Sunday, December 16, 2012


Harry Targ
The Michigan legislature and Governor Richard Snyder passed a new “right-to-work” law on December 11, 2012. Such laws, authorized by the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, allow states to prohibit union locals from requiring workers who choose not to join the union that represents them at the work place and who receive union services from having to pay for them.
Social scientists refer to the dilemma this creates as the “free-rider” problem. Why pay for bargaining and negotiation, support for worker grievances, and other services if you can get them free? In the long run, supporters of right-to-work laws hope to reduce union membership and weaken organized workers as an economic force in the workplace and a political force in the electoral arena.
The Michigan Governor reversed his earlier declaration that he would not support this controversial legislation. Michigan is a state where the modern labor movement was formed in the 1930s during the sit-down strikes in auto plants. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels also promised labor leaders that he would not support such legislation. They both changed their minds because the prospects of defeating labor at this critical juncture seemed too good to miss. So Michigan, like Indiana, dusted off its copy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation and passed it.
As the Economic Policy Institute states, right-to-work provisions have negative consequences for workers. In right-to-work states workers earn significantly lower wages than workers in states without such laws. Also, they are less likely to benefit from employer-sponsored health insurance plans. Some studies note that health and safety at workplaces in right-to-work states fare poorly compared with workers in states without such laws. In short, Section 14 (b), the right-to-work provision of the Taft-Hartley Law of 1947, was designed to weaken the burgeoning new and militant labor movement of that day and as a result to increase corporate rates of profit.
On December 12, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (soon to be Purdue University president) announced that nine companies were “expected” to make investments in his state creating 2,552 new jobs. These included such companies as Angie’s List, BidPal Inc, and Mitsubishi Engine North America.  The Indianapolis Star indicated that the nine companies who “expect” to add these jobs by 2016 will receive over $27 million in tax credits. It was likely that the Daniels announcement was designed to support Michigan Governor Snyder’s claim that he was inspired by the alleged economic boom Indiana experienced since adopting right-to-work legislation last winter.
Governor Daniels indicated that “…we have seen a significant surge of new interest in the past several months.” Again, Governor Snyder was inspired by the Indiana story not because of the tax giveaways but because he claimed it was Indiana’s right-to-work law which was passed ten-months ago that spurred this “economic miracle” in the Hoosier state.
In a recent article on the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) website written by political scientist Gordon Lafer, economist Marty Wolfson, and Indiana state AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott, it was pointed out that investment decisions require a lengthy process of study. Since the law was passed last January, became effective in March and is being challenged in court, the authors argued, it was unlikely that the new law would have affected decisions to invest in Indiana.
Further Lafer, Wolfson, and Guyott point out that none of the nine companies the Daniels’report referred to claim that the new right-to-work law had anything to do with their plans to invest more in the state. Some of the nine already had major facilities in the state. In addition, the authors examined companies that were courted by the state but chose to go elsewhere. Their research indicated that right-to-work was not a criteria for choosing before 2012 to invest in other states.
Perhaps the most significant facts gleaned from recent research on the Indiana economy were published by the Indiana Institute for Working Families in their study entitled “Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2011.”  ( Among their key findings are the following:
-the state had 231,500 fewer jobs as 2012 began than pre-recession employment.
-21,200 state and local government jobs were lost from August, 2008 through February, 2012 (22 percent of jobs lost).   
-in 2012, 19 percent of unemployment is among youth.
-Indiana is among 17 states continuing to experience absolute declines in the labor force since the recession began.
-only 14.6 percent of Hoosiers over the age of 25 have bachelor’s degrees.
-Indiana ranks 41st in average wages earned; economic inequality in the state has grown since 2000 but worker productivity has increased by 14 percent.
-median family income fell by 13.6 percent over the past decade.
-since 2000 poverty has increased by 52 percent.
The figures on the devolution of the Indiana economy over the last decade, as its state government has shifted to the right, are staggering. This is the model to which the Michigan Governor and legislature aspire.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the data and the contemporary political context in the industrial heartland of America.
First, economic decline has been a characteristic feature of workers’ lives before, during, and since the recession.
Second, during much of the last decade, particularly in states like Indiana, the political environment has been increasingly shaped by the rightwing economic agenda of the Republican Party.
There is no evidence, historical or contemporary, that right-to-work laws will reverse the severe economic decline workers experience. But there is evidence that the wealth and power of the super-rich will increase, while workers’ wages decline at the same time that their productivity rises.
Third, looking at capital/labor relations since the onset of the twentieth century, the strength of organized labor matters for all workers. Right-to-work, rather than attracting new investors, primarily enriches the current corporations in right-to-work states and weakens unions. 
Finally, as President Obama stated in a visit to Detroit just before the Michigan legislative vote, the resurgence of right-to-work campaigns is “political.” Why? Because the labor movement is the only financial and grassroots base of opposition to the shift to pre-New Deal economic policy. This was demonstrated in the “ground game” of the labor movement in key battleground states during the last election. It also was reflected in campaigns to reverse assaults on public employees in Ohio and mobilizations of teachers in Chicago to protect public education. In general organized labor represents the front-line of defense against shocking inequalities in wealth and power, opposition to the privatization of virtually all public institutions, and the protection of programs that have given modest economic security to large portions of the population.
The Michigan story and the mythology about Indiana are just part of the ongoing struggle of the financial/corporate class and their rightwing politicians to destroy the last movement that can save Americans from destitution. While weakened labor appears to be mobilizing to protect the interests of the broadening working class.





Saturday, December 15, 2012


Harry Targ

In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on

When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come
I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.

