Friday, December 30, 2011


Harry Targ

While I sleep through some of the news shows hosted by Ed Shultz, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC every night I am conscious of at least part of each. In addition, I watch an hour’s worth of whoever is hosting the daytime news program on this “liberal” channel as I limp along on the treadmill at the gymnasium.

The framing and information about the world provided by MSNBC is often useful. Some stories I would not have access to any other way, such as the growing Michigan program to replace local officials with state-appointed financial officers who will have authority to supersede decisions of those elected. Sometimes hosts present materials on grassroots struggles that more “mainstream” media would not dare cover. We who engage in such grassroots politics know that the world is changing. But most of the media have ignored uprisings, until the Occupy Movement temporarily made such inattention impossible.

Contrary to providing useful information, the cable liberals of MSNBC have done a disastrous job on other stories. They ridicule U.S. defined enemy leaders without providing any context for their disdain. This is the case for Kim Jong Il, Muammar Gaddafi, the leadership of Iran, and others from the Global South. More damaging still, the liberal cable stations provide little coverage of world affairs aside from an occasional report from Afghanistan or an anti-drone story, which is good.

Even more negative, in my view, are the hours upon hours of coverage of the Republican presidential nominating process. We have heard more about the daily ups and downs in the fortunes of the various Republican candidates for president in Iowa than any combination of stories on jobs, the environment, or the European debt crisis.

Since I occasionally doze off, I may have missed coverage of the Durban conference on the environment, the recent formation of a bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) to assert regional self-determination, the post-war Libyan political situation, or the decision by the Obama administration to send U.S. marines to protect Australia from Chinese aggression.

Therefore, MSNBC communicates some good information, exaggerates the importance of certain stories, and ignores material that represents the bulk of the experiences of humankind. This may be OK. We have the internet, left blogs, list-serves, and web pages (which raise different issues of Left censorship) to supplement our knowledge about the world.

Political junkies, particularly activists, find ways to build cognitive data banks and analytical abilities. Good alternative radio, television, and internet outlets exist. Amy Goodman’s qualitatively different news program, “Democracy Now,” can be seen and heard on radio and television stations and online around the country. Even though it has its own agenda (don’t we all) the English language Aljazeera, which is available mostly on the internet, at least portrays a world that does not begin and end with the United States and Western Europe.

So while liberal media inform consumers, it also distorts or ignores news. Watching MSNBC on the treadmill yesterday raised to my awareness a level of media malevolence I had not thought about before. A glib panel of inside the beltway commentators provided useful information about the disparity of wealth and income between our political leaders, such as Congresspersons, and average Americans. They portrayed, with some data, a political system that was at best an aristocracy and at worst a system driven by an economic ruling class that has bought and paid for political elites who serve its interests. One can only recall Marx’s profound assertion that the state represents the “executive committee of the ruling class.”

These five pundits skillfully presented the data, albeit with a posture suggesting that the data was humorous. After discussing whether all people who are part of the one-percent lack empathy for the poor (after all FDR and JFK were concerned about the poor), one of the professional hacks concluded by saying that he supposed that “there is nothing we can do.” Alas, inequality, poverty, powerlessness, and the multitude of problems humankind faces will always be with us.

Many thoughts raced through my mind (I almost fell off the treadmill). This conversation did not include any reference to the Occupy Movement. No mention was made of the recent Supreme Court decision that legitimized massive private spending in elections. It failed to include a discussion of campaign finance reform. And it ignored the fleeting possibility of grassroots activists such as the Progressive Democrats of America, the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party in California, the recall movement in Wisconsin, the successful campaign to overcome anti-worker laws in Ohio and on and on.

Of course, not all of these or many other campaigns can fully and/or successfully address the problem. But there are millions of people in the United States and around the world who are giving their time, resources and sometimes their lives to change rule by the few.

And finally, such discussions willfully ignore the proposition that the economic and political systems that dominate our lives are the problem. At least some would say that these systems must be overturned and new institutions created. And, if history is any guide, such things have happened before.

But where would these pompous, overpaid, and under-worked journalists be if the society did change? They in fact have a stake in promoting the message that nothing can be done.

