How Big Business Invented the Theology of ‘Christian Libertarianism’ and the Gospel of Free Markets

by Kevin Kruse, AlterNet, June 1, 2015

Excerpt

…During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding.  Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself… received lavish financial support from corporate leaders… In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” … promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them.  But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them…The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.

Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments…The welfare state…violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.” …they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.

Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty… they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation… promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great…While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda… and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” … these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”

For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”

Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952…Eisenhower …the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” … its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.  …the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”… appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.

When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office…Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.  

Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.

Full text

 

The inside history of how Evangelical preachers were used to infuse society with the economic dogma that plagues us today.

During the Great Depression, big business needed rebranding.  Blamed for the crash, belittled in the press, and beset by the New Deal’s regulatory state, corporate leaders decided they had to improve their image, and soon. “The public does not understand industry,” an executive complained, “because industry itself has made no effort to tell its story; to show the people of this country that our high living standards have risen almost altogether from the civilization which industrial activity has set up.”

Accordingly, corporate leaders launched a public relations campaign for capitalism itself. In 1934, the National Association of Manufacturers hired its first public relations director in its four decades of existence, expanding its annual budget in that field from just $36,000 to nearly $800,000 three years later, a sum that represented half of its total budget. NAM marketed the miracles of “free enterprise” with a wide array of advertisements, direct mail, films, radio programs, a speakers’ bureau, and a press service that provided prefabricated editorials and news stories for 7500 newspapers. Ultimately, though, the organization’s efforts at self-promotion were generally dismissed as precisely that.

While old business lobbies like NAM couldn’t sell capitalism effectively, neither could new ones created especially for the cause. The American Liberty League, founded in 1934, originally seemed business’s best bet. It received lavish financial support from corporate leaders, notably at Du Pont and General Motors, but ultimately their prominence in the group crippled its effectiveness. Jim Farley, then head of the Democratic Party, famously joked that it ought to be called the “American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a Du Pont product and second, you can see right through it.”

As the 1930s came to a close, corporate leaders looked over the returns on their investment and realized the millions spent had not swayed public opinion in the slightest. The image of big business still needed repackaging. In a 1939 address to the US Chamber of Commerce, H.W. Prentis of the Armstrong Cork Company proposed the way forward. “Economic facts are important, but they will never check the virus of collectivism,” he warned; “the only antidote is a revival of American patriotism and religious faith.” Prentis’ speech thrilled the Chamber and boardrooms across America. Soon propelled to NAM’s presidency, he continued to tell corporate leaders to get religion. His 1940 presidential address, promoted heavily in the Wall Street Journal and broadcast live on both ABC and CBS radio, promised that business’s salvation lay in “a strengthening of the spiritual concept that underlies our American way of life.”

Accordingly, corporate America began marketing a new fusion of faith, freedom and free enterprise. These values had been conflated before, of course, but in the early 1940s they manifested in a decidedly new form. Previously, when Americans thought about the relationship between religion, politics and business, they gave little thought to the role of the national state, largely because it was so small it gave little thought to any of them.  But now that the federal government had grown so significantly, corporate leaders sought to convince Americans that the New Deal threatened not only the economic freedoms of business leaders, but the religious and political freedoms of ordinary citizens as well. They worked tirelessly throughout the 1940s and 1950s to advance a new ideology that one observer aptly anointed “Christian libertarianism.”

Initially, businessmen outsourced this campaign to an unlikely set of champions: ministers. Though this decision seemed unorthodox, the logic was laid out clearly in private.  “Recent polls indicate that America’s clergymen are a powerful influence in determining the thinking and acting of the people in the economic realm,” noted one organizer, and so business leaders should “enlist large numbers of clergymen” to “act as minutemen, carrying the message upon all proper occasions throughout their several communities.”

