Monday, June 25, 2012


Harry Targ

Big banks, multinational corporations, political parties, and upcoming elections dominate our public discourse as they should. But there is a danger that the fabric of social institutions is being transformed before our eyes but yet beyond our consciousness. Such is the case of the radical changes occurring in education, from kindergarten through college.

Calls for free, open, accessible, and transparent education have been a tradition almost as long as the rhetorical commitment to democracy itself. In fact most people believe that education, democracy, and the economy are inextricably connected. However, the education/democracy connection has been weakening ever since the 1960s.

After World War II, the GI Bill began providing educational opportunities for returning veterans. They were to become the trained work force and expanding consumers for a booming economy. However, the expansion of higher education was coupled with a campaign to purge dangerous and subversive professors and curricula from the university. Access to higher education spread while the range of ideas studied narrowed.
In the 1960s, student activists, now enrolled in thousands of small and large colleges and universities, rebelled against the narrowing focus of knowledge. The   university as the site for training to advance capitalism and technical skills, what Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California called “the multiversity,” was challenged; for a time successfully. Academic programs that did not fit traditional classical studies or new scientific/technical fields were allowed to flower and grow.

The so-called Reagan revolution brought a shift in economic policy downsizing the growth in the welfare state, government spending for social safety nets, and support for public institutions such as education. In addition, the new ideology preached privatization, shifting public sector spending for the provision of services to the marketplace. By the 1990s, both political parties endorsed public policies that decreased support for the many to further economic rewards for the few. Tax breaks for the rich, cuts in welfare protections, declining support for public education, public libraries, transportation, and housing continued the shift in wealth from the working class to the economic ruling class.
Rightwing radio host Rush Limbaugh once remarked that the economic and political transformation of U.S. society was near complete. The only institution which the rightwing did not control was the university. By the 1990s powerful groups began to remake the university too.

Since the dawn of the new century higher education budgets have been slashed. College tuitions are skyrocketing, class size is increasing, and many of the programs designed to develop new ways of thinking about the world (particularly in the social sciences and humanities) are being cut.
State universities originally created to educate small farmers and workers in order to advance their economic status have become low-cost research arms of huge corporations such as Eli Lilly in pharmaceuticals and Monsanto, in the agricultural sector (both are huge worldwide corporations). In the 21st century universities have not shrunk. More and more top heavy administrations and human relations departments control the main activities that used to be determined by faculty.

The process of selecting university presidents reflects the qualitative changes occurring in higher education. At the University of Virginia, President Teresa Sullivan, was ousted recently in a secret coup engineered by the “Board of Visitors,” a seventeen person body that controls major policy decisions at that university. Of the 17 only four members had any higher education experience but the body in total contributed over $800,000 to candidates for state office; $680,000 to Republicans and $150,000 to Democrats. The Governor appoints this body. And in the case of ousted President Sullivan, it objected to her consultation with Deans and faculty before making decisions about shifting budgets. Unusual in this day and age, 2,000 students and faculty recently rallied on campus to demand her reinstatement.
In Indiana the Purdue University Board of Trustees (10 of 12 selected by sitting Governor Mitch Daniels) announced that it was appointing Daniels to be Purdue University’s twelfth president. Daniels will be completing his second term as Governor and will take office as Purdue’s president in January, 2013.

Daniels has been a visible politician over the last decade in several arenas. These include a stint as President Bush’s Budget Director from 2001 to 2004 when taxes were lowered, two wars were launched, and the seeds were planted for the current economic crisis. Daniels was elected Indiana’s governor in 2004. In his first day in office he eliminated the prior Governor’s order that allowed public sector workers to unionize. Subsequently, he led Hoosier rightwing politicians in supporting charter schools with public money, cutting education spending at all levels by $150 million (including a $30 million cut in higher education), sold off some of Indiana’s highway system to European investors, shifted family services to an ill-equipped private corporation, and cut funding for reproductive health services. He worked to pass a so-called Right-to-Work bill after telling union supporters that he would never do that.
In addition, Daniels served as an executive at Eli Lilly, and CEO at the conservative think tank, the Hudson Institute, and was affiliated with an on-line university, Western Governors University, that could potentially compete with state colleges and universities. Most important Daniels has no administrative experience in higher education except appointing the Board of Trustees members who in secret carried out a presidential search that led to his appointment.

The political corruption and dubious merit of the selection of Daniels as Purdue President are obvious. What is less obvious is that this appointment like the appointment of many other university presidents and the firing of Virginia President Theresa Sullivan, is part of the shift in higher education from a model of the university as a site for research and teaching about ideas and as an institution that serves the needs of the society at large to a corporate model.
The GI Bill educated a whole generation of veterans to lift themselves and society. The expansion of the meaning of the university as a result of student protest and the civil rights movements of the 1960s brought new ideas to a larger number of young people.