This speaks, then, to an alternative media, education, and role for intellectuals, which can present information about the world and realistically analyze the programs and possibilities for action that work on behalf of the interests of the many, not the few.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Harry Targ

Liberal cable commentators have been waxing eloquent about the withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq while ridiculing and scorning the recently deceased dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. They fail to see the historic connections between the onset of war along the Korean peninsula in 1950 and the Iraq war of our own day. If pundits reflected on the causes of the Korean War and the consequences following it they might see the culpability of the United States in launching a sixty year war system that has cost the lives of millions of people all across the Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American landscape.

To use the language of our own day, we need to “Occupy Our Minds,” or “Occupy Our History.” We need to understand where the North Korea of Kim Jong Il came from and why the United States created a dictator in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and then destroyed him, his country, and hundreds of thousands of his people. This revisiting of the American past is painful but necessary.

Consider the Korean peninsula. It was a colony of expansionist Japan from the dawn of the twentieth century until the end of World War II. After that war, Korea was “temporarily” split at the 38th parallel by the United States and the former Soviet Union for “administrative purposes.” As the war ended, the Korean people fully expected to create their own independent state. “People’s Assemblies” were held throughout the peninsula to serve this purpose.

In the South, under U.S. control the assemblies were ignored. Over the next five years, using the new United Nations as the stamp of legitimacy the United States created an unpopular regime in the South led by Syngman Rhee. Rhee, tied to western anti-communist interests and domestic wealth very much like Chiang Kai Shek in China and later Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, established a brutal dictatorship. The Soviets, in the north, established a Communist regime led by Kim Il Sung.

In 1950 powerful foreign policy interests promoted a global U.S. foreign policy that would benefit from war. General Douglas McArthur, overseer of post-war Japan, John Foster Dulles, anti-communist foreign policy spokesperson of the Republican Party and Rhee, on the verge of losing his power in South Korea, met in Tokyo in May. Conversation ensued that likely included making war on North Korea.

Back in Washington, Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, and his key aide, Paul Nitze, were lobbying for a new bold military policy, proclaimed in the secret National Security Document 68. It called for military spending to be the number one priority of each American administration. The reason, the document claimed, was the world-wide threat to civilization represented by international communism. George Kennan’s “containment” policy, beefing up U.S. and allied forces to protect against any aggressive attack from a prospective enemy, was not enough. By 1954, the document predicted, the former Soviet Union would be as powerful as the United States.

As Acheson himself admitted in his memoirs, he felt the need to exaggerate the threat to United States security to gain support for a more global US foreign policy. In other words, support for empire required lying to the American people. In the Korean case, an artificial division of the Korean peninsula, contestation between competing political forces, and a North Korean military attack on the South was reframed as a worldwide war on freedom and democracy. The Korean War institutionalized the big lie.

Then the Truman Administration, the Defense Department, big corporations, the major media, and many religious institutions launched a campaign of fear based on a fantasy of a dangerous communist subversion. Who could question a dramatic military response to a nation under siege. With the onset of the Korean War, the politics of fear converged with the politics of empire. In sum, the United States redefined a civil war between Koreans, north and south of the 38th parallel, into a struggle between the “free world” and “international communism.”

The Korean War led to the deaths of four million Koreans and 54,000 U.S. soldiers. Between 1950 and 1995, the United States continued to develop the largest military force in the world, with hundreds of bases in thirty or more countries, dozens of covert military operations, and support for countless dictators in countries of the Global South. In wars in which the United States had a role during these 45 years, some 10 million people died, most of them civilians.

Fifty-three years after the onset of the Korean War, the United States launched a war on Iraq based on lies. The American people were told of the dangers the Iraqi regime posed for United States security. The threat was no longer communism but terrorists. And Saddam Hussein was framed as a supporter of terrorism against the West who possessed weapons of mass destruction. These were lies based on significant historical distortions of the politics of the region. The details were different but the arguments for war on North Korea and the war on Iraq were both based on lies. The same case can be made for most U.S. interventions and wars from Korea to Iraq.

The policies of fear, empire, and military operations continued in the 21st century. The war in Afghanistan, begun in 2001, still goes on. We now celebrate the ostensible end of the Iraq war after nine years. About ten thousand U.S. soldiers and probably a million Afghan and Iraqi people have died in these two wars. Economists predict that the Iraq war alone will have cost the U.S. government 3 trillion dollars by 2030, a total similar to U.S. military expenditures between 1945 and 1990.

