Monday, April 27, 2009

USH30: What About Now?

While I am tempted to repeat much of my last post to answer this question, I will simply summarize and for details, go back one post.

The upshot of what I've learned from studying US history is that this country was started to favor rich white men and that's still going on. There is a strong conservative streak here that is reinforced by the propaganda machine that is called the 'Mainstream Media' and that those of us who rebelled in the sixties were "näive" to think we could easily change the system. Nevertheless, there has been a long history of rebellion in the US--a history often suppressed or downplayed--but not everyone has simply accepted the official version of reality.

I ended my post with a quote from Howard Zinn (author of A People's History of the United States, one of my key sources for this series) which ends with him pointing out "...the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful." It's not an accident that the system as we know it came into play with the Robber Barons of the late nineteenth century, their rise fueled by the industrial revolution, which in turn was fueled by coal and oil. (In my post of 1/29/09 on the Robber Barons, Zinn refers to the industrial revolution as being a revolution "...of petroleum and steel.") I also pointed out that the amazing affluence of the sixties, in fact of the whole period from World War II to 1973, was largely fueled by oil, and it was not an accident that the change in economic direction that came in 1973 was sparked by the Oil Crisis that year. (See my post on the Economic History of the Twentieth Century on 4/19/09.)

If the powerful of today got there via wealth generated directly or indirectly by fossil fuels, and if peak oil predictions are anywhere near correct, they are extremely vulnerable. In my post of 8/3/08, I quote John Michael Greer as saying that we could see the industrial capitalist system as an invincible force, or we could look at it as "a brittle, ungainly, jerry-rigged contraption whose managers are vainly scrambling to hold it together against a rising tide of crises". Watching the news these days makes it easier and easier to begin seeing the latter; the crises are coming fast and furious. Or as Richard Heinberg put it (see his quote at the end of my post on 7/20/08)"...efforts to try to bring industrialism to ruin prematurely seem to be pointless and wrongheaded: ruin will come soon enough on its own."

In other words, it's a lousy system but rather than trying to bring it down, we are better off working on building a new system. I talked about the founding of the IWW in my post of 2/14/09. In the preamble to their constitution, they talk about "...forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." And that's what we need to do. In the tradition of rebels and freethinkers, not only in the US, but throughout the world, we need to create the world that we want to live in--and create it now, so that when things collapse, we will have something to take its place.

So where will I take this blog from here? A key question is, what do we need in order to create that new system, society, way of being? In my post on 'Creating Social Change' that I wrote way back on 7/2/08, I focused on the need to Educate and Organize. I should probably look at ways to educate next, ways to counteract that propaganda machine and get necessary information to people--but that's not what I'm going to do. I will look at education soon, but first I want to look at what I think that we need to know most in order to doing the organizing, to build that new society--I want to look closely at what our real needs are and how we might meet them.

I'm going to end this segment with a bit of the ending of the song I have been quoting sporadically throughout this series. Although this is how it ends on Ferron's classic album, Shadows on a Dime, she has rerecorded the song with a contemporary musician who goes by the name of Bitch. At the end of the new version they repeat, back and forth, several times, as if affirming a promise: "I will not be complacent... I will not be complacent..." If there is anything that US history teaches me, it's that I can't be complacent.

Quote of the Day: "And beware you sagging diplomats, for you will not hear one gun, And though our homes be torn and ransacked we will not be undone, For as we let ourselves be bought, we're gonna let ourselves be free... We are dreamers in the making, we are not afraid of 'Why?'" - Ferron

Thursday, April 23, 2009

USH29: Making Sense of It All

So, my original question that started all this history stuff was: how did the sixties turn into the eighties?

Having looked through US history, maybe the bigger question is why did we expect anything different? Many of us thought we were making a lasting change, but we didn't see that the system was set up to resist change.

I want to list what several authors have said about why the change in the sixties didn't last.

Todd Gitlin gives many causes for the death of the sixties: He connects the emergence of the movement to the economic boom that lasted from 1945 - 1973 (see my last post) and saw many people returning to more liberal and conservative views for both the veterans of the movement and the younger generation entering college when stagflation/economic distress/returning scarcity hit; he also claims that having not dealt with its own sexism, the emerging women's movement fractured the New Left, and in its desperation at being so far from revolution, the movement spawned the very violent 'Weathermen'. Gitlin claims that in spite of attacks from the government, what did in the movement was it "imploded". He points out that in some ways the country was as conservative in the sixties as it was in the eighties, but there was a (white) young people's movement inspired by the civil rights and black power movements and spirit of the age that grew and self-destructed and got a lot of media attention. Finally, he claims the movements of the sixties also engendered 'the Right... lashing back'. "The counterrevolution seems to have outorganized the revolution." "Ronald Reagan swept to the White House as the defender of verities against upstarts... astonishing not only radicals but many liberals, all of them drastically underestimating the force of conservative impulses. ... The Right, awash in money, unencumbered by antiauthoritarianism, proved... more successful at coalition-building than the Left, which was not only undisciplined but seemed committed to staying that way. ... Who could have expected a reformation without a counterreformation?"

