Monday, May 30, 2011

REMEMBER THOSE WHO PROTESTED WARS TOO!

Harry Targ

"In a society where it is normal for human beings to drop bombs on human targets, where it is normal to spend 50 percent of the individual's tax dollar on war, where it is normal...to have twelve times overkill capacity, Norman Morrison was not normal. He said, 'Let it stop.' "(a gravesite speech by John Roemer at the funeral of Norman Morrison quoted in Hendrickson, Paul. The Living and the Dead. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1996).

On November 2, 1965, Norman Morrison brought his daughter with him to the Pentagon. Outside the office of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Morrison set himself on fire to protest the escalating war in Vietnam. His daughter, Emily, somehow was passed to others and survived the flames. Morrison, however, died as he had lived, protesting the bombing of villages in South Vietnam, killing innocent men, women, and children.

I was part of an educational tour to Vietnam last March. We were taken to a powerful museum, known as the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. On the second floor an exhibit featured images of international solidarity with the Vietnamese people during the American war. Included there was a framed copy of an American newspaper account of Morrison’s self-immolation. Earlier, in Hue, we had seen an exhibit of the automobile used by a Buddhist Monk, Thích Quảng Đức, who killed himself in protest of the brutality of the Diem regime in South Vietnam. Presumably this act inspired Morrison’s tragic protest.

I had forgotten Morrison’s dramatic act, and the acts of several others who bravely sacrificed their bodies and lives to oppose the murderous war in Vietnam. Today, Memorial Day, 2011 I thought about Morrison, the exhibit at the Vietnamese Museum, and parallel acts of self-sacrifice.

First, on reflection, I am in awe of the courage and self-sacrifice of the acts of these brave and principled people. Yet, I wish they had not made the ultimate sacrifices they did and had put their courage and willingness to sacrifice to the long-term struggles of the peace movement to end war.

However, I believe we must “take back” Memorial Day from those who celebrate war, see sacrifice only from those who kill and die, and ignore the bravery of the men and women everywhere who fight to end war. We mourn those who were sent off to fight in ignoble wars in the name of the United States. Also we must declare Memorial Day as a day to remember all the Norman Morrison’s who have said “no” to war and empire.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

MEMORIAL DAY: SALAMIS NOT BOMBS

Harry Targ

Since I live in North Central Indiana I use every opportunity I can to import bagels from Chicago. In the past I have publically defined socialism as including “bagels for all” (particularly garlic or onion ones). Also I have written about the political economy of the bagel, arguing on good authority that during periods of intense class struggle workers have used day old bagels as weapons against the ruling class.

On a recent visit to a Chicago area bagel bakery, I came across a big sign in front that puzzled me. The sign said:

“Naborhood* Bagel and Delicatessen
Join Naborhood and
the USO Sending
A Salami to the Troops”

*Fictitious name

My first reaction was to laugh. This sign sounded pretty funny. But on reflection I began to ask myself what it meant. I began to think of different responses to the question and after sending a picture of the sign some of my friends offered their views on the subject as well.

One interpretation, the patriotic one, suggests that the delicatessen wishes to mobilize all its customers to support our troops in Afghanistan. From a delicatessen point of view, sending salamis is a way that it could support the troops. Salamis could reflect support for the troops alone or for the troops and the US military presence in Afghanistan.

Another, perhaps more neutral, interpretation is about selling salamis, using the patriotism in the old neighborhood to make a few extra bucks. Since the salamis they sell are really good it could entice troops and Afghan peoples to want more salamis. Before you know it, they could be hooked on them. Who knows bagels could be next. But this view, I think, is unfairly harsh in its evaluation of the motivations of the delicatessen; too economistic.

Finally, it can be argued, and frankly this was my first thought, that the delicatessen saw the US war in Afghanistan as a mistake that had to be ended as soon as possible. The salami, from this perspective, was a metaphor for a “dud,” a smelly, greasy, and heavy food that can lead to ulcers or heartburn. The ten year war in Afghanistan therefore was a colossal heartburn in the body politic. (One of my friends wrote that Bush and Obama already had sent Afghanistan the salami).

