Saturday, December 31, 2016


Harry Targ

Richard Cohen is one of the Washington Post columnists who is published in small town, conservative newspapers. His December 30, 2016 column which appeared in the Lafayette Journal and Courier entitled “Syria, a Stain on Obama’s Presidency,” lays out a critique from the foreign policy establishment of the president’s foreign policy. Cohen starkly argues that Obama’s Syria policy is second only in its disastrous consequences to “the day of infamy” when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Why? Because...“Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Moscow to settle matters in the Middle East. The United States wasn’t even asked to the meeting.”

Cohen complains about the fact that the United States never engaged in the Syrian civil war. As to Aleppo, “the preeminent power of the region did virtually nothing.” Cohen indicated that Obama could have installed a “no-fly zone,” “established safe zones for refugees,” and demanded that Russia and Iran get out of Syria. But, alas, “Obama did not care enough.”

And, in the end, for Cohen, the cool, sometimes tempered President Obama was too dispassionate about foreign policy. Part of the Clinton presidential defeat resulted from the fact that she had to defend an Obama administration “that was cold to the touch.” The President “waved a droopy flag. He did not want to make America great again. It was great enough for him already.” As to Syria, “he threw in the towel.”

And Cohen repeated the mantra often articulated by Post editorial writers and columnists: “Since the end of World War II, American leadership has been essential to maintain world peace. Whether we liked it or not, we were the world’s policeman. There was no other cop on the beat. Now that leadership is gone. So, increasingly, will be peace.”

Cohen is wrong in virtually everything he wrote in this column. First, for the brutalized people of Syria any ceasefire and resolution of their civil war should be applauded. If the agreement between Turkey, Russia, and Syria holds it would be an extraordinary change from the relentless violence Syrians have suffered, from multiple parties.

In addition, the United States has been involved in the civil war since it grew out of Arab Spring protests in Syria in 2011. Most of the weapons various rebel groups have used since violence escalated have been provided by the United States, Saudi Arabia, or other partners. The U.S. hope was that the Assad regime would fall in a fashion similar to the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya.

Further, as Robert Kennedy Jr. points out (“Why the Arabs Don’t Want Us in Syria,” Politico Magazine, February 22, 2016), the United States has been interfering in Syrian affairs since the 1940s. Instability in the whole region-the Persian Gulf and the Middle East-has resulted from United States imperial policies since the end of World War II. What Cohen calls “American leadership” has included the 1945 oil for arms deal with Saudi Arabia; the creation of the state of Israel; growing involvement in the internal affairs of Syria, Iran, and Lebanon; opposition to the Arab socialism of Egypt and Syria; the Eisenhower Doctrine declaring the U.S. right and responsibility to protect the region from communism; to wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain in the contemporary period. Contrary to Cohen, the United States has done more than any other country to destabilize the region and destroy peace.

In terms of the general character of United States foreign policy, President Obama’s biggest failure has been his wavering from the pragmatic path he proposed in 2008 campaign speeches. Candidate Obama articulated the view that diplomacy should be the first tool any administration uses in foreign affairs. Diplomacy involves bilateral and multilateral negotiations, using various institutional venues such as the United Nations, regional organizations, and international economic institutions. And the use of diplomacy is particularly important in relations with countries that are enemies or potential enemies. The United States needs to have channels of communications with those nations who may not share its values or interests.

In addition, the Obama election was greeted with elation all across the globe because he presented the view that the United States needs to respect other countries, cannot be the world’s policeman, and must not act unilaterally has had been done in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in numerous other countries since the last World War. Perhaps Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements have involved diplomacy with Iran, Cuba, and even sometime cooperation with Russia. Early in his first term he attended a meeting of the G20 countries and seemed to endorse a greater international decision-making role for the countries of the Global South.

But President Obama was subjected to the pressures, the advice, and the sabotage of his pragmatic approach to the U.S. role in the world by a confluence of “humanitarian interventionists,” those who justify intervention on the grounds of promoting human rights, democratization, and markets. Richard Cohen and The Washington Post are exemplars of this perspective.

And also Obama could not withstand the equally powerful pressures of the neoconservatives who take the view that as the most powerful country militarily the United States should intervene everywhere to remake the world in its image. For the neocons, world affairs are ultimately about power. The neoconservatives populate Washington D.C. in think tanks and other institutions. Some were foreign policy advisers in the Bush administration and some hold positions of influence within the Obama administration.

Whether inspired by humanitarian interventionists or neoconservatives, the dark side of Obama’s foreign policy has been illustrated by expanding a military presence in Afghanistan, returning to Iraq, working with NATO to overthrow the regime in Libya, collaborating with Saudi Arabia to crush rebels in Bahrain and Yemen, dramatically increasing drone warfare on a multitude of “enemy” targets, participating in the destabilization of the government of Ukraine, launching a new cold war against Russia, pivoting U.S. military resources to Asia against China, and funding rebels in Syria.

In sum, the track record of President Obama has been tragically flawed not because he “threw in the towel” but because he did not adequately pursue the pragmatic foreign policy agenda he promised his supporters in 2008. Mike Lofgren, (The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, Penguin Books, 2015), writes about a “deep state,” a set of non-transparent institutions, think tanks, and long-time political influentials who determine most of United States foreign policy without any semblance of visibility to the public. As Andrew Bacevich once wrote, the role of the public is to be compliant and supportive of whatever foreign policy decisions are made by these less than transparent influentials.

