Saturday, February 26, 2011

WORKERS MOBILIZE IN INDIANA

"A word on apathy--I generally consider it to be a non-issue. Workers are not apathetic; there are lots they care about. But they have to have restored faith in their unions and legislators to act--we are working on that one. Apathy is a label used by the hegemonic few to cover fear, intimidation and hopelessness."

Ruth Needleman, Professor of Labor Studies, Indiana University/Gary and author of Black Freedom Fighters in Steel: The Struggle for Democratic Unionism,2003, in an e-mail, February 24, 2011


Until late last week, the general media practice, including NPR and Democracy Now, had been to ignore labor militancy in Indiana. However, the movement here in Indiana has been much more energized and larger than many expected. A state issues forum that was held during the afternoon, February 20, in Lafayette, Indiana on the draconian Republican legislative agenda drew a standing room crowd, about 150, largely public school teachers but with a number of Building Trades, Steel and UAW unionized workers. The event was sponsored by the Obama group Yes We Can Tippecanoe with support from the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition.

The response to the threats to workers, teachers, and public education was a collective expression of anger coupled with a general recognition that the Indiana Republican agenda was a threat to the entire working population of the state.From Monday to Friday with an anticipation of continuation next week trade unionists and other activists have been traveling to the state capital building in Indianapolis to protest an array of bills including Right-to-Work, promotion of charter schools, establishment of student-performance-based evaluation of teachers, an Arizona style anti-immigration bill, and a ban on same-sex marriage. (At the February 20 forum articulate spokespersons drew connections between all these issues and even the concept of "class struggle" was raised).

An estimated 10,000 trade unionists and other progressives mobilized at the State House on Tuesday. February 22. Democratic members of the Republican controlled legislature began to absent themselves from sessions, forestalling a required quorum. Similar to Wisconsin politicians Hoosier legislators assembled in Illinois. Their agenda was to say “no” to Right-to-Work legislation and to demand real dialogue on a variety of bills on the legislative docket that would radically transform education in the state and hit employed and unemployed workers even harder than RTW alone.

I attended the Thursday State House rally organized by the Indiana State AFL-CIO. As we were going through the security check we heard a roaring crowd inside the rotunda of the old-fashioned State House building. As we entered the rotunda we saw about 2,000 workers from the ground level to the third floor cheering a militant speech from the president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO. Other speakers condemned the attack on workers, exhorted them to continue the struggle, and connected the issues--Right-to-Work, draconian cuts in unemployment benefits, threats to pensions and benefits, destruction of collective bargaining for public employees, and all the efforts of Governor Mitch Daniels to privatize and destroy public education. Angry workers showed placards from the UAW, SEIU, various Building Trades unions, including locals representing electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and painters. A speaker from the Indiana State Teachers Association thanked the State AFL-CIO for connecting the fight-backs of manufacturing, service, and construction workers with those of education workers.

Talking to business agents and other labor leaders, I learned that the Republicans had offered a deal to the construction and manufacturing unions to take RTW off the table if rallies were ended. The leaders made it clear that organized labor in Indiana saw this proposal for what it was, an effort to split the labor movement and the working class.

One labor leader claimed that a deal beneficial to teachers had been offered the Indiana State Teachers Association, which is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Apparently the teachers rejected it. Workers of all kinds have become aware of this standard practice political elites use to split the working class and it has been rejected. Protestors were also suspicious of press reports that the Governor and the legislature had “pulled” RTW off the table. Legislative procedures, several said, made the situation fluid. The discourse, speeches, informal conversations, chants, and picket signs all spoke to the emergence of real class consciousness this time.

Over the next days and weeks the trick will be to keep the momentum, militancy, and sense of solidarity alive. And, as one friend put it, rank-and-file trade unionists, particularly younger members, need to understand that whatever the outcome of this immediate campaign, vigilance will be necessary. A good labor history lesson would make it clear that factions of the capitalist class resumed the struggle to push labor back even before the ink was dry on President Roosevelt’s signature making the Wagner Act of 1935, labor’s “Magna Carta,” law. By 1947, Republican majorities successfully turned back significant worker rights with the Taft-Hartley Act which made state laws, such as Right-to-Work, possible.

The Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio cases show the possibilities that can be achieved by progressives, including trade unionists, working with some members of the Democratic Party. The legislators in Indiana and Wisconsin have been forced to act in ways that demonstrate their real support of workers. The level of worker anger and mobilization made it clear to Senators in Wisconsin and House members in Indiana that they need to give concrete support to the mass mobilizations that are taking place.

As an old labor film ends, a life long activist is quoted as saying “You think this is the end? It’s just the beginning.” The fight-backs in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere have rekindled labor militancy, and the rudiments of class consciousness. The most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class will not bow to mass movements without much more mobilization and struggle. Without falling prey to romantic comparisons with the ferment in the Middle East, it may be the case that, as with Egypt, a general strike is the only action that will stop the drift toward unbearable and deepening misery of the working class.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE ATTACK ON PLANNED PARENTHOOD PART OF A LONG REACTIONARY TRADITION

Harry Targ

Vivay Prashad, in his fascinating book, The Darker Nations, traced the rise and subsequent demise of the Third World Project from the 1950s to the 1980s. The Third World Project, mainly the mobilization of poor and marginalized peoples around the world, envisioned the construction of progressive governments that would provide for basic social and economic needs and institutionalize democratic participation in political life.

This project was derailed for several reasons. One of the most significant was the willful construction by threatened elites of fundamentalist religious institutions.

In the Middle East, the tottering dictatorships plowed financial resources into the creation of fundamentalist Islamic organizations. “Political Islam” was introduced into global political culture to divert and divide social movements for fundamental change. Political Islam called for a return to the past and a rejection of modern secular ideas about social and political institutions. Religious dogma worked to replace visions of egalitarian societies. Ironically, in order to maintain stability, United States foreign policy supported insurgent Islamic fundamentalist movements in various places such as Afghanistan.

In Latin America, religious fundamentalism took a variety of forms. The leadership of the Catholic Church launched a frontal assault on newly created radical regimes, such as in Nicaragua, that based their political principles on a theology of “liberation.” Also, Evangelical Christian organizations, with funding from worldwide economic elites, infiltrated Latin American countries experiencing revolutionary ferment, urging the poor to reject earthly solutions to their problems.

In North America, the religious right mobilized financial resources to appeal to an electorate frustrated by challenges to U.S. hegemony overseas and economic stagnation at home. In each political venue, whether dominated by Islam, Christianity, or Judaism in the case of Israel, religion was used to divide and conquer.

The sector of the population most impacted by fundamentalisms of every kind is women. Women are forced out of the political process as patriarchies reinstitute top down control of their political, economic, and cultural lives and their bodies. Women’s institutions, particularly ones that encourage progressive public policies, are marginalized. Often politicians using religious dogma as their rhetorical tool, support public policies that punish poor women, women of color, and progressive women in general. In sum, the resurgence of religious fundamentalism has been used to divide majorities of people along various lines that defuse their solidarity and the targets of such assaults are most often women.

A current example of this strategy of attacking women by raising the specter of religious orthodoxy occured Friday February18 when the House of Representatives approved an amendment to budgetary legislation which would end all funding of Planned Parenthood, a national organization that provides vital reproductive health services to low-income women. Congressman Mike Pence (IN), who introduced the proposal, declared that American taxpayers should not have to pay for abortions. He failed to mention that they don’t because the government currently forbids the use of federal dollars for most abortions. Consequently, that could not have been the motivation for this legislation.

Rather, most of the 240 House members who voted to cut all allocations to Planned Parenthood wished to raise the religious issue to justify their general goal of ending public health care and guarantees for basic public health services for all. Pence failed to make note of the fact that Planned Parenthood gives contraceptive assistance to poor women, does HIV tests, screens women for cancer, and provides reproductive health care for women. Planned Parenthood, like ACORN the community organization that was victimized last year, is under assault to achieve political goals. The attacks serve to divide the electorate to destroy another organization that serves the needs of the working class, in this case working class women.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute point out that in recent years almost half of women who need reproductive health care are not able to afford it. Four in ten women of reproductive age had no health insurance.

