Sunday, May 27, 2012


Harry Targ

Progressives look to cities and states that have been models of legislation and activism for inspiration. Of course, East Coasters look to New York City and West Coasters get their ideas from the Bay Area.  If you grow up in “the Heartland,” that is the Midwest, you take from the historic example of certain states, such as Wisconsin.

A long time ago a noted political scientist, John Fenton, studied the politics of six Midwestern states identifying central features dividing them. The so-called “job-oriented states,” Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, were driven by money, power, and politics narrowly defined. The “issue-oriented states,” Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, had a politics that was significantly shaped by political ideologies and the promotion of various progressive values and principles.

Taking Wisconsin as a prime example, the state has historically distinguished itself by recognizing the right of public sector workers to form unions, the election of a Socialist mayor in Milwaukee, and the creation of a viable Progressive Party with presidential candidate Robert La Follette senior winning 17 percent of the vote in 1924 (the state of Wisconsin was carried by candidate La Follette).

Madison, Wisconsin was one of the homes of the intellectual and activist ferment that became “the 60s.” The “revisionist “ school of scholarship concerning the United States as an imperial power was popularized in the history department of the University of Wisconsin.  Among those activists that did some reading, William Appleman Williams’ ground-breaking , The Tragedy of American Diplomacy,  helped to reshape thinking about United States foreign policy. One of the premier journals of the early New Left, Studies on the Left, was initiated on the Madison campus. In addition, many remember Wisconsin politicians who crossed the line from Democrat to progressive over the years, from William Proxmire, to Russ Feingold, to Tammy Baldwin.

So watching the rise to power of Scott Walker and a bevy of tea party Republicans to office in 2010, such that the entire state government apparatus came under their control, was a puzzle to casual Heartland observers. Of course, progressives forget that Wisconsin was also the home of the very popular, at least for a time, Senator Joseph McCarthy who set the standard for public condemnation of those who disagreed with him and his rightwing colleagues and followers. Therefore, like most places, the political landscape in Wisconsin has been contradictory.
The Wisconsin contradiction has been no more glaring than during the time frame from early 2011 until today. The Walker administration, with no effort at dialogue and compromise, signed legislation denying most public sector workers the right to organize. He later worked to repeal existing legislation requiring equal pay for women. He, and his Republican legislature, embraced completely the legislative package of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to reverse the populism that shaped Wisconsin’s political tradition.

These moves sparked an enormous outrage and political mobilization of opponents that fundamentally brought the spirit of Arab Spring to the United States. It can fairly be said that there was an inspirational link between Tunisia; Tahrir Square in Egypt; to Madison, Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana; to the Dream Coalition; and most recently to the Occupy Movement. The Wisconsin opposition to the near fascist agenda of Scott Walker and his minions has essentially “brought the war home,” as a 60s slogan defined it.

But now the passion for fighting back against reaction and moving the country back on the path to progress is being threatened.  Just a week from now Wisconsin voters will decide whether the recalled Governor Walker will be reelected or be replaced by Democratic Party challenger Tom Barrett. The polls look like Walker could win reelection.

It is true that the rightwing billionaires--the Koch brothers and others--have outspent the Barrett forces 25 to 1. In a capitalist system money talks but money does not always determine the outcome. People-power which led to the recall of Walker in the first place overcame money in April.  And people-power must be the main resource if Barrett is to defeat Walker and the right. However, the national Democratic Party, from the Democratic National Committee, to President Obama, to Vice President Biden, to the Progressive Caucus in the House should be involved. And it remains a puzzle why Republican governors and billionaires are campaigning in Wisconsin while prominent Democrats are not visible with the exception of former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.

Progressive forces around the country need to understand that the future of national, as well as state, politics will be affected by the outcome of the Walker/Barrett race. A Barrett victory could begin to reverse the process of assault on public sector unionism (and not just in Wisconsin). A Barrett victory might give energy to those in Wisconsin and all over the country who oppose attacks on public education (k-12, and university levels). A Barrett win would be an important step in the long-term “fight-the right” campaign which will continue even beyond the 2012 presidential election.
Perhaps most importantly, the defeat of Walker and his Republican legislative colleagues will give energy and enthusiasm to grassroots movements, which began in Wisconsin and spread like wild fire around the country. It will prove that people-power can trump money-power.  And, it will give proof once again that so-called “inside/outside” strategies remain useful tools for organizing. That is, as progressives build social movements, they use the electoral processes at their disposal to bring alternative visions to the people.

