Saturday, March 23, 2013

ON THE ROAD TO DESTROYING PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS ONE BY ONE



Harry Targ

I've traveled round this country
From shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw


I saw the weary farmer
Plowing sod and loam
l heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home


l saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore
l heard the bosses saying
Got no work for you no more


I saw the weary miner
Scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children crying
Got no coal to heat the shack


But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for


I've seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land
l prayed we'd get together
And together make a stand
 (from “The Banks are Made of Marble,” written by Les Rice and sung by Pete Seeger and the Weavers)

Mike Pence, Indiana’s recently elected governor, published an editorial in the Lafayette Indiana Journal and Courier (March 22, 2013) proposing a 10 percent “across the board” cut in state income taxes. He claimed that this tax cut would put money back into households that can better spend it than government. State financial reserves remain flush, he said, because of the wise management of public funds of the prior governor, and now Purdue University president, Mitch Daniels and the state legislature.

Pence defends his tax cut proposal with the old tired mantra of making the Indiana economy more competitive even though he does admit that “Indiana’s economy is still struggling…with unemployment… stubbornly above 8 percent.” Apparently, the downsizing of government, building a budget surplus, privatizing schools and highways, and giving tax breaks to the wealthier sectors of the Hoosier population have not worked so far.

Even though the thirty year campaign (since Reaganomics) to cut taxes, reduce the size of government, and privatize public services has clearly reduced rates of economic growth, increased unemployment, cut real wages, and made access to health care and education less affordable for more Americans, the Daniels/Pence-type economic programs are being expanded in virtually all the “red” states and most of the “blue” ones. The pressure to impose economic austerity has profoundly affected conflicts over federal policies as well.

The gridlock over economic policy at the national level and states where control of the government is shared by the two parties is driven by debates between so-called Keynesians, who support “mixed” state/ market policies versus Hayek/Friedman supporters who believe, as former President Reagan declared, “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” 

However, beyond the debate about economic theory is a sustained, well-funded campaign by the Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), conservative and even liberal think tanks, and most politicians to destroy public institutions that masses of working people have struggled to construct since the industrial revolution. These include libraries, public schools, parks, roads, mail service and other forms of communication, social safety nets for the needy, and the guarantee through public institutional scrutiny basic rights-to vote, to form trade unions, to have safe work places, to be secure in one’s home and on the streets. Governments even were assigned the tasks of research and development to promote the common good and improve the physical and social quality of life. 

All of these services were demanded by the vast majority of Americans because they knew that such tasks could not be done individually. All of these benefits provided by public institutions are in danger of being destroyed by the tax cutters, the privatizers, and the deregulators such as reflected over the last decade in policies instituted by governors and legislatures in states like Indiana.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) issued a report last week on the devastating consequences of these policy shifts on one public sector, higher education (“Recent Deep State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students and the Economy for Years To Come”). One example has been the 28 percent cut per student in state expenditures on higher education over the last five years in all fifty states. Eleven states cut their support for higher education by more than one-third. In Governor Daniels’ Indiana higher education funding declined by 17.2 percent between fiscal year 2008 and 2013 ($1,240 per student). http://www.cbpp.org/files/3-19-13sfp.pdf

CBPP pointed out that these cuts in public support for higher education have  dramatic negative consequences. “States (and to a lesser extent localities) provide 53 percent of the revenue that can be used to support instruction at these schools. When this funding is cut, colleges and universities generally must either reduce spending, raise tuition to cover the gap, or both.”

In response to declining state support for higher education tuition increases since 2007-2008 have exceeded 27 percent nationally. (In Indiana tuition has risen by 15.1 percent or $1,142 per student). Many colleges and universities have cut teaching staff, increased class size, reduced course and program offerings, shut down computer and library facilities, and eliminated branch campuses.

Debates abound in state legislatures about the impacts of recession on public financing of higher education. Legitimate arguments are raised about the pattern of bloated and unnecessary administrative expansion in colleges and universities and administrative salaries that are extraordinarily out-of-line with the norms of public service. 

But there is a deeper meaning to the CBPP report, the Pence proposed tax cuts, and the downsizing of support for public-supported higher education. That is, powerful economic and political actors, representing what the Occupy Movement called the one percent and their allies among traditional conservatives and right-wing populists, are on a campaign to destroy public institutions which for the most part serve the interests of the vast majority of the population of the United States.

In the dystopian society the rich and powerful wish to create there will be education, health care, physical security, and a sustainable and fulfilling quality of life for those who can pay for it but for the rest of us, the 99 percent, life will become harsh and painful. More and more it is becoming clear that politics must be  about saving those public institutions that workers, women, people of color, marginalized peoples of all kinds struggled for a long time to secure and are now in danger of losing.
     

