana’s passage of draconian educational bills, spoke first. She said that despite efforts by the Democratic minority in the legislature, the legislature passed bills that significantly increased funding for school vouchers, established so-called scholarships for home schooling, authorized public funds in the form of vouchers for religious schools, promoted the contracting of private corporations to run schools, decided to evaluate teacher performance through standardized test scores of students, and cut state budgets significantly for education at both the K-12 and higher education levels.

Earl Cox, Community Services Liaison, AFL-CIO and a member of the United Auto Workers, pointed out that the Indiana legislature, now controlled by Republicans, plans to reintroduce so-called Right-to-Work legislation in the 2012 legislative session in January. Right-To-Work laws allow workers in unionized work places to acquire all the benefits of being in a union without becoming a member of that union. This, coupled with attacks on public employees, is designed to destroy the labor movement in Indiana.

Julia Vaughn, Policy Director, Common Cause Indiana, reported that the state was once among the more progressive states in terms of ease of voter registration. She suggested that policy changes initiated over the last several years contributed to a declining voter turnout; in 2010 Indiana was ranked 48 among 50 states. Limiting voter registration sites and increasing voter identification requirements particularly target poor and working people, she said. With the addition of 600 Republican state legislators in 2010 around the country, numerous states have initiated similar efforts to reduce voter participation.

Bruce Hall, special education teacher, Lafayette School Corporation, told of the self-sacrifice of teachers, particularly special education teachers like himself who serve the needs of differently abled young people. He asked who was going to care for the young as public education funding is eliminated.

Organizers were disappointed that only 25 Greater Lafayette residents attended this informative panel. However, they reported that probably many progressives were at parallel important events in the community including the annual Hunger Hike and the opening of a newly constructed Habitat for Humanity house.

Five days earlier, 60 students and community members attended a panel entitled “September 11: Ten Years Later,” sponsored by Purdue University’s Committee on Peace Studies, the Purdue chapter of Amnesty International, the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition, the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church, and the Lafayette Friends Meeting. Berenice Carroll, former Director of Women’s Studies at Purdue, spoke about the deleterious impacts of ten years of war on women. She also reported that repeated national surveys suggest that the American people oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She referred to a recent book by Naomi Wolf, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, alerting the danger of a shift toward fascism in the United States.

Harry Targ, Coordinator of the Purdue Committee on Peace Studies, argued that the impacts of 9/11 have to be seen in the context of two long-term struggles in the United States: one about whether the United States should be an imperial power and the other whether the U.S. government should serve the needs of the vast majority of people or primarily financial and corporate interests. He asserted that 9/11 provided the environment, what Naomi Klein called a “shock,” that made it easier for those advocating renewed empire and austerity policies at home to get their way. He referred to data indicating that the impacts of war on the U.S. economy, particularly on the working class, have been profoundly negative.

Jacob Hernandez, President of Purdue’s Amnesty International chapter, concentrated his remarks on the dubious advances in the promotion of human rights in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11 and the threats to civil rights within the United States. He read major points from the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, arguing that those rights need to be defended in the face of growing challenges.

Earlier, on September 7, 2011, the new local chapter of “Rebuild the American Dream” met. Nine activists, representing labor, peace, environmental, and civil rights groups, discussed how it might build its coalition. It was agreed that a name needed to be chosen for the group and literature needed to be prepared. Also it was suggested that efforts to learn about other Rebuild the American Dream groups was necessary. In addition, providing voter information was put on the agenda for discussion. It was suggested that the group might model itself as an activist coalition on Central Indiana’s Jobs with Justice. Finally, members decided to organize an October 14 rally outside the office of Fourth District Congressman Todd Rokita, to protest his opposition to taxing the rich, job creation, funding Planned Parenthood, and virtually every progressive program that involves government support. The coalition will meet again September 28.

