Thursday, August 29, 2013


Harry Targ

Thinking about the recently celebrated 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, my thoughts returned to the profound intellectual, political, and moral transformation many of us experienced about civil rights, the pursuit of peace, and the fundamental need for economic and social justice that resulted from the first historic March. 

After the August 28, 1963 March many of us, young and old, Black and white, men and women, straight and gay, of all class, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds came to the realization that we had to march, to protest, to sing and shout, and to organize  to continue to work for peace and justice.

As the years unfolded we studied and learned more about the historic struggle for justice that began hundreds of years before August, 1963 and after the March on Washington, we realized, the struggle would not end. 

And over the years the analyses, visions, and political practices of all of us, even the organizers and speakers at the first March, changed. Dr. King himself said in a famous speech at Riverside Church in New York in 1967 that social and economic justice cannot be achieved at home while we were engaged in massive war against the Vietnamese people. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King’s understanding of the economic dimension of racial injustice deepened as well. Again in 1967 he said: “One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”

The March on Washington of 2013 had an even broader agenda than the event of fifty years ago. The National Action Network, the organization that launched the event, identified nine key talking points that inspired it: jobs and the economy; voting rights; workers’ rights; stand your ground laws and gun violence; women’s rights; immigration; LGBT equality; environmental justice, and youth. During the event itself these issues were addressed as speakers emphasized over and over that the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was “not just a commemoration, but a continuation of the efforts of 50 years ago.”

While remembering August, 1963 and watching on television videos of many of the 1963 speakers calling for economic and social justice (Dr. King was one of ten inspirational speakers from labor, the civil rights, religious, and youth communities), I received my weekly electronic newsletter from Congressman Todd Rokita, from the 4th Congressional District, Indiana. To his credit, Rokita sends weekly newsletters to any constituents who request them.

The Rokita report of August 23, 2013, discussed his travels around the district but did not mention the 50th Anniversary March that was to occur on August 24. Instead, he highlighted what he claimed were three of the “more frequent topics that I am being asked about at events.”

First, Rokita mentioned what he called “Our Nation’s $17 Trillion Debt.” As a member of the House Budget Committee, he promised to work to reduce it. 

Second, Rokita listed “Immigration” as an issue raised at his meetings. He indicated he opposed immigration reform proposals recommended by President Obama and endorsed by the United States Senate. “Any immigration reform must focus on border security first.”

Third, Rokita wrote about “Obamacare.” He assured his constituents that he would continue to vote against the Affordable Care Act because “Obamacare is a train wreck. Costs are skyrocketing and Americans are finding out they cannot keep their doctors or their health care plans.”

Rokita reported on a statement by one attendee whose comments were in the spirit of The March on Washington. The Congressman said the attendee “wanted Washington to be more civil, and also take care of everyone’s needs.” Rokita suggested that this attendee must realize that “government shouldn’t and can’t be everything to everyone.” He suggested his audience read three books: Friederich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom; Mark Levin, Liberty and Tyranny: a Conservative Manifesto; and Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. The first and second are conservative diatribes that warn of excessive government and claim that unfettered markets can solve all our problems and the third is a commentary by a French political theorist who visited the United States in 1831 and wrote about that experience. 

Six months prior to Rokita’s newsletter, the great civil rights activist and performing artist, Harry Belafonte spoke of an alternative view, articulated by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States.

Paraphrasing, Belafonte reported that Roosevelt “said that when the state finds itself moving away from its commitment to the rights of the citizen, when those rights are being trampled and misguided, when there are those who would wrest from the Constitution the equality that it attempted to give all of us, then the citizens of the nation have not only the obligation, but the right, to challenge the state and those who run it. And, he said, if we fail to do that, if we fail to meet that moral criteria, then we, the citizens, should be charged with patriotic treason.”