The health care reform legislation of 2010 opens the door for expanded insurance coverage for reproductive health and family planning. Among those without health care as of 2009 were 14 million women of reproductive age. According to the new health care law, if not defied by state governments, Medicaid programs will expand family planning services to lower income families in years ahead.

As the Pence amendment suggests, existing health services for women and prospective new ones are under threat by health care opponents. They want to destroy major providers of health care for women such as Planned Parenthood. And, in the end, they want to destroy any form of public health for people.

How to do it? Transform the discourse from providing health care for the people, a broadly accepted idea, to religious dogma, in this case anti-abortion dogma.

It is time for progressives to respond. Attacks on Planned Parenthood are attacks on the working class, especially people of color, and women, and the very idea that governments are created to serve the needs of the people.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE GLOBAL SOUTH: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Harry Targ

From the Streets to the Classroom

I am teaching a course this semester on United States relations with the Caribbean and Central America. I use the course to explore the historic patterns of United States foreign policy from the industrial revolution to the present. I open the course with reference to Greg Grandin’s thesis that U.S. conduct in the Western Hemisphere has served as a template or experiment for its global role as an imperial power.

The course also examines the rise of dependent capitalist regimes in the region but most importantly resistance to the Colossus of the North. Course discussion includes assessments of revolution in Haiti, Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, and El Salvador and how the United States sought to forestall them and undermine their successes.

This time I chose as the first text a book that reframes world history from a “bottom-up” perspective. I am using Vijay Prashad’s book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World, which presents a view of twentieth century world history that gives voice to the peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It turns out that the Prashad book has become extraordinarily timely (I make no claims about whether my students agree or not) in that it describes in historical and theoretical terms the rise of what we used to call “The Third World,” or what he calls “The Darker Nations” beginning with the era of global colonial empire. It identifies leaders, nations, movements, organizations such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), policies, successes and failures. Although it was published in 2007, it leads the reader to reflect on the burgeoning mass movements today in the Middle East, suggesting pitfalls and possible strengths in terms of global progressive social change.

The Rise of the Third World: An Historical Project

Prashad’s book identifies three periods of the history of the Darker Nations that he identifies in chapters as “Quest,” “Pitfalls,” and “Assassinations.” In each period there are dominant actors--individuals and nations, visions, policies, and patterns of interaction with rich and powerful countries.

The chapter Prashad called “Quest” summarizes the coming together of anti-colonial movements and the successive victories that occurred against the European colonial powers that occupied much of the world’s land mass from the mid-nineteenth century until the end of World War II. “Quest” begins with an interesting discussion of the meeting of the new League Against Imperialism held in Brussels in 1927. It is there that the Third World project is formulated. It is a project inspired by Communists, Socialists, and Nationalists who abhorred colonialism and sought to build a global movement to overthrow it.

In subsequent chapters Prashad traces the development and institutionalization of the movement, from anti-colonial struggle to independence to the drive to establish a Third World bloc that would stand between western capitalism and Soviet socialism. The early leaders of this movement were the leaders of independence in their own countries: such figures as Jawaharlal Nehru (India); Ahmed Sukarno (Indonesia); Marshall Tito (Yugoslavia); and Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt). These and other leaders, representing countries from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, had diverse political ideologies but all supported political sovereignty and economic development. In general, their vision was a Social Democratic one.

For a time, given the East/West competition the Third World Project had some influence on debate and policy primarily through the United Nations. The Third World Project advocated for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), designed to regulate and control unbridled global capitalism. As the Socialist bloc deconstructed the advocacy for the NIEO declined.