These activities (as well as distribution of 3,000 copies of The Lafayette Independent the area’s new progressive newspaper) represent modest but timely efforts by progressives in North Central Indiana to educate and organize a movement for progressive change. It is fair to assume that similar activities have been occurring in thousands of cities and towns all across the United States.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NEO-LIBERAL GLOBALIZATION, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE AND THE IMPACTS OF 9/11 ON THE U.S. ECONOMY

Harry Targ

(Comments prepared for a panel discussion entitled “September 11: Ten Years Later” on Tuesday, September, 13, 2011, at Purdue University)

The Historical Context of the 9/11 Tragedy

The impacts of monumental tragedies on the lives of a people are derived both from the immediacy of the tragedy in question and from the long-term historical context in which the tragedy occurs. Just to reflect for a moment on the history of American economic and political conflict before 9/11 we must recognize two essential struggles.

First, from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Fair Deal of the Truman era to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs of the 1960s, policymakers believed that a partnership of government with the private sector was likely to provide economic well-being for most Americans. Economists argued that government programs, including fiscal stimuli, supports for the needy, and regulations of unbridled banks and corporations were required to smooth out the negative consequences of capitalism.

As a result of rapidly changing events in the 1970s, from the oil shocks of that decade to increased government deficits at home, some political leaders and economists advocated a return to economic policies that minimized government, maximized corporate and banking freedom, and returned to the pre-Depression philosophy promoting “the magic of the marketplace.”

In response to global challenges to the mixed economy policy model, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the most powerful nations in the world pressured weaker countries to shift their policy programs to what became known as “neo-liberal” policies. These policies called for cutting government spending (even vital programs for the needy), deregulation of the private sector, and privatization of government programs including transportation, education, health care, and even the provision of fresh water. In many countries, these new policies included challenging the rights of workers, peasants, and others to organize and make demands on corporations and government.

In the 1980s, the so-called “Reagan revolution” expanded and in some cases initiated new neo-liberal programs in the United States. According to David Harvey, the long-term impacts of this dramatic shift in public policy since the 1980s has involved massive outsourcing of work, deindustrialization, and transformation from a manufacturing and service economy to one based on financial speculation. As a result, the impacts for the next thirty years included growing income and wealth inequality, a rising proportion of society’s wealth accumulated by the top 1 per cent of the population, growing consolidation of corporations and banks, increased personal, state, and national debt, and declining real wages, living standards, access to public services, and quality of life for most Americans.

On the international front, U.S. policymakers launched a worldwide crusade against what Reagan era policymakers defined as the threat of “international communism.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, policymaking elites who had entered the foreign policy establishment in the Nixon years and continued their service through the Reagan years and two Bush presidencies lobbied for a foreign policy of global domination. Their lobbying vehicle, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), engaged actively in the 1990s to mobilize support for war on Iraq and Iran and the establishment of friendly regimes all across the broad swath of territory from Northern South America, to the Horn of Africa, to the Middle East and Persian Gulf to East Asia.

Then 9/11 Happened

So the economic policy agenda and advocacy for a global foreign policy was in place and/or well represented and articulated before the tragedy of 9/11. Then we all saw the brutal images of the twin towers destroyed, the plane downed over Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon attacked. Selfless men and women came to the rescue as best they could to save lives and comfort the loved ones of victims.

Within days of 9/11, the Bush Administration was debating making war on Iraq and deciding in an intervening period to launch a war on Afghanistan, on October 6, 2001. A year and a half campaign followed leading to attacks on Iraq in March, 2003. These decisions were supported by the beginning of qualitative increases in military spending (roughly tripling military spending from 2001 to 2011), expanding a program of tax cuts for the rich that had begun before 9/11, and organizing a sustained program of downsizing, privatizing, and deregulating the economy. In the context of the grieving nation, the programs of shifting the economy further to banks and corporations and maintaining and expanding a global presence (more than 800 U.S. bases everywhere) were readily accepted. Instead of pursuing the perpetrators of the crimes of 9/11, the United States launched a “war on terrorism,” defined an “axis of evil,” and announced its new “Doctrine of Preemption.”