(From Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These,”

All year we have been celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. “This Land is Your Land” has become the new national anthem, particularly for the 98 per cent of the population, mostly the American working class. Singers now sing the forbidden verses challenging the rights of private property and choruses of cheering people, young and old, black and white, straight and gay, join in. It is a song of struggle, pride, and recognition that this world belongs to everybody.
Although the song has inspired us all as we sing it, sometimes we forget that the trajectory toward progressive change is not smooth. Guthrie’s friend and voice of our times, Pete Seeger, reminds us that “it is darkest before the dawn.”
Perhaps the anthem of these times, after hundreds of domestic instances of violence from Columbine to Newtown, from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, to the streets of Chicago, is most poignantly articulated by Arlo Guthrie. And it is an anthem that peace activists should sing as we struggle against bombings, drones, economic blockades, covert interventions, assassination lists, killer teams, wars on drugs, huge appropriations of human resources to kill, violent video games, war toys, endless television shows and films that portray and normalize killings, as well as the tragedies such as at Newtown.
Major targets of violence and murder are educational institutions and particularly students. It is ironic that it is in these institutions that some of the most creative debates ensue around direct, or physical, violence and structural, or economic, sexual, and racial, violence. After World War II, scholar/activists concerned about atomic war, arms races, and war on poor countries introduced Peace Studies into university and public school curricula. Educators and activists had studied and advocated for peace for hundreds of years, but in the environment of the Cold War distinguished academics demanded that the tools of modern research and education be applied to war, the social cancer of our time.
Peace Studies programs since the 1950s have taken many forms. Some concentrate on the “war problem” and engage it through studies of philosophy, social theory, and theology. Others, using modern statistical techniques, gather data on war and other forms of violence and test hypotheses about causes. And finally, others, the “radical peace educators” argue that research and teaching should use all available techniques to study violence. In addition, we should include in our study of violence, the violence of exploitation, discrimination, the prerogatives of institutionalized power, and the manipulating of minds as well as bodies. These latter peace research/educators also argue that a connection needs to be made between theory and practice, reflection and action, studying causes and working to eliminate them.
Today there are some 250 peace studies programs. Some emphasize one or another or all of the three approaches. Despite efforts of rightwing political forces to eliminate Peace Studies programs, they persist. They persist because university alums, professors, teachers, and students remain committed to addressing the problems of violence in the 21st century. So researchers continue to learn more about the problem of violence, teachers (kindergarten through college) try their best to develop curricula that celebrate the preciousness of all human beings, and activists continue to struggle to eliminate institutions and cultures of violence.
In sum, in the midst of our deep sorrow, we remember Arlo Guthrie’s words. “In times like these,” despite the emotional energy and time spent achieving some electoral, labor and Occupy victories, we get weary and our “heart is worn.” While we see the “storm clouds rise above,” we should remember that “the storm will soon be over.” Why? Because “I walk with friends from every nation, on freedom’s highway in times like these.”













Saturday, December 1, 2012


Harry Targ
By many measures progressive forces seeking to defend the rights of women, workers, Latinos, African-Americans, youth, and the elderly won major victories in the 2012 election. President Obama was reelected with strong support from those to his political left. Democrats, some identifying with populist policies such as Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, increased their control of the Senate. And in the House of Representatives, Democrats gained a few seats including those for progressives such as Alan Grayson. The House remained in Republican control despite the fact that Democratic candidates out-polled Republicans nationwide by about 200,000 votes.

Most importantly, the coalition of progressives who increasingly see connections between the interests of workers, women, people of color, and those passionate about the environment, immigration reform, and peace have vowed to stay mobilized. They see the danger of “grand bargains” which might make Beltway politicians weaken Medicare, Medicaid, and/or Social Security. Progressives also are wary of deals that could sacrifice the environment to big oil, maintain the grotesque economic inequalities through tax breaks for the rich, and continue budget-busting military expenditures.

