Friday, October 23, 2015

THE REAL BENGHAZI STORY: Reposted

THE PERFECT "SCANDAL": BENGHAZI

Harry Targ,  May 23, 2013

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.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

THE CUBS AND SOCIALISM (reposted)

I became a Cubs fan 70 years ago and a Socialist 45 years ago. Maybe this year and next are relevant to both so I repost this old essay. "Go Cubs!" "Go Socialism." HT

Friday, April 10, 2009

Harry Targ

In February, 2008 I sent an e-mail to some old high school friends declaring boldly that this was going to be my year: Obama would be elected president, Socialism would come to America, and the Cubs would win the world series. One dear friend responded by saying he hoped my nurse would be able to adjust my medication.

In years prior to my bold declaration, I would tell my students that Socialism would come to America before the Cubs would win the world series. Since they were on an awesome pace throughout the 2008 season I was sure we would achieve Socialism soon because the Cubs were going all the way in 2008. Alas my team was summarily eliminated from post-season competition by pitifully losing every playoff game.

The impact on my psyche was profound. Not only would I not be able to celebrate with those Cub fan survivors of 100 years of solitude but I would have to return to political activism to achieve Socialism because I could not count on the Cubs to get us over the hump. Even my wife, a heretofore Cub fan, said Basta! “60 Years is Enough.” When I asked her a week ago about going to the world series this year to root for the Cubs all she said was she would give me money for a hot dog.

I began writing this column Tuesday morning, just hours after the Cubs with smooth pitching from Carlos Zambrano and an Alfonso Soriano lead off home run defeated the Houston Astros. I even began to fantasize about a long winning streak, even 162 victories. Unfortunately, I did not finish the article before the Cubs lost game two in the tenth inning. There goes the perfect season.

What is behind my pathology. After all Ronald Reagan used to broadcast Cubs games, off of ticker tape reports so he had to make up stories about the game. Right-winger, George Will is one of the most famous Cub fans. And until quite recently the Cubs only played day baseball, thus prohibiting the attendance of most working people.

But there is another element, a kind of spiritual connection between the Cubs, working class Chicago, and all the down and out men and women who have struggled to survive and in the face of economic catastrophe continue to struggle to achieve wellbeing for themselves and their loved ones. Progressive Chicago cultural icons have had a soft spot in their hearts for the Cubs: for example newspaper columnist Mike Royko and folksinger Steve Goodman who wrote a song pleading to be buried in Wrigley Field.

In the end, when Ernie Banks, the Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop, says “wait ‘til next year” he is reflecting that hope and passion for victory that is the essence of all Cubs fans. Activists in the struggle for a new humane, really democratic socialist society also bear down, continue to organize and with full confidence say also “wait ‘til next year.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

INDIANA IN THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE UNITED STATES: Part 3



Harry Targ

Theorizing About Social Movements and Activism
 
Social movement activism has spread like wildfire across the entire globe over the last decade. One group of scholars studied “protest incidents” in over 80 countries from 2006-2013. They found 840 protests in these countries with at least half motivated by demands for economic changes and democratization. A centerpiece of movements from Greece, to Chile, to Spain, to Canada to the United States has been outrage against neoliberal policies (sometimes referred to as “austerity” policies). Fundamentally these policies involve shifting wealth from the vast majority to the tiny minority. In the United States, the Occupy Movement introduced an accurate metaphor for this transformation: the one percent versus the 99 percent. Moral Mondays movements in over a dozen states in the South and Midwest emerged as one large-scale protest against the imposition of austerity and the weakening of democratic institutions.

David Harvey, a political theorist, has posited a “co-revolutionary theory” about social movements. He argues that because there are so many problems in so many different locations in society political activism can and must start anywhere. If one is at a university or elsewhere in the education system struggles over “mental constructs’ matter. If persons are engaged in or near the electoral arena targeting politicians must be done. Work in the corporate sector, the media, government institutions are all sites for the application of political pressure and organizing. What needs to be remembered however is that all the separate struggles are interconnected and that activists need to understand how each struggle relates to every other struggle. Also, victory in one place and time does not mean that the goals of struggle have been achieved. In the end, Harvey argues that the interconnected crises relating to class, race, gender, homophobia, and the environment are intimately connected to the capitalist system.