Occasionally, the President and key spokespersons and publicists are called upon to explain ongoing foreign policies to the public and/or to criticize deviations from the direction of policy a President might initiate. The Washington Post and its pundits explain what the U.S. role in the world should be, “the world policeman,” and call into question any efforts, such as Obama’s pragmatism, when they deviate from what the wise men and women and the deep state institutions demand.

Finally, what Richard Cohen, and other humanitarian interventionists and their neoconservative colleagues, does not realize is that the United States is no longer the hegemonic power in the world. United States foreign policy is going to have to adjust to a multipolar world and a world mobilized for radical economic, as well as political change. The supporters of Obama’s foreign policy vision were inspired by an approach to international relations that while still based on big power muscle was at least tailored for a more complicated world. The alternative might be World War III.

It is unclear what the direction of U.S. foreign policy will be in a Trump administration but most signs point to greater militarism and interventionism. A first response from the peace movement might be to rearticulate the vision of a foreign policy pragmatism that was promised but not delivered by President Obama when he first ran for the presidency.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn

A Reposted Essay for the Season

Harry Targ : Season for Hope, Season for Struggle

‘I swear it’s not too late’
Turn! Turn! Turn!
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2009

Turn, Turn, Turn (chorus)
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
(repeat chorus)

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
(repeat chorus)

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
(repeat chorus)

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

(Words from Ecclesiastes; text adapted and music by Pete Seeger)
We received a wonderful Chanukah present the other day, a children’s book called Turn! Turn! Turn! It is an illustrated adaptation by designer Wendy Anderson Halperin, of words from the Old Testament and music by Pete Seeger.

This present rekindled for me emotions, as I am sure it does for others, as I remembered things past; youth, family, naïve images of peace and tranquility. There is poignancy for us now too as we move towards the holidays at the same time that we struggle over the range of issues that will shape the destiny of humankind: peace, saving the environment, jobs, and health care reform.

This season progressives are debating whether we have been betrayed by Barack Obama; who is the biggest scoundrel — Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe; how to revitalize the peace movement; and whether to finally break with the Democrats.

But then “Turn, Turn, Turn” reminds us that “to everything there is a season.” The song suggests that the ebbs and flows of history are not bound by calendars, dates and times, and heroes and villains. A “season” is defined by its historic projects.

And these historic projects, the words suggest, include “a time to reap,” “a time to build,” “a time to break down,” “a time to cast away stones,” and “a time to gather stones together.”

Our projects, our seasons, entail defeats and victories, tears and laughter, but the seasons go on and encompass “a time to love” and “a time to hate.” And in the end the song declares, “I swear it’s not too late.”

So if we are inspired by the song, as we were in the 1960s, we remember that the struggles for peace and justice are not about individuals, political parties, and calendar deadlines but about the continued commitments which we have made to create peace, save the planet, put people back to work, and provide secure health care for all.

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Harry Targ

 The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: the key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret. Glenn Greenwald, “Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence,” The Intercept, 12/10/16.

The “liberal” cable news outlet MSNBC, print media, and social media went ballistic Friday night, December 9, over the release of a story in the “objective” Washington Post that the CIA had found a connection between Russian hackers, WikiLeaks, and the release of damaging stories about presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Rachel Maddow was positively breathless as she reported the Post story which in effect explains the Clinton loss as a result of Russian interference. Weaving a yarn of conspiracy, Maddow also implicated the leadership of the Republican Party in Congress for opposing any investigation of the CIA warning before the elections. The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell questioned the credibility and partisanship of the CIA claims about a Putin/Trump collaboration. 

Maddow further linked the CIA claims that Russia used the distribution of hacked messages to embarrass candidate Hillary Clinton to Trump’s alleged close ties to Russia,  his investments in the Russian energy industry, and rumors that the next Secretary of State would be an Exxon/Mobil CEO, whose corporation has close ties to Russia. (She correctly pointed out that if Russia had sided with the Clinton candidacy, the Republicans would have been outraged). Maddow, the Post, and many social media outlets have suggested that all this adds up to a severe constitutional crisis. A foreign nation, Russia, had interfered with free elections in American democracy. She implied that the U.S. would never engage in such conduct overseas nor should it accept outside interference in the electoral process at home.

The story is flawed from so many perspectives it is difficult to disentangle the real threats to American society.

First, the United States has been interfering in elections all across the globe at least since the onset of the Cold War. The same CIA that is the hero in this story created Christian Democratic parties in Europe shortly after World War Two to challenge the popularity of Communist parties across the continent. It was instrumental in creating and supporting virulently anti-Communist trade unions in Europe and Latin America. And it funded the development of a panoply of anti-Communist scholarly networks inspired by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Some of the most revered scholars, writers, artists, were knowingly or unknowingly compromised by the CIA political agenda.

In recent times, anti-Communist and erratic Russia President Boris Yeltsin received aid and campaign advice from the Clinton Administration during the Russian leader’s 1996 run for reelection. Yeltsin was being challenged by candidates from Russian nationalist and Communist parties. The victory of either would have slowed or reversed the so-called “shock therapy” conversions from a state-directed to a neoliberal economy introduced by a compliant Yeltsin.