However, challenges to a progressive future do not come just from Washington, Wall Street, or the Pentagon. In 2012, state election results led to single-party control of 37 state governments: 24 Republican and 13 Democratic. Think Progress reported that only 12 states will have evenly contested, two-party government as the 2013 legislative sessions open. This much one-party dominance at the state level has not been seen since 1952.
In many of the Republican controlled states, legislatures and governors are controlled by Tea Party advocates seeking to privatize public education, reject key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, install or expand Right-to-Work and anti-collective bargaining legislation, end support for Planned Parenthood, put creationism in science classes, and cut college programs not tied to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula. The states where Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures are for the most part states in the South and across the Plains.
One of the few Midwest states where one party rule will prevail in 2013 is the state of Indiana. Despite public perception, Indiana has a history of competitive government. Democrats have controlled bigger cities and industrial areas whereas Republicans dominated in rural and small towns of Central and Eastern Indiana. Democrats held the governorship from 1989 to 2005, and elected former governor Evan Bayh as Senator in 1998. He retired from that post in 2010. Democratic candidate, Joe Donnelly, with strong labor support, won the 2012 Senatorial race over Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock.
In Indiana legislative politics, the Republicans and Democrats each controlled one legislative body from the outset of the new century until the 2010 elections.  Then Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives (60-40) and in 2012 won “supermajorities” in the House (69-31) and the Senate (37-13). Meanwhile Indiana elected Tea Party Congressman Mike Pence to serve as Governor. Pence will replace two-term Tea Party “light” Governor Mitch Daniels who was selected the new president of Purdue University by a Board of Trustees mostly appointed by him. In total, Indiana politics which had been shifting to the right over the last decade will become a “blood red” state in 2013. Republican spokespersons promise to complete the economic and political agenda they began to institute since the early years of the new century.
Paradoxically, Indiana voters solidly rejected the reelection bid of Superintendent of Public Education, Tony Bennett, who has radically transformed education from a public to a private institution. He has opened the door for taxpayer support for private religious schools. And he has introduced ill-advised “performance” standards to determine financial support for public schools. To increase the possibility of incorporating markets and religion into what used to be a public education system, he and his colleagues have worked vigorously to destroy teachers unions.
Glenda Ritz, an award winning teacher and media specialist, defeated Bennett by a 52-48 percent margin. Tea Party legislators have indicated that they will move to make the Superintendent’s position an appointed one in the future. Outgoing Governor Daniels, a key advocate of educational privatization, proclaimed that teachers used improper means to campaign for Ritz, as if the 1 million voters for Ritz who were not teachers were not relevant to the outcome (in Indiana there are 40,000 public school teachers). So if the people make the wrong choices, the Tea Party legislators imply, their right to make those choices must be restricted.
In 2011 the Indiana Institute for Working Families issued a report on the status of working families in Indiana. The report presented economic data on the condition of Indiana’s working families suggesting that workers in the state have suffered above and beyond the level of the national recession of 2007 to 2009. They suggest that contrary to the public image promoted by outgoing Governor Daniels and his Tea Party legislative colleagues, the conditions of Hoosier working families have worsened as a result of their legislative agenda:
“In fact, the data shows a recovery in Indiana marked by a weakened labor market, an unprecedented decline in wages, and dramatic increases in poverty. Due to across-the-board state budget cuts, a significant loss of public-sector jobs, and low uptake rates in work-support programs due to a public policy environment that’s not been conducive to working families, tens of thousands of Hoosiers are unnecessarily experiencing the human toll of this recession.” (Indiana Institute for Working Families, “Status of Working Families in Indiana,” 2011, page 1).
Indiana progressives have a difficult task ahead. They must reverse the rightward drift of Hoosier politics and public policy and in the long run build a progressive political movement that can fight for and win a new People’s Agenda based on justice, prosperity, and peace.