This intellectual puzzle, I realized, reflects the various ways in which the sign could be interpreted. Perhaps the delicatessen owners wanted to create a mental construct that could be appreciated by every side of the issue.

That is classic American politics. I bet the Democrats and Republicans who are debating resolutions on the war in Afghanistan in Congress right now would love to come up with a metaphor like this. Maybe Congress should pass an appropriations bill HR 111: The US/Afghanistan Military Nourishment and Rehabilitation Act or the Send Salamis to Afghanistan Act.

This Memorial Day, as we reflect on the pain and suffering that our wars have caused, perhaps we would all agree that sending salamis overseas is preferable to sending drones and bombs.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

MORE ON IDEOLOGICAL HEGEMONY:THE EDUCATION SYSTEM

Harry Targ

I have been thinking a lot about “ideological hegemony;” how and why we think about the political world in the ways we do. I do so not to add another layer of theory to an already complex set of arguments about economics and politics. Nor am I interested in immobilizing political activists. Rather, I think progressives need to think about how to challenge the ideas that most of us are supposed to accept and believe.

Of course, the primary public institutions that transmit ideas and ways of thinking to people, from the start to the end of their educational careers, are schools. Our friends on the Right know how important it is to shape schools at all levels. Early in this century I remember hearing Rush Limbaugh say on one of his radio programs that “the only institutions we do not yet control are the schools”

With this as a goal, just the other day we read stories about Koch brothers’ money financing faculty positions at Florida State University in economics (presumably Marxist or structural economists need not apply). Just a week earlier a story broke about rightwing efforts to cut and splice public recordings of lectures in a labor studies class at the University of Missouri to leave the impression that the instructors are advocates for labor violence. Using the methods of vilification and distortions that worked successfully against green jobs advocate Van Jones, community action group ACORN, and Shirley Sherrod, an African American employee of the Department of Agriculture, attacks on education are growing. The use of more sophisticated technologies than in the days of McCarthy or David Horowitz’s print crusades against “dangerous professors” are becoming common.

In addition to smear campaigns and using money to shape hiring practices at universities, access to varieties of knowledge remains very much constrained by institutional and political pressures, from kindergarten through high school and college. For example, we can talk about two subject areas, militarism and economic orthodoxy. Both subjects were prominently featured at an elementary school, Mayflower Mill Elementary School in Lafayette, Indiana.

As the local newspaper, the Journal & Courier reported approvingly on May 12, 2011:

“When Mayflower Mill Elementary students were told they would be able to hear the approaching helicopter that would land behind the school before they saw it, their ears perked up.” Although the noise they first heard was only a delivery truck, soon a Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter which was used in Vietnam, and piloted by a group of veterans, arrived. The pilots were part of an organization committed to maintaining a positive public image of the helicopter.

The helicopter and its veteran pilots spent the day at the elementary school, called by the school “Operation American Pride,”

“After Wednesday’s landing, students broke into groups…..including lessons on flag etiquette and the life of the soldier.” Kids got to go in the helicopter, sit behind a Humvee, and a military truck. The whole day was a celebration of the military, military values, super-patriotism. One student referred to experiencing the helicopter as “cool” and “exhilarating.”

Organizing the day’s activities took combined efforts of members of military families, community donations, support from the Army National Guard and members of Purdue University’s ROTC. Of course, the activities required the full cooperation of teachers, the principal, and members of the school board.

I wonder what would have happened if a parent or brave teacher had proposed that “Operation American Pride” include an historical discussion of the millions of Vietnamese people who died in the U.S. war in that country; or perhaps, if course material include reference to the 57,000 American soldiers who died in the war or the lingering effects of Agent Orange on subsequent generations of Vietnamese and U.S. veterans.

In addition the J & C reported on May 16, that fourth and fifth graders at the same school recently completed a class project simulating commerce and manufacturing. Students designed and sold products to their school mates (and the money earned went to recognized charities such as the American Heart Association and the local fire department). Kids produced “slime,” decorated pencils, and chocolate coated plastic spoons. Students designed their products, shopped for supplies, and produced and sold them. The teacher, it was reported, has done a similar project every year because she said about students that “they need to understand finance.”