The Shock Doctrine

In 2007, Naomi Klein published a fascinating book called The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In it she develops the idea of the shock doctrine, paying homage to the source of the concept, Milton Friedman, the renowned free market economist. In one of his essays she quotes the following: “…only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Klein references one of the other infamous 9/11s, 9/11/73 when the Chilean military carried out a brutal coup against an elected socialist government, causing the death of President Salvador Allende, terrorizing and killing thousands of citizens, abolishing trade unions and political parties, and moving the Chilean economy from mixed public and private institutions to so-called markets. In fact, Professor Friedman and his colleagues were invited to Chile to advise the new dictatorship about how to create a “free market” economy.

Costs of War

So since 9/11, the United States has been engaged in at least two wars with no end in sight, tripled its military spending, and reestablished a global military presence with both armies and private contractors on every continent while at home working people are suffering through economic crises. Political discourse, for the most part, omits serious attention to the pain and suffering of most Americans.

Joseph Stiglitz, in his essay “The Price of 9/11,” reflected on the relationship between the tragedy, the U.S. military response and the long-term consequences the tragedy has had for the American people.

Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America’s future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased defense spending, together with the Bush tax cuts, is a key reason why American went from a fiscal surplus of 2 % of GDP when Bush was elected to its perilous deficit and debt position today.
Direct government spending on those wars so far amounts to roughly $2 trillion--$17,000 for every U.S. household--with bills yet to be received increasing this amount by more than 50%.”

Costofwar.org provides very useful data on war spending and the U.S. economy. For example they indicate:

-Spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 through the end of fiscal 2011 totals $1.26 trillion.
-Total spending on “security” since 9/11 has been $7.6 trillion.
-There has been a 96% increase in “security” discretionary spending since 9/11 and only a 39 % increase in non-security discretionary spending.
-Annual funding for “homeland security” has increased by 301% since 2001.
-Increased DOD annual base budget (not counting the wars) has gone up by $235.6 billion since 2001.
-Currently the United States and its NATO allies account for 65 % of global military spending.
-52% of U.S. war veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have been treated by the Veterans Administration (650,000 of 1.25 million) at a cost of $32.6 billion.

The National Priorities Project presents data on “trade-offs,” that is if spending on 9/11 related wars were used to serve the needs of citizens. For the state of Indiana for example:

-The cost of the Afghan War in 2011 alone would provide Head Start funding for all eligible Indiana children for 22.7 years, while now budgets can only provide for 1/3 of those children eligible for the program.

-Total Indiana costs for the Afghan War (2001-2011) would pay for all those without health insurance in the state for 1.9 years.

-Afghan and Iraq war total spending “would fund all in-state expenses of a four-year education for each incoming freshman class for the next 46.2 years” at the Indiana/Purdue University campus in Indianapolis.

In sum, United States economic policy has been on a thirty year trajectory to eliminate the connections between government programs and human needs. United States foreign policy from the Reagan Doctrine, to President Clinton’s “humanitarian interventions,” to the War on Terror and the Doctrine of Preemption parallels the advocacy and institutionalization of economic policy. The shock of 9/11 advanced both the domestic and foreign policy agendas to a considerable degree.

Fight Like Hell for the Living

The anti-war/social justice movement Code Pink believes that both economic policies that privilege the rich and foreign policies that dominate and control other countries must be challenged. That, Code Pink implies, is the meaning of 9/11 for us today. One contributor to the Code Pink website, Janet, wrote the following:

“On a button on my pink jacket, and on my heart, I carry the words of Mary “Mother” Jones, a labor organizer: ‘Mourn for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.’ Today…and every day, I will try to live up to those words, and to help make a world where the young bury the old, and rarely the reverse—and where war is as unthinkable as cannibalism.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

IMPACTS OF 9/11s


Harry Targ

9/11 in Chile

On the bright and sunny morning of September 11, 1973, aircraft bombed targets in Valparaiso, Chile, and moved on to the capital, Santiago. Following a well-orchestrated plan, tanks rolled into the capital city, occupied the central square, and fired on the Presidential palace. Inside that building, President Salvador Allende broadcast a final address to his people and fatally shot himself as soldiers entered his quarters.

