Monday, September 22, 2014

Moving Above the Snake Line to the Higher Ground: Moral Mondays Comes to Indiana

Harry Targ

America is facing an economic, political, moral, and environmental crisis as deep as any since the Civil War. Extremists have mobilized money and power to increase the concentration of wealth, decrease economic justice, promote war abroad and police violence at home, expand racism, sexism, and exploitation, and end all efforts to protect the fragile environment.

Enormous amounts of money, largely provided by the Koch Brothers but also coming from some of the largest corporations in the country (insurance, energy, drugs, investment, water and on-line), created the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the 1970s. Billionaires David and Charles Koch have used their money to transform American politics primarily at the level of state governments. Their father, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the infamous John Birch Society of the 1950s and 1960s that railed against alleged “communists” such as former President Eisenhower and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

ALEC has created think tanks, funded political candidates who support their extremist agenda, prepared detailed legislative programs on every public policy issue, and held conferences to recruit and curry the favor of state legislators. This forty year semi-secret movement has led to the capture of thirty state governments (governorships and state legislatures). Since 2010 these state governments have launched an assault on workers, women, people of color, and youth.

In Indiana, at least 16 state representatives and 9 state senators have had ties to ALEC. Former Governor Mitch Daniels and his successor Mike Pence have attended and/or spoken at ALEC and other Koch Brothers events.

As a result of ALEC, sustained assaults on the well-being of Hoosiers since 2004 have included: the decertification of public employee unions, the passage of right-to-work legislation, the creation of charter schools, the shift of educational resources from public schools to private ones through the establishment of vouchers. Also attempts were made to privatize welfare services and some Indiana toll roads were leased to foreign corporations. In addition Indiana politicians have promoted laws limiting the ability of Planned Parenthood to provide health examinations to poor women and blocked any regulations on coal power plants particularly adjacent to minority communities. Indiana initiated some of the first voter ID laws in the country making it more difficult for Hoosiers to vote and the current Governor decided not to expand Medicaid. (see Bryan K Bullock, “the Ultra-Right-Wing State Nobody Mentions,” Truthout, July 1, 2014).

These long-term trends in various states have sparked the emergence of resistance.  One form of resistance is the Moral Mondays movement which began in North Carolina and has spread all across the South and in parts of the Midwest. North Carolina’s movement was convened by the NAACP in 2006 to start a conversation about political and economic justice. By 2013, North Carolina’s movement grew from 16 organizational partners to over 150. Activists began a weekly protest against the North Carolina legislature’s extreme agenda and during the spring legislative season over 1,000 workers, ministers, men, women, minorities, educators, health care professionals, fast food workers, and others were arrested for civil disobedience in the North Carolina State House. Most of the arrests have just been declared unconstitutional.

Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, has emerged as a powerful spokesperson for the Moral Mondays movement. He articulates the view that the country is in the midst of the third reconstruction. The first, after the Civil War, brought former Black slaves and white workers together to write democratic state constitutions. They practiced a “fusion” politics;” that is working to unite people around shared issues and values and unity around race, gender, faith traditions, and the common passion for building a real democracy.

Barber reports that the fusion movement of the 1860s and 1870s was destroyed by Klan extremism and rightwing plantation supporters of the old slave system. The second reconstruction emerged in the 1950s after Brown vs. Board of Education and succumbed to a new round of extremism resulting from candidate Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of the 1968 election season. 

Now, Barber says we are in the midst of a third reconstruction. Moral Mondays movements in North Carolina, and 13 other states in the South and Midwest have begun to build a new fusion movement that draws together workers, women, young and old, black, brown, and white people, documented and undocumented, environmentalists, people of faith and atheists, and the LBGT community based upon “moral” and “constitutional” agendas. He argues that whatever an individual’s personal religious or political values, most people hold to a moral core that addresses economic justice and freedom. And, the federal and most state constitutions clearly state their commitment to democracy and justice. The moral and constitutional dimensions are not, he says, about political parties or ideologies but about these fundamental traditions.

