Monday, November 17, 2014

SMOKE AND MIRRORS: PROFITS AND JOBS UP AS HOUSEHOLDS SUFFER



Harry Targ

“The numbers show a conservative blueprint for success: seven straight months of job growth with unemployment under 6 percent and a state that leads the nation in new manufacturing jobs. Plus, throw in tax cuts and a budget surplus for good measuresummarizing an interview with Governor Mike Pence. (David Brody, CBN News, “GOP Eyes Indiana’s Pence as Presidential Contender,” www.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2014, June/Indianas-Gov-Pence-a-Presidential-Contender-For-2016/)

News from Indiana celebrates the state’s economic recovery (still below pre-recession levels). As the statement above suggests, the recipe for Hoosier success has been tax cuts, corporate and private, and cutting budgets to maintain surpluses for emergencies. Indiana has been a trend-setter for the nation as to privatization of the public sector: including shifting to charter schools, establishing a voucher system encouraging parents to shift their children from public to private schools, selling off public roads, and recruiting controversial corporations such as Duke Power and government agencies, military and civilian, to support research at the state’s flagship research universities.

A panel of Purdue University economists recently predicted continued economic and job growth in 2015 approaching pre-recession levels. While panelists recognized the problem Indiana faces concerning long-term job loss and stagnant wages, they reported some growth in manufacturing employment and expanding jobs in data analysis and finance. They reported also that household expenditures had stabilized. Finally, agriculture, they said, is holding its own. For the future panelists recommended that workers should be trained for the skills demanded of a high technology 21st century economy.

The Purdue economists were more cautiously optimistic and less partisan than politicians such as Governor Pence cited in the Brody article.  However, the relatively positive narrative about the Indiana economy presented by the Governor and Purdue economists varies greatly from recently published research findings. For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county pay wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (www.iiwf.blogspot.com).

Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.

Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers, universal pre-k and programs to build the nation’s infrastructure.”  They may have added that declining real wages also could be related to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.

Thomas added that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should take these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 

More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, refers to Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:

-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

-more precisely 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.

-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.

-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.

Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who struggle to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014, (Roger.Frick@iauw.org).

Assessing the current state of the Indiana economy depends upon where one is located in terms of economic, political, or professional position. Those Indiana men, women, and children who come from the 37 percent of households who earn less, at, or slightly above the poverty line probably have a negative view of their futures. For them, the tax breaks for the rich and the austerity policies for the poor are not positive. 

It is the task of progressives to mobilize to reverse those policies that hurt so many Indiana citizens.


   

Monday, November 10, 2014

ANTI-WAR ACTIVISM: SOLDIERS, VETERANS, AND MILITARY FAMILIES, A Book Review



Harry Targ

Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement by Lisa Leitz. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. (306 pages; paper)

One of the biggest scholarly secrets about social movements since the Vietnam War is the magnitude and vibrancy of the anti-war movement inside the military. “Sir! No Sir!” a 2005 film documented the militant anti-war movement that spread throughout the United States military in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movement included acts of civil disobedience at military bases, networks of coffee houses near military installations, anti-war newspapers targeted to military readers, and a spreading network of anti-war families and loved-ones as the movement percolated throughout U.S. society.

Fighting for Peace by Lisa Leitz, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of Project Pericles at Hendrix College, fast-forwards in a rigorous way to the study of the military anti-war movement from 2005 to 2012; involving veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, loved-ones of those serving, extended families, and networks of military families. The volume uses a variety of methods--questionnaires, extended interviews, archival materials, and ethnographies of organizations and individual military anti-war activists and their families. While surveying anti-war movements against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Professor Leitz concentrates on the participation, vision, rhetoric, activism, tactics, and contradictory “identities” of five organizations: Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Gold Star Families for Peace, and Gold Star Families Speak Out.

The narrative begins with the formation of some of these groups and growing tensions between them arising after the dramatic anti-war protests initiated by Cindy Sheehan, mother of a son who was killed in Iraq. The site of these demonstrations in Crawford, Texas was adjacent to the summer residence of President George Walker Bush.  For Leitz, the camp site that was created and named after Sheehan’s deceased son, Camp Casey was “a watershed moment for this movement.” In addition to inspiring the anti-war movement generally “…the vigil brought together veterans of the current wars, veterans of past wars, families of dead military service members, and families of current service members who were all critical of the Iraq War” (3).