Prashad discusses a second “stage” of the Third World Project that surfaced in the 1970s and beyond. The movement of Darker Nations becomes compromised by the rise of political elitism, bureaucratization, the demobilization of masses of people, the crushing of left forces, the rise of particular institutions such as the military that challenge grassroots politics, and the failure to bring rural agricultural reforms to the process of modernization. Perhaps most important to the Prashad narrative is the growing debt crisis, the incorporation of many Darker Nations into the grip of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the rise of a new generation of post colonial elites who did not share the passion, vision, or experience of their predecessors.

The third part of Prashad’s book, loosely covering the 1980s to the present, he calls “Assassinations.” It describes, through case studies, the continuation of the deformations of the Third World Project described above. The “neo-liberal” policy agenda embraced by many leaders reduced the role of states in shaping their own economies, deregulated and downsized public institutions, opened economies to foreign investors, and shifted from production for domestic consumption to export-based economies. Gaps between rich and poor grew and as a result political institutions, particularly armies and police, became more repressive. However, a few regimes experienced economic growth, the so-called “Asian Tigers” for example. Others, Saudi Arabia being a prime example, supported and fostered on a global basis religious fundamentalism and ethnic hostilities to debase and virtually eliminate the unity embedded in the original vision of the Third World Project.

The Project of the Darker Nations Today

What we have witnessed over the last twenty days perhaps constitutes what Preshad might regard as a new stage in the development of the Third World Project.

First, the Middle East revolution, if we wish to call it that for shorthand reasons, can be seen as a direct reaction to the profound global economic crisis that has been brought on by neo-liberal globalization.

Second, it clearly is motivated by goals similar to those NAM endorsed in the 1950s, that is some kind of New International Economic Order.

Third, the movements seem to be largely secular, perhaps reflecting a rejection of the counter-revolutionary programs of Third World elites who promoted division and reaction to further their own interests.

Fourth, the movements appear to incorporate vast numbers of young people, men and women, workers and small business people, intellectuals and artists, as well as those who identify with their religious traditions.

Fifth, the labor movement and the growing percentages of unemployed and underemployed workers have been playing a passionate and committed role in the struggles. The estimated forty percent of the world’s population in the so-called “informal sector” have a stake in revolutionary change as do workers in transportation, electronics, construction, and manufacturing.

Sixth, this revolution is a non-violent revolution. “Revolutionaries” are saying no or enough, and are doing so in such numbers that the institutions of government and the economy can not continue to operate. This culls up memories of the Gandhi struggles against the British empire and the civil rights movement in the U.S. South.

Seventh, this is an electronic revolution. As a result of the computer age time and space as factors confounding communicating and organizing have been eliminated. Cell phones and social networks do not make revolutions but they facilitate the kind of organizing that historically was more tedious and problematic. And, the new technology insures that revolutionary ferment in one part of the world can be connected to revolutionary ferment elsewhere. In a certain sense, now all youth can be participants, not just observers.

In a recent interview Prashad summarized some of these elements of the ongoing struggles:

The Arab revolt that we now witness is something akin to a “1968” for the Arab World. Sixty per cent of the Arab population is under 30 (70 per cent in Egypt). Their slogans are about dignity and employment. The resource curse brought wealth to a small population of their societies, but little economic development. Social development came to some parts of the Arab world….The educated lower-middle-class and middle-class youth have not been able to find jobs. The concatenations of humiliations revolts these young people: no job, no respect from an authoritarian state, and then to top it off the general malaise of being a second-class citizen on the world stage…was overwhelming. The chants on the streets are about this combination of dignity, justice, and jobs. (MRZINE. Monthly Review.org, February 4, 2011)

Some of the Differences From Before

Comparing the period of the Third World Project with today suggests some differences and similarities. As Prashad and other historians of the Third World make clear, the rise of the non-aligned movement gained some influence because of the Cold War contest between the Soviet Union and the United States. Now the world consists of a variety of new powers, some from the original movement (such as India, China, Egypt, and Brazil) whose economic, political, and military capabilities are challenging the traditional power structures of international relations. Also, global capitalism is in profound crisis and the causes of the revolutionary ferment as well as its escalation are intimately connected with the Middle East revolutions.