Lisa Duggin (see my post of 11/25/08) suggests that global competition and falling profits in the '70's got "U.S. corporate interests to mount a counter-movement... Beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency and through the 1980s, the overall direction of redistribution of many resources, in the U.S. and throughout the world, has been upward--toward greater concentration among fewer hands at the very top of an increasingly steep pyramid." (Again, this mirrors what was in my last post.) She claims that the "New Deal consensus among business, government, and big unions, built during the 1930s and more or less in place through the Great Society era of the 1960s, was dismantled." Her analysis of how the sixties became the eighties: "During the 1960s and 1970s, the proliferation and expansion of progressive-left critiques and social movements constituted a fertile ground for connections ... During the 1980s, as standards of living dropped in the United States and global inequalities expanded, social movements responded to multiple constraints and pressures in part by fragmenting, in part by accommodating to the narrowing horizons of fundraising imperatives, legal constraints, and the vice grip of electoral politics. Identity politics, in the contemporary sense of the rights-claiming focus of balkanized groups organized to pressure the legal and electoral systems for inclusion and redress, appeared out of the field of disintergrating social movements. Single-group or single-issue organizations dedicated to lobbying, litigation, legislation, or public and media education had existed earlier as only one part of larger, shaping social movements. ... But during the 1980s, such organizations ... began to appear as the parts that replaced the wholes."

Lawrence Goodwyn dismisses the whole movement of the sixties in a couple of sentences. He regards the "student radicals of the 1960's" as an prime example of why he thinks the system is so difficult to change, saying "While the students themselves clearly felt they could substantively affect 'inherited patterns of power and privilege', the prevailing judgement of the 1970's, shared by both the radicals and their conservative critics, is that the students were näive to have had such sweeping hopes."

Unfortunately, my survey of US history supports what Goodwyn says. This country was founded by relatively wealthy white men for wealthy white men. The 'Founding Fathers' had an agenda that was quite different from the working folks who came to this country (let alone the native peoples, or the Africans that were brought here as slaves). Our valued Bill of Rights only happened because 'Unruly Americans' fought for it. (See my post of 1/13/09.) From the beginning, the people in charge were interested in building an empire, not taking care of people. (See posts of 1/9/09, 1/17/09, and 2/10/09.) With the advent of the industrial age, some men figured out how they could turn this to their advantage and became 'Robber Barons'. (1/29/09) Eventually, men like Mark Hanna and Edward Bernays figured out how to manipulate the public so real change became unthinkable--today we have Fox News, talk radio, and folks like Karl Rove to keep things in line. (See 4/15/09.)

Nevertheless, rebellions kept occurring, from the early rebels that forced the Bill of Rights (1/13/09), to the farmers who organized co-ops (2/2/09), to turn of the century freethinkers of all kinds (2/14/09), to the lost generation and social rebels of the twenties (2/18/09), to the workers and organizers and unemployed of the thirties (2/26/09), to the beatniks, peaceniks, homophiles, and early civil rights movement of the fifties. (3/6/09) In spite of it all, there has been an undercurrent of questioning and a desire for change (look at the utopian communities of the nineteenth century--profiled in my post of 1/25/09) of which the sixties were only one more manifestation. As Gitlin pointed out, a movement of young white folks that got a lot of media attention. And the rebellions continued through the seventies and eighties and even the nineties. (See posts of 3/30/09, 4/7/09, and 4/11/09.)

Some of the problem is, as Lisa Duggan put it, many of the movements of the sixties and seventies saw how the issues were all connected whereas now (due to repression and economic contraction) the focus is on single issue movements--a much more liberal than radical stance. She mentions how the New Deal consensus between businesses and workers disappeared with the oil crisis of 1973 (again, see posts of 3/22/09 and 4/19/09)--along with the affluence that buoyed much of the movement of the sixties. The change began in the seventies, it was just consolidated with Reagan's election in the eighties. And we are the inheritors of that now. We are in hard times and we are hunkering down. Unfortunately the narrow focus that comes with that seige mentality keeps many from seeing just how interconnected it all is.

The sixties did open some doors (as did all the other rebellions and movements I've talked about) but, as Lawrence Goodwyn put it, we were 'näive' to imagine easy, radical change. And, as Todd Gitlin said, if we were trying to reform things, we should have expected a 'counterreformation'.

And so the work continues...

Quote of the Day: "These rebellions, so far, have been contained. The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased. ...
"But most histories understate revolt, overemphasize statesmanship, and thus encourage impotency among citizens. ... History that keeps alive the memory of people's resistance suggests new definitions of power. ...the unexpected victories--even temporary ones--of insurgents show the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful." - Howard Zinn

Lisa Duggin, The Twilight of Equality
Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage
Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Sunday, April 19, 2009

USH28: Economic History of the 20th Century

The economic history of the United States during the twentieth century can be divided into three parts: the beginning of the century (prior to the Great Depression), from the Great Depression to the Oil Crisis of 1973, and after 1973.