Rev. Barber spoke about his vision in Indianapolis at a two-day mass meeting of the newly created Indiana Moral Mondays on September 19-20. On September 19, he briefed Hoosier activists who had been meeting for months to plan for Rev. Barber’s visit as the “kick-off” to a new Indiana Moral Mondays movement. On Saturday, workshops were held on the Moral Mondays issues at Crispus Attucks High School. After the workshops hundreds marched from the high school to the State House. There Rev. Barber spoke passionately about the need for an Indiana Moral Mondays. The assembled supporters also heard supportive words from National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill and Indiana NAACP State President Barbara Bolling Williams. Hoosier activists commented on the specific needs of fast food workers, African-American youth, and health care workers. Indiana advocates for Medicaid expansion, labor rights, and environmental justice also addressed the rally.

As the new Indiana Moral Mondays movement proceeds in the months ahead it will be addressing a five-point core agenda similar to that embraced by Moral Mondays movements in other states:
  • Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that insure economic sustainability;
  • Provide well-funded, quality public education for all;
  • Stand up for the health of every Hoosier by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state's communities;
  • Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference;
  • Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.
In his Saturday, September 20, afternoon speech to the 400 people rallying at the Indiana State House, Rev. Barber said he was told by his son, an environmental physicist, that if he ever got lost in mountainous territory he should walk to higher ground. This is necessary, Barber reported, because in the lowlands snakes congregate but if one climbs above the “snake line” snakes, being cold-blooded creatures, cannot live.

Referring to the snake line metaphor in an earlier speech Barber declared:

“There are some snakes out here. There are some low-down policies out here. There’s some poison out here. Going backwards on voting rights, that’s below the snake line. Going backwards on civil rights, that’s below the snake line. Hurting people just because they have a different sexuality, that’s below the snake line. Stomping on poor people just because you’ve got power, that’s below the snake line. Denying health care to the sick and keeping children from opportunity, that’s below the snake line” (Dave Johnson, “Let’s Get Our Politics Above the Snake Line,” Campaign for America’s Future, July 22, 2014).

Rev. Barber urged the newly formed Indiana Moral Mondays coalition to “go to higher ground,” where poverty is ended, everybody can vote, children can be educated, the sick can be healed, and everyone is respected.

People left the rally with a renewed passion to move above the snake line to a higher ground.  They vowed to build a powerful new political voice in the state: Indiana Moral Mondays.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Twentieth Century Narratives of International Relations Are No Longer Relevant (If They Ever Were)

Harry Targ

President Barack Obama spoke to the nation Wednesday night, September 10, about the need to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). For him ISIS (he calls them the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIL which culls up the good old days of Western Empire in the region) constitutes “a small group of killers.” This small group of killers threatens the stability of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other regional states and Europe. Furthermore, he said, if unchecked some of them may even threaten the security of the United States as well.

The President reported that the United States had already been carrying out large scale air strikes against targets in Iraq, has been working to create a new more diverse Iraqi government in Baghdad, and is building a regional coalition to respond to the threat.

The President then announced new measures intended to communicate to the American people U.S. resolve and muscle. In addition to informing the public, a significant purpose of the speech was to stifle his critics on the Right who claim he has not been warlike enough. This motivation was more about the 2014 elections than about reducing violence in the Persian Gulf.

President Obama declared that the United States would expand bombing of ISIS targets, even, if need be, in Syria. This would constitute an expansion of the war which the American people rejected in 2013. Also the United States would train and equip the “moderates” among the Syrian resistance. In addition, the President announced he was sending 475 more U.S. troops to participate in military training of Iraqi troops. Further, counter-terrorism programs would continue and he would be requesting funds for “humanitarian” assistance for the region as well.

Obama reminded the American people that we are engaged in a long and arduous struggle to defeat ISIS (reminiscent of President Truman’s 1947 similar warning of the long-term struggle against “International Communism”). The upside of the message, he claimed, was that the model for our Iraq and Syrian military policy was Yemen and Somalia, which the President judged a success. Finally, he promised that there would be “no boots on the ground.”

President Obama ended with references to American exceptionalism, the mantra of every U.S. president at least since Theodore Roosevelt. The United States, he counseled, still led the world in science, education, development and most other human endeavors. And we had the “enduring burden,” “the responsibility to lead,” and stood for “freedom, justice, and dignity.”

As I suggested in an earlier essay (“Lies and War!” Diary of a Heartland Radical, September 3, 2014):  “Now the latest enemy, ISIS….is portrayed as a monster movement that beheads its prisoners and murders masses of people who do not share its religious ideology….War-hungry hawks inside the beltway particularly those with ready access to mainstream media demand that President Obama expand bombing, transfer more arms to so-called friends, and recruit militant opponents of ISIS to even the score. This new enemy, more scary than the Communists of the twentieth century, includes a handful of Americans…” They might, so the scenario suggests, return from ISIS training camps to terrorize the U.S. “homeland.”