Saturday, November 17, 2012


Harry Targ

The War On Women has many dimensions—social, cultural, psychological—but in many ways women’s issues are class issues. That makes the war on women a class war, among other things. (Richard Eskow, Campaign for America’s Future Blog, November 16, 2012)
I was planning my latest blog entry when I saw an essay by Richard Eskow entitled “The War on Women is a Class War.” Coincidentally the subject of the political consequences of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference was precisely the subject I wished to address.
Eskow presented compelling data to show that as income levels rise the percentage of women in the higher categories declines, cuts in anti-poverty programs disproportionately affect women, on a worldwide basis austerity measures disproportionately hurt women, cuts in Social Security and Medicare in the U.S. would punish women more than men, and finally reductions in taxes and growing inequality in wealth and income over the last decade have disproportionately benefited men over women.
As I was planning my essay I was thinking about the central features of the capitalist mode of production that has dominated most of the world since the sixteenth century and how, politically, it has made maximum use of differences to protect its fundamental features.
First, capitalism is a system based on the private ownership of the means of production. Workers are paid to come to work to produce goods that are sold by capitalists in the marketplace. The workers are paid a wage that is less than the value of the products that are sold in the market. The difference between the market price of the products and workers’ wages is where profits come from. Marx used the term “exploitation” to refer to that system of production in which the workers produced value based upon their time and energy and the capitalists sold the products of their labor above the cost of labor.
Second, capitalism is a system that exists in history. Over the years and centuries capitalist enterprises grew and grew. Small enterprises consolidated. Huge ones emerged. When demand for one kind of product declined others were produced. When markets in one geographic area declined, capitalists moved elsewhere. When the demand for goods declined, capitalists invested in services.
There has always been conflict over how much workers were to be paid and ultimately who would control the work process, the technology, and the profit. Marx called this “class struggle.” Because of unequal political power there was a tendency for wages to decline except when workers joined together and fought for the improvement of their lives. Creating divisions among male and female workers and workers of different races and ethnic backgrounds often weakened workers’ struggles to achieve economic justice.
Capitalism regularly endured crises as demand for products and places to invest profits declined and profits became so large that capitalists could not figure out how to invest them to gain more profit. In our own day, capitalists shifted dramatically from producing goods and services to financial speculation and promoted political institutions to serve the needs of financialization. And politics entered the picture when the largest capitalists more or less successfully shaped political institutions to maximize their interests.
Libraries of books describe the historical development of capitalism and debate about how the system works and who benefits from it. However, what remains basic to understanding capitalism as an economic system is that it creates workers who dig the coal, harvest the crops, clean the hotel rooms, teach the kids, and do everything else to keep the system going. In a capitalist system almost everybody is a worker and, as the system requires ever-expanding profits, the system strives to reduce the differences among the kinds of work that people do to basic units of physical and mental labor. Marx called this “proletarianization.”
A central feature of the “political” economy of capitalism is the drive to divide workers and to use the political process to reduce workers’ realization that they have fundamentally shared experiences; that is they all are in one way or another “exploited.” A signature feature of capitalist political systems is their effort to create and exacerbate differences; differences by race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, and spiritual identities. The old slogan puts this best: “divide and conquer.”
So today as progressives reflect on the recent election and the future, it is important to get beyond narratives that in the main emphasize difference. Eskow’s essay concerning the class war on women serves as a useful reminder that what divides us could also unite us in a common struggle.
In the months ahead we should rediscover the ways in which we share experiences as workers in a capitalist system, at the same time as we recognize different experiences based on race, gender, sexual preference, and ethnicity.
One of the intriguing ideas embedded in the notion of  “21st century socialism,” is that in a capitalist system workers are exploited in different ways and suffer different degrees of pain but the process of exploitation has a common structure and purpose. And after long years of reflection and political practice, and many false starts, we can now integrate our awareness and respect for difference into our conceptualization of what in human experience unites us.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Harry Targ
The commentaries on the 2012 presidential election are rolling in. Over the next several days and weeks progressives will be discussing the meaning of the 2012 elections for “Where do we go from here?” The desperate need is for us to resume rebuilding America and planting the seeds for a vision of “21st century Socialism.”
So for now here is a list of some of the issues progressives and radicals should begin to discuss all across the nation.
First, MSNBC commentator Chuck Todd emphasized from the outset of election night commentary that the demographic changes in American society are and will continue to transform politics and the prospects for change. By 2050, a National Journal report predicted “minorities”--that is Black and Brown people-- will constitute a majority of the population of the country. In the presidential election just completed 24 percent of the voters were African Americans and Latinos. Also youth as a proportion of these populations is growing. Finally, women are a segment of the voting age population that is growing and motivated in part by a rejection of political ideologies and theologies that prohibit their control of their own bodies.
Second, in addition to race and gender, the 2012 election results point out emphatically that class matters. There is no question that the labor movement, including public employees, and grassroots workers’ organizations revitalized after 2010 in the industrial heartland, was instrumental in facilitating a Democratic “ground game” in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and even Indiana. Working people are fired up, angry, and possibly ready to become a “class for itself.” And, in those states where labor made a difference, activists readily articulated connections between workers’ interests and interests of women and people of color.
Third, big money gives enormous advantage to the one percent as they select and promote candidates and issues. Big money also facilitates voter suppression and it
pressures the mass media to give unwarranted attention to their claims about the society. All the mainstream media, including the more liberal MSNBC, exaggerated the Romney debate bounce, claims about changing momentum, the closeness of the elections, claims derived from multiple and endless polls, and a hyped cognitive airspace about an alleged appeal that Romney/Ryan had. While much of the election hype was driven by the competition for viewers, there is no doubt that the Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and the millionaire super pacs were able to project their vision well beyond the proportion of those in the society who endorse it.
Even though the power of money should not be dismissed, this election shows once again, the power of the people. The unsung heroes and heroines were the millions of people who stood for hours to vote in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, California, New York, New Jersey and all around the country despite the best efforts of state governments and Tea Party groups to discourage voting.
It would be a great mistake in the future to demean voting, even voting for one of the two major parties. It remains the symbolic hallmark of real democracy. As articulate spokespersons, such as Nina Turner, Ohio State Senator, and Georgia Congressman John Lewis eloquently expressed it, people put their bodies and lives on the line to secure the right to vote. That must never be ignored. What progressives need to work for is a society where that vote can be clearly cast for those who support the people’s interests.
Fourth, building a movement all around the country matters. In 2008, the Democratic Party crafted a 50-state strategy. Resources were channeled into campaigns in states and communities that heretofore had only small progressive movements. But in 2008 that changed and in unlikely places such as Tippecanoe County in North Central Indiana, an overwhelmingly red county, Barack Obama carried the area and Indiana went blue. The same experience occurred elsewhere in states like North Carolina. After 2008, such communities were written off because they were not communities in “swing states.”
Subsequent to 2008, activists in the industrial heartland, some of the western states, and the south were seen as beyond mobilization again. In some places, such as Central Indiana, Eastern North Carolina, and even Ohio, and Wisconsin, those who had mobilized in 2008 remained so despite being written off by the Democratic National Committee (and many progressive groups). The 50-state strategy had the potential for developing into a nationwide social movement. After 2008, the Democratic Party moved away from this approach and some of the Left returned to focusing on progressive politics on the coasts.  In the months ahead, progressive forces need to reexamine the history of social change in America, conceptualizing movement possibilities everywhere, while recognizing the particularities of history, culture, politics, and organizational potentials in different geographic locales.
Finally, progressives need to examine political outcomes in states and communities. Preliminary data indicate that while progressive constituencies rose up angry against reactionary candidates in various state and local races as well as national campaigns, the most rightwing sectors of the one percent control state governments in almost half of the 50 states ( where Republicans control both legislative assemblies). And it is these state governments since 2010 which have imposed right-to-work legislation, attacked collective bargaining for public employees, defunded Planned Parenthood, built private schools and voucher programs that will destroy public schools as we have known them, resolved to impose anti-science subject matter in school curricula, and have systematically ignored environmental hazards. The national government moved “blue” in 2012 while it remains blood “red” in many states.
Progressives need to address many, many more issues in the coming months: the “fiscal cliff,” military spending, drone warfare, climate change, and expanding the health care system for example. The key point is to begin to change now. As one wonderful graphic urged on Facebook election day” “Vote Today, Organize Tomorrow.”


