Thursday, November 21, 2013

PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S FLAWED RECORD ON CIVIL RIGHTS AND VIETNAM



Harry Targ

Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and possibly a web of mysterious associates. The “Who Killed Kennedy?” debate has continued and remains alive these many years since the tragedy in Dallas. Less frequent but important discussion recently has arisen about the effectiveness of the Kennedy Administration on domestic and foreign policy. I wish to address these issues in three parts.

First, candidate Kennedy inspired a massive sense of enthusiasm from younger Americans, many first-time voters. His youth, his vigor, his articulateness, and his call for public service resonated with a generation of youth who were beginning to follow the growing struggles for racial justice in the South. In addition young people who began to pay attention to politics in the late 1950s were increasingly frustrated by the Cold War and the cloud of possible  annihilation resulting from the spread of nuclear weapons. In this political climate the young presidential candidate appealed to the best instincts of many American youth. Ironically, the Kennedy mystique inspired a generation of activists whose struggles against racism and the Vietnam War would have appalled the President if he had lived.

Second, as to civil rights, the Kennedy Administration, much like the Eisenhower Administration that preceded it, was a reluctant supporter of the courageous activism, of young people in the South. The activists, Black-led and white supported-- primarily of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-- courageously fought against racial injustice with little support from the federal government: including Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department , and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led by the notorious anti-Communist zealot  J. Edgar Hoover. The Kennedy Administration would have preferred if the historically significant 1963 March on Washington had not occurred. Key representatives of the administration sought to moderate march organizers’ militant demands for racial equality and economic justice.

Third, as to foreign policy, Kennedy surrounded himself with vigorous, articulate, ideologically rigid anti-Communists. While he and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev deescalated tensions after the onset of  the Cuban Missile Crisis, it is clear that the President was willing to go to war, destroying both countries in the process, if he did not achieve a symbolic victory, the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba soil (even though the Secretary of Defense and others had advised him that the weapons on the island did not change the balance of power between the two military giants). In the end, while the Soviet installation of missiles in Cuba was foolish, it was Khrushchev’s decision to withdraw the missiles that saved the world from destruction.

On Vietnam, JFK added 16,000 military “advisers” to South Vietnam during his three year term. He launched the “Strategic Hamlet Program,” which moved thousands of Vietnamese villagers to South Vietnamese government “secure” areas. He launched the program to train Special Forces or Green Berets to fight counterinsurgent wars. He provided military advisers and resources to dictatorships elsewhere including small countries in Latin America. The Kennedy programs were part of a plan to “modernize” what was then called the “Third World” or the “developing countries.” His key aides in this global effort were military advisers such as retired General Maxwell Taylor, defense intellectuals such as Robert McNamara,  McGeorge Bundy, and William Bundy, and academic advisors such as Walter Rostow. Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was a long-time diplomat who vigorously opposed what he regarded as the Communist strategy of “wars of national liberation.” For him Vietnam was a test case of United States resolve in the war against Communism.

In short, despite limited evidence from some of Kennedy’s closest supporters, the President for three years promoted a global agenda to push back what he and they regarded as International Communism, arguing that if given a choice, peasant villagers in Vietnam would choose the South Vietnamese government over the government of the North and former guerrilla fighters in the South who fought French colonial rule. JFK’s global vision, like his predecessors and successors, was to promote a global United States agenda that, contrary to predictions, increased violent opposition in the world. There is no compelling evidence that President Kennedy would have reversed the course of United States foreign policy by ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam if he had lived.

Ironically, the nearly forgotten successor to Kennedy was Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson. He proceeded to mobilize a recalcitrant Congress to pass major civil rights legislation, Medicare, and programs under the rubric of the War on Poverty, which for a time reduced poverty in America to the lowest levels in the twentieth century. He supported policies which established effective pre-school programs and empowered some heretofore marginalized peoples in urban communities to be politically engaged. Tragically, these programs lost their popularity and funding as the Vietnam War escalated.