So when pundits ridicule the dictatorship in North Korea and make grandiose statements about the millions imprisoned, killed, or starved, no mention is made about why the Korean War was launched, whose interests it served on the United States side, and how U.S. aggressiveness was used by North Korean political elites to justify dictatorship there. And, the failures of the North Korean economy are presented as solely the result of their socialist economy, not the 60 year war and economic embargo on that country perpetrated by the world’s most powerful country.

Ironically, while media pundits condemn poor North Korea for constructing deliverable nuclear weapons, they fail to point out that countries defined as enemies of the United States, such as Iraq and Libya, were subject to U.S. military attack because they did not have such weapons to deter military assault.

The death of the current dictator of North Korea and the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq should encourage a frank and serious discussion about the United States foreign policy of perpetual war that has been a central feature of the U.S. role in the world since Korea. As masses of Americans mobilize in parks, reoccupy foreclosed homes, and in other ways petition government to change its ways, elimination of the system of constantly preparing for and engaging in war must be included in demands for change.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Harry Targ

The massive atrocities of World War II led nations to commit themselves permanently to the protection of basic rights for all human beings. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the wartime President, Franklin Roosevelt, worked diligently with leaders from around the world to develop a document, to articulate a set of principles, which would bind humankind to never carry out acts of mass murder again. In addition, the document also committed nations to work to end most forms of pain and suffering.

Over 60 years ago, on December 10, 1948, delegates from the United Nations General Assembly signed the document which they called “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” It consisted of a preamble proclaiming that all signatories recognize "the inherent dignity" and "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as the "foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." The preamble declared the commitment of the signatories to the creation of a world “…in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want…”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights consisted of thirty articles, with varying degrees of elaboration. The first 21 articles refer primarily to civil and political rights. They prohibit discrimination, persecution for the holding of various political beliefs, slavery, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention. Persons have the right to speak their mind, travel, reside anywhere, a fair trial if charged with crimes, own property, form a family, and in the main to hold the rights of citizenship including universal and equal suffrage in his or her country.

The remaining 9 articles address what may be called social and economic rights. These include rights to basic social security in accordance with the resources of the state in which the persons reside; rights to adequate leisure and holidays with pay; an adequate standard of living so that individuals and families have sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and medical care; and education, free at least at the primary levels. In addition, these nine articles guarantee a vibrant cultural life in the community, the right to enjoy and participate in the arts, and to benefit from scientific achievements.

While each article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a rich and vivid portrait of what must be achieved for all humankind, no article speaks to our time more than Article 23. It is one of the longer articles, identifying four basic principles:

*Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

*Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

*Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself (or herself) and his (her) family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary by other means of social protection.

*Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his (her) interests.

Using the language of our day, the principles embedded in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute a bedrock vision inspiring the global 99 percent to rise up against their exploiters from Cairo to Madison, to Wall Street, to cities and towns all over the world. The global political economy is broken. The dominant mode of production, capitalism, increasingly cannot provide work, fair remuneration, rights of workers to speak their mind and organize their own associations, and the provision of a comfortable way of life all because the value of what they produce is expropriated by the top 1 percent of global society.

While each locale experiences this dilemma in its own way, the Republican controlled legislative and executive branch of state government in Indiana is poised to pass legislation reestablishing itself as a so-called Right-To-Work State. The RTW laws which can be found in over twenty states allow workers to gain the benefits of union representation on the shop floor without joining unions or paying for union services which are provided to all workers. The basic goal of RTW laws is to bankrupt the labor movement. The end result, as data suggests in every state, is to reduce rights, benefits, and working conditions for all workers. The National Right to Work Committee, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and other rightwing groups funded and organized by the 1 percent, want to eliminate hard-fought worker rights which will reduce the costs of labor, wages, working conditions, and the standard of living of all workers, unionized or not.

Data about the world and data about the United States make it clear that there has been a thirty year trajectory in the direction opposite to the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Global inequality is growing. The rights and abilities of workers to form unions are shrinking. Standards of living of most of humankind are declining. The ability of most workers everywhere to acquire secure jobs is declining. Globally there has been a quantum shift from agricultural, manufacturing, and service employment to the informal sector, oftentimes “street hustling.”

Not only is this condition being put in place in the state of Indiana but well-financed organizations such as ALEC foresee victory in Indiana setting off a “domino effect;” Indiana, then Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin. To paraphrase a late nineteenth century geo-politician; “he who controls the heartland then can control the rimland.”