The early part of the century looked a lot like the roller coaster that I described in my post on the 'Economic Currents of the Nineteenth Century' (2/6/09). There was a 'Panic' in 1907 set off by a run on a bank that led to "a severe monetary contraction." And there was a recession following World War I that lasted three years and was followed by an eight year period of prosperity (that being the 'Roaring Twenties'--see my post of 2/18/09).

Then came the Great Depression (see my posts of 2/22/09 and 2/26/09)--as I mentioned in one of my posts, what seems to have gotten us out of it was World War II.

Following WWII were twenty-eight years of relative prosperity (yes, there were minor recessions in 1953, 1957, and 1960, but none of them lasted long or cause major problems). To some it seemed as if it would last forever. The AFL-CIO put it this way: "During the period 1945-1973, when a high percentage of workers had unions, wages kept pace with rising productivity, prosperity was widely shared, and economic growth was strong." French economist Jean Fourastié refers to this period as Trente Glorieuses--the Thirty Glorious (years). Wikipedia says: "The period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s was a golden era of American capitalism."

The Oil Crisis of 1973 and resulting stock market drop changed that (see my post of 3/22/09). Even during the more properous periods of the late eighties and late nineties, Americans no longer felt secure. From Wikipedia: "The 1973 'oil price shock', along with the 1973–1974 stock market crash, have been regarded as the first event since the Great Depression to have a persistent economic effect."

To show some of the changes, during the period from 1947 to 1979, all sectors of the economy grew by at least 85%, and the bottom fifth of earners actual saw their income grow by 116%. During the period between 1979 and 2003, the bottom fifth of earners lost 2%, the next fifth of earners only saw a 8% growth in income, while the top fifth of earners saw their earnings rise by 51% (and the top twentieth gained 75%). The book Economic Apartheid in America (where all the information in this paragraph is from) puts it that from 1947 to 1979 "We Grew Together" and from 1979 to 2003 "We Grew Apart". They claim that there has been a major "Power Shift" since the seventies with a strengthening of corporations, lobbyists, CEOs, and people who own assets, along with a weakening of labor unions, popular political movements, and wage-earners. They cite a growing anti-union climate, global trade treaties, tax cuts for the wealthy, 'corporate welfare', and privatization.

The SEIU put it out clearly: "The recession of 1973-74 marked the start of a sustained assault on workers' ability to form unions and negotiate with employers for shared success."

Along with attacks on unions came outsourcing, offshoring, and globalization. As Wikipedia says: "Outsourcing became part of the business lexicon during the 1980s." (I wrote some about this in my post 'Into the Eighties' on 4/3/09.) The deregulation of businesses began in 1974 under Ford and was continued by Carter, but Reagan's policies accelerated not only deregulation but economic inequality on every level. Essentially, the corporate strategy shifted after the oil crisis and resulting recession, from the idea that taking care of their employees was good business to creating lean, mean multinational corporations. Thomas Palley talks about the period from 1945 to 1973 as a Golden Age 'Main Street Capitalism', and the post-1973 economy as a 'Mean Street Capitalism' which he sees as a throwback to the laissez-faire economy that existed before the Depression. Reagan actually "presented his economic proposals as merely a return to the free-enterprise principles that had been in favor before the Great Depression." (Wikipedia)

Peak Oil believers (see my blogs of 7/18/08 and 7/20/08) would be quick to point out that that the post-war prosperity was fueled (literally) by fossil fuels and that it's not an accident that Oil Crisis of 1973 initiated a major change in the economy. If that's true, it means we will never see the kind of prosperity and abundance we had in the sixties again.

Quote of the Day: "The shift to Mean Street capitalism has manifested itself along four dimensions. First, the economy is growing more slowly than in the past. Second, the economy is running slacker and operating less efficiently than before. Third, there has been a significant worsening of income distribution, with wages of ordinary workers actually declining over the last twenty years. Fourth, workers are economically insecure and subject to greater levels of stress. Slower, slacker, more unequal, and less secure are the hallmarks of the disordered economy. Economic booms may temporarily ameliorate these conditions, but once the boom is over, they reassert themselves." - Thomas Palley

AFL-CIO, "Unions Are Good for Business, Productivity and the Economy"
Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel, Economic Apartheid in America
Thomas Palley, Plenty of Nothing
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Path to Prosperity
Wikipedia, many articles (including ones on the Economic history of the United States, List of recessions in the United States, Outsourcing, and Jean Fourastié)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

USH27: Of Presidents and Polls

So, what to make of all this history... What does it say for social change?

Social change would mean, among other things, that the United States is changing over time. Is that happening? Do we even have a society where change is possible? Or was the US set up from the beginning for rich white men and structured in a way that there's little chance of change?

While I am a radical, I am well aware that radicals, and even progressives, are a minority in this country. Let's look at liberals and conservatives for a bit to see what direction the US leans toward.