In sum, candidate and President John F. Kennedy was a political inspiration for many of the sixties generation but as president did not live up to what he promised either in terms of civil rights or foreign policy.
  
  


Saturday, November 16, 2013

DAVE CORMIER, LABOR EDUCATOR AND ACTIVIST, DIES




Harry Targ

          Thursday night, November 14, 2013, I received a Facebook message from Jacklyn Yaple-Francisco Cormier reporting that my friend David Cormier passed away on November 12. There will be a memorial service at 2 pm on Saturday November 23th at the Jenkins Funeral Home in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her address is 243 Statler Run Road, Fairview, West Virginia 26570-8568.
          My loss is only overshadowed by the loss that will be felt by the working class and particularly trade union members. Dave was a dear friend and labor activist comrade in the state of Indiana in the 1990s. I owe much of what I learned about the labor movement, the working class, the impacts of globalization on workers, and how to teach students who need knowledge to help improve their lives, to him.
          In 2005 I was asked to write a letter in support of Dave’s candidacy for Professor of Labor Studies at West Virginia University. I draw on that letter to remind all of us who grieve about his death what he did for the labor movement in the state of Indiana. Some of my recollection is personal.
          I met Dave Cormier in 1989. I was a delegate to the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) representing the American Federation of Teachers at Purdue University. He made a presentation introducing Indiana University’s Division of Labor Studies to the Council. He emphasized his commitment to bringing Indiana University’s educational opportunities to labor unions in Central Indiana. He made it clear that he was prepared to meet with trade unionists, plan educational programs, and to teach courses relevant to their needs as workers. I was very impressed with his commitment to the labor movement and to bringing education to non-traditional students.  Shortly after his visit to the Labor Council, Cormier arranged to meet with me to discuss the educational needs of the labor community and to enlist my support for his efforts.

          Over the next decade, Cormier became a valued member of the labor community in Indiana. He met with members of the Northwest Central Labor Council Education Committee often to plan future course offerings. He made it clear he would do the same for every local union in the area. He taught a variety of courses, from two-hour blocks of instruction to six or eight week courses, to semester long courses on labor history. He encouraged trade unionists to take credit courses at Indiana University and to work toward a formal degree in Labor Studies. He was a ready resource for knowledge, data, and bargaining and negotiation information for trade unionists. He was often seen driving up to union halls in his white truck with the overhead machine in the back. Whenever knowledge was needed or a course needed to be taught Council members would say: “Let’s ask Dave.”

          I took several of Dave’s courses over the years. My first field of study was foreign policy and international relations but over the last twenty years I developed an interest in labor studies and political economy. Dave’s courses were a valuable resource for me as I “retooled” for my own teaching and research. In 1992, Dave taught a day-long seminar on the North American Free Trade Agreement. The available evidence at the time suggested that NAFTA would be disadvantageous for workers, particularly from the United States. At the end of the day-long class, participants decided to organize an anti-NAFTA labor/environment/farm coalition to pressure our Congress persons to vote “no” on NAFTA. Dave and I worked together with a group of trade unionists to gather petitions, hold rallies, and meet with Indiana Congress people. The campaign culminated in a statewide AFL-CIO rally in Indianapolis against NAFTA. Dave had convinced the president of the Indiana AFL-CIO of the importance of this activity.

          Dave was such a presence in the Indiana labor movement that he was honored with a special plaque at the annual Northwest Central Labor Council Community Services banquet.

          In 1996, Dave took a leave of absence from the Division of Labor Studies at Indiana University to complete a Ph.D. degree in economics at Notre Dame University. He worked closely with his mentor, labor economist, Charles Craypo. Subsequently Dave and Chuck published important papers on how declining manufacturing was increasing unemployment and economic inequality in formerly economically secure mid-sized cities.