Over the second half of the 1940s, corporate leaders lavishly funded new organizations of ministers who would make their case for them.  Some of these groups secured donations from a broad array of businessmen. Reverend James W. Fifield’s Spiritual Mobilization, for instance, amassed millions in corporate and personal checks from leaders at companies such as General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, International Harvester, Firestone Tire and Rubber, Sun Oil, Gulf Oil, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Colgate-Palmolive-Peet and countless more.  Others leaned heavily on the generosity of a single patron. The Christian Freedom Foundation, created by Reverend Norman Vincent Peale and then led by layman Howard Kershner, was sustained almost single-handedly by Sun Oil President J. Howard Pew. The Pew family’s contributions to the organization averaged more than $300,000 a year for twenty-five years.

With this generous funding, ministers in these organizations spread the arguments of Christian libertarianism. “I hold,” Reverend Fifield asserted, “that the blessings of capitalism come from God. A system that provides so much for the common good and happiness must flourish under the favor of the Almighty.” But concern for the “common good” was uncommon in their arguments, which tended instead to emphasize the values of individualism. In their telling, Christianity and capitalism were indistinguishable on this issue: both systems rested on the fundamental belief that an individual would rise or fall on his or her own merit alone. Just as the saintly ascended to Heaven and sinners fell to Hell, the worthy rose to riches while the wretched were resigned to the poorhouse.

Any political system that meddled with this divinely prescribed order of things was nothing less than a “pagan” abomination. Indeed, they argued, the welfare state stood in direct opposition to the Ten Commandments. “We emphasize the interdependence of freedom and Christianity,” the Christian Freedom Foundation announced in its founding statement. “When the First Commandment ‘Thou shalt have no other Gods before me’ is violated and the state is exalted to take the place of God as the highest authority over the actions of man, freedom is suppressed.  Conversely, Christianity can thrive only where human beings live under a system of free institutions and government by the people.”  The welfare state, a CFF member argued elsewhere, violated the eighth and tenth commandments by encouraging the poor to covet what the wealthy had and “forcibly taking the wealth of the more enterprising citizens for distribution to others.”  And because it spread scurrilous rumors about the rich and made extravagant promises to the poor that it could never deliver, the New Deal violated the ninth commandment’s injunction against bearing false witness, too.

Armed with this framework, and the ample funding of their financial backers, these organizations spread the gospel of Christian libertarianism.  In publications like Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, they introduced tens of thousands of clergymen to the work of prominent libertarian thinkers including Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Percy Greaves, George Koether, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, Frank Chodorov and Clarence Manion, presenting their originally secular arguments in a new sanctified light. Spiritual Mobilization went further, proselytizing the general public over the radio. Corporate sponsors, such as Republic Steel, secured airtime for its weekly program “The Freedom Story” and spread its warnings about “creeping socialism” over more than 800 radio stations nationwide.

Spiritual Mobilization’s greatest success came in 1951, with a coordinated series of celebrations for the Fourth of July arranged by its Committee to Proclaim Liberty.  Businessmen dominated the committee’s ranks, from household names like Harvey Firestone, Conrad Hilton, E.F. Hutton, James L. Kraft, Henry Luce, Fred Maytag, J.C. Penney, and J. Howard Pew, to lesser-known heads of major corporations like General Motors, Chrysler, US Steel, Republic Steel, Hughes Aircraft, Eastern Airlines, United Airlines, Gulf Oil, Marshall Field, and more. Leaders of the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce served, as did heads of free enterprise advocacy groups like the Foundation for Economic Education. Together, they advanced a series of coast-to-coast celebrations on the new Christian libertarian slogan of “freedom under God.” The 17,000 ministers who belonged to the group were encouraged to compete for prizes by making sermons on the theme, while governors and mayors issued proclamations calling on ordinary citizens to do so as well. On the Sunday before the Fourth, the group broadcast an all-star “Freedom Under God” spectacular on CBS’s national radio network. Organized by Cecil B. DeMille, it featured Hollywood stars like Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby and Gloria Swanson.