Thousands of Allende supporters were rounded up and held in the city’s soccer stadium and many, including renowned folk singer Victor Jara, were tortured and killed. For the next fifteen years, Chilean workers were stripped of their right to form unions, political parties and elections were eliminated, and the junta led by General Augusto Pinochet ruled with an iron fist all but ignored outside the country until Chileans began to mobilize to protest his scheme to become President for life.

9/11 in the United States

Of course, 9/11/01 was different. The United States was attacked by foreign terrorists, approximately 3,000 citizens and residents were killed at the World Trade Center, over a rural area in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. People all over the world expressed their sorrow and sympathy for the victims of the 9/11 attacks as the American people experienced shock and dismay.

But then everything began to change. Within days of the terrorist attacks, members of President Bush’s cabinet began to advocate a military assault on Iraq, a longstanding target of the Washington militarists of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). Now is the time, they said, to take out Saddam Hussein, seize control of Iraqi oil fields, and reestablish United States control over the largest share of the oil fields of the Persian Gulf region. Cooler heads prevailed for a time, however. We cannot attack Iraq, critics said, because Iraq had nothing to do with the crimes in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

So it was decided that a war would be waged on Afghanistan, because the headquarters of the shadowy organization Al Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden, was said to be in that country. On October 6, 2001, that war was initiated and still goes on although Bin Laden has been killed.

Shortly after launching the war on Afghanistan, the neo-cons in the Bush administration began a campaign to convince the American people that we needed to make war on Iraq. Lies were articulated that the Iraqi dictator was really behind the global terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. He had weapons of mass destruction. He was part of a global Islamic fundamentalist cabal. At last, despite evidence to the contrary, the mobilization of millions of Americans against war, growing global resentment against the Bush Doctrine justifying preemptive wars, the United States attacked Iraq in March, 2003. That war too still goes on.

Over the last decade, U.S. military budgets have tripled, thousands of U.S. soldiers have died or sustained irreparable injuries, and an estimated one million Afghan and Iraqi people, mostly civilians, have died. Meanwhile the United States has maintained over 700 military installations around the world, declared the great land and sea area around the globe at the equator the “arc of instability,” and engaged in direct violence or encouraged others to do so, from Colombia to Honduras in the Western Hemisphere, to Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, to Israel, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Libya in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, to Pakistan, and Afghanistan in East Asia. Presidents Bush and Obama have declared that United States military overreach to be in the national interest of the country and to serve the humanitarian interest of the world. Now the U.S. program includes the use of computer operated aircraft, drones, that can target and kill anywhere based on decisions from command headquarters half way around the globe.

Meanwhile at home, the Patriot Act has extended the prerogatives of government to launch a program claiming to be essential to protect the people from domestic terrorists: spying on Americans; incarcerating people from virtually anywhere deemed to be a security threat; and establishing a political climate that intimidates critics of United States foreign policy.

Domestically, the decade since 9/11 has been characterized by sustained assaults on the basic living standards of the bottom 90 percent of the population in terms of wealth and income. Unemployment has risen dramatically. Job growth has ground to a halt. Health care benefits have declined while costs skyrocket. Virtually every public institution in America, except the military, is being threatened by budget cuts: education, libraries, public health facilities, highways and bridges, fire and police protection, environmental quality.

Support for war overseas and at home is stoked by a so-called “war on terrorism” and an anti-government ideology, made popular earlier by the Reagan administration that lionizes Adam Smith’s claims that only the market can satisfy human needs. Following 9/11, the “beast,” government, has been starved even more resulting in increased demand on workers and institutions with reduced resources, offering “proof” that government never works.

Not all have had to sacrifice during this ten-year “war on terror” and its attendant domestic programs. The rich have gotten richer while the income and wealth of 90 percent of the population have experienced economic stagnation or decline. Media monopolization has facilitated the rise of a strata of pundits who simplify and distort the meaning of events since 9/11 by claiming that war is necessary; the terrorist threat is a growing global threat; as a nation and individually we need to arm ourselves; and subliminally it is people of color who constitute the threat to security and well-being.