          In 1999, Dave taught a six week evening course called “Worker Economics.” I took that course and learned an enormous amount about both macro- and micro-economics. I told him that I was beginning to study the phenomenon of “globalization” and was interested in his insights on the process: whether qualitative economic and political change was occurring in the global economy and particularly what was happening to trade, investment, production, and financial speculation. He invited me to give a brief presentation on globalization to the Worker Economics class. I did. After class we decided to begin a research project on globalization linking the economic dimension, his expertise, with international relations and foreign policy, my expertise. We discussed writing a book and he insisted that it had to be accessible to workers as well as other students.

          Thus began a research and writing collaboration that continued until he suffered his first stroke in August, 2009. Over the years we published several papers together and presented more at academic conferences. These included presentations in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Montreal, and at meetings of the Global Studies Association and the United Association of Labor Educators, of which he was an enthusiastic member. We never completed the book manuscript that we had been working on for a long time.    

          David Cormier compiled a significant research record aside from the globalization studies.  He and Charles Craypo, Department of Economics, Notre Dame University, developed a methodology for measuring income inequality over time and used the measures to assess the impacts of deindustrialization on three small communities. Also Dave did work on labor’s bargaining power, job restructuring, and a variety of other topics relevant to his work in labor studies. We used all of his research in the papers we presented at conferences and published to better understand how globalization impacted workers.

          David Cormier was a wonderful teacher. I experienced his teaching when he was with Indiana University. He had the capacity to communicate difficult issues in economics to workers, usually non-traditional students, and they had great confidence in his knowledge and commitment to them. He was a skilled economist, a workers’ economist.

        Dave once told me that while he was completing his master’s degree in industrial engineering in 1968, he watched the 1968 Democratic Convention “police riot” on television. Watching the police brutalizing anti-war activists convinced him that he needed to put his talents to a different purpose. He went to work for the United Farm Workers and later became a staff organizer for the 1199 Health Care union.

          He was brilliant, energetic, completely committed to the uplift of the working class and resolved throughout his adult life to link knowledge to radical social change.

        If he had written his own epitaph, I am sure Dave Cormier would have counseled us: “Don’t Mourn. Organize!”
 

           

Friday, November 15, 2013

COMMUNIST THREATS, LOSING THE ARMS RACE, AND FALLING BEHIND IN STEM (SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MATHEMATICS)



Harry Targ

A spokesperson for Purdue University testified before a Congressional research and technology subcommittee on November 13 warning that the United States is “losing a cadre of innovators that will never come back.” (Maureen Groppe, “Congress Hears Warning About Consequences of Research Cuts,” Journal and Courier, November 14, 2013, C1). The university spokesperson was echoing warnings that have been coming from his university and major research universities all around the country.

Purdue’s President, Mitch Daniels, not unlike other university presidents, has committed increasing shares of his budget to building so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. While support for STEM fields in higher education is not in and of itself a danger to higher education, Daniels has been implying that the United States has been falling behind other, potentially economically and/or militarily competitive nations, because of inadequate STEM funding. And, he has recommended that expanded allocation of resources for scientific and technological research and education should come from cuts in vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In addition, as Governor, Daniels was a leading proponent of the privatization of social services and public education.

The threats of the United States falling behind some fictional adversaries is a similar “meme” to those that have been articulated by economic, political and military elites at least since the end of World War II. A “meme” is generally understood to be an “idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” It is a framework for bundling ideas into a common theme that can be used in speeches, writings, and rituals. The meme or idea of falling behind some imagined competing or threatening force has been misused by political leaders over and over again.

When World War II was coming to an end, members of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were concerned that the economy would return to the depression of the 1930s. What stimulated economic recovery during the war, of course, was the mobilization of the military, corporations, universities, and workers to engage in massive research and production of war material to defeat fascism.

