Thursday, May 23, 2013

THE PERFECT "SCANDAL": BENGHAZI




Harry Targ

On the night of September 11, 2012, an armed group attacked a diplomatic post in the city of Benghazi in eastern Libya. The next morning a CIA annex was attacked. Out of these two attacks four United States citizens were killed including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. According to a November, 2012 Wall Street Journal article (quoted by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic, May 13, 2013):

“The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to officials briefed on the intelligence. Of the more than 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the deadly assault, only seven worked for the State Department. Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principal purpose of the consulate, these officials said.”

On March 17, 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 authorizing humanitarian intervention in Libya. It endorsed “Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory….” Five Security Council members abstained from support of this resolution: Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russia.

Passage of the resolution was followed by a NATO-led air war on targets in that country. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established in 1949 as a military alliance to defend Europe from any possible aggression initiated by the Soviet Union. If words mattered, NATO should have dissolved when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The United States, so concerned for the human rights of people in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, including in Libya, was virtually silent as non-violent revolutions overthrew dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt earlier in 2011. The United States continued to support regimes in Bahrain and Yemen in the face of popular protest and violent response and remained the primary rock-solid supporter of the state of Israel as it continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and blockaded the transfer of goods to Palestinians in Gaza. And, of course, in the face of growing ferment in the Middle East and Persian Gulf for democratization not a word was said by way of criticism of the monarchical system in Saudi Arabia.

So as the Gaddafi regime in Libya fought its last battles, leading ultimately to the capture and assassination of the Libyan dictator, the NATO alliance and the United States praised themselves for their support of movements for democratization in Libya. What seemed obvious to observers except most journalists was the fact that the overthrow of the Libyan regime, for better or worse, could not have occurred without the massive bombing campaign against military and civilian targets throughout Libya carried out by NATO forces.

From the vantage point of the Benghazi crisis of September 11, 2012, humanitarian intervention, which in Benghazi included 23 (of some 30) U.S. representatives who were CIA operatives suggests that the attacks on U.S. targets might have had something to do with the history of U.S interventionism in the country. Great powers, such as the United States, continue to interfere in the political life of small and poor countries. And, the mainstream media continues to provide a humanitarian narrative of imperialism at work. 

The post-9/11 Benghazi story is one of Republicans irresponsibly focusing on inter-agency squabbles and so-called contradictory Obama “talking points” after the killings of the four U.S. representatives in Benghazi. They chose not to address the real issue of the United States pattern of interference in the internal affairs of Libya.

And the Obama Administration defends itself by denying its incompetence in the matter, desperately trying to avoid disclosing the real facts in the Benghazi story which might show that the CIA and the Ambassador’s staff were embedded in Benghazi to interfere in the political struggles going on between factions among the Libyan people.

As Alexander Cockburn put it well in reference to the war on Libya in The Nation in June, 2011:

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

If Cockburn were alive today he would have added that the Libyan operation was about U.S. covert interventionism, anger on the part of sectors of the Benghazi citizenship, and not about the United States encouraging “democratic aspirations” of the Libyan people. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to have a conversation about U.S. interventionism but prefer to debate about a “scandal.” The real “scandal” is the cover-up of what the U.S. was doing in Libya.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

THE INTERNAL REVENUE TAX "SCANDAL" IS NOT WHAT OPPORTUNISTS CLAIM IT IS




Harry Targ

Heritage Action for America is a unique combination of top-notch conservative policy analysis, a widely respected government relations team and dedicated grassroots activists that advance conservative policy. 

…As a 501(c)(4) organization, Heritage Action for America allows unprecedented coordination and communication with concerned citizens who want to be part of their national dialogue. We speak directly to the American people and help them break through the establishment in Washington. (from Heritage Action for America website).

According to the Internal Revenue Code organizations may apply and be eligible for tax exempt status under Section 501 (c) (4) if they engage primarily in “social welfare activities.” Contributors to 501 (c) (4) organizations need not disclose their names.