While all Republicans aren't conservative, and many Democrats are far from liberal, I want to start by analyzing the elected presidents with the assumption that when Republicans are elected the country may be looking for someone more conservative and when Democrats are elected the country may be looking for someone more liberal. (Maybe.)

The following table is taken right from Wikipedia (and edited by me). It gives some sense of the US direction through the twentieth century:

PRESIDENT-----------STARTED---------- ENDED-------------PARTY--RE-ELECTED?
William McKinley------- March 4, 1897--------September 14, 1901--Republican ****
Theodore Roosevelt ---- September 14, 1901--March 4, 1909--------Republican ****
William Howard Taft --- March 4, 1909 -------March 4, 1913-------- Republican
Woodrow Wilson ------- March 4, 1913 ------- March 4, 1921-------- Democratic ****
Warren G. Harding -----March 4, 1921 --------August 2, 1923------- Republican
Calvin Coolidge ---------August 2, 1923 -------March 4, 1929-------- Republican ****
Herbert Hoover --------March 4, 1929 --------March 4, 1933 --------Republican
Franklin D. Roosevelt---March 4, 1933 --------April 12, 1945 -------- Democratic ****
Harry S. Truman-------April 12, 1945---------January 20, 1953------Democratic ****
Dwight D. Eisenhower--January 20, 1953----- January 20, 1961------Republican ****
John F. Kennedy-------January 20, 1961------November 22, 1963--- Democratic
Lyndon B. Johnson ----November 22, 1963--- January 20, 1969 ----- Democratic ****
Richard Nixon -------- January 20, 1969 ----- August 9, 1974 --------Republican ****
Gerald Ford-----------August 9, 1974---------January 20, 1977------ Republican
Jimmy Carter---------January 20, 1977------ January 20, 1981------ Democratic
Ronald Reagan--------January 20, 1981------ January 20, 1989------ Republican ****
George H. W. Bush --- January 20, 1989------January 20, 1993------ Republican
Bill Clinton------------January 20, 1993------January 20, 2001------ Democratic ****
George W. Bush------ January 20, 2001----- January 20, 2009------ Republican ****
Barack Obama -------January 20, 2009----- Incumbent -------------Democratic

Since McKinley was elected in 1896, there have been 12 Republican presidents and 8 Democratic presidents. Of these seven, Republicans and five Democrats have lasted more than one term (that is they have been re-elected after serving in office). One of those Democrats (FDR) was re-elected three times. Interestingly enough, the first two Democrats of the Twentieth-Century were president during the World Wars--leading to the idea that Republicans were peacetime presidents and Democrats were wartime presidents. Kennedy changed that; after that it seemed like when things got rough (when Johnson couldn't deal with Vietnam, when Ford pardoned Nixon, when Carter didn't seem effective, when Bush,Sr, was stuck with the recession, and after Bush,Jr, got us in two wars and ruined the economy) the country switched parties. The one exception to that was after Clinton when it seemed like the country couldn't decide between Gore and Bush--and that led to a hung election for over a month--with the final decision giving Gore the popular vote but Bush the electoral vote.

What does this tell us about the country? It does seem like there was a fairly conservative background early on, with voters only going for Democrats when the country was in trouble. Kennedy's election could be seen as 'a new generation' emerging, but all that has happened since is the country teetertottering. Over the last few elections the idea of Red States (conservative/Republican) and Blue States (liberal/Democrat) has emerged--that is, certain areas of the US are more one way than another.

It did seem like things got fairly progressive for a while in the sixties, but was the country ever really progressive?

I've found two polls that gave Americans a chance to identify whether they were liberal, conservative, or moderate. The first is from the University of Michigan's American National Election Studies. They found:
In 1972, 18% identified themselves as Liberal, 26% as Conservative, and 27% as Moderate. And in 2004, 23% identified as Liberal, 32% as Conservative, and 26% as Moderate.

The second is from polls done by Pew research. They found:
In 1992, 18% identified as Liberal, 35% Conservative, 40% Moderate. In 2000, it was 18% Liberal, 36% Conservative, 38% Moderate. And in 2008, the proportions were 21% Liberal, 38% Conservative, 36% Moderate.

Looking at these would give you a sense that Americans are by and large either moderate or downright conservative--only a small minority identify as liberal. It also doesn't seem as if much social change is happening, since the proportions don't change that much over time.

But Media Matters, a progressive group formed to counter conservative misinformation, disputes the idea that the country is basically conservative and has not been effected by social change. In an article entitled "The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth", they cite poll after poll pointing out Americans favor more (not less) government, stronger unions, an increase in the minimum wage, stricter laws on guns, more environmental protections, more clean energy, and better, more comprehensive healthcare. Over the last few decades, more Americans have become supportive of women's rights and gay rights (even gay marriage), and less in favor of the death penalty.