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

WE NEED TO EXPAND THE IRAQ WAR SYNDROME


Harry Targ

In a November/December 2005 Foreign Affairs article, “The Iraq Syndrome,” …. I argued that there would likely be growing skepticism about the notions that “the United States should take unilateral military action to correct situations or overthrow regimes it considers reprehensible but that present no immediate threat to it, that it can and should forcibly bring democracy to other nations not now so blessed, that it has the duty to rid the world of evil, that having by far the largest defense budget in the world is necessary and broadly beneficial, that international cooperation is of only very limited value, and that Europeans and other well-meaning foreigners are naive and decadent wimps.” Most radically, I went on to suggest that the United States might “become more inclined to seek international cooperation, sometimes even showing signs of humility.” John Mueller, “The Iraq Syndrome Revisited,” Foreign Affairs, March 28, 2011: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67681/john-mueller/the-iraq-syndrome-revisited

David Halberstam reported in his important book, “The Best and the Brightest,” that President Roosevelt directed his State Department to develop a position on what United States foreign policy toward Indochina should be after the World War in Asia was ended. Two choices were possible in 1945: support the Vietnamese national liberation movement that bore the brunt of struggle against Japanese occupation of Indochina or support the French plan to reoccupy the Indochinese states of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
 
As the Cold War escalated the United States rejected Ho Chi Minh’s plea for support for independence and began funding the French in their effort to reestablish colonialism in Indochina. When the French were defeated by the Viet Minh forces in 1954, the United States stepped in and fought a murderous war until the collapse of the US South Vietnamese puppet regime in 1975.
 
Paralleling the struggle for power in Indochina, competing political forces emerged after the World War on the Korean Peninsula.  With the Soviet Union and China supporting the North Koreans and the United States supporting a regime created by it in the South a shooting war, a civil war, between Koreans ensued in 1950 which continued until an armistice was established in 1953. That armistice, not peace, continues to this day as a war of words and periodic provocations.
Political scientist John Mueller analyzed polling data concerning the support for U.S. military action in Korea and Vietnam, discovering that in both wars there was a steady and parallel decline in support for them. Working class Americans were the most opposed to both wars at every data point. Why? Because working class men and women were most likely to be drafted to fight and their loved ones the most likely to suffer the pain of soldiers coming home dead, scarred, or disabled.
Polling data from the period since the onset of the Iraq war followed the pattern Mueller found in reference to Korea and Vietnam. In all three cases levels of support for U.S. war making declined as the length of the wars increased and casualties rose. The American people typically gave the Presidents some flexibility when the wars started and the rally round the flag phenomena prevailed. But then resistance grew.
Throughout the period from the end of the Vietnam War until the 1990s, each presidential administration was faced with what foreign policy elites called “the Vietnam Syndrome.” This was a pejorative term these elites used to scornfully describe what they correctly believed would be the resistance to foreign military interventions that they periodically wished to initiate.
President Reagan wanted to invade El Salvador to save its dictatorship and to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. He would have preferred to send troops to Angola to defend the anti-communist forces of Jonas Savimbi of UNITA. To overcome the resistance to launching what could become another Vietnam quagmire, policymakers had to engage in “low intensity conflict,” convert operations that would minimize what the American people could learn about what their government was doing and who it was supporting. Reagan did expand globally and sent troops to tiny Granada, but even Reagan’s globalism, militarism, and interventionism was somewhat constrained by the fear of public outrage.
President George Herbert Walker Bush launched a six-month campaign to convince the American people that military action was needed to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Despite a weak endorsement of such action by the Congress, the American people supported Gulf War 1 because casualties were small and the war lasted only a month. During a press conference announcing the Gulf War’s end in February, 1991, Bush proclaimed that “at last we licked the Vietnam Syndrome.”
Clinton knew better. He limited direct US military action to supporting NATO bombing in the former Yugoslavia in 1995, bombed targets in Iraq in so-called “no-fly zones in 1998,” , bombed Serbia in a defense of Kosovo in 1999 and used economic embargoes to weaken so-called “rogue states” throughout his eight years in office.
It was President George Walker Bush who launched long and devastating wars in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration used the sorrow and anger of the American people after the 9/11 terrorist acts to lie, deceive, aggress, and qualitatively increase the development of a warfare state. As Mueller has suggested an “Iraq Syndrome” had surfaced by 2005 as the lies about that war became public, the war costs were headed toward trillions of dollars in expenditures, and troop deaths and disabilities escalated. And of course an historically repressive society, Iraq, was so destroyed that U.S. troops left it in shambles with hundreds of thousands dead, disabled, and in abject poverty.
As we reflect on the ten-year anniversary of the launching of the Iraq War in March, 2003, the madmen inside the beltway are talking about increasing U.S. military involvement in Syria, not “taking any options off the table” in Iran, and threatening North Korea. Meanwhile the United States is beefing up its military presence in the Pacific to “challenge” rising Chinese power, establishing AFRICOM to respond to “terrorism” on the African continent, and speaking with scorn about the leadership in Latin America of recently deceased Hugo Chavez.
The American people must escalate commitment to its “syndromes” demanding in no uncertain terms an end to United States militarism. Mueller’s call for a U.S. foreign policy that emphasizes cooperation over conflict motivated by humility over arrogance is the least the country can do to begin the process of repairing the damage it has done to global society. 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