And in the end, anti-worker politics in the United States, like anti-worker politics virtually everywhere around the globe, violates the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially its precious Article 23. The workers’ agenda is fundamentally the human rights agenda.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Harry Targ

I grew up in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Working-class family, father was a Union Ironworker…mother was a stay at home Mom.” Vince Emanuele joined the Marines after graduating from high school. “I came out of boot camp a hard chargin’ Devil Dog.” He served in the Marines from 2003 until 2005 stationed in California, Kuwait, and Iraq. His eight month deployment in Iraq involved him in street patrols, looking for snipers and land mines “…along with shooting at innocent civilians, destroying their property and beating up prisoners….”

While in Iraq the fascination with war that he had acquired as a kid playing video games dissipated. His father sent him reading material--Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Hunter Thompson, the Nation--and he and friends began to reflect on what they were doing in Iraq. He came to the view that the war was “illegal, immoral, unjustified, and unneeded.” He was not spreading “democracy” or “peace” and the U.S. war effort was not winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.

After returning to the U.S., Emanuele joined Iraq Veterans Against the War, has been organizing vets in Indiana and Illinois, created a weekly radio show called “Veterans Unplugged” which is available on-line, and has become a prominent activist for social, economic, and political justice in the heartland of America while finishing an undergraduate political science degree.

Emanuele recently spoke on a panel organized by the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition. He elaborated on the current plight of veterans, particularly veterans who served in the two longest wars in U.S. history, Afghanistan and Iraq. While acknowledging that the current military force has chosen to enlist in regular army or reserve units, the 21st century enticement to serve is really an “economic draft.” With declining incomes, wages, job opportunities, and rising educational costs, more and more men and women, he said, have seen military service as the only escape from lives of economic marginalization.

He spoke of the culture of militarization to which every new recruit was exposed: a process of dehumanization; the spread of racism, particularly targeting stereotypes of Muslims; sexism; and homophobia. In reality the military experience of young people, Emanuele said, involves placing raw, uneducated, teenagers in a war zone, with weapons and a license to kill. The victims of the actions of these raw recruits, schooled in video games and super-patriotism, were the millions of Iraqi and Afghan citizens who most fervently wanted the young foreigners off their land.

Emanuele presented some figures on the impacts of military service on returning veterans. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 there were 20.2 million men and 1.8 million women who had served in the military). In 2011, Emanuele reported;

-Rates of unemployment of returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are higher than in the non-veteran population, both men and women

-African-American vets experience double the unemployment rate of white vets

-80,000 returning veterans are currently homeless (56 % of homeless vets are African American or Latinos)

-20% to 50% of 21st century returning veterans suffer some form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (an estimated 350,000 to 1 million vets)

-1,000 returning vets attempt suicide each month

Emanuele, connected the plight of returning veterans to the military/industrial/complex and imperial wars. As a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, he highlighted the long tradition of soldiers resisting participation in unjust wars. He referred to patterns of resistance to war running throughout U.S. history:

-In 1781 the Pennsylvania militia mutinied against war profiteers and for food

-Between the 1870s and the 1890s, National Guard soldiers often refused to fire on striking workers
-In 1919 unknown numbers of U.S. soldiers refused orders to go fight against the Bolsheviks who had come to power in Russia

-Thousands of World War I veterans, known as the Bonus Army, assembled in Washington D.C. in 1932 to demand back pay due them from their active duty experience.

--From 1964-75 a massive GI anti-Vietnam war resistance movement emerged with over 300 GI anti-war newspapers produced, 10 % of all Vietnam era soldiers going AWOL or deserting, and a broad array of other forms of anti-war resistance, and opposition to military recruiting.

Emanuele stressed the commonality of experience and vision that is shared by most veterans with the Occupy Movement. He suggested that peace and justice activists must understand that returning veterans are a vital part of the 99% movement committed to radically restructure American society. He argued that the 99%, including vets, must see the vital connections between the global capitalist system, the military/industrial complex and the pain and suffering that have generated war and economic insecurity in the twenty-first century.

Emanuele ended his talk with reference to the frank admission of General Smedley Butler who oversaw the effort to crush the army of Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua in the early 1930s. Butler admitted that he, as a Marine General, had served as an instrumentality of Wall Street, putting down popular rebellions in the service of profit.

To learn more about Vince Emanuele and his weekly radio show check out

To learn more about Iraq Veterans Against the War see

See my blog at