The people at Media Matters are well aware of the ideological polls--I got the information from the University of Michigan polls on their website. But they point out how people identify does not correlate with how they actually feel about specific issues. In fact, they cite the authors of the University of Michigan studies as observing: "...on issue after issue, moderates have opinions almost exactly mirroring those of liberals." The Media Matters people claim that because liberals have been so villified, many people don't think of themselves as liberals. In fact, they claim that some so-called 'conservatives' actually hold liberal positions.

Lawrence Goodwyn looks at things differently. He claims that no real change can occur in the US (or any industrialized nation) because the culture is set up to make us believe that things are as good as they can get and anyone who attempts real change is undemocratic. He felt that since the McKinley election, media manipulators have made sure that no one can seriously threaten the status quo--and the outbreaks in the sixties were exceptions that were quickly brought under control.

One thing that is clear (from both Media Matters and Goodwyn) is that the media (supposedly liberal) downgrades liberals as well as the possibility of change. SoapBoxTech has commented more than once that part of the answer is in the BBC series The Century of the Self, which talks about how public relations and advertising is used to influence (and manipulate) the way we act and react.

There is a hidden history here. Goodwyn talks about how the media was controlled and coordinated by industrialist Mark Hanna (with lots of help from robber baron outfits like Standard Oil and JP Morgan) during the 1896 election. McKinley was painted as "the advance agent of prosperity". According to Goodwyn: "In sheer depth, the advertising campaign organized by Mark Hanna in behalf of William McKinley was without parallel in American history. It set a creative standard for the twentieth century." And, according to the Century of the Self, Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, picked up that standard. From Wikipedia: "Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy..." He helped create a consumer society, but he also influenced elections, working for Calvin Coolidge as well as helping with the overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, partly by branding the democratically elected president of Guatemala as a Communist.

And now we have Fox News and talk radio, churning out right-wing propaganda so strongly that people could hold ideas we'd think of as liberal or progressive, yet identify as conservative, for fear of being labled 'liberal'. We could be making progress, but it would be kept invisible by the mainstream media.

Next: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century.

Quote of the Day: "... nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservatives are not conservative on at least one issue dimension [size and scope of government, or abortion and homosexuality], and considerably more than half hold liberal preferences on the dominant dimension of conflict over the size and scope of government. Simply put, many conservatives are not very conservative..." - Christopher Ellis

Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment
Media Matters for America, "The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America is a Myth"
Pew Research Center, "Winds of Political Change Haven’t Shifted Public’s Ideology Balance"
Wikipedia, articles on List of Presidents of the United States, The Century of the Self, and Edward Bernays

Saturday, April 11, 2009

USH26: And the Nineties

With the end of the Cold War, there was talk of a 'peace dividend', money that could now be taken away from military spending and used to fund our infrastructure and social services.

That disappeared with a bang when, in August of 1990, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) invaded Kuwait. President George Bush (Sr) responded quickly; within days US troops arrived in Saudi Arabia. In January of 1991, Operation Desert Storm began with a massive bombing of Iraq. By the end of February Iraqi troops had withdrawn from Kuwait and the war was over.

Talk about the peace divident was over, too. Zinn cites a New York Times article where someone from the Bush administration is quoted as saying: "We owe Saddam a favor. He saved us from the peace dividend."

With 1992 came celebrations of Columbus's voyage. Native people began preparing for this in 1990, in a meeting of indigenous people from the entire hemisphere in Quito, Equador. October 12, 1992 was declared International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. There were demonstrations across the country protesting the 500 years of mistreatment of the Native Americans.

Also in 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president. Clinton was a centrist and, as his republican opponents were quick to point out, a waffler. First, he tried to allow openly gay men and lesbians in the military, but when he ran into opposition he quickly backed down. The result was the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. First he supported his Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, then (when she said, in response to a question, that maybe students should be taught about masturbation) she was fired. First he suggested Lani Guinier as an assistant Attorney General, then he withdrew her nomination as newspapers distorted her views and she was made out to be a 'civil rights radical'. (I wonder if it is an accident that Clinton found two African-American women to be so expendable.)

Not every thing was Clinton couldn't accomplish was all his fault. He proposed a national healthcare reform package that got quickly scuttled by insurance company lobbyists, conservatives, libertarians, and even many Democratics who were busy offering plans of their own.

Making matters worse was the 1994 elections when the Democrats lost control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in forty years. The Republican Party (spearheaded by Newt Gingrich) proposed a new 'Contract with America' (actually a combination of an old Reagan State of the Union address and ideas from the Heritage Foundation). Clinton later referred to it as the Republican's 'Contract on America'. It was a combination tax cuts, cuts to welfare programs, cuts on capital gains taxes, cuts on US payments for UN peacekeeping operations, cuts on the amounts of damages that could be gotten in product-liability suit, etc. The Republicans had returned with a metaphorical hatchet--and the result was to move Clinton's policies even further to the right.