Of course, interference in the politics of other countries has been an unfortunate staple of United States foreign policy throughout the world, particularly in Latin America: Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and most recently, Honduras and Venezuela. These patterns of interference have not been merely gossipy stories leaked to the media but the funneling of money, sabotage, training and support of coup plotters, and other direct, physical forms of intervention.

In addition, inside the Beltway an influential group of foreign policy elites have been pressuring the Obama Administration to expand efforts to push back Russia, including undermining Vladimir Putin’s rule (Putin is no different a political dictator and supporter of crony capitalism than the earlier U.S. favorite Boris Yeltsin).* The United States and its NATO allies, violating promises from the 1990s, have been placing troops and bases in Poland and the Baltic states. The United States played a significant role in the campaign that led to the ouster of the elected leader of Ukraine (a plot organized by a neoconservative State Department ally of Hillary Clinton). In short, leading foreign policymakers have been lobbying for a New Cold War. And, the “liberal media” stereotype of an aging, macho, shirtless, dictator provides a superb visual image of the enemy. And to the contrary, candidate Trump hinted at the possibility of reducing tensions between the United States and Russia.

Further, the aforementioned media have assumed but not demonstrated in any way that the alleged Russian hacking and the use of WikiLeaks (an opponent believed inside the Beltway to be almost as nefarious as Putin) to publicize compromising e-mails determined the outcome of the elections. This is in juxtaposition to the electronic libraries of published articles seeking to explain the election outcomes. Many election analyses have correctly highlighted factors shaping the election including such variables as class, race, region, anti-immigrant sentiments, voter suppression, and campaign tactics.  “Fake News” (as opposed to the usual mainstream media distortions) is the latest variable added to the list of explanations. It is the case that the allegations of Russian hacking uncovered by the CIA months ago and resurfacing now is the Washington Post, MSNBC, USA Today, CNN version of “Fake News.”

What makes all this so serious is that lying has become the standard practice in discourse about politics in the U.S. political system. The rightwing, from the Reagan period to the present, has developed a mantra of a “post-factual world,” one that rejects the four hundred year enlightenment idea that facts exist. Now media institutions, for most part “centrists” in their political orientation, have increasingly mirrored this rightwing practice. They generate their own fake news stories.

The problem is that more Americans, from all demographics and ideologies, are losing confidence in most sources of information. They are becoming cynical about a corrupt political system and increasingly find themselves powerless in a world of economic marginalization, racism, sexism, and homophobia. They increasingly live in a world of ecological devastation: the air, the water, the climate are all threatened.

We desperately need a new politics: authentic, honest, rigorous, and one that speaks from and to the vast majority of humankind which has become victims, not agents of their own destiny, in part because they cannot access the truth.

*Stephen Cohen, “CNN Gets Schooled by Stephen Cohen on DNC Hack,Trump-Putin Links (Video),” Russia Insider, August 1, 2016.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Harry Targ

White Supremacy on Campus

Purdue University students rallied and marched to the theme of “Love Trumps Hate” one week after the presidential election. Participants in the rally evidenced their concern for the rising environment of hate and racism brought on by the rhetoric of the recently concluded presidential campaign. Appeals were made to the Purdue President to speak out forcefully against threats to communities of color, immigrants, various ethnic groups, and the gay/lesbian community on campus.

Two weeks later, on Wednesday, November 30, members of the Purdue community discovered several flyers posted around campus exhorting students to defend white America from minorities and immigrants. The source, a white supremacist group called American Vanguard, claimed credit for posting flyers at several universities across the country. According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, (Thursday, December 1, 2016) the website of the hate group declares the following in a manifesto titled TOTAL WAR: “We fight for a White America, but this can never happen unless we win the hearts and minds of our fellow White youth. We want to be at the forefront of the reawakening of White racial consciousness. In order to do this we must be willing to fight.”

Concerned members of the Purdue university community have been mobilizing support to urge the administration and faculty to make strong, pointed denunciations of these flyers and the seeming drift toward more racist incidents, including threats of violence against people of color. Many believe that the racist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic sentiments that figured so prominently during the election campaign have reignited  white supremacy that is deeply embedded in U.S. history.

The Institute for Global Security and Defense Initiatives

During the same week the racist flyers were posted, Purdue University announced the establishment of a new research institute on campus: the Institute for Global Security and Defense Initiatives. The announcement of this research arm of the campus came as part of a two-day conference bringing together military officials, CEOs of corporations with huge military contracts, and selected faculty some of whom supported new war-related research dollars coming to campus  programs. According to the Purdue Exponent (Friday, December 2, 2016), the new institute will bring together under one roof research that involves “nanotechnology, social and behavioral sciences, big data analytics and simulations to produce solutions to issues facing national security and defense.”

Purdue President Mitch Daniels in his announcement of the Institute’s establishment said: “We live in a dangerous world in which we must continuously invent more, discover more, and innovate more than those who oppose us, and be able to deliver those technologies quickly into the hands of the people who use them to protect the rest of us.” The new interim director of the Institute echoed the concern for what he called “solving security issues.”

Purdue University this year has received $50 million in advanced defense research projects  (including a multi-million dollar research contract with Rolls Royce to produce “next generation aircraft propulsion systems”). The hope is that by centralizing all defense-related research, the university will make itself more attractive to corporations, the Defense Department, and the new Trump administration, the collaboration that former President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”

There are several unexamined premises embedded in these huge collaborations between the defense establishment, the corporate sector, and the university. First, President Daniels recently reiterated his belief that the number one economic problem the U.S. economy faces is the federal debt. Military spending has accounted for at least half of all federal expenditures since World War Two, what international relations scholar Andrew Bacevich has called “the permanent war economy.”