And, it needs to be said that a defeat for reform will be a defeat for progressive forces, not only in Wisconsin but nationally.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Harry Targ

When I was about two years old my folks moved to a large apartment on Roscoe and Broadway Streets,  on the north side of Chicago, about one mile from Wrigley Field. This was during World War II and apartments were scarce. My grandmother lived with us and at least one of my mom’s brothers.

In those days the city was still known as “the Hog Butcher of the World,” as Carl Sandburg called it. Not only did the city house the meatpacking industry but also the steel industry, textiles, and electronics. But all of these industries, the heart and soul of Chicago, were centered primarily on the South, West, and near North sections of the city. The smells (particularly the Stockyards), the sounds and the worldwide image of the city came from these centers of production, unionization, and commerce.  But where I grew up, even during the World War, the atmosphere was shaped by the baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, at Wrigley Field a mile from where I lived. The air was infused with a narcotic, the more you breathe the more you forgot about victory, success, pride in workmanship, and even athleticism. Yes I was born to be a Cubs fan.

When I was about 7 years old, a friend of the family took me to my first Cubs game, a double-header. Only one image stands out from that initial experience. Phil Cavarretta, the Cubs first baseman, and batting champion in 1945 when most men were still in Europe or Asia fighting World War II, hit a game leading home run. However, as he rounded the bases he forgot to touch second base, or at least that was what one of the umpires ruled. Cavaretta’s homer was ruled a double. That decision led fans to shower pounds of paper products across the beautiful grass along the outfield. It took an hour to clean up the mess, to get the fans calmed down and for the game to resume.  My host had to leave so I don’t know if we ever found out who won that game. But in retrospect, what was significant was not so much whether the game would go in the Cubs win column or whether Cavarretta would have his hit count as a homer. The significance, I suppose, was that I was left with a feeling of passion for the Cubs at least until last week, a blind loyalty to the team even after I lost interest in the sport.
I still remember my first sports hero, outfielder/third baseman Andy Pafko. He was a slow fielding power hitter who was a Cubs star for about five years. When we moved further North in the city (I was about 10 years old), my hero Andy Pafko appeared at the Little Men’s store on Devon Avenue to sign autographs. I was pretty mad at my parents for not taking me to see Andy but that anger passed as I heard, the very next day , that Pafko was traded to the old Brooklyn Dodgers for Gene Hermanski. Maybe that shocking trade was the first planting of a seed of anger at big capital that would manifest itself in subsequent years in my radical and activist politics.

In the years since 1950, one event after another dashed my hopes about a bright Cubs future, even as my commitment to this sorry team deepened. Shortstop Roy Smalley, an athlete with a terrific arm, regularly threw balls intended for the first basemen into the stands miles beyond its target. The Cubs at one time acquired Ralph Kiner, aging home run hitter to traverse the outfield with home run star Hank Sauer. These almost immobile home run hitters played beside poor Frankie Baumholtz, the center fielder whose career was shortened by years because he had to cover the entire outfield.

In the mid 1950s the Cubs reluctantly broke the Chicago “color line.”  They recruited the great Negro League home run hitting shortstop Ernie Banks and a good second baseman, Gene Baker, to complete the double play combo. Later, they acquired a Hall of Fame African American outfielder, Billy Williams.

Ernie Banks coined a slogan that to me was as meaningful as “Workers of the World Unite” when he would say at the end of each season, “Wait til Next Year.” Unfortunately next year never came and the great Ernie Banks became a Republican. (I won’t even remind the reader that a young Ronald Reagan would broadcast Cubs games from a ticker tape, making up what was going on in the field without even being there. In addition, one of the Cubs major supporters until this day from the world of punditry is George Will!)
I could go on. The Cubs did make post-season playoffs in 1984, 1989, 2003, 2007, and 2008 but nothing inspired a fan’s enthusiasm more than the Cubs fifth place finish in 1952 (before the National League was divided into divisions). Radio commentator Jean Shepherd was reminiscing about his youthful indiscretion once; his support of the cross town losing rival the White Sox. He said one time he and his friends watched the White Sox lose a game 4 to 3 and they afterwards went out and held a victory celebration. That has been what life is like if one is a Chicagoan in residence and in spirit.