Where Do We Go From Here

So the United States 9/11 event was not the first. The Chilean 9/11 preceded the U.S. one by 28 years. Its people experienced a brutal military coup. And in the United States mass murder was committed by 19 terrorists. But in both cases the 9/11 event was followed by violence, threats to democracy, and economic shifts from the vast majority of the population to the wealthy and political/military elites. In both cases, draconian economic policies and constraints of civil and political rights were defined as required by threats to the “homeland.”

As the ten-year anniversary of the U.S. 9/11 is remembered, it is critical to reflect upon how the murder of 3,000 citizens and residents was defined as an opening salvo in a perpetual “war on terrorism:” how this war trumps traditional civil liberties afforded by the constitution; how this war must be waged at whatever cost to the lives and economic resources of the country; and, as with the Cold War, military spending must take priority over every other activity for which the government has a role. 9/11/73 caused the Chilean people pain and suffering that they are still working to overcome 28 years later. Unless the American people mobilize to challenge the policies, foreign and domestic, that were justified by the tragedy of 9/11, the United States will continue to move down a similar path the Chilean people traveled after their 9/11.

Monday, August 29, 2011

THE POWER OF A GOOD EXAMPLE


Harry Targ

For many years those of us who followed United States/Cuban relations puzzled over the variety of explanations for why United States policy toward the small island was so hostile. Some spoke of the fear of “communism,” others the influence of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans, and still others how American politicians for two hundred years believed Cuba really belonged to the United States. An alternative explanation, some felt, was the power of a good example. This latter thesis suggested that since Cuban socialism was providing good health care and education for its people and since the quality of life and culture in Cuba had been thriving under socialism, others might choose the Cuban path to building their own political, economic, and cultural institutions. This development, that is an improving quality of life on the island, must be disrupted.

In January and February, 2011, masses of Tunisians and then Egyptians went into the streets to protest the dictatorial governments that ruled their lives for years. As it turned out, protests, at least in Egypt, were part of a long tradition of activism, fueled by enthusiastic organizing efforts of young people. Massive mobilizations included youth, women as well as men, workers, religious and secular people, and Egyptians of all educational levels and occupations. While many protestors over the weeks were victimized by police and military, they committed themselves, in part out of necessity, to non-violent resistance.

In Egypt the immediate goal was the ouster of the forty year dictator, Hosni Mubarak, but people interviewed in the streets indicated that in addition to democratization they wanted jobs, and improved living standards, and rights for all Egyptians irrespective of class, ethnicity, religion, and gender. Some analysts claimed that protesters knew that their struggle for a better life was a long-term one that would extend well beyond the overthrow of the dictator. While they sought support from the powerful military, they had no illusions about the role the military would play in the long-term.

Their force was in their numbers, their determination, their articulated vision, and the inspiration they communicated to each other and to those in similar situations all around the world. Protestors in Madison, Wisconsin, began to refer to peoples movements “from Cairo to Madison,” suggesting that non-violent mass mobilizations representing progressive majorities could spread throughout the Middle East, Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. The Arab Spring was another “power of a good example.”

But in early March, after a seeming upsurge in protest against the dictatorship in Libya and threats against those in rebellion, the United Nations voted to authorize NATO forces to be used in that country if human life was threatened. As we know, NATO launched a massive air war, presumably against targets of the Muammar Gaddafi government. That set off a violent war between unidentified rebels and the Libyan government. Now it seems that the rebels backed by NATO bombing and arms are on the verge of toppling the Gaddafi government.

In this latter case, the rebels have engaged in violence, the Libyan government engaged in violence, and NATO forces have unleashed massive violence. Media coverage is of the bombing, the fighting, and the eccentric behavior of the Libyan dictator. But NATO has exceeded its UN mandate to engage in humanitarian intervention. And we know little about the rebels except that they employ violence.

And in the end, the Libyan experience returns us to the old narrative: a crazy dictator, brutal violence on all sides, and a virtual absence of declaration of any vision and purpose by those fighting on either side. Contrary to the vision of the non-violent youthful workers, men and women, who went out in the streets of Cairo, we have returned to the old Middle East narrative of guns, brutal dictatorships, massive bombings, death and destruction, and great powers to the rescue.