Second, the long-term planning for war is based upon the proposition that war-making and preparation for war are perpetual needs of the federal government: not just basic security but ever more advanced investment of dollars in technological advances, more arms, and more soldiers, and public and private contract warriors. The dominant narrative of world affairs, perpetuated by many scholars, defense intellectuals, and pundits, most of whom have a stake in the war system, is that war is inevitable. Little research emphasis is placed on war prevention, conflict-resolution, or working with other nations and international organizations to reduce tensions and violence in the world.

Third, increased military research and development,  new rounds of armaments, and the further globalization of the U.S. military will inadvertently accelerate the drift toward ecological disaster (a concern reflected in other research spaces at Purdue University). This is so particularly because the military is a major consumer of fossil fuels today.

Fourth, and relevant to the rise of racism and white supremacy on campuses across the country is the new defense agenda, illustrated by the Purdue Institute for Global Security and Defense. The overwhelming victims of death, destruction, and forced migration around the world today are people of color. Historically, during the height of the colonial era, three-quarters of humankind was ruled by a small minority of Europeans and North Americans. U.S. politicians of both political parties since the rise of the United States to global power after World War Two have articulated the view that it is “the indispensable nation” in world affairs. The ideological justification for the United States spending more on the military than most of the other nations of the world combined is the premise that it, as one country, has the obligation to decide on the security of the globe.

The movements initiated by students on campuses to resist hate and racism are vitally important. Today these movements constitute the main defense against the resurgence of a new round of white supremacy.

In addition, in the long run it is important for social movements to see the connections between white supremacy at home and the belief in American exceptionalism abroad. They are comfortable ideological bed-fellows. They reinforce each other. They justify each other. And they have to be opposed together if we are ever to have a secure, multi-cultural world, where social and economic justice prevails. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chutzpah About Cuba Remains

(a repost from April 28, 2015 inspired by media frames on the death of Fidel Castro)

Harry Targ
Cuban society has been an experimental laboratory... If one set of policies became problematic, the Cubans moved in different directions. Usually change came after heated debate at all levels of society. (Harry Targ, Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 1992, 6)

The predominant image projected about Cuba from U.S. official government sources and the media has not changed much over the last two hundred and fifty years. Ever since the founding of the United States, Cuba has been seen as a victimized land populated by masses eager to break away from Spanish colonial control preferably to affiliate with the United States. Early American political figures such as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams proclaimed that the United States was willing and able to appropriate the island nation when the Spanish were ready to leave the Caribbean. In the antebellum period, Southern politicians urged that Cuba be incorporated into the slave South.
In the period before the Spanish/Cuban/American War of 1898, the images of the U.S. obligation to the Cuban people presented in newspapers and theaters likened the former to a masculine hero compelled to rescue Cuba, characterized as a damsel in distress. The brutal Spanish were figuratively raping the Cuban women. At the same time Afro-Cuban men, the narrative suggested, were unable to liberate their people. Consequently, the United States, it was broadly proclaimed, must act on behalf of the Cuban people.

After the Spanish/American/Cuban War the U.S. generals and diplomats wrote the Cuban constitution in negotiations with the departing Spanish and hand-picked Cuban leaders. Over the next sixty years the floodgates were opened for ever larger investments in U.S. owned sugar plantations. After World War II, the U.S. domination of the Cuban economy expanded to include tourism, casinos, and gangsters. In every epoch, a popular story about the U.S./Cuban relationship depicted a stern but wise parent necessarily overseeing an energetic and passionate, but immature, child.

But then the long revolutionary struggle of the 1950s achieved victory and the narrative changed. The ungrateful Cubans followed the treacherous new leaders: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and a grassroots movement of peasants, workers, students, women, Afro-Cubans, and solidarity workers from across the globe. As the U.S. government and the dominant media saw it the revolution meant nothing but trouble: communism; crazy ideas about free health care and education; great debates about moral versus material incentives that even found their way into work sites; the export of medical expertise; and sometimes the provision of soldiers to help anti-colonial struggles. It was all bad news for almost sixty years.
Despite the best efforts of the United States to derail the trajectory of Cuban society, the Cuban revolution survived. Now, wiser heads in Washington have decided that economic blockades, internal subversion, assassination plots, and efforts to isolate Cuba from the international community were ineffective. It was time for a new policy: normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.   Official spokespersons suggested and media outlets declared that the best way to help the Cuban people recover from their sixty years of pain and suffering is to establish normal diplomatic and commercial ties with the island.

In a recent essay in USA Today, “Cubans Are Still Waiting for the Thaw,” Alan Gomez argues that Cubans are getting impatient with the pace of change that has occurred since December, 2014, when Presidents Castro and Obama announced the opening of relations. He quotes a Cuban economist who says that because relations with the United States are critical to a small country like Cuba, the latter wants to be careful not to make any mistakes in developing new policies.

But Gomez suggests the Cubans are restless. He reminds the reader that Americans were very frustrated with the stagnation of the U.S. economy during the recent recession. But just imagine he poses:
          going through that kind of economic malaise for more than half a   century. So when they’re told that the end is near, that the Americans and    their money are coming to save them, you can’t blame them for getting antsy           as they look over the horizon (USA Today, April 23, 2015).