The volume presents in-depth research on each of the anti-war military organizations. It addresses their composition: current military and veterans; families of service members and those killed and injured; and veterans of prior U.S. wars, particularly the Vietnam War. It examines the collaborations and tensions between the veterans and military families and the larger peace movement.  It describes policies, programs, and strategies. These involve anti-war positions and demands for increased services for soldiers on the ground and those returning veterans with health needs. It describes debates about how the military and military families should use their special legitimacy, experiencing war directly or through loved ones, in the mass movement. And the narrative describes how the military anti-war movement (rather than the peace movement in general) became a platform for debate between some socialist organization members who wished to incorporate it in a larger campaign to radically transform society versus those who argued that the military anti-war movement should concentrate on the more limited goal of ending the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and providing adequate services for returning veterans.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the study is the portrait of the contradictions faced by the author herself and the five organizations as they navigated through a hostile military environment. First, Professor Leitz, a visible anti-war activist was married to a career military officer. As a military spouse, she lived on military bases and carried out some of her anti-war activism in a social milieu that was hostile. She frames much of the study around how active military personnel, veterans, and military families addressed these contradictions personally and politically. 

The contradiction of being anti-war activists in social networks of military personnel and families was replicated in the tensions anti-war veterans and military families experienced working with the larger, non-military peace movement. Many of the former opposed the two twenty-first century wars but believed that the U.S. military was needed and, on occasion, could engage in positive projects. This position put these military activists at odds with peace movement ideology and sometimes peace movement practice.  

This portrait of the contradictions between the military movements and the larger peace and anti-war movement provides useful information for activists who ponder how to expand participation in campaigns to promote a peace agenda. And, of course, the peace movement should appropriately respect the special experience, legitimacy, policy preferences, and more limited perspectives of those who actually have experienced war. In addition Professor Leitz describes how the military activists reflected on how their influence could be enlarged as they struggled to become part of a larger more “generic” peace movement.

Fighting for Peace can be a valuable tool for researchers as well as activists. Despite the author’s abstract framing of her research as a study of the military “insider-outsider” identity which sometimes interferes with the well-written account it remains an important contribution to the scholarly study of social movements. Furthermore the rigorous study demonstrates the issues and pitfalls that peace activists must consider as they organize to create a more peaceful world.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

WHAT TO MAKE OF ELECTORAL POLITICS 2014?



Harry Targ

I am looking at exit poll data and, as in prior election seasons, more Democratic votes came from the young, women, African Americans, Latinos, voters with post-graduate degrees and educational levels at or below high school, and low income citizens. This national polling data comports with results from many individual Congressional and state races. These groups of voters (or comparable groups of non-voters) will stay the same or increase as a percentage of  potential voters in 2016 and beyond.

This data speaks to the necessary expansion of electoral and “street heat” strategies that prioritize several issues. Progressives need to continue to combat racism and sexism in all its forms. This translates into reversing voter suppression laws and other tactics to stifle voting, renewing the Voting Rights Act, pursuing equal pay for equal work legislation, opening the doors for citizenship to all migrants to the United States.

In addition, support for an expanded economic populist agenda is central to any progressive historical change. Candidates for public office should be pressured to support living wage legislation at the national and state levels, expand on worker rights to form unions, a green jobs agenda, revising the Affordable Care Act into a single payer system, and federal legislation (paralleling the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights) guaranteeing every worker the right to a job. This program of social and economic justice should be basic to every candidacy at the federal and state levels in 2016. To advocate for such programs, movements inside and outside the electoral arena should spend the next two years engaging in education, agitation and organization.

In addition to struggles over concrete policies, progressives should engage more vigorously in ideological struggle. In general, this means addressing racism as a central undercurrent in American political culture: research and education that documents the centrality of the racialization of the 2014 election would inform discussion in the weeks ahead.