Well, my wife declared last year that “enough was enough.” Being a Cubs fan for 60 years without any positive reinforcement she felt is more than any person should be expected to endure. The loss of six playoff games in a row in 2007 and 2008 was more than she could take. I felt she was betraying a sacred trust, an obligation that we Chicagoans were ordained to honor. But she said no.
As I hinted at above, news stories last week have forced me to join my wife in redirecting my life. I could take 100 years without a World Series. I could adjust to the trade of the greatest Cub, Andy Pafko. I could remember with fondness Smalley’s wild throws into the stands. But what I cannot accept is the effort by Joe Ricketts the father of the current Cubs ownership, to fund a $10 million anti-Obama campaign that would highlight a racist attack linking the incumbent to his former minister Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Reverend Wright, an articulate and militant opponent of racism in the United States was unfairly tarnished during the 2008 election campaign and Obama, instead of defending his former minister, separated himself from him.

By revisiting the Wright/Obama affair, this proposed campaign was designed to stigmatize those who oppose racism, link the president with so-called “Black militancy,” and in the main use another coded form of racism to build opposition to the president. And to make matters even more bizarre, the senior Ricketts funds Koch brothers-like campaigns while his children seek massive tax breaks from Chicagoans to renovate my beloved Wrigley Field.

There comes a time when loyalties borne in impetuous youth must take a back seat to political principle. In this case, the billionaires of this world, unleashed by the Supreme Court, are working to reverse our political and economic life, returning to the extremes of class exploitation, racism, and sexism. The vision of “workers of the world unite” must take precedence over “wait til next year.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Harry Targ