Educator Henry Giroux put it well: “Knowledge has become capital to invest in the market but has little to do with the power of self-definition, civic commitments, or ethical responsibilities….and with questions of justice.” In the end, this is most troubling about the transformation of the modern university which appointments of presidents like Governor Daniels signify.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Harry Targ
I have been thinking about Wisconsin a lot over the last week. Since I spent five days in Milwaukee visiting my daughter, by today’s journalistic standards, that time makes me an expert on Wisconsin. So I feel compelled to make a few comments on the outcome of the recent recall election in that state.

First, and perhaps most important, the forces supporting the incumbent Governor Scott Walker, the Lt. Governor, and three of four state senators also forced into recall elections were victorious because they had the most votes. Those of us on the Left as well as the other side and the so-called “mainstream” media have a propensity to over-theorize. We often forget that in any institutionalized competition some win and others lose. I don’t think that contests constitute a good way to organize public life, but in a society based on competition there are winners and losers.
Second, Wisconsin has been a deeply divided political state. In fact, two important political figures in the state’s history personify the political divisions that shaped competition in the state and the United States at large for at least one hundred years. Senator Joseph McCarthy represented the outlook shared by many that government is the enemy of humankind. To further tyranny, subversive forces from time to time infest institutions with ideologies that are essentially anti-American. And to the contrary, Senators Robert LaFollette Senior and Junior represented that strand of political discourse that sees the possibility of creating governmental institutions that can protect the innocent from the criminal, provide for the less fortunate, and use public resources to advance human possibility. Descendants of both political traditions have fought it out over the years, often splitting national and state offices. And the battle of ideas that have their roots in these political figures has never been more intense than since 2010.

Third, according to exit polls sixty percent of the electorate opposed having the recall election at all. Apparently respondents felt that recall elections should be reserved for situations when incumbent politicians violated a public trust. And for these people supporting draconian policies to crush public sector unions, abolish equal pay for equal work,  and reduce public health care and educational services did not measure up to allegations of criminality. These ideas were propagated in well-crafted television advertisements. It could be that a certain percentage of those who voted for Walker did so because they opposed the recall rather than supported his rule.
Fourth, the leadership of the Democratic Party including the President himself remained absent from endorsement or work for the insurgent Barrett candidacy (Only the recycled and overrated Bill Clinton made a big splash near the end of the campaign and, as always,  the important contribution of the Reverend Jesse Jackson was largely ignored by the media). From their point of view, since Barrett was bound to lose, active participation would damage the reelection chances of Barack Obama.  Even if the “experts” in the party turned out to be correct, that  Walker would be reelected, political elites should have followed the people. If masses of Wisconsin grassroots workers wanted to launch a campaign to recall Scott Walker, the leadership of the party should have taken a principled position and supported that decision.

Fifth, big money does matter.  Millions of dollars were spent on advertisements that lied about the record of Scott Walker, misrepresented occasions for which recall elections are justified, slandered public employee unions, and misrepresented perspective policies of candidate Barrett including claims that the latter would “take away our guns.” But, in the long run infusions of money are more effective in shaping the day-to-day framing of news in the media between election campaigns as well as during them.
However, as activists know, massive amounts of outside money do not always ensure election victories. Effective get-out-the-vote campaigns rely as much on grassroots organizing and personal contacts as media campaigns. And in the Wisconsin case there was effective organizing but not enough to achieve victory.

Sixth, progressives need to develop more effective ways to defend the centrality of public employment for today’s capitalist order as well as a new society. As Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren has argued, government, and by extension public sector work, has been fundamental to the development of industrial capitalism. Education, highway systems, and a broad array of public works have undergirded economic development in the twentieth century. And their decline rebounds negatively on employment rates, infrastructure, and the development of human capital. Public employee unions and collective bargaining are as essential for reversing the long recession as the organizing of industrial workers in the private sector in the 1930s.

Seventh, while the short-term impacts of the recall failure will not be great on Wisconsin workers (much of the damage has already been done and could not have been reversed before the November general election) and long-term impacts on the national election will also be limited, the major issue remains maintaining the organizing momentum created by the Wisconsin movement itself. Masses of young people, trade unionists, people of color, women and men, have been mobilizing for fifteen months. They have been enthusiastic, hard-working, single-minded, and have expressed an openness to each other. Their organization around a variety of the issues facing working people could still plant the seeds for building a progressive majority in the Heartland. The major deleterious effect of the failed recall is the possibility that the defeat will deflate the enthusiasm, energy, and will of the people, in Wisconsin and around the nation.
In sum, then, the reasons for the recall defeat are varied. The impacts also are mixed. The Democrats did gain an additional seat in the State Senate, thus creating one body that will oppose the Walker administration. And, in all the commentary so far, no mention was made of the clear victory of workers in Ohio last fall, repealing that state’s recent anti-collective bargaining law. Perhaps, the only conclusion to be drawn from the Wisconsin election is that more grassroots organizing is needed. To paraphrase Joe Hill, don’t mourn, organize. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Harry Targ

(The remarks below are part of a presentation that will be given at a conference co-sponsored by the Radical Philosophy Association and the University of Havana in Cuba between June 18 and 22.Revisiting the remarks of key foreign policy elites from the 1890s until now suggest the commonality of outlook that pervades how the United States views the Global South and particularly Cuba. Ironically not much has changed in that outlook.)