Friday, November 2, 2012


Harry Targ

We live in a country in which wealth and power is grotesquely unequal and getting more so. In such an historical context, the political system functions in two ways. First, and foremost, the political system is designed to create myths, rituals, ideologies, and routinized forms of behavior to reinforce and protect the inequalities that are deeply embedded in the society. This function is manifested in patriotic rituals, appeals to American exceptionalism, prioritizing attention to elections as the one expression of political choice, and the replication of a mythological history of the country’s past and current institutions. Most of us were educated to believe that the American experience has been a two hundred fifty year struggle to achieve perfection. And perfection is the trajectory of America.
But in a democracy, even a flawed one, the institutions of governance offer those who are victims of an unequal distribution of wealth and power an opportunity to change, if not transform, politics and economics. It is critical to realize that the electoral arena and the institutions of government constitute contested terrain. While the tools in the struggle for justice are as unequally distributed as the wealth and power, masses of people--workers, women, minorities, and others historically marginalized--have won victories through political struggle. The historical drive for social and economic justice, American history suggests, has involved mobilizations within the routinized political processes, particularly elections, and in communities, at workplaces, and in the streets. From this point of view all forms of struggle matter. The forms vary in times and places but they all matter nevertheless.
Looking at the electoral arena particularly in a country where the inequalities are so stark and the disenchantment growing, the morality of the discourse of candidates for public office--what they say about themselves and their adversaries--has declined dramatically. The 2012 election campaign began just after Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election. Republican spokespersons declared that their priority project was to make Obama a one-term president. That was followed with four years of hate-filled, racist attacks on the President, peaking first in the Tea Party campaigns and victories in 2010. After 2010, the Republican presidential candidates shifted into high gear with lies, distortions, and clearly racist, sexist, and anti-worker sentiments as standard fare.
The presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney may be evidencing a new low in the history of electoral campaigns. What is a central feature of his 2012 strategy is the regular pattern of proclaiming positions that are tailored for the audiences the candidate is speaking before. Candidate Romney has been pro- and anti-choice, for peace in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and for war against Syria and Iran, for the maintenance of medical insurance coverage for persons with preexisting conditions and against it, for bailing out the auto industry and against it, cutting the federal budget and increasing military spending, cutting taxes for the rich and not cutting taxes for the rich, and defunding FEMA and maintaining it.
This past week as Obama was acting “presidential” dealing with the tragedies of Hurricane Sandy, the Romney campaign was distributing television ads in Ohio declaring that a Jeep manufacturing plant in Toledo was shutting down with jobs shipped to China. This claim was so contrary to Chrysler (the parent company) policy that its CEO issued a rejoinder. Jeep was not shutting down its Ohio operations; if anything there would be increases in jobs at the manufacturing facility. It is unimaginable for those not in the local auto industry to fully grasp the sense of fear and despair that workers in the potentially affected plant might feel when hearing that they would lose their jobs. The lie in these ads was targeted at a particular audience to engender shifts in the intention of Ohio auto workers from voting for the President, whose actions saved the auto industry, to Romney who was denying the efficacy of the President’s policy.
Candidate Romney has been making claims on a whole range of subjects since he began running for president years ago. While the American style of democracy encourages lying as a tool of campaigning for public office, the Romney campaign has taken this tool to a new level. The candidate, and the Tea Party constituency who constitute his base, has embraced a tactic of “shifting lies.” Say one thing before audience A, another before audience B. When the usually docile media calls him on A or B claim, he moves on to claim C.
The level of discourse in the end has therefore sunk to a new low. American politics has become a verbal jousting match between candidates who now are rewarded for saying anything to anybody. Along with a radical transformation of the distribution of wealth and power, the American people need to develop a whole new way of talking about politics. Lying, particularly shifting lies, must be eliminated. Honesty, integrity, basic decency and respect for all remain values worth fighting for.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Harry Targ
Top of FormAfter the outbreak of fighting on the Korean peninsula, NSC 68 was accepted throughout the government as the foundation of American foreign policy (U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian).

The third and last presidential debate of the 2012 election season, October 22, 2012, addressed issues of foreign policy and their connections to the United States economy. The debates reflected the idiosyncrasies of American politics, 2012, as well as the enduring features of the United States empire.

As to the candidate’s realization that he needed to “move to the center,” Mitt Romney tried to portray himself as peace-oriented. This approach contradicted the neo-conservative vision of the 17 of 24 key foreign policy aides advising him. These former Bush advisors and associates of the Project for a New American Century or (PNAC), stand for a foreign policy designed to reestablish United States global hegemony. PNAC, formed in the 1990s, in its official positions argued that the United States, as the last remaining superpower, must use that power to remake the world. The PNAC vision combines the ideology of the United States as the “city on the hill” and the “beacon of hope” for the world, with the advocacy of using overwhelming military force to achieve imperial goals.

Romney, contrary to prior statements, endorsed the Obama administration plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. He, like President Obama, supported the Syrian opposition short of U.S. direct military intervention. He called for maintaining sanctions against Iran to force the latter to end its alleged nuclear program while avoiding war. And Romney, like Obama, endorsed challenging China’s trade policy while engaging in constructive diplomacy with the burgeoning new superpower.  These and other Romney statements mirrored (for better or worse) the foreign policies of President Obama. The flexible Republican candidate “moved to the center” on foreign policy because of  his perceived need to present an image of wisdom and caution to the America voters who oppose a continued presence in Afghanistan, getting directly involved in wars against Syria and Iran,  and the wars on “terrorism,” “drugs,” and other crusades.

However, candidate Romney was firm in his commitment to increasing U.S. defense spending over the next decade, while he would cut domestic programs. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported in September, 2012 that a President Romney would cap total federal spending at 20 percent of GDP by 2016; maintain defense spending at 4 percent of GDP, and rapidly repeal the Affordable Care Act (Richard Kogan and Paul N. Van de Water, “Romney Budget Proposals Would Necessitate Very Large Cuts in Medicaid, Education, Health Research and Other Programs”). President Obama claims that the Romney military project would add two trillion dollars to military spending over the next decade. Even though figures are loosely introduced to debates, it is clear that a Romney presidency would add enormously to naval programs, maintain high levels of troops, and continue drone programs that were expanded during the Obama presidency. In short, military spending would grow in a Romney administration, especially because of ties to the neo-cons and a hawkish Congress which promotes military spending district by district.