But Clinton was popular and was re-elected in 1996. He remained popular, in spite of several scandals. I'm not very concerned about Bill Clinton's sexual activities. It was things like his support of NAFTA and the WTO, his signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, and his bombings of Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan (all in 1998--these were retaliation bombings) that upset me. Of course, he would never face impeachment for any of these things.

In 1988, Rush Limbaugh began his radio show which became increasingly popular during the nineties. When Republicans got control of Congress in 1994, the newly elected Republicans made him an honorary membership of their caucus. The nineties also saw the start of Fox News (1996) and programs like Hannity & Colmes and the O'Reilly Report (later renamed the O'Reilly Factor) on it. Liberal bashing became big business during the nineties.

The first Web browser was created in 1990. Where the eighties were the decade of the personal computer, the nineties were the decade of the internet. The internet grew by leaps and bounds over the 1990s--often doubling in size each year. (And, obviously, I can't complain too much about the internet since that's how you're able to read this blog.)

There were some social movements that got going in the nineties. Third wave feminism emerged, along with queer theory, Queer Nation, and the queer movement. The concept of multiracial identity also became more visible--with people like Tiger Woods, who claimed a Cablinasian (Caucasian, African, Indian, and Asian) identity.

The nineties were also the start of the anti-globalization movement, with many large protests--a key one being the 'Battle for Seattle' in 1999. And in Mexico, in 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation emerged--which has been a major influence on movements all over the world.

The nineties ended with three nasty events. In October of 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay man, was tortured and left to die in Wyoming--raising an awareness of hate crimes for many people. In April of 1999, two high school students at Columbine High School in Colorado shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves. This did lead to a discussion of gun control laws--however not a lot was changed. And, although nowhere near as violent as the previous two incidents, in November of 1999, Exxon and Mobil merged, forming the largest corporation in the world--and unfortunately, the long-term reprecussions of this still effect us now, as this company is a major player in climate change (and a major backer of misleading 'scientific' studies denying climate change), and responsible for supporting human rights violators and engaging in illegal activities (such as bribery and illegal trade with Sudan).

Unfortunately, things did not get better in the new millenium, but that is very recent history and I am not going to cover this past decade.

Quote of the Day: "Dear President Bush: Please send your assistance in freeing our small nation from occupation. This foreign force occupied our lands to steal our rich resources. They used biological warfare and deceit, killing thousands of elders, children and women in the process. As they overwhelmed our land, they deposed our leaders and people of our own government, and in its place, they installed their own government systems that yet today control our daily lives in many ways. As in your own words, the occupation and overthrow of one small one too many. Sincerely, An American Indian." - from a Native group in Oregon responding to US horror at the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the 1991 US intervention

Wikipedia, several articles (including History of the United States (1991–present) and the Presidency of Bill Clinton)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

USH25: Social Movements in the 80s

In spite of all the problems with the eighties, there was a lot of organizing going on as well.

For one thing, the protest music of the sixties had nothing on the music of the eighties. Tracy Chapman was talking about revolution, U2 sang of Bloody Sunday in Ireland and the legacy of MLK, Midnight Oil devoted a whole album (Diesel and Dust) to colonialism in Australia, Bruce Springstein showed us the pain of working class folks who were born in the USA, Prince warned us about the bomb and told us to party like it was 1999, Holly Near made her funkiest albums (Fire in the Rain and Speed of Light) about things like working women and Emma Goldman, and Ferron gave us the song "It Won't Take Long" which I've been quoting periodically through this series (including below). (The whole song is wonderful.) In addition there were politicized protest albums like Sun City and benefit concerts like Live Aid and Farm Aid, which if they weren't radical, at least had their hearts in the right place.

The nuclear arms race, which had already spawned the group Mobilization for Survival in the eighties, now brought about a major protest movement known as the Nuclear Freeze. Women like Randall Forsberg and Helen Caldicott spearheaded this movement and it took off. In 1982 close to a million demonstrators gathered in Central Park, NYC, to protest the arms race. By 1983, the Freeze had been endorsed by 368 city and county councils, 444 town meetings, and 17 state legislatures. A poll showed that 79% of the country favored a nuclear arms freeze. Even the Catholic bishops came out against nuclear arms.

Peace encampments sprung up in Romulus, NY, and Greenham Common, England, protesting the decision to send US Air Force nuclear tipped cruise missiles to Europe (some of these missiles were stored at the RAF base in Greenham Common--and the women at the the Seneca Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in Romulus believed that missiles were being stored at the Army base nearby, although the government wouldn't confirm this). These were feminist encampments, generally limited to women, that were collectively run. (I've heard tales of reporters who wanted to talk with the leaders and refused to believe that there weren't any.)