Fortunately, contemporary generations of workers, occupiers, peace activists, anti-racists, women’s liberationists, gay rights activists, and environmentalists are heeding the call to carry on the legacy of the Marches on Washington, advocating what Roosevelt called meeting the “moral criteria” embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Congressman Rokita’s newsletter, unfortunately, reflected an approach to government that would fail to meet this test.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Harry Targ

The President of Purdue University, Mitch Daniels, has been embroiled in controversies over the summer because of e-mail messages recently uncovered by Associated Press reporters when he was Governor of Indiana. These messages indicate that as Governor, Daniels sought to exclude Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, from text use in public school curricula. Also, he sought to exclude the use of Zinn’s history in college level teacher training courses. 

In a second controversy critics of Daniels uncovered that he was only one of two Big Ten university presidents who failed to sign a letter to Congress and the President urging them to continue adequate funding for research and development, primarily in the sciences.

President Daniels, defending his decision not to sign the letter, said he was motivated by the letter’s failure to address the “severe fiscal condition in which the nation finds itself.” However, he said, he is an advocate of “major federal investments in research particularly basic research….”

After growing criticism from Purdue University faculty, on Thursday, August 22, President Daniels announced that he would now sign the letter initiated by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. He said he learned that the AAU and APLU had previously sent another letter to the politicians urging deficit-reduction, tax reform, and warning of “runaway costs of entitlement programs.”

Daniels’ original statement in opposition to the letter and subsequent endorsement of it ignored the significant decline in federal deficits over the last two years. He, as well as the other presidents of major universities, seemingly dismissed the fact that warnings of the dire consequences of debts and deficits have been discounted by many mainstream economists. 

To underscore Daniels’ political agenda, reflected in both his defense of his initial refusal to sign the letter and his recent change of mind, Daniels claimed that “the exploding cost of entitlement programs is choking all kinds of discretionary spending, not just NSF and NIH but many worthy public programs.” Presumably these “entitlement programs” include Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Daniels’ critics claimed that the original reason for refusing to endorse the letter signed by 165 presidents of the most distinguished universities in the country, reflected his political ideology more than his current position as university president. However, the critics fail to recognize that the letter in dispute itself reads like a crass political statement.

The letter highlights an interesting concept, the “innovation deficit.” The statement claims that reductions in federal research support will reduce the creative energies and research outcomes of scientists and other scholars at the nation’s colleges and universities.   No definition of “innovation deficit" is provided. Further, no convincing evidence is presented that clearly demonstrates a connection between innovation and federal research dollars. 

Finally, the letter does not describe the federal agencies to which federal research dollars typically are channeled. For example, President Obama’s FY2013 budget included a proposed 1.4 percent increase in R&D of $1.95 billion dollars to $140 billion. While some agencies would suffer modest declines, 95 percent of federal research dollars would go to seven federal agencies with 50.6 percent to the Department of Defense and 22.3 percent to the Department of Health and Human Services. Throughout the entire period since World War II, almost fifty percent of government research spending has been allotted to the Department of Defense. 

Americans should have clear and transparent explanations for federal expenditures, including research. Today almost 50 percent of the citizenry live below or near the poverty line and major cities, including Detroit and Gary, are going bankrupt. College tuitions are skyrocketing. The letter, a lobbying exhortation by university presidents, does not compellingly explain the connections between research expenditures and the fundamental needs of the vast majority of the American people.

A final problem with the letter signed by165 university presidents is their warning that “having witnessed this nation’s success at turning investments in research and higher education into innovation and economic growth, countries such as China, Singapore, and Korea have dramatically increased their own investments in these areas.” These other countries have invested two to four times more as a percentage of their budgets on research than the United States in recent years, the letter admonishes. The University presidents are raising the specter of a new 21st century Asian threat that is replacing the old fear of communism; that is scientific innovation. 

The scientific enterprise is conceptualized as one in which socially constructed institutions, nations, compete with each other. Asian competition, the letter suggests, is particularly threatening. The statement is a far cry from the vision of the scientific enterprise as a shared community activity with shared outcomes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Harry Targ

Chalmers Johnson wrote in 2001 about “blowback” that it “is a CIA term first used in March 1954 in a recently declassified report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. It is a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the US government's international activities that have been kept secret from the American people. The CIA's fears that there might ultimately be some blowback from its egregious interference in the affairs of Iran were well founded.…. This misguided ‘covert operation’ of the US government helped convince many capable people throughout the Islamic world that the United States was an implacable enemy.” (The Nation, October 15, 2001).