In a recent website update on legislative issues being debated in the House of Representatives, Heritage Action for America, a 501 (c) (4) advocated the repeal of the Affordable Care Act; endorsed the Full Faith and Credit Act, which would prioritize debt payment before financing federal spending; and supported legislation, the Preventing Greater Uncertainty in Labor-Management Relations Act, suspending the National Labor Relations Board from acting until such time as the Senate approves appointments to the Board. 

Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita (4th Congressional District) wrote his constituents on May 17, 2013 that “…the IRS had specifically targeted legally-established non-profit conservative groups by singling them out for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.”  Heritage Action for America assigned Rokita a grade of 79 (out of 100) for his legislative record in the last session of Congress, not far behind long-time right-winger Dan Burton and new Indiana governor Mike Pence. Conservative former Democratic Congressman, now Senator, Joe Donnelly received a score of 23.

The principle of granting tax exemptions for groups that engage in social welfare was introduced in the Revenue Act of 1913 and revised in the tax code of the 1950s. Once groups are declared eligible, such as the Heritage Foundation’s  Heritage Action for America, donors can contribute anonymously.  Meanwhile the organizations so approved can advertise on television, radio, and the print media against programs advocated by those with different political orientations. Ironically groups like Heritage Action for America define their political advocacy for tax purposes as social welfare. And, most importantly, organizations supporting the candidacy of right-wing Republicans such as Todd Rokita are receiving tax exemptions. 

In short, Rokita has a high Heritage Action for America favorability score for opposing affordable health care for most Americans; federal programs for childhood nutrition, education, and emergency health services for the elderly; and government protection for worker rights. 

If the Internal Revenue Service is to be criticized, the attacks should be leveled at the government’s inadequate scrutiny of political lobbying groups who are granted tax exempt status contrary to the intention of the law. Those of us who are concerned about the undue intrusion of big money in politics should be working to insist that the tax code be applied as it was intended so that politicians like Rokita cannot get away with railing against “big government” while they benefit from how it has been applied to them.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

THE CONTINUED ATTACK ON ASSATA SHAKUR IS AN ATTACK ON THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY, ALL PROGRESSIVES, AND CUBA



Harry Targ
My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy toward people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984….

People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” (from “An Open Letter from Assata Shakur: ‘I Am Only One Woman,’ ” Colorlines, May 6, 2013)

To the credit of The National Conference of Black Lawyers, The National Lawyers Guild, The Black Commentator, The Nation, Democracy Now, The Huffington Post, and an array of blog essays the FBI decision to place Assata Shakur on its “Most Wanted Terrorists” list and the State Department decision to keep Cuba on the list of “state sponsors of terrorism” have been roundly condemned.

Assata Shakur was an activist in the Black Panther Party, the student and anti-war movements, and human rights causes in the 1960s. Her activism made Shakur a prime target of the violent FBI COINTELPRO program designed to arrest, convict, and assassinate those who worked against U.S. racism, classism, and war. She was stopped in a car on the New Jersey turnpike on May 2, 1973. Police engaged in a shooting which led to the death of a passenger in the car. Also a police officer was killed in the shootout.

Shakur and another comrade were charged with the police killing even though she also was shot and was incapable of shooting a weapon because of her injuries. Shakur was subsequently charged and convicted for killing the police officer, though she was unarmed, and sentenced to life plus 33 years. On November 2, 1979 she escaped from the New Jersey prison where she was serving her sentence. In 1984 she fled to Cuba, was granted political asylum, and has been living there ever since.

Expressions of outrage about the policies toward Assata Shakur and the government of Cuba need to be raised again and again because these policies get to the heart of racism, repression, and imperialism. The United States government, from civil rights organizing against Jim Crow in the South to urban Black liberation movements in the North sought to divide, repress, and crush demands for an end to institutionalized racism.  The same police and federal security apparatuses complicit in the hosing of protesters in the South, refused to vigorously investigate racist murderers in Alabama and Mississippi. State and federal authorities launched a nationwide campaign during the Nixon administration to falsely charge, arrest, sentence, and murder militants fighting racism. From Chicago, to Oakland, California, to Detroit to the New Jersey turnpike police and FBI shootouts were initiated to eliminate those who were challenging the political and economic status quo. At the ideological level activists for change were labeled  “communists,” “terrorists,” common “criminals,” and foreign agents. Let’s be clear: the Federal Bureau of Investigation and many police departments were agents of a policy of state terrorism. The first targets were African Americans.