Also, a centerpiece of American political history, paralleling and sometimes overlapping with racism, is the politics of fear. The sources of fear in the past have included racial and ethnic others, foreigners, and communists. This election season fear was generated by half-truths about terrorists particularly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an invasion of Central American children, and a mysterious contagious disease traveling from Africa to the United States. The politics of fear must be challenged, not accommodated, introducing a politics of reason. That is progressives should demand that candidates address real issues rationally, demonstrate arguments using data, and to the contrary avoid simplistic sound bites. The people who need to be motivated should be treated with respect, including assuming that they understand their self-interest and can be convinced by compelling arguments.

Finally, campaigns opposing big money in politics need to continue. This includes the only short-term challenge to big money that has any chance of electoral success; that is organizing masses of people. In addition to increasing the struggles to build multi-issue mass campaigns, progressives can avail themselves of a multitude of media projects: alternative radio and television, free distribution newspapers, blogs, websites, and facebook networks, as well as organizing study circles on college campuses, in senior centers, community centers, and public libraries.

I feel this morning the way I felt the day after Ronald Reagan was elected president. While the Reagan presidency institutionalized a neoliberal economic agenda that has shaped the national and global economy ever since, we also witnessed in the subsequent years the largest rally in United States history against nuclear weapons, a vibrant Central America solidarity movement,  an anti-NAFTA campaign that almost defeated the passage of the treaty in Congress,  various huge mobilizations against wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the election of the first African-American president in United States history. Joe Hill was correct when he urged his comrades “don’t mourn, organize.”



Saturday, November 1, 2014

BEWARE OF OFFICIAL HISTORIES OF WAR:THE VIETNAM CASE



Harry Targ

Well, I'm not going to point any moral;
I'll leave that for yourself
Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking
You'd like to keep your health.
But every time I read the papers
That old feeling comes on;
We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool says to push on.


Journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg recently reported on the Pentagon’s development of public educational materials concerning the history of the Vietnam War. In addition to preparations for a 50th year commemoration of President Johnson’s escalation of the war in 1965, DOD has been posting a war “timeline” on their website. The project was initiated by Congress in 2008 and will cost some $15 million (“Paying Respects, Pentagon Revives Vietnam, and War Over Truth,” New York Times, October 9, 2014).    

Perusing the timeline, a discerning reader would discover an oversimplified, distorted, and ahistorical narrative about the role of the United States in Vietnam. What is being presented as official history reduces the possibility that future generations of Americans will be able to learn from the mistakes of the past (www.vietnamwar50th.com/).

For starters, the narrative needs to develop eight elements of the United States/Vietnam story that are either missing from the timeline entirely or are grossly oversimplified.

First, it is critical to remember that the Indochinese peninsula, what became North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, was a colony of France from the 1850s until the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. After the war, the French sought to reestablish their Southeast Asian empire. They refused to negotiate with the Vietnamese, who demanded independence. What ensued was the bloody French/Indochinese War from 1946 until 1954. The French, defeated in 1954, were forced to withdraw. From 1950 until 1954, the United States funded 80 per cent of the French war effort while fighting in Korea, negotiating to construct a military alliance in Southeast Asia, and building an anti-communist network of states elsewhere in Asia.

Second, an agreement to end the French/Indochina War was achieved at the Geneva Conference of May, 1954. The Geneva Accords granted the three Indochinese states independence, required the withdrawal of all outside military forces from Vietnam, and temporarily divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel. Within two years there were to be all-Vietnamese elections to establish one government. Despite the fact that the United States did not sign the Geneva Accords, a statement was issued promising support for them if all parties acted as agreed. The United States, in violation of Geneva, created a new government in the South and picked an autocrat, Ngo Dinh Diem, to lead a new government there. Diem announced that the South would not participate in the expected elections. Thus, what was to be a temporary administrative division of Vietnam became permanent by fiat.

Third, it must be concluded that every president from World War II through Gerald Ford, engaged in policies to oppose the wishes of the Vietnam people. The United States played a central and negative role in Indochina; from supporting the French effort to reestablish its colony, to imposing the Diem family on South Vietnam, to covertly attacking targets in the North, to fighting in the South, and to massively bombing all across the peninsula in Laos and Cambodia as well as North and South Vietnam.