Although corporate leaders continued to outsource the Christian libertarian campaign to organizations such as Spiritual Mobilization, they encouraged its growth directly, too. In 1949, for instance, businessmen banded together to form the Freedoms Foundation. (Despite some similarities in its name and agenda, this new organization stood apart from the Christian Freedom Foundation.)  The Freedoms Foundation believed that those who promoted “a better understanding of the American way of life” and the central role played by “the American free enterprise system” in making the nation great should be singled out for prizes and praise.  Fittingly for an organization devoted to promoting big business, its president was Don Belding, head of a national advertising agency whose clients included Walt Disney and Howard Hughes.  The advertising legend was supported by an impressive board of directors drawn from the highest ranks of corporate America, including leaders of General Foods, General Motors, Maytag, Republic Steel, Sherwin Williams, Union Carbon & Carbide, US Rubber, as well as individuals such as Sid Richardson, an oilman who was one of the richest men in America.

While these corporate leaders and like-minded conservatives sat on the board, Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda. Eisenhower had enthusiastically supported Belding’s initial plans for the foundation and even helped articulate its central arguments. “The Credo of the American Way of Life” that he crafted appeared in Reader’s Digest in March 1949, and soon elsewhere. The Credo was usually depicted in graphic form, a soaring monument topped with two tablets etched with references to the Bill of Rights and other rights designed for business, including the “right to own private property,” the “right to engage in business, compete, make a profit,” the “right to bargain for goods and services in a free market,” the “right to contract about our affairs,” and, last but not least, the “right to freedom from arbitrary government regulation and control.” Together, these political and economic rights rested on a pedestal of “Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People.” That, in turn, stood on a more substantial foundation: “Fundamental Belief in God.”

For the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life was more than a list of political and economic rights. It was rather, as its name indicated, a creed—a statement of religious belief and commitment to a sanctified cause. As the organization repeatedly noted, faithfulness to the Credo would be “the sole basis” in determining the winners in its annual awards program. A major gathering for corporate and conservative leaders, the ceremonies took place at the foundation’s offices in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, a 54-acre property purchased by board member E.F. Hutton and leased to the foundation for a dollar a year. In the first ceremonies, in November 1949, Eisenhower granted honors and gold medals to a number of distinguished conservatives, including former president Herbert Hoover, conservative Republican Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, and his own future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In all, he doled out prizes totaling $84,000, which organizers emphasized was more money than either the Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes bestowed. Moreover, the general gave his blessing to the work done by the honorees. “Here in this spiritual temple of the greatest of all Americans,” he said, “you winners of these awards become marked as among America’s disciples.  You have issued your defiance to all who would destroy the American dream.”

With the prize pool steadily increasing, the competition was swamped with tens of thousands of nominations each year. Categories for awards steadily expanded, with prizes offered for the best expression of the Credo in everything from ad campaigns, radio programs, cartoons, editorials, television programs and films to sermons, speeches, employee publications, community programs, and commencement addresses, both college and high school. In only its second year, the foundation awarded nearly two dozen cash awards in each of 17 categories, with another 300 medals and 200 certificates distributed as well. Organizers believed their work had transformed the nation. “Now,” one noted in 1951, “teachers, preachers, business men, citizens at work everywhere have the task of building an understanding of our free-market capitalistic system based on a fundamental belief in God, on Constitutional government designed to serve and not to rule the people, and on our indivisible bundle of political and economic rights, or surrender to statism.”

Beyond the Freedoms Foundation, the Credo of the American Way of Life played a prominent role in the presidential campaign of 1952. Notably, Eisenhower led a drive that year to have a monument in its likeness erected in Washington, DC. Doing so, the Republican nominee noted, would honor the American ideal of “permitting the creative spirit of man made in the image of his Maker to reach its highest aspirations.” While the monument never manifested, its message still spread widely in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign coordinated by the Freedoms Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America.  Together, the two organizations put up a million posters in store windows and plastered another 90,000 cards on trains and buses. On the Saturday before the election, they placed over thirty million more pieces of literature on doorknobs across the country. Shaped like the Liberty Bell, these door hangers featured the Credo on one side and earnest-looking scouts asking recipients to “Think when you Vote” on the other.