In addition, what happened to Assata Shakur and untold thousands of others sent a clear message to activists, particularly young ones, that public protest would lead to violent repression. In 1970 the killings at Jackson State and Kent State Universities communicated to college students that protest might be life threatening.

Raising the issue of “terrorism” again in reference to Cuba and now Assata Shakur also serves to link the COINTELPRO violence against the people of the 1970s to the “war on terrorism” in the 21st century. Everyone knows that as economic crisis grows, demands for change are likely to increase. From a systemic point of view the tools of repression must be reinvigorated.  Raising the case of Assata Shakur now and framing it as an issue of terrorism links the political mobilizations of the 1970s to the Occupy Movement, the horrific bombings in Boston to the demands for change all around the world. Putting Shakur on the terror list and keeping Cuba on a similar list is a metaphor for all that economic and political elites regard as a threat. It seeks to reinforce the theme of the linkage of terrorism and people of color.

Finally, adding Assata Shakur to the terrorism list, and keeping Cuba on the state list, provides ready cover for a possible future military strike against targets on the island. It is conceivable that, unless massive voices are raised to protest these lists, some adventurist administration could launch a drone strike against targets in Cuba. And, in the short run, associating Assata Shakur and Cuba with terrorism continues the argument that the U.S. blockade of Cuba needs to be maintained, which many of us would regard as a real act of terrorism against eleven million Cubans.

Lennox Hinds, Shakur’s lawyer and National Lawyers Guild member, summarized the current meaning of the Shakur case. “Clearly, the federal government is continuing the unrestrained abuse of power by which it attempted to destroy Assata Shakur and other Black individuals and groups by surveillance, rumor, innuendo, eavesdropping, arrest and prosecution, incarceration, and murder throughout the sixties and seventies.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

MAY DAY BRINGS THOUGHTS OF SOCIALIST ALTERNATIVES



(This essay first appeared on  May,1, 2009)

Harry Targ

Sketching Today’s Global Political Economy

During the latest phase of monopoly and finance capital (1945- to the present) enormous changes occurred in the global political economy. First, the United States emerged as a superpower and in an effort to crush the threat of socialism around the world committed itself to constructing a “permanent war economy.” This permanent war economy would create the military capacity to destroy alternatives to global capitalism, stimulate and maintain a high growth manufacturing economy, justify an anti-communist crusade to crush the left in the United States, and co-opt and/or repress working class demands for change. In addition, the permanent war economy would occasion the perpetuation of racism and patriarchy in public and private life.

As the years passed corporate rates of profit began to decline as a result of rising competition among capitalist states, over-production and under-consumption, an increasing fiscal crisis of the capitalist state, and rising prices of core natural resources (particularly oil). With a growing crisis, global corporate and finance capital shifted from investments in production of goods and services to financial speculation. Thus capitalist investment steadily shifted to financialization, or the investment in paper-stocks, bonds, private equity and hedge funds and other forms of speculative investment. Financial speculation was encouraged by state tax policies, “free trade” agreements, an expanded international system of indebtedness, and increased reliance on consumer debt.

Multinational corporations which continued to produce goods and services sought to overcome declining profit rates. This, they concluded, could only be achieved by reducing the costs of labor. To overcome the demand for higher real wages, health and other benefits, and worker rights, manufacturing facilities were moved from core capitalist states to poor countries where lower wages were paid. Thus, in wealthier countries millions of relatively high paying jobs were lost while production of goods increasingly moved to sweatshops in poor countries. Wealthy capitalist states experienced deindustrialization.

Finally, assisted by technological advances, from computers to new forms of shipping, financial speculation and deindustrialization fueled the full flowering of globalization, or the radically increased patterns of cross border interactions-economic, political, and cultural. Globalization began to transform the world into one integrated global political economy.

In short, we may speak of a four-fold set of parallel political and economic developments that have occurred since the end of World War II, in which the United States has played a leading role: creating a permanent war economy, financialization, deindustrialization, and globalization.