The newspaper reported that the project was supported by long-time economics education lobbyist and think tank, the Indiana Center for Economic Education. An ICEE spokesperson, who offered a program that the teacher had taken years ago, spoke about the lessons kids learned: “The basics of operating their own business, the fact you’ve got to produce a product customers want and counter the cost of resources you need.” The spokesperson claimed the exercises such as at Mayflower Mill highlight real issues which sometimes get lost in teaching more dominant subjects.

I wonder if students learned anything about the historic role of organized labor in the state, high unemployment in Indiana, growing economic inequality, the forty year deindustrialization of the state economy, and the differences in economic opportunity between African Americans, other minorities, and whites, and between men and women.

Almost accidentally, I accessed stories about political struggles from 2004 until today at my old high school, Senn High School, in Chicago. It seems that the high school which over forty years ago was white and middle class was now populated by young people from working class and poor African American, Latino, and immigrant families.

By the new century it was experiencing problems in reference to academics and social order. The authorities, the City alderwoman, the head of the Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan, Mayor Daley, and the military came up with a “great” idea. They created in 2005, over the objections of students, teachers, and community activists, the Hyman Rickover Naval Academy which occupies a large physical space in the high school and has enrolled at least 25 per cent of the student population.

Meanwhile programs to teach English as a second language and advanced placement courses for college preparation were reduced. The teaching staff in the non-military portion of Senn High School was cut by 33 per cent. CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) continues to challenge the militarization of the Chicago school system.

In our communities we need to work in solidarity with those immediately involved in educational institutions. Where issues of militarism and economic orthodoxy shape school curricula our voices need to be heard. Our political agenda, in sum, needs to address as best our resources allow what we learn, how we learn it, and who controls the institutions that shape our thinking and the thinking of young people.

Friday, May 13, 2011

CHALLENGING IDEOLOGICAL HEGEMONY: TAKING ON THE MEDIA

Harry Targ

The media and political, economic, educational, religious, and entertainment institutions shape our consciousness. People are told, inspired, coerced, and manipulated to think in certain ways, usually ways that support the economic and political interests of the rich and powerful.

Sometimes theoretical arguments about “ideological hegemony” are too abstract or too immobilizing. However, specific efforts at thought control at the community level can be understood and identified. And campaigns to challenge it are feasible, as many examples in cities and towns illustrate.

For example, I live in a Lafayette/West Lafayette, Indiana, twin cities with about 100,000 permanent residents. The greater metropolitan area, like most small and big communities, is “served” by one newspaper, the Journal & Courier. The J & C has a circulation of about 33,000 and is owned by the Gannett Corporation. While its editorial board changes from time to time the general tone and framing of news in the paper is conservative. From time to time stories appear about trade union events and occasionally stories are published which are critical of the major employer in the area, Purdue University. But for the most part the J & C serves as a booster for conservative politics and values, highlighting patriotism, businesses, religion, sports, personalities, and local crime over serious political issues in the community, the state, or the nation. The interests and perspectives of working people are almost never reflected in its pages.

To illustrate we can take a look at one issue, Saturday, May 7, 2011. That day the paper had four sections: news and views; local stories; sports and business; and entertainment. The first section consisted of nine stories, four of them local in content. Page one, with a photo of an American flag in technicolor and a helicopter in the background, featured the honoring of seven medal of honor winners from American wars such as Vietnam who were flown into Lafayette to dedicate the new “Medal of Honor Bridge” in the county. They arrived by Huey helicopter landing at the Faith Baptist Church. “As the recipients carefully exited the helicopter, they mingled with the children and other grateful spectators.” The second story, with a picture, was of a resident of Monticello, Indiana, 20 miles away, who admitted to a murder. Both these stories jumped to inside pages.

Page three, called “Nation & World,” featured a few longer stories and “In Brief” two paragraph accounts of events going on around the world. The two biggest stories on this page reported on Al Qaida’s warning of revenge and the special role of stealth helicopters in the raid on bin Laden’s residence. Page four was a full-page ad for an auto dealership and five was the “Opinions” page. The J & C does publish letters to the editor, though edited, and on Saturdays’ statements by local residents called “My Life, My Story.” This time the question two residents were asked to address was “If you could live forever, would you? Why?” One respondent said she would live for ever in heaven “as all Christians have been promised eternal life in John 3:16.”