During World War II an “unnatural alliance” was created between the United States, Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union. What brought the three countries together, the emerging imperial giant, the declining capitalist power, and the first socialist state, was the shared need to defeat fascism in Europe. Rhetorically, the high point of collaboration was reflected in the agreements made at the Yalta Conference, in February, 1945 three months before the German armies were defeated.
At Yalta, the great powers made decisions to facilitate democratization of former Nazi regimes in Eastern Europe, a “temporary” division of Germany for occupation purposes, and a schedule of future Soviet participation in the ongoing war against Japan. Leaders of the three states returned to their respective countries celebrating the “spirit of Yalta,” what would be a post-war world order in which they would work through the new United Nations system to modulate conflict in the world.
Within two years, after conflicts over Iran with the Soviet Union, the Greek Civil War, the replacement of wartime President Franklin Roosevelt with Harry Truman, and growing challenges to corporate rule in the United States by militant labor, Truman declared in March, 1947 that the United States and its allies were going to be engaged in a long-term struggle against the forces of “International Communism.” The post-war vision of cooperation was reframed as a struggle of the “free world” against “tyranny.”
In addition to Truman’s ideological crusade, his administration launched an economic program to rebuild parts of Europe, particularly what would become West Germany, as capitalist bastions against the ongoing popularity of Communist parties throughout the region. Along with the significant program of reconstructing capitalism in Europe and linking it by trade, investment, finance, and debt to the United States, the U.S. with its new allies constructed a military alliance that would be ready to fight the Cold War against International Communism.
Representatives of Western European countries met in Brussels in 1948 to establish a program of common defense and one year later with the addition of the United States and Canada, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed. The new NATO charter, inspired largely by a prior Western Hemisphere alliance, the Rio Pact (1947), proclaimed that “an armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all…” which would lead to an appropriate response. The Charter called for cooperation and military preparedness among the 12 signatories. After the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb and the Korean War started, NATO pushed ahead with the development of a common military command structure with General Eisenhower as the first “Supreme Allied Commander.”
After the founding of NATO and its establishment as a military arm of the West, the Truman administration adopted the policy recommendations in National Security Council Document 68 (NSC 68) in 1950 which declared that military spending for the indefinite future would be the number one priority of every presidential administration. As Western European economies reconstructed, Marshall Plan aid programs were shut down and military assistance to Europe was launched. Greece and Turkey joined NATO in 1952, and fueling the flames of Cold War, West Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955. (This stimulated the Soviet Union to construct its own alliance system, the Warsaw Pact, with countries from Eastern Europe).
During the Cold War NATO continued as the only unified Western military command structure against the “Soviet threat.” While forces and funds only represented a portion of the U.S. global military presence, the alliance constituted a “trip wire” signifying to the Soviets that any attack on targets in Western Europe would set off World War III. NATO thus provided the deterrent threat of “massive retaliation” in the face of first-strike attack.
With the collapse of the former Warsaw Pact regimes between 1989 and 1991, the tearing down of the symbolic Berlin Wall in 1989, and finally the collapse of the Soviet Union itself in 1991, the purpose for maintaining a NATO alliance presumably had passed. However, this was not to be.
In the next twenty years after the Soviet collapse, membership in the alliance doubled. New members included most of the former Warsaw Pact countries. The functions and activities of NATO were redefined. NATO programs included air surveillance during the crises accompanying the Gulf War and the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. In 1995, NATO sent 60,000 troops to Bosnia and in 1998-99 it carried out brutal bombing campaigns in Serbia with 38,000 sorties. NATO forces became part of the U.S. led military coalition that launched the war on Afghanistan in 2001. In 2011 a massive NATO air war on Libya played a critical role in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.
An official history of NATO described the changes in its mission: “In 1991 as in 1949, NATO was to be the foundation stone for a larger, pan-European security architecture.” The post-Cold War mission of NATO combines “military might, diplomacy, and post-conflict stabilization.”
The NATO history boldly concludes that the alliance was founded on defense in the 1950s and d├ętente with the Soviet Union in the 1960s. With the collapse of Communism in the 1990s it became a “tool for the stabilization of Eastern Europe and Central Asia through incorporation of new Partners and Allies.” The 21st century vision of NATO has expanded further: “extending peace through the strategic projection of security.” This new mission, the history said, was forced upon NATO because of the failure of nation-states and extremism.
Reviewing this brief history of NATO, observers can reasonably draw different conclusions about NATO’s role in the world than from those who celebrate its world role. First, NATO’s mission to defend Europe from aggression against “International Communism” was completed with the “fall of Communism.” Second, the alliance was regional, that is pertaining to Europe and North America, and now it is global. Third, NATO was about security and defense. Now it is about global transformation. Fourth, as its biggest supporter in terms of troops, supplies and budget (22-25%), NATO is an instrument of United States foreign policy. Fifth, as a creation of Europe and North America, it has become an enforcer of the interests of member countries against, what Vijay Prashad calls, the “darker nations” of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Sixth, NATO has become the 21st century military instrumentality of global imperialism. And finally, there is growing evidence that larger and larger portions of the world’s people have begun to stand up against NATO.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Harry Targ

On May Day, 2012 President Obama made a secret trip to Afghanistan and spoke to the nation and the troops on the ground about past, present, and future policy. What the speech revealed was a replication of a ten-year fantasy narrative about why we went to war on Afghanistan, what our goals were, and what the future holds in the region for the United States and, most importantly, the Afghan people.

The President announced he was signing an agreement between the two countries which will define “a new kind of relationship” in which Afghans will assume primary responsibility for their security and “we build an equal partnership between two sovereign states.” The future of this relationship will be bright as “the war ends, and a new chapter begins.”

The announcement sounded eerily like the policy of “Vietnamization” which President Nixon put in place in 1969; handing over ground action to the South Vietnamese government while the United States escalated the bombing of targets in North and South Vietnam and invaded neighboring Cambodia. The South Vietnamese government and military were incapable of assuming “primary responsibility” and in the end were overthrown by powerful forces in the countryside.

The President explained that President Bush correctly launched a war on Afghanistan in October, 2001 because the country allowed terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden an al Qaeda “safe-haven” for terrorist planning and attacks, ultimately leading to the tragedy of 9/11. While Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan, the U.S. continued fighting the Taliban who have “waged a brutal insurgency.”