Soon after his landslide victory, President-Elect Eisenhower made a triumphant return to the annual board meeting of the Freedoms Foundation at the Waldorf-Astoria. “These days I seem to have no trouble filling my calendar,” he told them. “But this is one engagement that I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell those people who are my friends, who are supporters of the idea that is represented in the foundation, how deeply I believe that they are serving America.” As reporters hastily took notes, the incoming president urged the crowd and the country to embrace spiritual renewal. In the key passage, he called their attention to the invocation of “the Creator” in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. He then insisted, in what quickly became a famous line, that “our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

It was no accident that Eisenhower introduced this idea to the Freedoms Foundation. As he knew from his long association, the audience arrayed before him appreciated the power of appeals to piety and patriotism. Founder Don Belding was a close ally of Reverend Fifield, whom he personally praised as “Freedom’s Crusader” in a 1950 ceremony honoring the minister; the ad man had been active in Spiritual Mobilization and served as a founding member of the Committee to Proclaim Liberty. Not surprisingly, early recipients of his foundation’s awards included not just Reverend Fifield, but also Howard Kershner of the Christian Freedom Foundation, several regular contributors to Faith and Freedom and Christian Economics, producers of “The Freedom Story” radio program, and, lastly, all of Belding’s fellow members on the Committee to Proclaim Liberty, who were honored as a group and, in several instances, honored once again as individuals. As the Freedoms Foundation crowd heard Eisenhower talk about the foundational role of religion in American life, they believed Christian libertarianism had finally come into its own. The new Eisenhower administration, they assumed, would use that religious rhetoric to roll back the regulatory state. They were wrong.

When he took office, Eisenhower parted ways with his earlier allies. Although the president was personally sympathetic to their complaints, he concluded that “the mass of the people” disagreed. And so, to the consternation of Christian libertarians, Eisenhower gave a bipartisan stamp of approval to the New Deal and, indeed, even expanded its reach over his two terms in office. He significantly enlarged Social Security, increased federal education funding, and launched the greatest public works program of the postwar era: the interstate highway system. By the end of his administration, many libertarians would agree with Senator Barry Goldwater’s assessment that his presidency had been little more than a cheap imitation of the Democratic agenda. It was, he famously charged, “a dime-store New Deal.”

That said, Eisenhower had incredible success with one of the goals he had shared with these supporters: promoting the politics of piety and patriotism. Uncoupling their religious rhetoric from its origins in the fight against the New Deal, he broadened its appeal considerably and helped usher in a national religious revival that was embraced across the political spectrum. He introduced new religious rituals to American politics, ranging from the ritual of prayers at Cabinet meetings, the State Department and Pentagon to annual rites like the National Prayer Breakfast. He inspired others throughout government to inaugurate new religious symbols and ceremonies of their own. Most significantly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto in 1956.  

Unlike the Christian libertarians, who presented God and government as rivals, Eisenhower managed to fuse the two together into what the first National Prayer Breakfast hailed as a wholesome “government under God.” The American nation was now officially suffused with religion, and so it would remain.

Kevin M. Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton and the author, most recently, of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015).

http://www.alternet.org/belief/salvation-big-business-how-pr-industry-inspired-public-acts-faith?akid=13187.125622.gn9BkW&rd=1&src=newsletter1037505&t=3

As the School Year Ends, Public Education is in Doubt

by Ruth Conniff, The Progressive, June 22, 2015

School is out for the summer, and kids are overjoyed. But across the country, the future of public education is in serious jeopardy.

Where will public schools be in a year?

Here is a quick primer on some of the key issues that relate to the fundamental question: Will America maintain or destroy that most basic democratic institution, the public school?

Are Public Schools “Failing”?

The idea that public schools have “failed” and that private market solutions are the answer to this problem is the heart of a campaign promoted by rightwing foundations, particularly the Bradley Foundation, over the last 30 years.

Recent cuts in school budgets by Bradley-supported politicians, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, is creating more “failure.”

As Wisconsin Public Education Network director Heather DuBois Bourenane observes, “The entire myth of the “failing school” depends on a refusal to acknowledge the ways that poverty impacts local communities, and how austerity policies and years of underfunding have led to the crises we see now.”

New reports show that most states continue to put less money into public schools than they did before the recession, and about half put less money into schools that serve low-income students than schools that serve the wealthy.