In the context of the winding down of the war, one CEO serving in government recommended that the United States create a “permanent war economy” to maintain the high level of economic and military mobilization and thus forestall economic decline. Support for high levels of military spending and corporate/government/university cooperation required a rationale. This rationale became the “meme” of the international communist threat. It justified the misallocation of societal resources for continued war production that has been a central feature of federal policy ever since.

The threat of “falling behind the Soviets” reverberated in the mass media after the shocking October, 1957 Soviet projection of an earth satellite into space. All of a sudden Americans were made to believe that their institutions were inferior to the enemy and that a new commitment of resources was needed to beat the Soviets to the moon and expand dramatically the American war machine. 

Three years later the threat of falling behind the enemy was used by presidential candidate John Kennedy to mobilize support and encourage new rounds of huge investments in military expansion. Kennedy warned of a “missile gap” that had emerged between the two super powers, a claim that was admitted to be false within a year of the new president’s assuming office.

Twenty years later presidential candidate Ronald Reagan referred to the “window of vulnerability” that had emerged in the 1970s as a result of Soviet/United States arms control negotiations. Although the United States agreed to limitations in arms production the Soviet Union, he claimed, continued their arms buildup creating this vulnerability to Soviet power. Consequently, President Reagan between 1981 and 1987 spent more on the military than the entire period of U.S. history from 1789 to 1981.  

With the end of the Cold War, the meme shifted to wars on “drugs” and today “terrorism.” All of these manifestations of the “falling behind” meme led the United States government to waste trillions of dollars and the loss of millions of lives of Americans and peoples in other countries such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Returning to “the STEM crisis,” Michael Anft, in a recent article (“The STEM Crisis: Reality or Myth,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 11, 2013), points out that there is much research showing that U.S. higher education is not falling behind some possible competing nations, that American universities are producing as many STEM college graduates as are needed, and that the institutional spokespersons, from universities, the corporate sector, technology associations and others, may be motivated more by institutional interest than demonstrated need.

Further, in an August 30, 2013 article, Robert N. Charette (IEEE Spectrum, http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/the-stem-crisis-s-a-myth) challenges a variety of claims made by advocates of more resources for STEM fields. Among these are the following:

-Many workers in STEM fields do not have STEM degrees and those who hold such degrees do not necessarily find work in their fields.

-STEM jobs have changed over time. For example, long-term engineering jobs have been reduced while shorter-term project driven hires have increased.

-With repeated shifts in the economy, it is difficult to project what STEM job needs will be over long periods of time, five or ten years from now.

-Some studies find that the supply of STEM trained college students exceeds the demand for their labor. In one study by the Economic Policy Institute it was found that more than one-third of computer science graduates in recent years have not been able to find jobs in their chosen field.

-Many STEM jobs have been outsourced. In addition, international workers with STEM qualifications have been enticed to take jobs in the United States, often receiving smaller salaries than American workers. 

-Salaries of those working in STEM fields have been stagnant, much like the broader work force. This is so, some economists suggest, because demand for such trained workers has declined over the last several years.

Charette discussed possible reasons for the hyperbolic calls for quantum shifts toward STEM fields in universities and public investment. He refers to a cycle of “alarm, boom, and bust” that has governed phases of the public policy meme affecting foreign and domestic policy. Recently, the federal government has been spending $3 billion each year on 209 STEM-related initiatives, amounting to “about $100 for every U.S. student beyond primary school.” 

Charette identifies powerful forces in the country that gain from this massive allocation of societal resources. Corporations want a large pool of trained workers from which to choose, thus cheapening the cost of labor. State governments and the Federal government measure their successes in part by how many scientists and engineers they help produce. In addition, a third to one-half of the budgets of large universities come from government and corporate research grants in the STEM fields as public funding for universities has declined. And finally, about 50 cents of every dollar in the federal budget goes to the military, homeland security, and space exploration. 