The CIA initiated overthrow of the regime of Mohammed Mossadegh sixty years ago on August 19, 1953 was precipitated by what Melvin Gurtov called “the politics of oil and cold war together.” Because it was the leading oil producer in the Middle East and the fourth largest in the world and it was geographically close to the former Soviet Union, President Eisenhower was prevailed upon to launch the CIA covert war on Iran long encouraged by Great Britain.

The immediate background for the ouster of Mossadegh was Iran’s nationalization of its oil production. Most Iranians were living in poverty in the 1940s as the Iranian government received only ten percent of the royalties on its oil sales on the world market. The discrepancy between Iran’s large production of oil and the limited return it received led Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a liberal nationalist, to call for the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. Despite opposition from Iran’s small ruling class, the parliament and masses of the Iranian people endorsed the plan to seize control of its oil. Mossadegh became the symbol of Iranian sovereignty.

Ironically, Mossadegh assumed the United States would support Iran’s move toward economic autonomy. But, in Washington, the Iranian leader was viewed as a demagogue, his emerging rival the Shah of Iran (the sitting monarch of Iran) as “more moderate.”

After the nationalization, the British, supported by the United States, boycotted oil produced by the Iranian Oil Company. The British lobbied Washington to launch a military intervention but the Truman Administration feared such an action would work to the advantage of the Iranian Communists, the Tudeh Party. 

The boycott led to economic strains in Iran, and Mossadegh compensated for the loss of revenue by increasing taxes on the rich. This generated growing opposition from the tiny ruling class, and they encouraged political instability. In 1953, to rally his people, Mossadegh carried out a plebiscite, a vote on his policies. The Iranian people overwhelmingly endorsed the nationalization of Iranian oil. In addition, Mossadegh initiated efforts to mend political fences with the former Soviet Union and the Tudeh Party.

As a result of the plebiscite, and Mossadegh’s openings to the Left, the United States came around to the British view; Mossadegh had to go. As one U.S. defense department official put it:

“When the crisis came on and the thing was about to collapse, we violated our normal criteria and among other things we did, we provided the army immediately on an emergency basis….The guns that they had in their hands, the trucks that they rode in, the armored cars that they drove through the streets, and the radio communications that permitted their control, were all furnished through the military defense assistance program…. Had it not been for this program, a government unfriendly to the United States probably would now be in power.” (Richard Barnet, Intervention and Revolution, 1972).

The Shah, who had fled Iran after the plebiscite, returned when Mossadegh was ousted. A new prime minister was appointed by him who committed Iran to the defense of the “free” world. U.S. military and economic aid was resumed, and Iran joined the CENTO alliance (an alliance of pro-West regional states).

In August, 1954, a new oil consortium was established. Five U.S. oil companies gained control of forty percent of Iranian oil, equal to that of returning British firms. Iran compensated the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company for its losses by paying $70 million, which Iran received as aid from the United States. The Iranian ruling class was accorded fifty percent of profits from future oil sales. President Eisenhower declared that the events of 1953 and 1954 were ushering in a new era of “economic progress and stability” in Iran and that it was now to be an independent country in “the family of free nations.”

In brief, the United States overthrew a popularly elected and overwhelmingly endorsed regime in Iran. The payoff the United States received, with British acquiescence, was a dramatic increase in access by U.S. oil companies to Iranian oil at the expense of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The overthrow of Mossadegh and the backing of the return of the Shah to full control of the regime led to U.S. support for one of the world’s most repressive and militarized regimes. By the 1970s, 70,000 of the Shah’s opponents were in political prisons. Workers and religious activists rose up against the Shah in 1979, leading to the rapid revolutionary overthrow of his military state.