Subsequently, he claimed, using the dehumanized language of violence –prone discourse, the U.S. military has “taken out over 20 of their top leaders” including bin Laden himself. But the war continues. While the United States downsizes its troop commitments policy will include:

--a transition of the war to our Afghan military allies. Importantly Obama proclaimed that at the NATO summit this month in Chicago, “our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year.” However, “international troops will continue to train, advise and assist Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed.”

--training of Afghan Security Forces, leading to an Afghan force of 352,000 troops which NATO will support to create “a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force.”

--increasing US/NATO/Afghan cooperation “including shared commitments to combat terrorism and strengthen democratic institutions.” President Obama declared that these commitments, in the short run involving counter-terrorism and continued training, do not include the building of permanent U.S. bases.

--pursuing a negotiated peace with the Taliban if they break with al Qaeda, renounce violence and “abide by Afghan laws.”

--working towards stability in South Asia, including partnering with neighboring Pakistan. The President assured viewers that “America has no designs beyond an end to al Qaeda safe-havens, and respect for Afghan sovereignty.” In short, the central goal of United States policy is to destroy al Qaeda, in the short run to stabilize Afghanistan, and “to finish the job we started in Afghanistan…”

The speech reflects the classic pattern of U.S. military globalization coupled with  tortured ahistorical fantasy narratives that have characterized policy since the end of World War II.

The President rationalized a ten-year war on a nation in which terrorists resided because Afghan leaders refused to hand over alleged perpetrators without some evidence of the connection between them and 9/11.

Also, the initial narrative, reflected in the President’s speech last week, conflated the al Qaeda terrorists with the so-called Taliban. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s with support from the United States. Some of these Afghan government officials had been recipients of military aid in the 1980s when they fought against the regime in Kabul that was allied with the former Soviet Union.

Neither Bush nor Obama have ever explained to the public who our enemy is. Has al Qaeda been clearly defined? What political, ethnic, and regional constituencies do the Taliban come from? Do we know much about the political forces in Afghanistan the Karzai regime represents?

Is the president correct to suggest that the United States and the Karzai government are winning the hearts and minds of the people outside Kabul, despite consistently negative reports to the contrary in the media?

Along with not being told who the enemy is and why they are the enemy neither Bush nor Obama have described how many of them there are, where they are located, how they are connected in a presumed worldwide network, and most basically how we know that a worldwide network of terrorists really exists. Recently released documents from the bin Laden compound suggest that while he wanted to promote terrorist attacks on the United States there was a communications disconnect between the alleged worldwide terrorist leader and various related organizations around the world.

Mother Jones reported on their website on May 4 devastating statistics concerning the U.S war on Afghanistan since 2001. These included costs for military operations since 2001 of $443.3 billion; the estimated cost per soldier in country in 2011 of $694,000; U.S. soldiers killed in action 1,507 and wounded 15,560. Also U.S military spending has doubled since 2000.And between 2004-2112 there have been 296 drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 17 percent of those killed were not affiliated with targeted enemies. And civilians killed in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011 totaled 12,793.

Former Senator J. William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was interviewed in the Vietnam documentary Hearts and Minds, about why he turned against the war in Vietnam in 1965. His friend, President Lyndon Johnson dramatically escalated U.S. military action in Vietnam, with Congressional approval, after the Gulf of Tonkin incident allegedly occurred. Johnson claimed that the North Vietnamese engaged in unprovoked attacks on two U.S. naval vessels in international waters on August 2 and 4, 1964. Johnson used these claims to get Congressional approval of military escalation in Vietnam.

 Fulbright said in the documentary that: “We always hesitate in public to use the dirty word lie, but a lie is a lie. It is a misrepresentation of fact. It is supposed to be a criminal act if it’s done under oath. Mr. Johnson didn’t say it under oath. He just said it. We don’t usually have the president under oath.”

The war on Afghanistan since October, 2001 has been a lie and U.S troops, the Afghan people, and all those who could have been served by a more just allocation of our national treasure have been victims of this lie.

There are many reasons to support President Obama’s reelection. However, the peace movement must increase its attack on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, as it continues to repeat the mistakes of the past.