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.