Further, activists debate the utility of political engagement around elections and legislation compared to mass movement activity. Some progressives have proposed as a solution to this dilemma, developing an “inside/outside” strategy. The inside/outside strategy argues for pursuing electoral work, electing candidates who might act on the people’s behalf, and lobbying to secure legislative victories, even if such efforts cannot solve the panoply of economic, environmental, racial and other problems that are faced. Electoral and legislative work, however, needs to be supplemented by “street heat;” building a mass movement that can be mobilized to publicly demonstrate its outrage and its demands for change. The outside strategy might include creating a large, disciplined organization with resources that can respond to and lead the mass movement of people for change. It is through the outside strategy that politicians can be forced to carry out the will of the people.

Finally, Rev. Barber, through his “fusion politics” approach incorporates all of the above thinking. Fusion politics emphasizes the need for progressive groups to work together in coalitions, in partnerships, in common organizational fronts to bring the energy of all groups together. Ruling classes or power elites do not respond to change unless masses of organizations and people come together to make demands. The 99 percent do not have the material resources- the money, ownership of media outlets, influence over education and police power-to bring about change. All they have potentially are their numbers. And the fusion politics model is about mobilizing masses of people, developing effective and democratic organizations, and applying people power all across the political and economic map.

Indiana Moral Mondays  

Indiana Moral Mondays began as a conversation among activists in 2014. Some participants in the discussions had direct experience with Rev. William Barber and North Carolina’s growing Moral Mondays movement. During early meetings, IMM formed issue committees to begin work on the problems Hoosier citizens faced over access to the polls, the criminal justice system, health care, worker rights, education, and the environment. In addition, IMM decided to organize a large rally at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, with Rev. Barber as the keynote speaker. Also a diverse group of speakers representing the issue areas, the various progressive organizations in the state, youth, people of color, workers, and environmentalists, would be asked to speak as well to signify that our new movement would be based upon fusion politics, diversity, and coalition-building.

Since the September, 2014 mass mobilization issue groups and partner organizations have worked on legislative lobbying, organizing marches and rallies around emerging issues, and discussing how to bring the issues to relevant constituencies around the state. 2015 became a year of debating, organizing, engaging in outreach, and developing plans of work for the coming period, one to three years. IMM is passionate, impatient about the need for change, and yet wise to the fact that organizing for change is a long and arduous process.

As IMM moves into 2016 the following conversations need to be held:

1.How do we organize statewide, particularly given the fact that Indiana is really three states.

2.How do we develop in our literature and public agenda the view that what we are struggling against is a thirty year program of austerity, redistributing the wealth and power from the many to the few. And how can we effectively show that our struggles in Indiana parallel struggles in other states and countries.

3.How can we effectively link our theoretical understanding of history, much like Rev. Barber’s provocative discussion of the three reconstructions, to the concrete campaigns we are engaged in in Indiana.

4.How can we take the general worldview and discuss around the state
 -the threat to voting rights

-racist police practices

-the transformation of a 150 year tradition of public education into for-profit charter schools

-the deregulation of environmental controls at the very same time that plants emit more pollution

-the rationing of health care and the rising cost of medication

-the use of state enticements to bring investors who create low wage jobs that worsen income inequality

-the use of government to destroy the right of workers to form unions of their choosing and to honor the work of those unions to defend worker rights

These are the substantive issues that brought IMM together. Organizationally these substantive issues and the historical/theoretical narrative raised  in Parts 1 and 2 of this series of essays must be  linked to IMM organization and structure. IMM needs to discuss:

-the proportion of work devoted to inside and outside strategies

-statewide efforts at outreach, particularly to communities in “the three states”

-the relative weight and autonomy to be given to the state organization and the various hubs or regional centers

-the connections between IMM and the many organizations who partner with IMM. It may be that IMM could best serve as network coordinator among partner organizations rather than an initiator of programs.

-and finally, the relationship between the varying decision-making bodies, local organizations and issue committees within IMM. 

 Conclusion

The world is in turmoil. Protests all across the globe have some common origins, causes, and solutions. While Hoosier problems have their own characteristics they are not too different from those elsewhere. IMM, in this regard, should see itself as part of the great twenty-first century movement for economic and social justice. The ongoing work of IMM will involve addressing the particular while being cognizant of the general, building coalitions in Indiana of shared responsibility and respect, organizing people power from the state house to the streets, and reconstructing institutions that serve, not oppress the people. The fact that IMM has survived and grown since its formation nearly two years ago is an extraordinary achievement. The next steps have been suggested above.