As Charette points out; “The result is that many people’s fortunes are now tied to the STEM crisis, real or manufactured.”
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Saturday, November 9, 2013

ENVISIONING A NEW SOCIETY: LET THE DEBATE CONTINUE




Harry Targ

We live in a world dominated by global capital, a world in which capital divides us, setting the people of each country against each other to see who can produce more cheaply by driving wages, working conditions, and environmental standards to the lowest level in order to survive in the war of all against all….The most immediate obstacle, though is the belief in TINA (There is No Alternative, HT). Without the vision of a better world, every crisis of capitalism (such as the one upon us) can bring in the end only a painful restructuring--with the pain felt by those already exploited and excluded.

(Michael A. Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century, Monthly Review, 2006, 50).

The material below is a revision of an essay I published some time ago inspired by youthful debates many were having about what kind of society we need to create to facilitate the full flowering of humankind (“Social Science and a New Social Order,” Journal of Peace Research, 1971). As Lebowitz implies we need to return to conversations about what a better future would look like. If we fail to talk about our preferred future we will become overwhelmed with cynicism and lose the capacity to do more than react to those who want to reverse legislative gains.

Specific features of a new society

Progressive visions of a new society draw upon real and imagined communities that provide for the socio-economic and psychic needs of their members. Many of these visions include the following principles:

a)    A new society requires equal or equitable distribution of economic resources. This principle presupposes also a commitment to racial justice, gender equality, the right to love and bond with whomever one chooses, and a vision of the oneness of humankind with nature.

b)    A new society should consist of basic socio-political units that do not exceed a size whereby all people in the unit can and do interact with each other. Voluntary face-to-face contact and knowledge of the values, beliefs, and desires of other community members will increase modes of cooperation which are central to the viability of the new society.

c)    Political, social, and economic decisions should be made on the basis of voluntary participation. Those decisions that affect people’s lives will be made on the basis of their involvement.

d)     Political decision-making may entail one of or a combination of three possible  modes. Some communities might decide to make decisions on the basis of complete consensus and others might decide on the use of majority rule. Some communities might create representative bodies to make decisions for the larger community with regular rotation of leaders.

e)    Political, social, and economic units might be defined as temporary so that the   
dissolution and adjustment of these units can be carried out at any time. Communities ought to continue only so long as they fulfill the needs of their members. However, while embracing change, communities might find virtue in providing some institutional continuity over time, particularly in terms of economic wellbeing.

Assumptions of the new society

Any new society that we envision, of course, will be based upon underlying assumptions. Evaluation of each plan necessitates a critical analysis of both its central features and the explicit and implicit assumptions embedded in it. For example the proposals made above make several assumptions:

a)    A new society based upon local control and participatory democracy assumes that this control in conjunction with equal distribution of resources will decrease the level of alienation among the population and hence the incidence of social bigotry. The more humans control their own social and physical environment, the less likely they will be to project hostilities onto others. Similarly, if they have equal access to economic resources, no material justification for hostility will exist.

b)    Although it is assumed that an equitable distribution of resources, community control, and the possibility of mobility will dramatically reduce conflict between socio-political units, conflicts from a variety of causes will probably persist. However, internal and cross- community conflict will be in what may be called 'human scale' because the scope and intensity of conflict among small communities will be greatly reduced.

The 'enemy' will not be an abstraction in the new society but the real person living across one's communal borders. As political scientist Quincy Wright put it a long time ago, “the larger the group and the less accessible all its members to direct sensory contact with all the others and their activities, the less available are instinct, custom, or universal acceptance as bases of group behavior, and the more symbols and opinions about them are the stimuli and guides for behavior. In the large groups which make war in modern civilization, symbols have been responsible for initiating and guiding that parti- cular behavior.” 'Direct sensory contact' will replace symbol manipulation by economic and political elites in the nation state.

c)    The emphasis on primary political and social control at the community level and the creation of small-scale societies necessitate the existence of some significant cross-community or cross-national units, significant for certain functions such as dispersal of funds throughout a nation or region.