Protests against nuclear power plants also continued through the eighties--some major protests occurring at plants like Seabrook, Diablo Canyon, Black Fox, Shoreham, Rancho Seco, and Rocky Flats. By the end of the decade, the Black Fox plant was never built, Shoreham was closed without ever operating, and voters shut down Rancho Seco. To a large part, the protesters were responsible for this--along with their education of the public. There have not been any new nuclear power plants planned in the United States since the end of the seventies, also partly due to the continuing protests (although lately, with climate change on the rise, occasionally there are claims that nuclear is clean energy and suggestions we build new plants--unfortunately, even Obama has made statements like this). (Last minute add note: I've just heard from a couple of different sources that there are now applications in the works to build twenty-six new reactors. Yipes! It looks like this is a battle we are going to have to do all over again!)

US activities in Central America got many people concerned and led to a series of protests. Rallies took place across the country protesting US involvement in El Salvador--particularly after the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero and the murder of three American nuns and a laywoman (both in 1980) and following reports of a massacre in El Mozote by US trained Salvadorian soldiers. (The massacre took place at the end of 1981 but wasn't reported in US paper until late January, 1982. The Reagan Administration characteristically dismissed the reports as propaganda.) There were many protests held in Boston, outside and inside the JFK Federal Building against our activities in El Salvador and threatened activities in Nicaragua--I know, I took part in them. (Zinn mentions a report of similar activities in Tucson, Arizona, so I imagine they took place around the country.) At one protest in Boston, 550 people were arrested. And across the country over 60,000 people signed pledges to take action if the US tried to invade Nicaragua.

Beginning in 1977, but building up in the 1980s, a major campaign took place in the US against apartheid in South Africa. A disinvestment campaign began pressuring corporations to stop doing business in and with South Africa and stockholders to withdraw any investments they might have in both South African companies and US companies doing business in South Africa. The campaign particularly made strides on college and university campuses when students pressured them to 'divest' (cease South African related investments). The movement grew sharply in 1984 after news reports of South African resistance. The University of California withdrew three billion dollars worth of investments. Congress legislated economic sanctions against South Africa in 1986, overriding a veto by Reagan. From Wikipedia: "by the end of 1989 26 states, 22 counties and over 90 cities had taken some form of binding economic action against companies doing business in South Africa." The economic problems these things caused (along with growing international pressure) were part of what led to the fall of apartheid.

In feminism, the eighties were a time when women of color enlarged the meaning of term. In 1983, Alice Walker introduced the word 'womanism' as an alternative name for feminists of color (her book, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens was subtitled Womanist Prose). bell hooks wrote books like Ain’t I a Woman? (1981) and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (1984) and, in 1984 Audre Lorde published her classic book, Sister Outsider, which explored the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality. (The book was a major influence on my thinking.)

For the gay movement, the eighties started off well enough, with David McReynolds running as the first openly gay candidate for president (for the Socialist Party USA) in 1980, but in 1981 doctors in Los Angeles treated five gay men who all had a rare form of pneumonia. Soon the Center for Disease Control was tracking that type of pneumonia along with other immune system diseases that seemed target gay males in southern California and began suspecting there was a new epidemic starting. At first it was nicknamed GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency), then the '4H disease' as it became apparent that it was concentrated among Homosexuals, Haitian, Hemophiliacs, and Heroin addicts. Eventually, it got named AIDS--and as it spread through the gay community, and funeral followed funeral, the community was forced to make AIDS (rather than new forms of liberation) its priority. The Gay Men's Health Crisis organization was formed in 1982 and the rather confrontative and controversial ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed in 1987 as a extremely democratic (perhaps anarchist) organization. Queer Nation, the GLBT activist group of the nineties, was formed by ACT UP activists and was directly influenced by ACT UP. Another group of the eighties, formed in San Francisco, began making a quilt in 1987, in memory of those who died of AIDS. The NAMES project has gone on to create the largest piece of community art in the world--The Quilt now consists of over 46,000 panels and weighs around 54 tons.

Reagan's budget cuts sparked protests around the country. While it never coalesced into a movement, there were scattered demonstrations including blocking traffic during rush hour in East Boston in 1981 to protest cutbacks in funds for police, teachers, and firefighters; teachers' strikes in seven different states in 1982; and foreclosure protests from Pennsylvania to Colorado in 1983. (Hmm. That sound familiar.)

And a 1989 poll by Harvard Medical School found that 61% of Americans favored a single payer health insurance system similar to Canada's.

Finally, in a notable protest of the eighties, Amy Carter, daughter of former president Jimmy Carter, was arrested along with Abbie Hoffman, while protesting CIA recruitment at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In her trial, her attorney argued that because of CIA involvement in Central America, she was attempting to prevent greater crimes by her occupation of the UMass building. The jury eventually acquitted her of all charges.

Quote of the Day: "Divisions between the peoples will disappear on that honoured day, And though oceans lie between us, lifted candles light the way, Half will join their hands by moonlight, the rest under a rising sun... And you may say, 'I don't know how to be a part of what you're talking about,' and it makes me want to say,'Come on!'" - Ferron

Wikipedia, lots of articles (including ones on the Anti-nuclear movement and Disinvestment from South Africa)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Friday, April 3, 2009

USH24: Into the Eighties

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I had high hopes for the eighties. Unfortunately, the decade represented a major change in direction from the sixties and seventies.