Today the danger of escalating state violence and repression remains significant. Global capitalism is in crisis. Some third world regimes are still driven by fundamentalisms of one sort or another. And, finally, key decision makers in centers of global power seem committed still to archaic ideologies, for example suggesting that Islamic fundamentalism will take over revolutions, democracy is dangerous, and that the one “democracy” in the Middle East, Israel, will be further threatened by the movements in the region.

In addition, the Egyptian revolution, while exciting and inspirational suffers from some of the same weaknesses Prashad described at the dawn of the Third World Project. Looking back fifty years, the leaders, and the various participating sectors of the mass movement, had not articulated a systematic and compelling ideology, beyond the programmatic demands of the NIEO.

Several countries in the forefront of the NAM were military regimes.Placards of Nasser were prominently displayed in Liberation Square last week. Nasser was a military leader of the “Free Colonels” movement that overthrew King Farouk in 1952. The same “revolutionary” military created a Hasni Mubarak many years later. While the military in Egypt today may act in ways that curry the favor of the protestors, it must be clear that military institutions are driven by their own interests, not the interests of the people.

So the mass mobilization of the last twenty days that is so exciting, inspiring hope for the world, is fraught with danger. The people now must struggle to articulate, advocate for, and institutionalize a program of humane socialism in every country where they are victorious. The task of progressives in the Global North is to support the new project and to link its causes and visions to the struggles that are experienced everywhere.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Harry Targ

I'm not big on lengthy e-mail debates (I prefer Blog pontification). While I am a long-time Marxist, when I joined The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) I realized perhaps for the first time that we needed to be cognizant of our resources and the possibilities for change. Socialist visions need to be connected to proximate possibilities.This means to me being aware of and working in the electoral arena, working to build coalitions with organized labor, progressive religious groups, and working in mutual solidarity with single issue groups around gender, race, peace, and environmental issues.

I also realized that there were no quick fixes for us, even though capitalism is in crisis. And as a Marxist, I came to see social change as an historical process, frought with victories and defeats. In my view, we must continue the struggle as best we can using our available resources as effectively as we can. Also, it means to me reaching out to others with like minds and interests and particularly organizing, including organizing and building CCDS.

This is what CCDS has been haltingly pursuing since its formation in 1992. Along with our efforts to revive the socialist vision and dialogue (see our statement of principles for example), we have worked in the streets, the halls of congress, and in educational arenas to advocate both short term and long term solutions to the problems of the working class. (Some of us are privileged in that we have good paying jobs and are from time to time invited to articulate our views , which is to the good).

At this point in time I support the CCDS jobs, employment, government as employer of last resort, green jobs agenda. I feel we can best articulate our vision of a full employment economy by using the Conyers Bill (see below) to mobilize around. And, since most Americans see "politics" as involving elections and legislation, that is where progressives need to be.

I would also throw in the stew support for efforts by Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul to cut the military budget. We might not win this one either, and if we do, the victory would be only very partial, but the struggle reshapes the dialogue. And, if we can link jobs for all and cutting wasteful and violence-serving military spending all the better.

While in a different context I can't help but remember Joe Hill: "Don't Mourn! Organize!"


*****************************************

“The 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” HR 5204

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN CONYERS, JR.

Background

The Full-Employment and Balanced Growth Act was signed into law by President Carter in 1978. The law was the nation’s first attempt at officially establishing a national full-employment policy for the United States. Although Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and Representative Augustus Hawkins of California were the primary sponsors of the bill, the legislation was also supported by civil rights and labor organizations who saw the bill as a way to mitigate the economic hardships being felt by low-income Americans.

The sponsors of the legislation intended that the Act would create a full-employment society brought about by direct hiring policies. If the private sector was unable to create a full-employment society through gradual economic growth after 10 years, the Act would obligate the government to step in and create “last resort jobs” to fill the employment gap.

Unfortunately, the intent of the Act’s sponsors was frustrated when the bill reached the United States Senate, where a coalition of Republicans and pro-business Democrats were able to successfully weaken the bill.