The Obama defense budget projected for fiscal year 2013 would total $525 billion, a 2.5 percent decline from the 2012 budget (if inflation is considered). The basic DOD budget request does not include ongoing war costs, U.S. nuclear weapons systems, homeland security, military assistance, or other elements of security. The DOD recommended cuts in troop strength in the army, marines, and reserves. The National Priorities Project reports that an Obama defense budget would modestly increase from about $525 billion in 2013 to just less than $530 billion at the end of a second term.

A Romney administration would unleash the military in terms of expenditures, and, if he listens to his neo-con advisors, worldwide adventures. But, President Obama’s defense budget proposals continue the basic parameters of military spending into the future. As the National Priorities pie chart notes, the 2013 proposed federal budget allocates 57 percent of discretionary spending directly to the military, with 6 percent for education, 6 percent for housing and community, 5 percent for veterans benefits, 3 percent for science, 2 percent for labor, 2 percent for transportation, and 1 percent for food and agriculture.

National Security Council Document 68, written in the bleak Cold War winter of 1950 before the onset of the Korean War recommended that military spending should be the number one priority of every president before he/she discussed any other program or activity of government. NSC 68, just a wild proposal that winter  became policy after the Korean War started and has for the most part continued ever since, costing American workers trillions of dollars in taxes.

The Romney proposal, based on a vision of reestablishing the United States as the global hegemonic power, is based on the principle articulated in NSC 68. Spend more and more on the military and pay for it by cutting everything else. The Obama budget, while more circumspect and committed to the military contributing “their fair share” to the health and well-being of the nation, maintains the same commitment to prioritizing the military.

The task of the peace movement over the coming months is to first challenge the candidacy of Mitt Romney who is committed to reinstituting the principle of NSC 68 and then, if the President  is re-elected, to demand that President Obama reject the 60 year tradition of privileging unnecessary military spending over the basic needs of the American people.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


 Harry Targ
In the missile crisis the Kennedys played their dangerous game skillfully….But all their skill would have been to no avail if in the end Khrushchev had preferred his prestige, as they preferred theirs, to the danger of a world war. In this respect we are all indebted to Khrushchev. (I.F. Stone, “What If Khrushchev Hadn’t Backed Down?” in In a Time of Torment, Vintage, 1967).
The Kennedy Administration Goes to the Brink of Nuclear War
The period between the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the announcement of the Alliance of Progress economic assistance program, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was one of escalating hostilities. Fidel Castro declared Cuba a Socialist state. The United States pressured members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to expel Cuba. The CIA began campaigns to assassinate the Cuban leader and President Kennedy initiated the complete economic blockade that exists until today. In addition, Castro warned that the U.S. was continuing to plan for another invasion. The Soviet Union began providing more economic and military support to the Cubans, including anti-aircraft missiles and jet aircraft.
In October, 1962, U.S. spy planes sighted the construction of Soviet surface-to-air missile installations and the presence of Soviet medium-range bombers on Cuban soil. These sightings were made after Republican leaders had begun to attack Kennedy for allowing a Soviet military presence on the island. Kennedy had warned the Soviets in September not to install “offensive” military capabilities in Cuba. Photos indicated that the Soviets had also begun to build ground-to-ground missile installations on the island, which Kennedy defined as “offensive” and a threat to national security.
After securing the photographs Kennedy assembled a special team of advisors, known as EXCOM, to discuss various responses the United States might make. He excluded any strategy that prioritized taking the issue to the United Nations for resolution.
After much deliberation EXCOM focused on two policy responses: a strategic air strike against Soviet targets in Cuba or a blockade of incoming Soviet ships coupled with threats of further action if the Soviet missiles were not withdrawn. Both options had a high probability of escalating to nuclear war if the Soviet Union refused to back down.
High drama, much of it televised, followed the initiation of a naval blockade of Soviet ships heading across the Atlantic to Cuba. Fortunately, the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, sent notes to the President that led to a tacit agreement between the two leaders whereby Soviet missiles would be withdrawn from Cuba and the United States would promise not to invade Cuba to overthrow the Castro government. In addition, the President indicated that obsolete U.S. missiles in Turkey would be disassembled over time.
Most scholars argue that the missile crisis constituted Kennedy’s finest hour as statesman and diplomat. They agree with the administration view that the missiles constituted a threat to U.S. security, despite Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s claim in EXCOM meetings that the missiles did not change the strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. Most of these scholars have agreed that the symbolic value of the installation of Soviet missiles could have had grave consequences for U.S. “credibility.”
Given the importance of the missiles, leading social scientists have written that the Kennedy team carefully considered a multitude of policy responses. EXCOM did not ignore competing analyses, as had been done in the decisional process prior to the Bay of Pigs. The blockade policy that was adopted, experts believe, constituted a rational application of force that it was hoped would lead to de-escalation of tensions. All observers agreed that the United States and the Soviet Union had gone to the brink of nuclear war. Even the President estimated that there was a fifty percent probability of full-scale nuclear war.
In the end the Soviets withdrew their missiles. Analysts said the Soviet Union suffered a propaganda defeat for putting the missiles on Cuban soil in the first place and then withdrawing them after U.S. threats. Khrushchev was criticized by the Chinese government and within a year he was ousted from leadership in the Soviet Union.
In the light of this U.S. “victory,” Kennedy has been defined as courageous and rational. The real meaning of the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, is different, even fifty years after the event. The crisis actually suggests that the United States quest to maintain and enhance its empire would lead it to go to any extreme, even nuclear war, to defend the interests of capitalism. To avoid serious losses, whether symbolic or material, for capitalism, any policy was justified.
Further, in terms of U.S. politics, Kennedy was calculating the effects of the missiles on the chances for his party to retain control of Congress in 1962. A second “defeat” over Cuba (the Bay of Pigs was the first) would have heightened the opposition’s criticisms of his foreign policy.
Finally, in personal terms, Kennedy was driven by the need to establish a public image as courageous and powerful in confronting the Soviets. Khrushchev had spoken harshly to him at a summit meeting in Vienna in 1961 and Castro had been victorious at the Bay of Pigs. The President’s own “credibility” had been damaged and a show of force in October, 1962, was necessary for his career.
Because of imperialism, politics, and personal political fortunes, the world almost went to nuclear war fifty years ago. As I.F. Stone suggested shortly after the crisis, nuclear war was avoided because the Soviet Union chose to withdraw from the tense conflict rather than to engage in it further.
National Security Archives files referred to in an earlier blog suggest, “the historical record shows that the decisions leading to the crisis which almost brought nuclear war have been repeated over and over again since the early 1960s”  ( The danger of the unabashed and irresponsible use of force and the legitimation of the idea that diplomacy can be conducted using nuclear weapons and other devastating weapons systems still represents a threat to human survival.
These comments were adapted from Harry Targ, Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II, 1986. It is the third essay in a series on “The Cuba Story” available at