NATO countries can heave a sigh of relief: the Arab Spring is over.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BACK TO BASICS: THE WAR ON LIBYA IS AN IMPERIAL WAR

Harry Targ

I was on an educational tour of Vietnam when NATO forces launched an air war on Libya. Our group heard the news with shock and horror. Part of the reason for the depth of our reaction was that we were touring a country that had experienced a decade of sustained bombing by U.S. aircraft.

Members of our delegation to Vietnam had come to political awareness in the 1960s. We were educated by the daily bloody newscasts we watched of the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement we observed and played a role in building. In addition to observation and participation in anti-war activities, we read about the history of empires, particularly the American empire.

Through our study in school and out, we learned how European powers--the Dutch, the Spanish, the French, and the British--had emerged from feudalism, built modern navies, and developed weapons systems to conquer the world. The Western Hemisphere, the African continent, the Persian Gulf region and Asia were occupied by foreign powers and forever had their cultures, polities, and economies shaped by them.

By the late nineteenth century the industrial revolution spread to the United States. Agricultural and industrial productivity required markets, natural resources, and cheap labor. To fulfill these needs the United States became an imperial power.

The U.S. empire was launched in a war that crushed Spain in 1898 and led to the colonization of Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and the Philippines in Asia. For the next thirty years, the marines were sent to the Caribbean and Central America at least 30 times. After two world wars, the United States began to construct a worldwide empire in 1945. It overthrew governments overtly and covertly that were deemed part of the “communist threat.” By the dawn of the twenty first century in response to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States established over 700 military installations in 130 countries and created a high-tech war machine to target presumed enemies virtually everywhere.

So as we traveled through Vietnam we remembered the 1960s when our consciousness, our sensibilities, and our passions were driven by a commitment to challenge American imperialism. And then, all of a sudden, we heard about the United Nations resolution endorsing humanitarian intervention in Libya. This was followed by a NATO-led air war on targets in that country. We asked how another preposterous war could be waged in 2011 by NATO and its key partner, the United States. In the Persian Gulf the contradictions between so-called humanitarianism and reality seemed more stark than ever.

First, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established in 1949 as a military alliance to defend Europe from any possible aggression initiated by the former Soviet Union. If words mattered, NATO should have dissolved when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Second, the United States, so concerned for the human rights of people in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, was virtually silent as non-violent revolutions overthrew dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt earlier in the year.

Third, the United States continued to support regimes in Bahrain and Yemen in the face of popular protest and violent response.

Fourth, the United States has been a rock-solid supporter of the state of Israel as it has expanded settlements in the West Bank, and embargoed Palestinians in Gaza

Fifth, in the face of growing ferment in the Middle East and Persian Gulf for democratization not a word has been said by way of criticism of the monarchical system in Saudi Arabia.

So as the Qaddafi regime in Libya nears its end, the NATO alliance and the United States praise themselves for their support of movements for democratization in Libya. What they cannot hide in the media is the fact that the overthrow of the Libyan regime, for better or worse, could not have occurred without the massive bombing campaign against military and civilian targets throughout Libya carried out by NATO forces.

Remembering our shock when we heard of the initiation of bombing of Libya in March and seeing what has happened since, I can only come to the conclusion that United States foreign policy and the reaction to it has not changed very much from the Vietnam era. Deadly policies, we are told, are carried out for humanitarian reasons. Violence remains the major tool of the state. The great powers continue to interfere in the political life of small and poor countries. And, the mainstream media continues to provide a humanitarian narrative of imperialism at work.

Alexander Cockburn put it well in The Nation in June, 2011 when he wrote:

“America’s clients in Bahrain and Riyadh can watch the undignified pantomime with a tranquil heart, welcoming this splendid demonstration that they have nothing to fear from Obama’s fine speeches or Clinton’s references to democratic aspirations, well aware that NATO’s warplanes and helicopters are operating under the usual double standard-with the Western press furnishing all appropriate services.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

INDIANA COMMUNITY DELIBERATES ABOUT REBUILDING THE AMERICAN DREAM

Harry Targ

Seventeen community activists met Tuesday August 16, 2011 to view Van Jones’ speech initiating his “American Dream Movement.” The 70 minute video was followed by 45 minutes of discussion on how progressives in Central Indiana should respond to the national, state, and local economic and political crises of 2011.