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that means audacity or nerve. Usually it refers to statements made that are so outlandish that they defy the imagination. This statement, suggesting that Cubans have been waiting for sixty years for the Americans to come with their ideology of possessive individualism, markets, support for big corporations,  and the promotion of consumerism, ranks among the great expressions of chutzpah in our time. It ignores the beacon of hope, the inspiration, the material progress in health care, education, culture, and work place experimentation in the relations of production, which makes Cuba an actor many times bigger in the eyes of the world than its size.
In the end, a real transformation of United States/Cuban relations will require a fundamental change in the American consciousness such that it respects the qualities of both countries, not the superiority of one over the other.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Harry Targ

Election Expectations

I like most political observers believed the polls. It is interesting to note that some pundits, such as filmmaker Michael Moore, were warning of a Trump victory. These people were more likely to be in touch with working people, particularly in economically devastated areas. The media played a big role in "creating" the Trump candidacy then making him out to be a monster for mainstream viewers, thus ignoring the patronizing way the Trump message was seen by some of his base.

Why did Trump win?

A careful analysis explaining the Trump victory requires a multi-factor analysis. Over the last 24 hours I have seen compelling explanations from Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Glenn Greenwald.*  Statements by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are informative as well.

Substantively we need to reflect on the role and impact of 40 years of neoliberal globalization and its key components--financialization, privatization, deindustrialization, downsizing the civilian sector of the economy and boosting the military industrial complex, and union-busting. Neoliberal globalization expanded dramatically in the Reagan period in the 1980s and was given a centrist stamp of approval in the Clinton presidency. The impacts on working people have been devastating.

Deeply embedded in the logic of capitalism is the exploitation of all workers and the particular dehumanization and objectification of workers of color. Over time racism has developed an autonomous character and has been used to divide the working class. The Trump campaign used the historic and institutionalized racism and white supremacy to mobilize some of his base. As to this election, race and class matter.

In addition, we cannot forget the institutionalization of patriarchy, a system developed long before the rise of capitalism but used along with race to divide the working class, and pit people at the base against each other. Modern forms of sexism have used the media to objectify and dehumanize women, a tool that also played out significantly in this election campaign.

Finally, the media--print, electronic, networks and cable--created the candidacy of Donald Trump giving him free air time, communicating his most bombastic statements, all to increase viewership and profit. Five media conglomerates control about half of all of what we citizens consume. The Trump campaign was a boon to their profits. After he was nominated the media shifted to the Trump as monster narrative, equally profitable. While the latter appealed to the liberal political junkies it was ignored or resented by the Trump base. We news junkies were fooled into expecting a Clinton victory. The same shortsightedness governed polling operations and our consumption of polling data.  

Prospects for the Future

The struggles for economic democracy, social justice, an end to racism and sexism will continue. The Sanders campaign was an inspirational predictor of the popular struggles that will move forward into the future. Of particular relevance is that the millenials of the Sanders campaign, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15 and environmental movements are in the majority. Of course the dangers of radical setbacks in the short run are great—including further deterioration of the environment, encouragement of violent fascist groups, more police violence, attacks on women's rights, and efforts to destroy basic health care. The good news is that progressive groups and a twenty-first century left are expanding. The bad news is the struggles will require more defense than offense in the short-run. I think we can win, if the environment holds up.

Fears and Hopes

I fear the unleashing of more police violence and vigilantism against people of color and immigrants, significant reversal of the modest gains in saving the environment, and possible destruction of people’s programs (for me as well) such as Medicare, Social Security, public education.

My hope is that the anti-Trump "crowds" hitting the streets, the progressive movements in the Democratic Party, old and new leftists, and the inspiring new issue specific campaigns such as in North Dakota, will flower and grow. It is our only hope.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Defeat Trump First

November 2, 2016


Harry Targ

The presidential candidacy of Donald Trump has mobilized rightwing populists, economic nationalists, racists, anti-Muslims and anti-Semites, sectors of the marginalized and growing precariat, and some Republicans. His stock in trade has been a continuous communication by brief soundbites and tweets lies and innuendos, egregious insults, personal attacks, and slanders. These have exceeded much of the history of political discourse in the United States (with the possible exception of the anti-Communist ravings of the 1950s and the virulently hostile campaigns in the days of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr).

It is clear to most well-meaning political activists of the center and the left, that a Trump presidency would cause untold pain and suffering to an already aggrieved population of people of color, workers, women, gays and lesbians, and advocates for the environment. However, Donald Trump, for a year now, has been a candidate who is largely a creation of the mainstream media. Day after day mainstream media reported on the candidate’s every word, his seeming popularity, and his “presumptiveness” as the Republican nominee of his party. CBS executive Leslie Moonves said about the Trump candidacy: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS” (Campbell Brown, “Why I Blame TV for Trump,” Politico Magazine, May/June 2016). The Trump candidacy has been worth millions more dollars in corporate profit for a news industry that has experienced declining viewership and readership in recent years. 

 Once Trump secured almost enough delegates to be nominated the Republican candidate, the media, including liberal and left voices, launched a non-stop effort to discredit his background, his assertions, and his broad array of rightwing supporters. And since candidate Trump continuously articulates his bizarre views he has become the gift that never stops giving. The frame has shifted from Trump the curiosity to Trump the monster. Both tropes, it is hoped, will increase the viewership and advertising as 24/7 coverage shifts to the general election.