U.S. policymakers believe and/or propagate various illusions or rationales for United States foreign policy that become part of common political discourse. In relations with Latin America, and particularly Cuba, policy has been built upon economic interest, geopolitics, and ideology. The ideological discourse justifying U.S. hegemony in the Western Hemisphere can be traced back to the nineteenth century. Its modern exposition is surprisingly similar to significant declarations by foreign policy elites during the era of the Cuban war against Spanish colonialism.

For example, shortly after the U.S. victory in the Spanish/Cuban/American war, Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge articulated what was to become the new ideology of American empire linking economics to Godly purpose: “We will establish trading posts throughout the world as distributing points for American products.” “Great colonies, governing themselves, flying our flag and trading with us, will grow about our posts of trade, And American law, American order, American civilization, and the American flag will plant themselves on shores hitherto bloody and benighted” (in Greg Jones, Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream, 2012, 93).

In a campaign speech in Indianapolis, Beveridge articulated a spiritual call and rationale for a global policy that transcended mere economic gain. America’s destiny required the U.S. “…to set the world its example of right and honor…We cannot retreat from any soil where providence has unfurled our banner. It is ours to save that soil, for liberty, and civilization" (in Jones, 96). And speaking before the Senate justifying the colonization of the Philippines he proclaimed a U.S. mission that transcended politics; “It is elemental…. it is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.” (Congressional Record, 56 Congress, I Session, pp.704-712).

Within a few years of the U.S. colonization of Cuba and the Philippines, President Theodore Roosevelt elaborated on the U.S. world mission. He spoke of the necessity of promoting peace and justice in the world: a project that required adequate military capabilities both for “securing respect for itself and of doing good to others.” To those who claim that the United States seeks material advantage in its activist policy toward the countries of the Western Hemisphere, Roosevelt responded that such claims were untrue. The U.S., he said, is motivated by altruism: “All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship.”

Cuba was an example, he said: “If every country washed by the Caribbean Sea would show the progress in stable and just civilization which with the aid of the Platt Amendment Cuba has shown since our troops left the island, and which so many of the republics in both Americas are constantly and brilliantly showing, all questions of interference by the Nation with their affairs would be at an end.” He assured Latin Americans in this address to Congress in 1904 that if “….if they thus obey the primary laws of civilized society they may rest assured that they will be treated by us in a spirit of cordial and helpful sympathy. We would interfere with them only in the last resort….” (“Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,” President’s Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1904). 

During a presentation in Norway in 1910 Roosevelt praised the U.S. for leaving Cuba as promised after the war to return only   temporarily because of “….a disaster…a revolution” such that  “….we were obliged to land troops again.” The President proudly declared that: “And before I left the Presidency Cuba resumed its career as a separate republic, holding its head erect as a sovereign state among the other nations of the earth. All that our people want is just exactly what the Cuban people themselves want—that is, a continuance of order within the island, and peace and prosperity, so that there shall be no shadow of an excuse for any outside intervention.” (“the Colonial Policy of the United States,” An Address Delivered at Christiania, Norway, May 5, 1910).

Earlier on January 18, 1909 to the Methodist Episcopal Church (“The Expansion of the White Races”) Roosevelt applauded the increasing presence--he estimated 100 million people—of “European races” throughout the world. The indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere have been assimilated with their “intruders” with the end result “that the Indian population of America is larger today than it was when Columbus discovered the continent, and stands on a far higher plane of happiness and efficiency.”

And to highlight the missionary message Roosevelt added: “Of course the best that can happen to any people that has not already a high civilization of its own is to assimilate and profit by American or European ideas, the ideas of civilization and Christianity, without submitting to alien control; but such control, in spite of all its defects, is in a very large number of cases the prerequisite condition to the moral and material advance of the peoples who dwell in the darker corners of the earth.” 

Before the reader dismisses these simplistic, racist statements, it is useful to examine more recent proclamations of the motivations for United States foreign policy particularly toward Latin America. It is worth remembering that recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, quote favorably from the words of Theodore Roosevelt on various subjects.