Participants included activists from various local organizations: the local labor council and building trades, the peace movement, Planned Parenthood, the independent Obama campaign organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the local alternative newspaper, the Lafayette Independent.

Jones gave his inspirational speech hoping to initiate a national progressive movement at Town Hall, in New York on June 23, 2011.

Jones, a former advisor to the Obama administration on green jobs, resigned from office after being attacked for radicalism by Fox News. The specious attack on Jones preceded similar attacks on the community organization, ACORN, and Department of Agriculture expert Shirley Sherrod. In none of these cases did the Obama administration defend the targets of lies and slander.

In his speech, which was designed to inspire progressives to organize house parties and other public meetings in every city and town in America, Jones identified four lies that have come to shape our political discourse.

The first lie, plastered across the screens and print media, is that America is broke. Presenting data and analysis, Jones showed that the US economy was not broke. In fact, the United States remained the richest country in the world, but the wealth and income was shifting ever more dramatically from the vast majority of the population to banks and corporations.

The second lie, he claimed, which has become part of common wisdom, though untrue, is that if the rich are taxed more equitably, the economy will be hurt. He presented evidence from periods of America’s greatest growth, from the 1940s to the 1970s, that wages, profits, taxes, and productivity increased together. But since 1980, wealth has increased while taxes declined along with jobs and wages. In other words, radical tax cuts have made the rich richer but the population at large poorer.

The third lie is that the problem with today’s economy is the existence of an active, involved government. As President Reagan put it: “Government is the problem, not the solution.” Jones spent much of his speech pointing out that capitalism as an economic system would not have developed, nor individual corporations profited, nor communities survived without government. Roads, schools, health care delivery systems, protections from fire and crime, and basic environmental standards all result from government programs. The American people pay taxes to provide the supports for corporations and banks that accumulate the wealth produced by workers.

The fourth lie, and for Jones the most damaging, is that the people are helpless to reshape the course of American economic and political life. As so many learned from weary parents: “You can’t fight city hall.” For Jones that proposition contradicts all of American history. Movements to end slavery, for civil rights, for worker rights, for moving toward equality for women, for environmental justice, all occurred because of peoples’ movements.

So Jones in his June speech called for local meetings around the country. He urged these meetings to generate ideas for building a new national movement out of local activism.

Since the speech some 1,500 house parties were held, generating 25,000 ideas for the development of a “Contract for the American Dream.” 125,000 people rated the ideas.

In early August a ten-point “Contract for the American Dream” was posted on a website (http://contract.rebuild%20the%20dream.com/). The ten points included:

1.Invest in America’s infrastructure.
2.Create 21st Century energy jobs.
3.Invest in public education.
4.Offer medicare for all.
5.Make work pay.
6.Secure social security
7.Return to fairer tax rates.
8.End the wars and invest at home.
9.Tax Wall Street speculation.
10.Strengthen democracy.

In the discussion following the video, the Indiana activists reflected on what if anything a coalition of progressives represented at the video showing could and should do in the community. Most attendees agreed that the crisis in our community and the state and nation was severe; that we needed to begin organizing. But we asked: how, who, and for what goals? Questions were raised about whether a progressive coalition should engage in electoral work, participate in the local Democratic Party or not.

Some participants suggested distributing progressive literature on jobs, health care, the threat to reproductive rights, and ending wars at the local Labor sponsored September 3 picnic, Labor’s Family Day in the Park. Others talked about organizing a series of panels presenting the major issues our groups are concerned about.

While the problems of organizing seemed enormous, everyone agreed that attendees and friends should be invited to another meeting to continue the dialogue. It was felt that with further discussion we could adapt the Contract for the American Dream to our local needs and capabilities.