Fourth, United States military operations, which began with President Eisenhower sending 1,000 “advisors” to South Vietnam, expanded to 540,000 troops in combat operations by 1968. In addition, United States covert agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, engaged in policies of assassinations, moving populations, and in other ways undermining South Vietnamese society. Intervention was economic and cultural as well as military as major United States corporations established projects in Saigon with wealthy South Vietnamese investors.

Fifth, the Johnson and Nixon Administrations launched horrific bombing campaigns, hitting targets in the South and later the North. After an attack on a U.S. military base at Pleiku in South Vietnam during February, 1965, the Johnson Administration initiated Operation Rolling Thunder. This was a three-year non-stop bombing campaign with large areas of South Vietnam and parts of North Vietnam declared “free fire zones.” Between 1965 and 1971, 142 pounds of explosives per acre had been dropped on Vietnam equal to 584 pounds per person. One hundred eighteen pounds of explosives were detonated per second. The total magnitude of bombing equaled  450 Hiroshima-sized bombs. The rural landscape was destroyed, devastating key rural industries such as rubber and timber production, and disease and death spread. The bombing increased migration to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).  Corruption, prostitution, and drug trafficking expanded in the over-populated city. By the end of 1967 more bombs had been unleashed on Vietnam than during the entire European phase of World War II.

Sixth, the Vietnamese and United States troops were victimized by massive amounts of Agent Orange released on people and the rural landscape; twenty-one million gallons of herbicides  between 1961 and 1971. One-quarter of South Vietnam had been sprayed to destroy crops. Thirty-six percent of rice-growing swamps were made unfit for cultivation by 1974 and 30,000 Vietnamese hamlets, five million villagers, were victims of direct spraying. Dioxin, a deadly element of Agent Orange produced by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, created a broad range of cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Genetic abnormalities still exist today as children are born with gruesome physical deformities and twenty-eight “hotspots” still exist in South and Central Vietnam that endanger local populations.

Seventh, the Vietnam policy was built on twenty-five years of lies. The Vietnamese who fought the Japanese occupation during World War II and sought a free Vietnam after the war were authentic nationalists, committed to establishing an independent country free of colonial control. Each president lied about their escalation of the United States role by claiming that the Vietnamese fighting the United States and the Saigon government were mere puppets of Chinese or Soviet communism. Eisenhower lied when he claimed that if Vietnam “fell,” the rest of the region would as well, the simplistic domino theory. Kennedy lied when he claimed that the Diem family running the South Vietnamese government, the police, the military and those who controlled the land constituted democratic tendencies in South East Asia. Johnson lied when he claimed that the North Vietnamese engaged in an unprovoked attack on U.S. naval vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin. And Richard Nixon lied when his advisor declared that “peace is at hand” just before the 1972 election. After that election Nixon launched the most massive lethal bombing campaign against targets all across North and South Vietnam, the so-called “Christmas bombing.”

Finally, contrary to media distortions, most anti-war activists regretted that young men and women were drafted to fight in an unjust and immoral war. The peace movement knew that most of those who fought in Vietnam, were drafted or enlisted because of their economic disadvantage and/or racism at home. American soldiers, like their Vietnamese comrades, were victims of a murderous war that cost millions killed and maimed.

There were no heroes and heroines during these troubled times but any accurate timeline must celebrate both the soldiers and the anti-war activists who sacrificed their privilege, their educational opportunities, even their citizenship to say “no” to war. The only way America can avoid becoming “waist deep in the big muddy” again and again is to clearly understand its history. That is what the official timeline is designed to resist. Without a clear understanding of the past “the big fool,” whoever he or she might be, will successfully convince the American people “to push on.”

(For more of the history of the United States war in Vietnam and how that country has developed since the end of the war see Duncan McFarland, Paul Krehbiel, and Harry Targ editors, Vietnam, From National Liberation to 21st Century Socialism, Committees of Correspondence Education Fund, Changemaker Publications,  lulu.com/spotlight/changemaker,  2013).