It began, I suppose, with the election of Ronald Reagan who brought with him a coalition of rabid conservatives--in particular, those with a bizarre version of economics where you could cut taxes, reduce the deficit, stop inflation, and build up the military--all at the same time. Some of his minions called it 'supply-side' or 'trickle-down' theory. George H Bush (before he became Reagan's vice-president) called it 'voodoo economics' which I think was closer to the truth.

As Wikipedia puts it, the 80s were a backlash against the 60s, "with religion, patriotism and materialism making a comeback." They also point out that "The decade saw social, economic and general upheaval as wealth, production and western culture migrated to new industrializing economies. As economic liberalization increased in the western world, multiple multinational corporations associated with the manufacturing industry relocated into Mexico, Korea, Taiwan, China and new market economies in eastern Europe following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe."

This was the decade that first saw words like 'McJob' and 'outsourcing' to describe work prospects. This was the decade when Walmart grew from 276 stores to well over 1,200. This was the time of corporate raiders, leveraged buyouts, and hostile takeovers, as business became ruthless. The Laissez-faire approach of people like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman was now the economic policy of the country.

And Ronald Reagan was all business--corporate business. His bizarre economic policies became known as 'Reaganomics'. He encouraged deregulation and ignored antitrust laws. He put a businessman in charge of OSHA that hated OSHA (one of his first acts was to destroy the booklets that warned textile workers about the dangers of cotton dust). In fact, most of the people Reagan appointed as agency heads and cabinet members had plans that were nearly opposite to what the agency was supposed to be about--Reagan's ideas about reducing government seemed to mean decimating well-functioning offices. (Think James Watt, Ann Burford, David Stockman...) I joked at one point during that time that if Reagan was consistant he would have put Daniel Berrigan in charge of the Pentagon.

And while the rich got richer under Reagan's administration (and later Bush's, which was more or less a continuation of the Reagan administration), the poor got poorer. Reagan's budget cuts were to welfare, housing, job training, drug treatment, and Social Security (not to mention mass transit and renewable energy). Unemployment soared, inflation soared, and poverty soared. (Another Reagan era joke I heard when I was working in Detroit was that he was the first president that truly loved the poor as they were--poor! In fact, the joke went on, he loved them so much he wanted there to be more of them.)

But for those who had money, this was also the decade (a big part of that trend toward 'materialism') when high technology came into its own. 'Personal computers' (and the first versions of email), compact discs, wireless phones (and early cell phones), answering machines, fax machines, camcorders, VCRs, and even cable television (which had been around since the 1950s but came into its own in the eighties) were everywhere. And it seemed like everybody had to have one (at least) of each.

But this was not all a happy technoconsumer's paradise. The end of the seventies brought Love Canal and Three Mile Island, 1984 brought Union Carbide's toxic gas leak in Bhopal, India, 1986 brought Chernobyl, the nuclear power accident in Ukraine, and 1989 brought the largest oil spill in US history when the ship, the Exxon Valdez went aground off the shore of Alaska. On top of this, in 1986, with hundreds of schoolchildren watching, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded soon after launch.

The one thing that Reagan did build up was the military--and he used it. Reagan sent Marines into Lebanon, and 220 of them were killed in 1983 by a suicide bombing in Beirut. Soon after, the US invaded the tiny island of Grenada after the execution of their Marxist Prime Minister. This was the first major military operation conducted by the U.S. since the Vietnam War. In 1989, at the end of the decade, President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in order to capture their dictator, Manuel Noriega.

Reagan's administration was also notable for its willingness to talk about and deploy nuclear weapons. Casper Weinberger (Reagan's defense secretary) oversaw dramatic increases in the US nuclear weapons arsenal, production of the B1 bomber, and work on Reagan's favorite military program, the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as Star Wars. This was also the time of the development of the MIRVs (Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles--missiles with multiple warheads) and long-range 'Cruise Missiles'. Twice in 1983, the US came close to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union--the first time because of a Soviet computer malfunction and the second time, two months later, because the Soviet Union wasn't sure if a NATO wargame that featured a release of weapons was a cover for the real thing. The Soviet nervousness around nuclear weapons was heightened by the Strategic Defense Initiative (which they viewed as an escalation of the arms race into space) and the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe.

However, perhaps the most notable thing about the decade of the Eighties its conclusion. 1989 featured the so-called "Revolutions of 1989", when the countries of Eastern Europe broke away from Soviet control--including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Solidarity in Poland, and the 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia. Ironically, this was the same time that the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred in China. The Cold War was over--and the US declared that it won.

Quote of the Day: "It was the truly wealthy, more than anyone else, who flourished under Reagan. ... The 1980s were the triumph of upper America... the political ascendancy of the rich, and a glorification of capitalism, free markets, and finance." - Kevin Phillips

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Wikipedia, lots and lots of articles (including ones on the 1980s and the Presidency of Ronald Reagan)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States