Should We Be Thinking About Socialism Today?

A rich and vital set of images of a socialist future comes down to us from the utopians, anarchists, and Marxists, the martyrs of the first May Day, and the variety of experiments with socialism attempted in Asia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Extracting from the multiple reasons why individuals and movements chose socialism one reason stands out; that is, that capitalism historically is and has been a cruel and inhumane system, a system borne and fueled by slavery, genocide, super exploitation of workers, tactics of division based on race and gender, and an almost total disregard for the natural environment that sustains life. Building a permanent war economy, financialization, deindustrialization, and globalization are merely extensions of the cruel and heartless pursuit of profit which has been the fundamental driving force of the capitalist mode of production.

Drawing on the history and the images of a better future coupled with the brutality of the capitalist era, we might conceive of a 21st century socialist future that has four main dimensions.

First, we need to create institutions that are created and staffed by the working classes and serve the interests of the working classes. While scholars and activists may disagree about what “class” means in today’s complicated world, it is clear that the vast majority of humankind do not own or control the means of production, nor do they usually have an instrumental place in political institutions. Therefore, socialism involves, in the Marxist sense, the creation of a workers’ state and since most of us are workers (more than 90 percent of the US population for example), a state must be established that represents and serves the interests of the many, not the few.

Second, our vision of socialism is a society in which the working classes fully participate in the institutions that shape their lives and in the creation of the policies that these institutions develop to serve the needs of all the people.

Third, socialism also implies the creation of public policies that sustain life. Socialism in this sense is about good jobs, incomes that provide for human needs, access to health care for all, adequate housing and transportation, a livable environment, and an end to discrimination and war.

Fourth, socialism is also about the creation of institutions and policies that maximize human potential. A socialist society provides the intellectual tools to stimulate creativity, celebrate diversity, and facilitate writing poetry, singing and dancing, basking in nature’s glow, and living, working, and loving with others in humanly sustainable communities.

Today we remain terribly far from any of these dimensions of socialism. But paradoxically, humankind at this point in time has the technological tools to build a mass movement to create a socialist future. We can communicate instantaneously with peoples all over the world. We can access information about the world that challenges the narrow ruling class media frames about the human condition. We have in the face of brutal war, environmental devastation, enduring racism, super exploitation of workers everywhere mass movements of workers, women, people of color, indigenous people, and youth who are demanding changes. Increasingly public discourse is based upon the realization that our future will bring either extinction or survival. Socialism, although it is not labeled as such, represents human survival.

Where do we who believe that socialism offers the best hope for survival stand at this critical juncture? We are weak. Many of us are older. Some of us have remained mired in old formulas about change. Nevertheless we can make a contribution to building a socialist future. In fact we have a critical role to play.

We must articulate systematic understandings of the global political economy and where it came from: permanent war, financialization, deindustrialization, and globalization. We need to articulate what impacts these processes have had on class, race, gender, and the environment. In other words, we need to convince activists that almost all things wrong with the world are connected and are intimately tied to the development of capitalism as the dominant mode of production.

We need to take our place in political struggles that demand an expanded role for workers in political institutions. We need to insist that the working classes participate in all political decisions.

We need to work on campaigns that could sustain life: jobs, living wages, single payer health care, climate change etc. Our contribution can include making connections between the variety of single issues, insisting that participants in mass movements take cognizance of and work on the other single issues that constitute the mosaic of problems that require transformation. We must remember that in the end the basic policies that sustain life require building socialism. Most struggles, such as those to achieve living wages or a single payer health care system for example, plant the seeds for building a broader socialist society. We can incorporate our socialist vision in our debates about single issues: if we demand a living wage, why not talk about equality for example?

We need to rearticulate our belief that human beings have a vast potential for good, for creativity, and given a just society, we all could move away from classism, racism, and sexism. We could pursue our talents and interests in the context of a sharing and cooperative society.

By working for institutional incorporation (empowerment) and life-sustaining and enhancing policies we will be planting the seeds for a socialist society.

“In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.
For the union makes us strong”

From “Solidarity Forever,” Ralph Chaplin lyrics, 1915.