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Harry Targ

I have called on all the people of the hemisphere to join in a new Alliance for Progress - Alianza para Progreso - a vast cooperative effort, unparalleled in magnitude and nobility of purpose, to satisfy the basic needs of the American people for homes, work and land, health and schools - techo, trabajo y tierra, salud y escuela….
To achieve this goal political freedom must accompany material progress. Our Alliance for Progress is an alliance of free governments-and it must work to eliminate tyranny from a hemisphere in which it has no rightful place. Therefore let us express our special friendship to the people of Cuba and the Dominican Republic-and the hope they will soon rejoin the society of free men, uniting with us in our common effort (Address by President Kennedy at a White House reception for Latin American diplomats and members of Congress, March 13, 1961).
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable (Address by President Kennedy to diplomats one year after his Alliance for Progress speech. March 13, 1962).

The Alliance for Progress as a “Non-Communist” Path to Development
The Kennedy Administration initiated a policy of foreign assistance in Latin America to complement the United States’ historic use of military force in the region. The President’s economic program was announced in the aftermath of long-standing complaints from Latin American dictators and some elected leaders that the United States had supported European recovery, the celebrated Marshall Plan of the 1940s, but ignored the Western Hemisphere. Most importantly, the Kennedy Administration and anti-Communist friends in the Hemisphere became increasingly concerned about the enthusiasm the Cuban revolution was generating in the region.
In the midst of what was presented to the public as the “threat of Communism” in Latin America, Kennedy presented his “Alliance for Progress” aid package to diplomats and Congressmen on March 3, 1961 (about one month before JFK authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion).
The Alliance, the President promised, would provide public and private assistance equivalent to $20 billion to Latin American countries over a ten-year period. The plan projected annual growth rates in Latin America of 2.5 percent and would lead to the alleviation of malnutrition, poor housing and health, single-crop economies, and iniquitous landholding patterns (all campaigns underway in revolutionary Cuba).
Loans were contingent upon the recipient governments, and their political and economic elites, carrying out basic land reform, establishing progressive taxation, creating social welfare programs, and expanding citizenship and opportunities for political participation.
However, the effect of the Alliance, even before Kennedy’s death, was negative. Problems of poverty, declining growth rates, inflation, lower prices for export commodities, and the maintenance of autocratic and corrupt governments persisted. The reality of the Alliance and most other aid programs was that they were predicated on stabilizing those corrupt ruling classes that had been the source of underdevelopment in the first place.
The connections between the Alliance program and the interests of United States capital were clear. For example, a section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1962 authorized the president to cut off aid to any nation which nationalized or placed “excessive” taxes on U.S. corporations or which terminated contacts with U.S. firms. The act also emphasized monetary stability and the kinds of austerity programs common to U.S. and International Monetary Fund aid, requiring nations receiving aid to reduce public services and to maintain low wage rates to entice foreign investment. Further, Alliance funds were often to be used to serve the interests of foreign capital; for example building roads, harbors, and transportation facilities to speed up the movement of locally produced but foreign-owned goods to international markets.
Finally, the symbolism of the Alliance proclamation by President Kennedy was designed to promote the idea that U.S. resources, in collaboration with reformism in Latin America, would create societies that met the needs of the people and encouraged their political participation. The Alliance was presented as a response to Fidel Castro, a “non-Communist manifesto” for development.
The record of poverty and military rule throughout the Hemisphere suggested that there was no correspondence between symbol and reality. Kennedy, in a moment of unusual frankness, was reported to have said that the United States preferred liberal regimes in Latin America, but if they could not be maintained, it would much prefer a right-wing dictatorship to a leftist regime. After Kennedy’s death, Thomas Mann, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, in the Johnson Administration, told reporters that U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere was not about economic development or democratization but fighting Communism and protecting U.S. economic interests.
In reality, the frankness about the motivations behind U.S. policy expressed by Kennedy after the Alliance speech and Thomas Mann after Kennedy’s death clearly showed that the bottom line in terms of U.S. policy remained support for international capital. The Castros of this world, the Kennedy Administration believed (as has every administration since), had to be crushed at all costs. What remained significant over the next sixty years was that the Cuban revolution could not be defeated.
As the next essay in this series suggests, the Kennedy Administration, having failed to overthrow Cuban socialism at the Bay of Pigs, nor diminish its luster in the region through the economic bribery of the Alliance for Progress program, was willing to go to the brink of nuclear war, the Cuban Missile crisis, to combat socialism in the Western Hemisphere.