Three possible superordinate units could emerge. The most likely in the near future would be the mixed centralized-decentralized system proposed by Paul Goodman whereby 'non-human' actions are carried out at the national level such as the dispersal of resources to communities, accounting operations, and other computerized actions. Intermediate units such as state governments could be eliminated, and the significant decisions affecting individuals made in their communities. Another alternative involves the creation of domestic or international regions providing the superordinate functions in conjunction with the communities. Superordinate limited political units could emerge out of transformations of regional international organizations such as the European Union or the North American Free Trade Agreement. Finally, the breakdown of the nation-state might yield a new macro-micro community interaction system. Any of these possibilities requires that superordinate functions must be clearly defined, made as automatic as possible (not subject to technocratic manipulation), and structures must be continuously evaluated.

d) Central to the new society is the assumption that society can develop a new non-work ethos, that the system of economic abundance and automation, when stripped of its false productivity, consumption, featherbedding, and the imposition of scarcities, can reduce some of what we know as laborious work. Traditional labor could be reduced although other work such as care giving is likely to increase. And given the reduction of work, human beings can find ways to use life time for sociability and pleasure as well as necessary labor. This suggests several alternative life styles, including extensive continuous education and community participation in the arts.

e)It is further assumed that the wealth and income of the world would be redistributed transforming the economic system whereby basic needs and functional comforts are made available to all. National armies, hand-picked neo-colonial elites, and foreign corporations no longer will control the direction of change in the Global South allowing members of the latter to choose their destinies independently. Further as the new societies spread from territory to territory one might hope for the emergence of economic redistribution that provides comforts for the world’s citizens. The stimulus for change could begin locally and nationally and spread throughout the world.

f) Finally, the vision of the new society assumes the possibility and, indeed, the necessity of humans regaining control of the technological world. Developed societies have experienced the growth and dominance of organizational/technological rationality, a rationality committed to organizational maintenance and expansion irrespective of the human needs of its members. The goal of a new society is ultimately to achieve individual and community rationality based upon means and ends in human scale. Specifically, a new social order presupposes that technology can be decentralized, that efficiency necessary for modern existence does not require centralized political and social control. Social organization can determine technological organization.

Strategies for change

Political activists spend much time discussing strategies for change. Scrutiny of relevant history and assessments of contemporary practice are most beneficially used by progressives to guide their efforts to bring about change within communities, nations, and the international system. It is presumed that to bring about a new society such as that discussed above, a multiplicity of strategies need to be utilized, giving credence to personality, environmental, and systemic variations--and class, race, and gender--with particular emphasis upon spontaneity, creativity, self-doubt, and constant reappraisal.

Of continued importance to change and of utility for achieving a new society is continued education—education for change which would be truly revolutionary.  Education involves, where relevant, academic argumentation, political organization around specific issues, and personal commitments in visible ways to new value systems and life styles. Substantial change requires mass support: hence large numbers of people must be exposed to the spirit of a new society so that they see alternatives and, hopefully, choose to work for their achievement.

Along with educational value, the building of new institutions may provide the skeletal structures of a new society within the parameters of the old. With increasing tension and disarray in 21st century societies, the existence of new, more appealing alternative embryonic structures will provide the substance for new loyalties and commitments when the threshold of tensions make new institutions crucial. As Staughton Lynd has argued, radical social change in the United States occurred when people, of necessity, built new institutions at the community level and crises stimulated the development of new loyalties to these institutions. Eventually the substance of these institutions spilled over from community to community across the nation. The growth of worker cooperatives might be an example.

Finally, those seeking the achievement of a new social order should involve themselves in the ongoing political process, openly and honestly articulating the substance of principles explicit in the quest for a new society. This means the utilization of electoral politics, street heat, and left organizing to communicate with the public, to build people power, and to achieve policies that move towards a new society.

Let us fight cynicism and resume the debate about building a better future!