Summary

Representative Conyers has introduced legislation that is tailored to fit our current economic realities, but which also embodies the spirit of the original Humphrey-Hawkins legislation: the “21st Century Full Employment and Training Act.” The Act aims to create a full employment society over the next decade.

The bill establishes targets for unemployment:

9 percent unemployment after 6 months; 8 percent unemployment after 2 years; 6 percent unemployment after 5 years 5 percent unemployment after 8 years 4 percent unemployment (full employment) after 10 years. The Act establishes of a Full Employment and Training Trust Fund” with two separate accounts. These two accounts will direct funding to job creation and training programs.

If these unemployment benchmarks are not met, 90 percent of the funds in each account will be automatically disbursed.

67 percent of all revenues deposited into the trust fund will accrue in the job creation grant program account 33 percent of the total funds will accrue in the job training trust account.

Dual Job Creation Focus: Direct Jobs Grants and WIA Training Programs

The first trust fund account will direct funds to a new innovative direct jobs program. Funds will be distributed by formula through the Department of Labor to larger cities, and to states to be passed through to smaller localities and rural areas.

The program would allocate funds based on the CDBG formula modified to consider unemployment data. Local elected officials who are closest to our communities and needs on the ground would work with community groups and labor leaders to identify critical projects and connect workers to projects right away.

Jobs could be located in the public sector, community-based not-for-profit organizations, and small businesses that provide community benefits.

The Program will adopt a two stage approach to ensure immediate job creation and allow for a longer term planning process that involves community input and a focus on education and career development.

The program will be open to individuals who are either: Unemployed for at least 26 weeks; or Unemployed for at least 30 days and low-income. Positions will be for up to 30 hours per week, for up to 12 months. They will pay comparable or prevailing wages, averaging $12-15 per hour, as well as benefits. Appropriate safeguards and strong anti-displacement protections will help to prevent substitution and ensure that workers are placed in new positions. The second trust fund will distribute funds to job training programs covered under the Workforce Investment Act.

These funds will fund innovative job training initiatives including 1-Stop Job Training Programs and the Job Corps.

Revenue: Taxing Wall Street Speculation to Pay for Main Street Jobs

Revenue for the trust fund will be raised through a tax on Wall Street financial speculation, i.e. on stock and bond transactions. The tax will cover:

Stock transactions (tax rate will be 1/4 of 1 percent--0.25%), Futures contracts to buy or sell a specified commodity of standardized quality at a certain date in the future, at a market determined price (tax rate will be 0.02%),

Swaps between two firms on certain benefits of one party's financial instrument for those of the other party's financial instrument (tax rate will be 0.02%),

Credit default swaps where a contract is swapped through a series of payments in exchange for a payoff if a credit instrument (typically a bond or loan) goes into default (fails to pay) (tax rate will be 0.02%),

And options, which are contracts between a buyer and a seller that gives the buyer the right, but not the obligation, to buy or to sell a particular asset on or before the option's expiration time, at an agreed price (at the rate of the underlying asset).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

LET'S BE CLEAR: THE REAGAN ERA BROUGHT US DEPRESSION, WAR, AND MASS MURDER IN THE GLOBAL SOUTH

Harry Targ

The rightwing media, including the Lafayette-West Lafayette Journal and Courier, have resumed the historical revisionism that portrays Ronald Reagan as a great president. The occasion for this is the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth. He is being trotted out by Republicans and Tea Party spokespersons to celebrate the political life of “the great communicator,” the savior of America.

Let us be clear: the policies and programs instituted in the 1980s that led to thirty years of economic decline at home, dramatic increases in military spending, and massive killing of peoples of color in the Global South have their roots in the demands of economic and political elites before President Reagan assumed office. In addition, the disastrous thirty years of public policy was created with the willful collaboration of powerful figures in both political parties and a political economy that makes such pain and suffering likely.