This essay is the second of three articles that address U.S./Cuban relations that culminated in a crisis over Cuba that almost led to nuclear war. These essays are adapted from my book, Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II, 1986.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Harry Targ

The 50 year anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis is approaching. In an introduction to the presentation of new documents on the crisis the National Security Archives warned  that “the combination of nuclear weapons and human fallibility will eventually result in nuclear destruction if these weapons are not abolished” ( The historical record shows that the decisions leading to the crisis which almost brought nuclear war have been repeated over and over again since the early 1960s.
Particularly, the Kennedy Administration pursued numerous policies to forestall revolutionary ferment in the Western Hemisphere. These included covert military action, economic assistance, and nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. The next three blog essays address these policies. They are adapted from my book on United States foreign policy during the Cold War (Strategy of an Empire in Decline: Cold War II. 1986)
The United States Invades Cuba
Before Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement seized power in Cuba in January, 1959, the United States had long controlled the island nation ninety miles from its shores. The country was ruled by dictator, Fulgencio Batista, a close ally of the United States, who, through repression and corruption, generated large-scale opposition in the countryside and the cities. In 1958 the State Department urged Batista to turn control over to a caretaker government, to forestall the victory of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camillo Cienfuegos, and their growing guerrilla armies, who were on the verge of overthrowing the dictator. Batista rejected the pressure to flee. His U.S. backed armies and police were defeated. The revolutionaries were victorious.
Before the revolution, United States investors controlled 80 percent of Cuba’s utilities, 90 percent of its mines, 90 percent of its cattle ranches, its three oil refineries, half its railroads, and 40 percent of its sugar. In a land rich with human and natural resources and a modern infrastructure and a tourist sector second to none in the Hemisphere, 600,000 Cubans were unemployed, more than half the population lived in slums, and one-half the population had no access to electricity. Forty percent of the Cuban population was illiterate, most Cubans spent much of their income on rent, and among wealthy Cubans, 1.5 percent of landowners owned 46 percent of the land.
When the Castro-led revolutionaries assumed office, they began to develop a series of policies to alleviate the worst features of Cuban poverty. The revolutionary government invested in housing, schools, and public works. Salaries were raised, electrical rates were cut, rents were reduced by half. On a visit to the United States in April, 1959, Castro, who had proposed a large-scale assistance program for the Western Hemisphere to the Eisenhower Administration, was ignored by the President.
Returning from a hostile visit to Washington, Castro announced a redistributive program of agrarian reform that generated opposition from conservative Cuban and American landowners. These policies involved transfers of land to the Cuban people from the huge estates owned by the wealthy. The Eisenhower administration responded by reducing the quantity of United States purchases of Cuban sugar. Cuba then nationalized the industry.
In February, 1960 Cuba signed trade agreements with the Soviet Union. The Soviets agreed to exchange their oil for sugar no longer purchased by the U.S.  When the U.S. owned oil refineries refused to refine the Soviet oil, the Cuban government nationalized them.
In July, 1960, the U.S. cut all sugar purchases. Over the next several months the Cuban government nationalized U.S. owned corporations and banks on the island. Therefore, between the spring of 1960 and January 1961 U.S. and Cuban economic ties came to a halt and the island nation had established formal diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Shortly before Eisenhower left office, the break was made symbolically complete with the U.S. termination of formal diplomatic relations with Cuba.
As U.S./Cuban economic and diplomatic tensions were escalating, President Eisenhower made a decision that in the future would lead the world to the brink of nuclear war. In March, 1960, he ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to create a Cuban exile force that would invade the island and depose Fidel Castro. Even the State Department knew at that time that Castro was enormously popular.
In April, 1961, the newly elected President Kennedy was presented with an invasion plan by the CIA. The agency claimed that the right-wing Cubans would be greeted as heroes when they landed at the Bay of Pigs. After the Castro regime was overthrown, all private assets would be returned, and a Batista-like government would be reestablished.
The Bay of Pigs invasion, April 17-19, 1961, was launched by fifteen hundred Cuban exiles. It was an immediate failure: 500 invaders were killed and the rest captured. No uprising against the revolutionary government occurred. Kennedy was criticized in the United States for not providing sufficient air support to protect the invading army. The critics ignored the fact that the revolutionary government had the support of workers and peasants who would fight to defend it.
After the invasion attempt failed, President Kennedy warned of the danger of the “menace of external Communist intervention and domination in Cuba.” He saw a need to respond to Communism, whether in Cuba or South Vietnam. In the face of perceived Communist danger to the Western Hemisphere he reserved the right to intervene as needed. The lesson he drew from the Bay of Pigs was the need for escalated adventurism, not caution.
(The next blog essay will describe a desperate effort to challenge the influence of the Cuban revolution by establishing an economic assistance program for the Hemisphere. The final blog essay will describe the events that led the world to the brink of nuclear war, the Cuban Missile Crisis).