For example, in March, 1961, and clearly as a response to the Cuban revolution, President John Kennedy announced the creation of a new “Alliance for Progress,” in Latin American, “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.” The Alliance was to be a ten-year program of social and economic development that would transform the hemisphere “into an historic decade of democratic progress.” Representatives of participating countries would prepare plans for their own development that would “establish targets and priorities, insure monetary stability, establish the machinery for vital social change, stimulate private activity and initiative, and provide for a maximum national effort.” JFK promised U.S financial contributions to stimulate economic reform and in the end transform “the fragmentation of Latin American economies.” The variety of programs—education, land reform, tax reform—would rebuild the region.

The United States also pledged its assistance to those countries whose independence might be threatened. And, of course, the President proclaimed that the United States supports an alliance of free governments and will work to eliminate “tyranny”. JFK expressed “our special friendship to the people of Cuba and the Dominican Republic and the hope they will soon rejoin the society of free men….” Sixty years after the proclamations of Teddy Roosevelt the United States remained committed to offer the blessings of freedom and democracy to the peoples of Cuba. (President John F. Kennedy “Preliminary Formulations of the Alliance for Progress,” March 13, 1961).

Twenty-two years later President Reagan again underscored the U.S. presumption of its special role in the Hemisphere, restating the U.S. role more in the language of Roosevelt than the subtler Kennedy. The speech was presented at a gathering of Cuban-Americans. Reagan praised assembled Cuban-Americans, such as Jorge Mas Canosa, who came to the United States motivated by a passion for liberty. Reagan spoke of descendants of pioneers and emigrants from various locales who started “fresh” in the “New World”; people who “share the same fundamental values of God, family, work, freedom, democracy, and justice.” (“Perhaps the greatest tie between us can be seen in the incredible number of cathedrals and churches found throughout the hemisphere. Our forefathers took the worship of God seriously.”)

Reagan then warned of the “new colonialism that threatens the Americas.” This, of course, was represented by the revolutionary government of Nicaragua, the revolutionaries fighting against dictatorship in El Salvador, and the enduring threat to freedom, Cuba. In the latter, the independent labor movement was destroyed in 1959, churches suppressed, all free speech eliminated, and young Cubans sent to faraway places to defend unpopular regimes. And remembering the sacrifices of the United States in the Cuban war against Spanish colonialism, Reagan regretted that “Cuba is no longer independent.” He promised that “we will not let this same fate befall others in the hemisphere….”

After endorsing 1980s policies such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative and Radio Marti President Reagan reminded his audience of the perpetual burden Americans face in defending freedom. He quoted Teddy Roosevelt; “We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men.” And Reagan ended: “finally, let us pledge ourselves to meet this sacred responsibility. And let us pledge ourselves to the freedom of the noble, long suffering, Cuban people.” (“Text of President Reagan’s Speech on Threat to Latin America, New York Time, May 21, 1983).

President Obama’s opening remarks at the Summit of the Americas (April 14, 2012) were different in tone than those cited above. He celebrated economic development in the region, encouraged continued economic globalization, praised the growth of Latin American nations such as Brazil and Colombia proving that “a lot of the old arguments on the left and the right no longer apply.” The challenge for the future, he said, was to continue distributing the benefits of globalization to more and more people and “giving businesses opportunities to thrive and create new products and new services and enjoy the global marketplace.”

The President called on the Hemisphere nations to continue training people to compete in the global economy, stimulate trade, establish more mutually beneficial trade agreements like the one he signed with the President of Colombia, become more energy efficient, and promote education. He concluded with some of the more traditional presidential language, albeit in less than messianic terms, about core principles of governance: “democracy and rule of law, human rights being observed, freedom of expression.”  In addition, he mentioned “personal security, the capacity for people to feel as if they work hard then they’re able to achieve, and they have motivation to start a business and to know that their own work will pay off.”

President Obama emphasized the connections between “clean, transparent open government that is working on behalf of its people.” These features, he said, were important for business. “The days when a business feels good working in a place where people are being oppressed—ultimately that’s an unstable environment for you to do business. You do business well when you know that it’s a well-functioning society and that there’s a legitimate government in place that is going to be looking out for its people.” With that said, Obama praised both the governments of Colombia and Brazil.

The Obama comments at the opening Summit of the Americas in 2012, more paralleling the language of President Kennedy’s Alliance speech than the missionary statements of Beveridge, Roosevelt, and Reagan, still suggest that the United States, and some Latin American political and economic elites, reflect the interests and values of the masses of Latin America’s citizens. All the speeches offer a common standard to judge what is best for the vast majorities of the peoples of the Hemisphere; whether the region is moving toward or away from God, Democracy (defined in very selective ways) and Markets. And, whether stated or implied, the polar opposite of this standard is most starkly represented by the Cuban revolution.