The narrow media frame on the Trump phenomenon and his daily statements lead to a portrait of an electoral contest with his Democratic Party opponent that prioritizes personalities and sound bites and not ideas, issues, worldviews, or ideologies. The media frame reaffirms the typical American personality “binary,” that is if not Trump then the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton. Although the differences between the two candidates matter, fundamental questions of policy and purpose which should be part of political discourse are frozen out of the political process. The central issue of the election has become Donald Trump.

The Trump candidacy has poisoned and distorted the real political contest of ideas undergirding the issues of the twenty first century. Black Lives Matter, the Occupy, the Fight for 15, Moral Mondays, and the climate change movements are all about the fundamental structural impediments to any semblance of a humane society. Many of the issues articulated by these campaigns have been reflected in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. But because of the Trump media frame and the political binary these vital issues do not get discussed. 

Fundamentally, because Trump represents the worst aspects of United States history and politics, political conversations center on him. They do not address the connections between capitalism and poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, war, and terrorism. And the mainstream media prefers that such discussions not take place either. In addition, since the Democratic candidate is part of the problem, not the solution, the Trump conundrum limits necessary political discourse.

So progressives have a problem. A Trump victory in November will have enormous negative consequences for the vast majority of the most marginalized sectors of American society, some of whom struggled for almost 100 years to achieve some modicum of social and economic justice. And a Clinton victory ensures the continuation of the institutions that have promoted the global capitalist agenda that has been in place for the last forty years: monopolization and financialization of the global economy and the use of “humanitarian” military interventions to implement the neoliberal order.

Perhaps for the coming period the prioritization of the progressive political agenda should include in this order: effectively say “no” to Trump at the polls; say “no” to the revitalization of neoliberal globalization after a Clinton Administration enters office in January, 2017; and finally say “no” to the American political binary that institutionalizes just two choices, forestalling discussions of fundamental change in the United States.     

Monday, October 31, 2016


← The Culture of Conformism: Understanding Social ConsentRed Scare: FBI & The Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States

Posted on April 13, 2011 by sdonline  Socialism and Democracy

Regin Schmidt Red Scare: FBI & The Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States (University of Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000).

The young lack a sense of history-of the Cold War, of anti-communism, of the vibrancy of progressive movements in the United States. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, older activists discoursing on their history at first engaged in long needed self-criticism. The self-criticism then shifted, however, to blanket rejection of our progressive pasts-our victories as well as our defeats, our brave and honorable moments, and particularly a recollection of the hegemonic power of the U.S. state as a primary cause of our defeats. Plainly, the horrific record of state repression in America is being forgotten by the older radicals and is unfamiliar to the younger ones.

Regin Schmidt’s book can help enormously in revisiting and reconstructing the role of state repression in manipulating, subverting, jailing, deporting, and killing leftists in the twentieth century. Schmidt has provided us with a data-rich account of how the Federal Bureau of Investigation took on its special role in crushing the left in America. His book is about the origins of the FBI in the old Bureau of Investigation in 1908 and its transformation into a state weapon in the struggle against perceived Bolshevism, anarchism, and communism in the aftermath of World War I. It is also about the continuity of state repression from the era of the Palmer Raids to Cold War America.

Schmidt argues that recently declassified information points to new explanations for the FBI’s rise to prominence. Some researchers view the agency’s rise as a response to mass hysteria, placing the root cause of anti-communism in the public at large. Schmidt, however, shows how popular attitudes about the Bolshevik/communist/anarchist threat emerge only after Attorney General Palmer and the FBI launched their campaigns of harassment, arrest, and deportation. In short, anti-communism as a public ideology was the creation of state institutions.

Another body of scholarly and journalistic literature places primary, indeed sole, responsibility for FBI misdeeds on the shoulders of its long-time director, J. Edgar Hoover. While Schmidt sees Hoover as the major protagonist in the FBI drama, he grounds Hoover’s conduct in the context of state policy and bureaucratic interest.

Further, most studies of the FBI emphasize its role in shaping anti-communism after World War II. Schmidt, however, takes the reader back to the first Red Scare and the Palmer Raids for the origins of anti-communism. And, he claims, the campaign was constant from then through the Cold War period. The FBI and anti-communism are less visible from the mid-1920s until the depths of the Great Depression only because of the diminution of radical activities.

Schmidt clearly states his central thesis early in the book and demonstrates its accuracy through historical examination.

Just as the mushrooming federal agencies, bureaus, and commissions were employed to regulate the economy and ameliorate the most severe social consequences of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, [so also] the state during the first decades of the century increasingly used its resources to control, contain, and, in times of crisis, to repress social unrest and political opposition. Thus, the institutionalization of the FBI’s political activities from 1919 was at bottom a part of the federalization of social control in the form of political surveillance.

This book provides an engaging, rich, detailed history of how the FBI served the social control functions of the state: harassing the left, supporting federal, state, and local politicians in their anti-communist campaigns, and responding with sympathy to corporate requests for assistance. It covers the campaign against the IWW, the 1919 strike wave, the Palmer Raids, the Seattle General Strike, and the deportation of radicals.