The editorials often endorse conservative politics. On this Saturday it praised a former executive of a local Eli Lilly pharmaceutical laboratory that was going to be closed. He saved the firm from closing, and with it 700 jobs, by finding a German purchaser.

On the back page of the first section were three stories and a large segment of the story of medal of honor winners, helicopters, and the new bridge continued from page one. One of the stories, in my view buried, was about President Obama’s visit to Indianapolis, just 60 miles away. Obama visited Allison Transmission’s Plant No.7 which had received “a heavy flow of federal cash for the President’s vehicle of choice, a hybrid that runs on electricity and less gasoline.” The article cited the President’s claim that in plants like these the American economy would be rebuilding and new jobs would be created. A smaller story just under the one about the President’s visit was about Governor Mitch Daniel’s welcoming of the President. It said that this was President Obama’s fifth visit to the state and only the first time the Governor welcomed him.

Since the paper I am describing was a Saturday edition it included the glossy magazine insert “US Weekend” magazine. The special highlighted story, front cover and all, was on “Our Warrior Moms.” Of course inside the magazine were such features as “Who’s Hot in Hollywood,” and “Birthday Buzz.” (I found out I am just a bit older than half the distance in age between Billy Joel and Don Rickles).

While the J & C distributes 33,000 of their papers with enormous resources from Gannett and lots of large local advertisers, a new monthly newspaper, Lafayette Independent, has almost completed its first year of publication, based on the hard work of about 20 progressives. LI prints from 2,000 to 3,000 copies, is produced by a volunteer editorial committee, draws upon local and internet writers, and is distributed by a network of peace and justice activists, progressive Democrats, and others. It replaced another alternative monthly newspaper, The Community Times, which had a ten-year career.

The May issue of LI is dense with copy, perhaps too dense. It is a 12- page paper. The front page included a story about a food drive organized by union letter carriers and an account of the desperate need for prison reform in Indiana. Interior pages had stories on such subjects as on Workers Memorial Day, the Midwest Peace and Justice Summit held in Indianapolis, costs of the war in Iraq and what that has meant for Hoosiers, the threat to public education in Indiana, the consequences to reproductive health due to elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood in the state, and the need to end reliance on nuclear power. In addition, there was an interesting article on the rich jazz scene in the community.

Ads are inexpensive and draw upon the labor council, crafts persons, community organizations, and local businesses. Each issue has a detailed calendar of events, particularly those sponsored by local progressive groups.

Thinking seriously about local progressive responses to ideological hegemony and its print media expression some ideas come to mind:

1. Progressives need to rigorously define what that hegemony is. What kinds of information, media frames, and ideologies are being distributed through the dominant news outlets? What are the priorities given to information: through stories, story placement in the papers, photos used, column inches of stories with different emphases AND what items never find their way into news print?

2. Who pays for the news papers? Who are the local advertisers? Can they be influenced to withdraw their vital financial support from newspapers that do not represent what citizens need and want to know? Can they be prevailed upon to support alternatives?

3. Who are the 33,000 subscribers to the J & C? Are they avid readers of the news coverage or primarily people checking out community calendars, comics, crossword puzzles, and obituaries? Can alternative papers address these interests as well? Have questions ever been posed to the 33,000 about whether they think the newspaper in town really meets their needs.

4. Can we create alternative media that appeal to, draw upon, and fulfill the needs of the vast majority of peoples living in our communities: workers, women, minorities, and youth?

5. As we discuss strategies for change, should we be thinking about alternative newspapers, radio stations, websites, and/or other venues for public communication of our ideas in our communities? Should we invite these potential consumers of progressive media to work for it, write its stories, and pay for its production? And is organizing around a progressive media project at the local level a good way to build networks of activists?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

WE NEED TO CHALLENGE HOW MOST PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE WORLD

Harry Targ

I read about the dangers of federal deficit, the connection between markets and democracy, capitalist institutions and human well-being, insurance companies and quality health care, and the historic victories for peace and justice resulting from killing Osama bin Laden, and the son and grandchildren of Muammar Gaddafi.