 This is the third part of an essay on Indiana in the United States political economy and the politics of resistance. The other two essays can also be found at www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 8, 2015

INDIANA IN THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE UNITED STATES:Part 2



Harry Targ

Indiana Economic Life
The centerpiece of Indiana public policy since 2004 has been corporate and individual tax cuts and reduced budgets for education, health care, and other public services. Indiana has been a trend-setter for the nation as to privatization of the public sector: including transferring educational funds from public to charter schools; establishing a voucher system to encourage parents to send their children to private schools; selling off public roads; privatizing public services; and recruiting controversial corporations such as Duke Power to support research at the state’s flagship research universities. The manufacturing base of the state has shifted from higher paying, and unionized, industrial labor (automobiles, steel, and durable goods) to lower paying non-union assembly work such as at the Amazon distribution center.

The positive narrative about Indiana economic growth presented by the current Governor Mike Pence varies greatly from recently published data. For example, between 2013 and 2014, despite enticements to business, Indiana grew at a 0.4 pace while the nation at large experienced 2.2 percent growth. Indiana’s economy historically has been based on manufacturing and has experienced declines since the 1980s and then some increases in recent years touted by the Governor. However, the newer manufacturing is mostly in low-wage non-unionized sectors.   For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county pay wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (www.iiwf.blogspot.com).

Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.

Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers,” universal pre-kindergarten, and programs to rebuild the state’s crumbling infrastructure. They may have added that declining real wages also relates to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.

Thomas added that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should take these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 

More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, refers to Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:

-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

-more precisely 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.

-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.

-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.

Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who struggle to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014, (Roger.Frick@iauw.org).

Assessing the current state of the Indiana economy depends upon where one is located in terms of economic, political, or professional position. Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 37 percent of households who earn less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. For them, the tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not positive. 

Indiana Politics
Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions, then the state with the third highest union density. Today only 11 percent of workers are in trade unions. The most recent legislative defeats Indiana workers have suffered include passage of a Right to Work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Daniels/Pence administrations have used charter schools and vouchers to destroy teachers unions. In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order disallowing state employees the right to form unions on their behalf. 

In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Voters were required to secure voter identification photos. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ends voter registration in the state one month before election day (the polar opposite of same day registration). And, polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses. 

Republican control of the executive and both legislative branches led to redistricting which further empowered Republicans and weakened not only Democrats but the young and old and the African American community. Nine solidly Republican congressional districts were drawn in 2000.  As to the state legislature, by 2014 of 125 state legislative seats up for election, 69 were uncontested. Most shockingly, 2014 Indiana voter turnout was 28 percent, the lowest state turnout in the country. Indiana government has been controlled by Republicans (the governorship since 2004, and both legislative branches since 2010). 

Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, many legislators and the two most recent governors have been friends of or received support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) funded by the Koch brothers. 

With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has been able to initiate some of the most regressive policies in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation in the country. And as the data above suggests, the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state. Other data suggests that the quality of health care, education, the environment, and transportation have declined as well.

The political picture is made more complicated by the fact that Indiana is really “three states.” The Northwest corridor, including Gary and Hammond, are cities which have experienced extreme deindustrialization, white flight, and vastly increasing poverty. The politically active from the area look to greater Chicago for their political inspiration and organizational involvement. Democratic parties are strong in these areas but voter participation is very low. 

Central Indiana includes a broad swath of territory with small cities and towns and the largest city in the state, Indianapolis. Much of the area is Republican, many counties have significant numbers of families in poverty, and some smaller cities have pockets of relative wealth. Democrats hold some city offices but the area is predominantly Republican.

The southern part of the state, south of Indianapolis, in terms of income, political culture, and history resembles its southern neighbor Kentucky, more than the northern parts of the state. The state of Indiana was the northern home of the twentieth century version of the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920s, the KKK controlled Indiana state government. That reality, the institutionalized presence of overt racism, must be remembered as an aspect of Hoosier history that may still affect state politics.

Part 3 will address resistance and the development of social movement responses to the changing national and state political economy.