However, the Reagan era (preceded by the rise to power of Reagan’s mentor, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister in Great Britain) can be seen as introducing a qualitative shift in public policy from state and market collaboration as exemplified by the New Deal (1932-1976) to the celebration of the market as a source of economic well-being and political stability. While government grew enormously during the last thirty years, the official ideology was used by Republicans and Democrats alike to reduce or eliminate government programs that were targeted to assist the vast majority of the people, the working class.

Looking at economic policy, the Reagan Administration launched a campaign to destroy the U.S. labor movement, reduce rudimentary public services and supports for the poor (President Clinton finished the job), radically reduce corporate taxes, provide tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to move plants overseas, and expand the deregulation of banking and financial speculation (begun by President Carter).

The impacts of these policies included reducing the rights and living conditions of workers, resuming the historic process of shifting the wealth and income of the country to the top one percent of the economic elite, reducing the middle class, and increasing the percentage of the people living below the poverty line. While the proportion of the society’s wealth controlled by the economic ruling class grew, the rate of economic growth of the economy as a whole since Reagan declined by one-third compared to the period from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Reagan’s global economic policies, commonly referred to as “neo-liberalism,” used debt, induced by the IMF and private banks, and military power to force virtually every country in the world to cut back on public services to their citizens, privatize their economies, shift from producing goods and services for their own people to producing for exports (to earn foreign exchange so that they could pay back western banks that forced them to borrow billions of dollars).

As the economic vulnerability of workers grew in poor countries, they became desperate, pliant, and cheap labor forced to manufacture goods for ten percent of the wage costs of workers in the United States. By 2000, half the world earned $2 a day or less. In the United States, wages stagnated; earnings at the dawn of the new century in real dollars were no higher than the early 1970s.

Also, the Reagan administration of the 1980s increased war-making and complicity in the deaths of millions of people around the world. As a candidate, Ronald Reagan convinced many Americans that a “window of vulnerability” had opened in America’s security posture because of the escalation of military spending by “the evil empire,” the former Soviet Union. Thus as president, Reagan launched the biggest arms buildup, aside from World War II, in United States history. And, as was the case in 1960 when candidate John F. Kennedy campaigned with claims of a “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union, the claim was a lie.

Hamstrung by the post-Vietnam fear Americans held about the U.S. getting involved in another quagmire, what beltway policy wonks called “the Vietnam Syndrome,” Reagan defense intellectuals shifted to what they called “low-intensity conflict.” LIC meant that the United States would fund anti-communists, reactionaries, and militarists who would fight our wars for us. The United States funded anti-government rebels in Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Afghanistan, including followers of Osama Bin Laden. Arms sales to rightwing regimes, such as those in El Salvador, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Pakistan skyrocketed as Reagan lifted Carter administration sales limitations. Conservatively two million people in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East died because of these policies.

Finally, the Reagan administration shifted strategic doctrine from Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) which emphasized maintaining the capacity to deter a Soviet surprise attack on the United States to a “counter force” strategy that called for plowing resources into developing a first strike nuclear capacity, which included the Hollywood fantasy, the “Strategic Defense Initiative” or “Star Wars.” Given the Reagan public discourse concerning “evil empires,” threats that the Soviets better give up their system or expect war, and the new military doctrines, the world was lucky to survive the 1980s without nuclear war.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the threats to human survival waned but the neo-liberal global agenda continued through the first Bush presidency and the Clinton years. The global military agenda resumed in the new century as the creators of the Reagan era military programs assumed positions of power in the Bush administration. The Rumsfelds, Cheneys, and their subordinates, who gained experience back in the Nixon days and became foreign and military policy influentials in the Reagan (and George H.W. Bush) periods and who had organized out of power in the Clinton period, were back in the saddle. They used the 9/11 tragedy to project military power on a global basis.

So when home town papers publish articles with headlines like “ ‘Great Communicator’ Still Resonates” (Journal and Courier, Monday, January 31, 2011)be prepared to remind people what really happened in the 1980s and that the public policies adopted then have caused so much pain ever since. Probably some of these newspapers will continue to expand their revisionist project in other subject areas as well; for example, suggesting that the Founding Fathers opposed slavery in the United States.