Red Scare is an important book. It should be read by older progressives to refresh their memories of real state repression in the United States. The book should be passed along to young activists, most of whom were not old enough to remember FBI harassment of Central American solidarity activists in the 1980s. And this book should be included as supplementary reading in university classes on U.S. history, American politics, and social movements.

Finally, the book makes crystal clear an important reality of struggles for social change. Social movements do not fall apart solely because of ideological rigidity or factionalism or egotism. The errors that come from our ranks have to be understood in the context of a continuous pattern of state repression. The sorry record of the FBI in the United States must not be forgotten. Red Scare will help us remember.

Reviewed by Harry Targ, Department of Political Science, Purdue University

Monday, October 24, 2016


Harry Targ

Tom Hayden (1939-2016) was an activist and intellectual who, with others, inspired a generation of young people to oppose racism and war. He drafted a visionary statement that is still relevant today. He launched a youth movement in the late 1950s when the larger society was still crippled by virulent anti-communism and a sanctimonious view that the United States was the leader of the “free world.” He remained an anti-war and human rights activist throughout his life.

The ideas of community, empowerment, and social justice were articulated for the Sixties in the Port Huron Statement, written by founders of the Students for a Democratic Society, particularly Tom Hayden. While written by and for a relatively privileged sector of disenchanted youth in a period of booming economic growth and military expansion, the document spoke to the passion for justice, participation, and community, and an “…unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding, and creativity.”

It called for the creation of “human interdependence,” replacing “…power rooted in possession, privilege, or circumstance…” by “power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason and creativity.”

By the late Sixties many were identifying a new society based on the Port Huron vision built on core principles. These included:

  • local control and participatory democracy;
  • racial justice;
  • gender equality;
  • equitable distribution of resources and the collective product of human labor;
  • commitments to the satisfaction of minimal basic needs for all of humankind;
  • the development of an ethic that connects survival to human existence, not to specific jobs;
  • human control over technology; and
  • a new “land ethic” that conceives of humankind as part of nature, not in conflict with it.

The vision led to the exploration of the impediments to the construction of a society based on human scale that would celebrate both individual creativity and community. Growing familiarization with the critique of capitalism suggested that the capitalist mode of production, dominant over two-thirds of the world, was based upon the exploitation, oppression, dehumanization, and repression of the vast majority of humankind.

Incorporating an understanding of the workings of capitalism reinforced the vision that philosopher Martin Buber called the decentralized social principle embedded in Port Huron’s eloquent call for “community.” Building a new society entailed class struggle which would manifest itself in factories and fields, in rich and poor countries, and in political venues from the ballot box to the streets.

Bringing about positive change was a much more complicated affair than activists originally thought, but the sustained and sometimes brutal opposition to visions, like that reflected in The Port Huron Statement, validated the general correctness of them.

Today, new generations of activists, along with older ones, are reflecting and participating in diverse social movements in our cities and towns. They observe with enthusiasm the mobilizations, the militancy, and the passion for justice still unfolding in the Middle East.

The efforts of Venezuelans, Bolivians, Ecuadorians, and the Cubans who inspired us so much over the years are applauded. Important debates about social market economies, workers’ management of large enterprises, this or that candidate or political party, are occurring on the Internet and in the streets.

Although the times are so different from the 1960s, perhaps the vision of community that animated thinking then (which we in turn learned from those who preceded us) may still be relevant for today.

Tom Hayden and his comrades proclaimed that we must remain committed to the sanctity of human life, to equality, to popular control of all our institutions, to a reverence for the environment, and to the idea that the best of society comes from communal efforts to make living better for all. Hayden’s vision survives.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Harry Targ

Chicago’s iconic journalist, columnist, pundit, and Cubs fan, Mike Royko once ruminated on what he learned from his years as a Chicago Cubs baseball fan:  "It taught a person that if you try hard enough and long enough, you'll still lose and that's the story of life."

He lived through a lot of history of Cubs defeat. Sometimes the Cubs got close to world  series play only to let errors or faulty complaints about how a fan interfering with an outfielders catch of a foul ball led to a playoff game loss. Or going back further to Royko’s youth, the Cubs acquired a colossally slow home run hitter to play one outfield position along with another great home run hitter who was even slower; or the trade of a future hall of fame outfielder/base stealer for a washed up pitcher. While railing with vigor against the corruption, racism, and authoritarian rule of the first Daley machine in Chicago,  Royko followed with sorrow and despair a baseball team that was in Steve Goodman’s words, “the doormat of the National League.”  In fact, Goodman, the author of the powerful song about Middle America, “The City of New Orleans,” despite his disappointed love affair with the Chicago Cubs, sang about wanting to be buried in Wrigley Field.

Chicago’s love affair with their failed baseball teams prompted a disagreement between Royko and his friend and the other Chicago hero, Studs Terkel, on what the Cubs and the Chicago White Sox stood for. Studs correctly pointed out that the Southside White Sox were the working class team coming from a part of the city where there used to be “stockyards and steel mills.”  And in contradistinction, Cubs fans “…are from the suburbs, brought in by big buses. It’s like going to an air show or ‘Cats’—something tourists do.” Terkel pointed out in his New York Times October 28, 2005 op ed essay that for attendees at Cubs games “…it’s not about baseball. It’s about having been to a place to be.” He goes on to compare Wrigley Field, the “hallowed” ball park, with U.S. Cellular Field, “a dump.” The White Sox park only surpasses the Cubs venue in its toilets, “…the cleanest I’ve ever seen in a public place.”   