INDIANA IN THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE UNITED STATES:Part 1



Harry Targ

Economic History

The United States burst forward as the superpower after World War II. At that time, 1945, the United States had ¾ of the world’s industrial capacity and 2/3 of its invested capital. The problem for the United States in 1945 was not the dynamism of its economy coming out of the war but whether it could be sustained. What each presidential administration did from the 1940s until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was to support a political and economic system that coupled promotion of super-sized corporations and banks, the globalization of capital, and the provision of a modest safety net for workers and wages that allowed the increase of mass consumption of the goods and services produced by the 200 corporations that accounted for 1/3 of all that was produced on the face of the earth. 

But beginning in the late 1960s, however, the “golden age” of the US economy evaporated. Corporations sought to reverse declining profit rates. Public services were seen as too expensive. Worker rights were challenging profit rates. And as a result of the threat to more and more profits for big corporations and banks, the economy began its shift from investment in manufacturing (with attendant higher paying jobs) to financial speculation. The whole world shifted from prosperity for some to a system of accumulating debt, challenging the rights of workers to form unions, and reducing low cost access to education, health care, and transportation. The US economy, which had led to an income distribution in which there was a broadening middle sector from the 1940s to the 1960s, began its steady transformation to a two-tiered economy based on a tiny percentage of the super-rich and a broadening marginalization of almost everyone else. And during every period from the Golden Age until now inequalities in wealth and income between whites and people of color and men and women continued or grew. 

Politics

In the United States, the long tradition of economic populism and socialist movements, inspired by post-civil war reconstruction, came to fruition in the 1930s when millions of heretofore manufacturing workers successfully organized an industrial labor movement (the Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO) that demanded a New Deal for them and for the millions more who were unemployed, living on the streets, and traveling across the country to desperately find work in the agricultural fields of California. The New Deal, for all its limitations, brought jobs, Social Security, worker rights, support for the arts, and a codification of peoples’ culture. Perhaps most importantly a vision emerged across the land that the nation was (or should be) a community. This vision was based on the fundamental proposition that human development only occurs when people live, work, and respect each other. Unions were about workers but the idea of union was also about human community. And the struggles for workers’ rights in many locales were paralleled by the movement for racial justice. And after the World War the vision of economic and social justice was greatly expanded and inspired by the Southern civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King became the metaphorical embodiment of the fusion of economic and racial justice and the pursuit of peace.

But, in reaction to a half century of peoples’ struggles for justice, a counter-offensive was launched by market fundamentalists to reverse the gains achieved by workers and people of color. The Goldwater candidacy for president in 1964 was not an aberration but rather a launch pad for a movement to reverse the modestly progressive economic and social policies adopted by the Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson, and even the Nixon administration. The old Social Darwinian vision of each against all in the social and economic world, the magic of the marketplace, the belief that government is not the solution but rather it is the problem became common currency in political discourse. The hero of this historic force was Ronald Reagan, elected president in 1980. Many liberals in both parties, with ties to banks and corporations, articulated a softer message, paid homage to the problems of the needy, and were more sympathetic to some women’s, African American, and gay/lesbian rights. But they also supported the dramatic reversal of economic policy embedded in the so-called “Reagan Revolution.” 

The radical right supporters of Reagan built their campaigns around so-called social issues. And the centrists of both the Republican and Democratic Party pursued an economic transformation designed to preserve and enhance profits while sometimes opposing the most egregious recommendations of the radical right. While centrists and the radical right differed on many issues they shared a common commitment to reverse the economic gains workers, people of color, and women had achieved in the prior years.

From the late 1970s until today, both political parties pursued “neoliberal” international and domestic policies. Neoliberal policies included; down-sizing government  (except for the military), privatizing public institutions, deregulating economic activity, opposing workers’ rights to form trade unions, revising tax laws to reward the rich and shift the burden of public spending to the economically marginalized, and developing policies that enticed greater investment and financial speculation at the expense of ordinary citizens. These policies have been supported by international financial institutions, banks, and governments all across the globe. In the United States every presidential administration from Reagan through Obama has backed these policies. Both parties, most politicians, leading advocacy groups, corporate and financial cabals such as those organized by the Koch Brothers, and the handful of media conglomerates who control at least half of what we read, watch, and listen to, all have worked to fully institutionalize the neoliberal agenda at home as well as overseas. And importantly, the neoliberal agenda has been most enforced at the level of state government. 

Part 2 will examine the political economy of neoliberalism in one state, Indiana.