I am reminded of Antonio Gramsci’s perceptive analysis about how people are ruled as much by what they learn to think and believe as by the use of force. Ideological hegemony refers to the idea systems that ruling classes construct to create willing and pliant citizens in political regimes that lack moral legitimacy or economic rationale.

I am also reminded of theorists from the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School, particularly Herbert Marcuse, who wrote about how the fundamental contradictions in peoples’ lives-- capitalists versus workers and rule by the few versus the possibility of the rule by all-are transformed into unanimity of thinking among people whose interests should make them adversaries not collaborators. I thought that Marcuse’s postulate of a “one-dimensionality” in political thinking in the United States was exaggerated--lots of Americans, particularly the exploited and oppressed, identified far less with the United States in its war on the Vietnamese people than was believed. It was the lack of ideological homogeneity that exacerbated the campaigns of the ideological institutions-- media, education, and political process--to try to construct it.

Ken Kesey, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, used an interesting metaphor for society, a ward in an institution for the mentally ill ruled by a nurse who sought to dominate the patients through discipline, sedation, and the projection of the belief system that any independent thought was pathological. Somewhere in the novel Kesey refers to an ideological “fog machine.” The reader could almost feel how the patients of the mental ward experience the thick and blinding fog in the air hampering vision and even breath. Kesey gives the reader hope by describing the arrival of a new patient in the ward, Randle McMurphy, who sees through the fog machine and commits his life to helping his fellow inmates rebel against it. While he personally does not survive the struggle, some of the most docile of inmates escape, destroying the ideological hegemony of the system.

I am also reminded of the great Hoosier writer Kurt Vonnegut who describes an Indiana woman who roams through airplanes looking for Hoosiers. Vonnegut describes her quest as pursuit of a “false karass.” It is false because there is nothing about being a Hoosier that automatically leads to shared interests.

For years we have been sold an ideological package of lies. The recent rendition begins with 9/11. The world consists of large numbers of persons of color, especially Muslims, who want to kill us. We need to kill them first. Preemptive attack on those who we would expect to hate us is OK. International Law says so. U.S. diplomatic history says so.

Why should we be afraid? Why should we be prepared to kill? We must be vigilant because they hate our freedom. They want to destroy the natural evolution of societies from autocracies to market-based democracies. We must be fearful, vengeful, and ready to act for the benefit of the world.

Over the last four months, mass movements emerged projecting very different, even counter-hegemonic ideas about building a better world. Young people, workers, women, secularists, started going out in the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain. They demanded democracy and economic justice. They began to mobilize in public spaces, such as schools, union halls, and mosques and churches. They communicated via cell phones and sent messages in shorthand sentences and (to me) incomprehensible letters. The sun and warmth of the Arab Spring blossomed.

In very different places economically, politically, and geographically, the bitter heartland of America, revolt was stirred up as well: Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan for starters. Workers, students, women, political progressives, health care advocates, educators began to stand up and say “no” to the steamrolling right-wing political machine, now not too different from the historic “centrist” consensus in U.S. politics. Like their comrades, the heartland radicals too haltingly began to suggest that another world is possible.

So by May Day, what an irony, the United States carried out an assassination mission and killed Osama bin Laden. The media had already begun to salivate over the killings of Gaddafi’s family members. And stories about the need for deficit reduction continue. For both Democrats and Republicans the problem is not capitalism, or neo-liberal economic policies. No for them the problem is government. The answer is compromise between a near draconian Obama plan and a right-wing proposal to eliminate most governmental programs, except for the military.

So the forces of ideological hegemony say we need to keep our guard up and be prepared to kill those who threaten us or who are claimed to be threats. Criminal justice systems and norms against violence are to be ignored. At home we must challenge the idea that government must serve the needs of the people.

We on the left must respond to the ideological crusade. While Randle McMurphy in the Kesey novel was a lone actor, progressives need to work together to challenge the fog machine. We need to convince our brothers and sisters that killing and capitalism are antithetical to human needs.