Perhaps the most relevant passage from my prior essay is that “….those who raise questions about why ISIS is as popular as it is, what its grievances are, why there is hatred for the West, particularly the United States, in the region, and whether the application of military force would make matters better or worse, are drowned out by those who built careers based on arguments about the inevitability of war and violence and the need to kill for the greater good.”

Andrew Bacevich, historian and former military officer, raises the question of whether the lens on the world shared by U.S. foreign policy decision-makers, think tank advisors, media pundits, and most Americans is outmoded  (“The Revisionist Imperative: Rethinking Twentieth Century Wars,” Journal of Military History, April, 2012, 1033-1046).  He suggests that most influential foreign policymakers in every administration and large numbers of politicians and analysts still believe “war works,” a proposition belied by much twentieth century evidence.  Bacevich argues that today the war works hypothesis is believed only in the United States and maybe Israel. 

Those who accept the “war works” thesis defend it by referring to what another historian Tony Judt called the “moral memory palace,” or the storehouse of myths about the successes and failures of twentieth century international relations. The West erred by accepting “appeasement” in Munich, not paying attention at Pearl Harbor, being na├»ve at Yalta, but learning our lessons about the need for force at Normandy, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, for example.

Bacevich reminds us that Americans grew up in the twentieth century buying into myths about the inevitability of war, the possibilities of human improvement that wars bring, and the dangers of appeasing foreign leaders. Most critically the consciousness of the most influential policymakers is shaped by the belief that the world consists of a handful of great powers that determined the destiny of humankind. This he refers to as the “Short Twentieth Century” view. 

Bacevich argues that the popular way of reflecting on the “Short Twentieth Century” involves interpreting the world as “geographically centered in Eurasia” where a small number of great powers were pitted against one another. However, he adds that what he called the “Long Twentieth Century” more aptly describes the worlds of yesterday and today.

The Long Twentieth Century “…has been a contest between outsiders and insiders. Western intruders with large ambitions, preeminently Great Britain until succeeded by the United States, pursued their dreams of empire or hegemony, typically cloaked in professions of ‘benevolent assimilation,’ uplift, or the pursuit of world peace. The beneficiaries of imperial ministrations…seldom proved grateful and frequently resisted.” 

Applying Bacevich’s analysis to Obama’s speech suggests that the escalated U.S. military action that was promised on September 10 is precisely the wrong approach to relating to the Persian Gulf and Middle East. The President refuses to ask the important questions about why ISIS has been so successful. And nothing announced in that speech can do anything but create more dead in the region, more hatred for the United States, more traumatized U.S. troops, more trillions of dollars on wasteful spending, and the perpetuation of a U.S. political culture in which most people believe that “war works.”

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Harry Targ

Post-modernists talk about “discourses,” “narratives,” “tropes,” and verbal “deconstructions.” They should be commended for suggesting how words are used to mobilize, inspire, deceive, promote self-interest, and, too often, justify killing everywhere. Former Arkansas Senator, J. William Fulbright in describing how he was tricked by his old friend President Lyndon Baines Johnson to support a resolution authorizing escalating war in Vietnam said: “A lie is a lie. There is no other way to put it.”

The story can begin any time. As World War Two was ending, the Greek government constructed by Great Britain after the Nazis were defeated was engaged in an effort to crush a rebellion by activists who objected to their newly imposed rulers. The Greek rebels included former anti-fascists freedom fighters, some of whom were Communists or Socialists. The British, no longer able to support the repression of the Greek Left in what was a civil war, called on the Americans for help.

In February, 1947, Truman foreign policy advisers met to discuss what to do about the Greek civil war and the threat of “Communism” spreading along the Mediterranean. The Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Arthur Vandenberg, attending the meeting. said he would support U.S. military and economic aid for the unpopular Greek government. But, he said, tell the President he better “scare hell out of the American people.”

One month later, President Truman gave his famous Truman Doctrine speech to the Congress and the American people. He warned the American people, who until that time still had positive feelings toward the Soviet people, that the United States and the “free world” were going to be engaged in a long-term struggle against the forces of “international communism.” The Truman Doctrine was not about nations and movements with different interests and ideologies but rather a global struggle between the forces of good threatened by the forces of evil.