Royko, Terkel (and Goodman) are Chicago heroes (in the same tradition as the Haymarket Martyrs and Lucy Parsons). But they are both wrong.  The history of struggles, workers, women, African Americans, gays,  suggest  just the opposite of Royko’s despondency. In fact, if groups of people try hard enough and long enough they can win. In Cubs history, great stars planted the seeds of victory—Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo. They raised the possibility of victory that, while not experienced in the short term, has to be seen as part of a historic process that led to the 2016 season. This is even more  clear as we look at the social movements of today. Where does the passionate rejection of the reactionary politics of the Trump campaign come from if not from past struggles? What about the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, and movements for climate change?  Can social change ever occur if  Royko’s defeatist consciousness predominates?  

And although Terkel’s baseball “class analysis" of the Cubs and Sox is historically correct, baseball like life changes.  Transformations can occur. The Chicago Cubs have become the city’s team: for workers, men and women, and more people of color than before.  In fact, as a metaphor, the Cubs have transcended their upper class roots. In addition they have become a national phenomenon.

There is something about the inspiration that traditional ‘down and outers’ in the sports world have for most of the citizenry. Perhaps sometime in the future, progressives will look back to 2016 and remember that an older, Democratic Socialist, Jewish politician inspired young people to think about building a better society. And they will remember also that the Chicago Cubs won the National League championship and came close to or won the World Series.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Kirsten West Savila wrote: “Angela Davis—scholar, freedom fighter, former political prisoner, icon and my personal hero—told attendees at the “Black Matters: The Futures of Black Scholarship and Activism” conference at the University of Texas at Austin, that she is not so “narcissistic” to say that she won’t vote for Hillary Clinton,” in The Root, September 30,  2016.

Harry Targ

The Dickens opening to The Tale of Two Cities—it was the best of times and the worst of times-- continues to be relevant again and again. That is what dialectics is all about. 2016 gave us an exciting and inspirational presidential campaign led by Bernie Sanders: an older, Jewish socialist. Best of all was the enormous enthusiasm he generated among millennials, who were excited by his political vision and not deterred by his age.

On the other hand, the Republican pool of presidential candidates were among the most reactionary, racist, sexist, and homophobic collection of politicians ever assembled in national political life. This characterization was not always true of past Republican leaders who occasionally stood up for social and economic justice and against war. However, Republicans since 2008 have sought to rekindle the deep structures of racism for their own political gain.

The long-time presumptive Democratic Party nominee, at least from the standpoint of the mainstream media, offered a program of national policy that more or less supported finance capitalism at home and “humanitarian interventionism” overseas. 

But the Democratic contest energized the passions of the young, expanded political discourse to include visions of a more just future, and buried the virulent anti-communism that undergirded the political rhetoric of American politics since the onset of the Cold War. The vibrant support for the Sanders candidacy shifted domestic political discourse to the left and led to the construction of a Democratic Party platform that spoke to the needs for achieving a single payer health care system, raising the minimum wage to a living wage,  providing free tuition to students entering public universities,  creating real banking reform, passing meaningful immigration policies, reforming the criminal justice system, and addressing climate change, the most fundamental threat to humankind. Although platforms are just words, they articulate guides for policy advocacy and social movement mobilization. 

Finally, the Sanders campaign has stimulated the continuation of grassroots mobilizations to support progressive candidates for local, state, and national office. At this stage at least, the Sanders “Our Revolution” organizing efforts promise to continue the democratic socialist upsurge between elections as well as during them.

The “best of times” leaves much undone and gives pause to the most excited Sanders activists but the seeds have been planted for a new politics among the progressive majority and inspiration for older and younger sectors of the left to participate in mass movements in the years ahead.

As to the November, 2016 election, the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is close enough to be frightening. The Trump/Pence candidacy has mobilized white supremacists, religious fundamentalists, citizens virulently hostile to immigrants, second amendment dogmatists and others who stand for returning to a past that can only be recreated with even greater state violence.The complicated election season raises questions about where progressives, particularly Sanders activists, should channel their political energies.

First, the Trump/Pence candidacy must be defeated. Trump has mobilized reactionary sectors of American society who support reversing gains made by women, people of color, and workers. The long march for economic and social justice of workers, women, African Americans, Latinos, and religious minorities has taken too long and required too many sacrifices, to be reversed.

Second, the centrists Democrats who support candidate Clinton might blame the new progressive majority if the Democratic candidate wins only by a narrow victory or loses. In fact, a Clinton victory will clearly depend upon the support of the masses of people, young and old, black and white, many of whom worked with passion for Bernie Sanders. A Clinton victory will be a Sanders victory. 

And in the 2016 context, the progressive majority will be in a position to demand that the Democratic Platform be supported in policy. The new administration will be obliged to put its full resources behind significant reform in health care, wages, the criminal justice system, immigration, and bank regulation. And, in addition, the new progressive majority will be in a position (even beyond former candidate Sanders) to challenge the military-industrial complex and demand a withdrawal from the expanding US empire in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

In fact, a Hillary Clinton electoral victory will be a defeat for the legitimation of racism and reaction and a demonstration that it was the progressive majority that insured it. The new progressive majority will have the right to “sit at the table.” If not it will be fully justified in hitting the streets.