As Chalmers Johnson suggested many years later, the United States role in the world is still plagued by “blowback.” Masses of people all across the globe, particularly in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, and East Asia, regard the United States as the major threat to their economic and political independence. And the covert operation against Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran is one place where such global mistrust began.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Harry Targ

The Cold War began in 1917 as Woodrow Wilson marshaled money and political allies at home and abroad to isolate, subvert, and finally send troops to overthrow the new Bolshevik Revolution. After 15 years of non-recognition and economic blockade and seven years looking the other way as the Nazi war machine grew and grew, the United States collaborated with the militarily powerful Soviet Union to defeat fascist armies in Europe and the Far East. 

After World War II, Cold War II started. The United States built a massive war machine, the biggest in world history, to challenge the global presence and influence of the Soviet Union. However, by the 1970s, with growing challenges to U.S. global power, the Nixon Administration launched a policy of “d├ętente,” that is, warming of relations with its Cold War adversary. 

Detente did not last as President Carter resumed the Cold War in 1979, by sending funds to help anti- government religious fundamentalist guerrillas fight the central government of Afghanistan, at that time allied with the Soviet Union. President Reagan in 1981 returned full-force to the Cold War spending more on defense during his first term, than all that was spent on the military throughout U.S. history. The enormous military expenditures, domestic economic crises, and declining political legitimacy of Soviet Bloc countries led to their collapse. The former Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Now the Cold War is being resumed with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The size and name of the enemy country has changed but the key foreign policy decision-makers in Washington have not. Some, the “neo-conservatives” who dominated the Bush foreign policy team, argue that as the most powerful country in the world, the United States must take the opportunity to construct a world order based on political regimes we prefer. If we have the power, they say, use it. 

And since the 1990s they have excoriated the other foreign policy faction, the “humanitarian interventionists” who dominated the Clinton presidency of the 1990s and seem to be influencing Obama foreign policy today. For the humanitarian interventionists U.S. foreign policy is not just about using American power. It is also about making the world a better place, at the point of a gun, through global propaganda, using the debt system to require countries receiving aid to change their economies, and sanctimoniously condemning others for not measuring up to U.S. standards of justice.

In the end, these foreign policy elite factions are two sides of a singular coin. They both advocate strong militaries. They both promote U.S. military institutions around the world. They both express criticisms of the shortcomings of others as to democracy, human rights, and so-called free markets and development.

Neither faction understands that the 21st century international system is radically different than the one that existed during the height of the Cold War. The relative power of the United States militarily, economically, and ideologically is declining. New giants, China, India, and Brazil, for example, are encroaching on a once hegemonic international economic and political order. Countries of the Global South, in Latin America particularly, are coalescing around reformist agendas to transform their place in global society. Grassroots movements everywhere are rising up, not only against their own repressive regimes but the entire international system. And the newly emerging great powers, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have been meeting to discuss transforming global institutions and processes.

The Obama foreign policy team, largely humanitarian interventionists but egged on by neoconservatives in the executive branch and the Congress, believes the U.S. can still influence global policy by condemning competing powers. They claim they are motivated by the good; for example condemnation of Russia’s odious homophobic policies. But they really are trying to turn back the clock.

Liberal media support the humanitarian interventionists and frame the narrative of today’s U.S./Russian conflict as one between the altruistic former and the dictatorial latter. Putin is driven by his own quest for absolute power at home. As in the cases of prior Cold Wars, according to liberal commentators, Putin supports evil regimes in the world: Iran and Syria for example. In addition, he gleefully gives a home to whistleblower Edward Snowdon. And, while America institutionalizes a racist “new Jim Crow” system of criminal justice, commentators appropriately castigate the Russians for their horrific repression of gays and lesbians, and at the same time imply mistakenly that the United States is the standard for human rights.

In short, as in the old days of the Cold Wars from Wilson through Reagan, the renewed narrative, which seems to be moving toward a new Cold War, is about “good guys versus bad guys,” not one in which new powers, from the streets to the networks of countries from the Global South are saying “enough is enough” to  traditional imperial powers.