United States administrations ever since have justified aggressive foreign policies by lying and distorting the realities behind complex international relationships. In addition, when a politician, a journalist, a scholar, or a whole peace movement criticizes targeting nations and movements as diabolical and security threats, these critics are challenged as weak, indecisive, cowardly, and, even worse, stalking horses for the vile enemy or enemies.

Campaigns of propaganda masquerading as truth have been a constant feature of international relations, particularly since World War Two. The reality of U.S. struggles against demonized enemies tells a sobering story. Deaths in wars and interventions in which the United States participated from 1945 until 1995 totaled about ten million people. These figures, extracted from the valuable research of Ruth Sivard, (World Military and Social Expenditures, 1996) do not include injuries and forced migrations of millions of people fleeing combat zones. Nor do these figures include the wasteful trillions of dollars of military expenditures and environmental damage resulting from a war system.

And now, in 2014, the United States and its allies in NATO are presenting scenarios justifying war based upon a new round of lies and distortions. In the Persian Gulf whole nations were constructed by European colonial powers after World War One. As the next World War ended, the United States agreed to provide arms and protection to the Saudi monarchs in exchange for oil. The U.S. identified client regimes to support its interests in the region, from the former Shah of Iran, to the state of Israel, to various so-called Islamic Fundamentalist groups including what became Al Qaeda, to leaders the U.S. once supported such as Saddam Hussein and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. In the twenty-first century, the stability of whole countries, Iraq and Libya for example, was destroyed by United States interventions costing many million deaths and injuries and many more people fleeing violence.

Now the latest enemy, ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is portrayed as a monster movement that beheads its prisoners and murders masses of people who do not share its religious ideology. While there is enough data to suggest that ISIS is engaging in cruel violence against its enemies, that violence is being used to justify bombing campaigns against alleged enemy targets. War-hungry hawks inside the beltway particularly those with ready access to mainstream media demand that President Obama expand bombing, transfer more arms to so-called friends, and recruit militant opponents of ISIS to even the score. Since this new enemy, even more scary than the Communists of the twentieth century, includes a handful of Americans, they claim, the territory of the United States is threatened by global terror. The rhetoric calling for a global war against this presumably global threat is escalating. Those who raise questions about why ISIS is as popular as it is, what its grievances are, why there is hatred for the West, particularly the United States, in the region, and whether the application of military force would make matters better or worse, are drowned out by those who built careers based on arguments about the inevitability of war and violence and the need to kill for the greater good.

The other apocryphal narrative of the day comes from Eastern Europe. The United States participated covertly in the overthrow of a dictatorial but elected regime in Ukraine. After the elected leader fled, those with ties to historic fascist parties gained influence in a newly created government. Ukrainians from the eastern part of the country with ties of politics, culture, and language to Russia rebelled against the new central government in Kiev which wants to join western military and economic organizations. Kiev has launched a brutal assault on the separatists in the East. The dominant narrative in Washington and the mainstream media is not about the coup in Kiev, the descendants of fascists in the government, but the Russians who want to move westward across Central Europe, reestablishing the old Soviet Bloc.

Indeed, Russia is giving material aid to the separatists, although information about what kind comes only from Washington and Kiev. Little attention is given to the NATO vision of expanding its military alliance eastward, ultimately to besiege a threatened Russia. Even less attention is given to the fact that Kiev oligarchs wish to incorporate Ukraine into the European Union. In other words, a country with a divided population in terms of culture and politics engaged in a violent civil war has been transformed by politicians, pundits, and media sources into a narrative of a struggling Ukraine democracy challenged by an aggressive Russia, the descendent of the twentieth century demon, the former Soviet Union.  (For a more detailed discussion of United States/Russian/ Ukraine relations in 2013-2014 see Harry Targ, “Pushing for Starvation at Home and War Abroad: A Time to Resist,” Diary of a Heartland Radical., March 28, 2014).

Getting back to Senator Vandenberg’s advice to President Truman about how to gain support of the American people for moral/military crusades, leaders and media are warning about a new global terrorist threat and a renewed post-Soviet threat from Russia, a new Cold War. The intensity of the selling job is testament to the good sense of the American people who continue to say “no more wars.”