TWO TRILLION DOLLARS AND THOUSANDS OF LIVES LATER

 

Published on Thursday, July 10, 2003 by USA Today
End U.S. Occupation Now
by Harry Targ
The great folksinger Pete Seeger sang in 1967 of the U.S. sinking deeper and deeper into "the Big Muddy" that was Vietnam, while "the big fool," President Lyndon Johnson, said, "Push on."

For those of us who remember Vietnam, Iraq seems more and more like "the Big Muddy," as U.S. troops are targeted for assassination and Iraqis are killed indiscriminately in retaliation.  It is not that the circumstances involving the two U.S. military interventions are the same. In the Vietnam case, the U.S. engaged in a long and escalating neocolonial intervention from 1950 until the war was finally lost in 1975.

In Iraq, the intervention that began with the Gulf War in 1991 did not involve growing troop commitments until the quick and brutal strikes by land and air against Iraqi targets this past March.  What is similar, however, is the colossal ideologically driven miscalculation that the growing guerrilla opposition today is the result primarily of malcontents from the Baath Party, who lost power and wealth with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and extremist Iraqis who relish engaging in acts of terrorism against U.S. and British troops.

As in Vietnam, the explanation for growing violent opposition to U.S. military occupation is that a tiny and malevolent minority supported by foreign enemies is bent on undermining the "democratization" of Iraq. U.S. leaders just never seem to get it. When the U.S. engages in brutal economic strangulation, sends covert operatives to terrorize populations and launches air and land war on targeted populations, the victims of these actions do not regard the aggressors as liberators.

The interests of the Iraqi people and the increasingly vulnerable young men and women of the U.S. military occupation would best be served if the United States negotiates the complete withdrawal of coalition troops and allows them to be replaced with a true international peace force under the aegis of the United Nations. Nothing less will stop the bloodshed.

Harry Targ teaches U.S. foreign policy and international relations at Purdue University. He is the author of 11 books and 50 articles on these subjects.


© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

HOW DO WE SUSTAIN HUMAN LIFE? THE JOBS/INCOME PROBLEM


Harry Targ
In one way or another progressives are addressing fundamental questions basic to human sustainability. And as Pete Seeger has said: "Participation: that’s what’s going to save the human race."
First, more and more activists are raising concerns about the survivability of the natural environment in which we live: the land mass, the water systems, the productivity of the land, and the capacity of humans to continue to live on the land. Most visible to the naked eye are consequences of global climate change, including hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, storms, and blistering heat.
Second, there is a growing discussion of problems of access to the rudimentary resources for the maintenance of human life: food, water, and air. Because of the devastations of the environment to distorted and inadequate systems of production and distribution, people are living in poverty, are malnourished, and remain exposed to toxic air and water.
Third, Samir Amin estimates that one-half to two-thirds of the global population lives in conditions of “precariousness”. That is people lack access to secure jobs and income in global and national economies that systematically are able to produce more goods and services with fewer and fewer workers. However, global capitalism is based on a system of remuneration linking income to jobs. The need for fewer workers leads to fewer jobs and a downward spiral of wages and income.
Fourth, because of environmental devastation; declining access to food and clean air and water; and lack of the capacity to acquire monetary resources to sustain life, little time is left for discussions of what a better life and a better society might look like. 
In this blog I will address the access to remuneration, reducing “precariousness,” and having the resources in a money economy to sustain life. Recently, discussion of that dimension of human sustainability has been stimulated by President Obama’s call for raising the minimum wage and the jobs/income crisis faced by workers as a result of the sequester crisis. The data is familiar to most people.
Wages and Income
-Economic Policy Institute analyses show clearly that worker productivity has increased over the last 40 years and wages have stagnated or declined with the exception of a bump in real wages during the late 1990s. For economist Lawrence Mishel, in terms of wages, the last decade has been “the lost decade.”
-Wage stagnation has affected all sectors of the working population, including those with college degrees.
-Wage and income inequality has increased dramatically over the last 40 years. As Mishel’s wrote: “This divergence has been demonstrated anew in the current recovery over 2009-2011 as real wages fell for the bottom ninety percent of the wage distribution but rose for the top five percent.”
-African Americans and Latinos have experienced wage and job stagnation at rates at least a third higher than whites.
-“The declining value of the minimum wage has played a key role in these trends….” (Mishel, February 21, 2013, Economic Policy Institute.)
Using the Indiana Story to Relate Wages, Jobs, and Poverty:
-Indiana’s job loss between 2008 and 2012 was 231,500.
-Indiana is among 17 states that have continued to experience absolute declines in its labor force since the recession began.
-Median family income fell by 29.6 percent in the past decade from $78,599 to $55,368. Only Michigan, among all states, has experienced a larger percentage decrease.
-Since 2000, Indiana has seen a 52 percent increase in poverty. In 2010, 15.3 percent of Hoosiers were living in poverty, nearly one million people. Childhood poverty rates have increased by the same amount. (“Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2011, Indiana Institute for Working Families, April, 2012).
One Response: Living Wage Campaigns
From the 1990s to 2004 living wage campaigns all across the United States grew, drawing together coalitions of community activists, led by labor, faith communities, and grassroots organizations such as ACORN. Ralph Nader in a recent essay (Common Dreams, February 16, 2013) referred to an apt definition of a living wage proposed by Theodore Roosevelt at the 1912 Progressive Party convention:
“We stand for a living wage…enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living-a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit a reasonable saving for our old age.”
The first major living wage victory occurred in the Baltimore campaign of 1994. A local coalition consisting of AFSCME and a group of 50 churches called BUILD, Baltimorean’s United in Leadership Development won a very modest ordinance requiring that companies with city service contracts pay workers a base wage of $6.10 increasing to $7.70 over five years.
While modest, the Baltimore campaign inspired coalitions and demands all across the country. Between 1995 and 1999, 37 additional ordinances passed sometimes including benefits with wage increases. In 2000-2001 mobilizations led to an additional 57 ordinances. By 2002, three quarters of these ordinances required health care benefits and wage rates from $9.77 to $11.10 without health care. An additional 70 campaigns were launched in small towns and big cities around the country, including New Orleans, Santa Monica, and San Francisco (S. Laurel Weldon and Harry Targ, “From Living Wages to Family Wages?” New Political Science , March 2004).
Stephanie Luce, Professor of Labor Studies, Murphy Institute, CUNY, updated the living wage story in 2012. She said that since Baltimore much has been accomplished “…winning more than 125 living wage ordinances in cities and counties, three city minimum wages, and state and federal minimum wage increases. Eight states have indexed their minimum wage to inflation because of activist pressure, and campaigns to raise and index state minimums are underway in 10 more states.”
Luce also described problems with living wage campaigns. They tended to target small sectors of the working class (usually public employees). They often did not include part-time workers. Restrictive provisions were included in ordinances which excluded certain corporate investors from the wage and benefit requirements. Also campaigns have been long and difficult, with growing opposition from ‘big box” and other huge corporations.
On the other hand, she suggested that the value of such campaigns included the impetus living wage coalitions provided for building community coalitions. Often these coalitions supported union organizing drives. They brought together African American, faith, and labor communities. They generated pressure for other campaigns such as for a minimum wage, prevailing wage, and worker rights.
For example, Luce reported: “After activists won a living wage in Tucson, Arizona, city workers contacted the Communications Workers and organized their own union….The San Francisco living wage coalition helped win card check from the airport commission, resulting in several thousand workers joining a handful of unions....The NEA has launched a national effort to use living wage campaigns as contract campaigns, to raise wages for school support staff.”  (http://www.labornotes.org, February 27, 2012).
Luce concluded that: “Many living wage campaigns were launched not because they were the best policy available but because they could use leverage where activists were most likely to have it: at the local level.”
Are Living Wage Campaigns Still Relevant Today
Although some living wage campaigns continue, often expanding their projects to include support for minimum wages, union organizing, and other local campaigns, 9/11, two wars, and the 2008-2012 recession reshaped the agenda of progressive groups. Assaults on worker rights throughout the heartland required mobilizing to save jobs, oppose Right-to-Work Laws, protect the right of public employees to form unions, and resist the privatization of every conceivable public institution.
However, given the vision that animates the progressive majority and the need to build broad coalitions, rebuilding living wage campaigns could be an important part of its organizing future.
Living wage campaigns address one of the issues of sustaining humankind mentioned above; jobs, income and remuneration.
They would resonate with workers who survive on wages just above existing minimum wage laws.
They could work in conjunction with and parallel to mobilizations around minimum wage and jobs campaigns.
And, if the history of such campaigns is a good predictor, living wage campaigns would bring together broad coalitions of workers, faith-based activists, activists from African American and Latino communities, and activists for reproductive health.
Finally, living wage campaigns, whether committed to federal or local legislation in the past, have been grassroots movements shaped by local conditions and the particularities of organizing possibilities at the local level. Building a progressive majority requires parallel and interconnected organizing at the grassroots level and the national level. Each is informed by the other. And ultimately sustaining human life is both a global and a local project.