“We can point to countless success stories of districts that adopted community schools models or established practices that help meet the needs of the whole child (with wrap-around services, peer tutoring, family-focused resources, etc.) Bourenane adds.

“Many of the schools labeled as “failing,” in fact, can produce evidence of enormously successful programming and gains in student growth, but might not rank highly when standardized test scores are the primary criteria for success of their vulnerable student populations.”

Opt-Out Meets #BlackLivesMatter

This year, the nationwide movement to opt out of standardized tests grew to become a massive phenomenon—especially on the East Coast. One in six students in New York refused to take standardized tests in 2015, The New York Times reports, “more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014.”

When large numbers of New York students were labeled “not proficient” on statewide tests—including kids in well funded suburban schools—a massive walkout ensued. Parents rebelled against a plan to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, and the threat of labeling schools as “failing” based on new, tougher standards.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has derided parents whose kids opt out of standardized tests as a bunch of “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought.”

But a broad and diverse opt-out movement is picking up steam all across the country. “We’ve had requests from all fifty states for our opt-out guides,” says United Opt-Out co-founder Tim Slekar.

In Seattle, teacher-author Jesse Hagopian, who helped organize the successful MAPS test boycott at Seattle’s Garfield High School, is leading a multiracial coalition of parents, teachers, local civil rights groups, and students who see the stripped-down, test-focused education as bad for all kids—including low-income kids and kids of color.

That’s a big deal, because national civil rights groups have taken a position against opt-out, on the theory that kids of color need standardized tests to determine whether schools are failing kids who have been underserved.

Jesse Hagopian articulates a different view:

“The idea that our school system implements standardized testing in the early grades to make students “career and college ready” (in the language of the Common Core standards) is an utter absurdity—especially when you consider that one of the most popular career choices for a 5-year-old is being Spider Man.”

“And yet high-stakes are attached to the the MAP test—already in kindergarten!—using it as an arbitrator of who will be placed on the advanced track,” Hagopian writes.

“[T]he Opt Out movement is a vital component of the Black Lives Matter movement and other struggles for social justice in our region,” adds Gerald Hankerson of the Seattle/King County NAACP. ”Using standardized tests to label Black people and immigrants ‘lesser,’ while systematically under-funding their schools, has a long and ugly history in this country,”

Since standardized tests have been used to label students, teachers, and schools as “failing,” and to trigger the take-over of public schools by private operators, the opt-out movement is focused on taking back local, democratic control of the schools.

As Slekar puts it: “We are not an anti-testing movement, we are a revolutionary movement against the corporate takeover of education.”

Common Core Bait and Switch

As education writer and Public School Shakedown contributor Jeff Bryant writes, Common Core has become a toxic issue for Republican presidential candidates thanks to Tea Party opposition. Chris Christie is the latest candidate to turn his back on the national standards he once supported.

Democrats, on the other hand, have been busy mounting a dubious defense of Common Core, Bryant points out. But the issue of the standards themselves is a big distraction.

The real question on Common Core is not whether national educational standards are a socialist plot, as the Republican base seems to think, or whether they are doing wonders for kids, as the Democrats claim, with little real evidence. The real question is whether public education for all kids, espeically poor kids, is adequately supported.

It doesn’t help when assessments tied to the Common Core are used to label schools as “failing,” fire teachers, shut down schools, and hand them over to private charter-school operators.

This test-and-punish approach, not the national standards, is the real threat to public education.

Charter Schools: From Good to Bad

This year marked the beginning of the great unraveling of the for-profit mass charter movement. 

There were the financial scandals: We learned that Ohio poured millions into charter schools that don’t exist. Across the country, there was story after story about charter-school waste, fraud, and abuse.

And then there was the failure to produce results: in New Orleans, data show that the big claims about improved outcomes in a school district that went all-charter right after Katrina don’t hold water.

Given these terrible results, Jeff Bryant has called for a national moratorium on charter schools.

Charter schools were first conceived decades ago as a progressive education innovation. Small, alternative schools, schools for the arts, and language-immersion schools flourished and provided experimental models that traditional public schools could adopt.

But big charter-school chains like Rocketship have taken over in urban areas including Milwaukee and Washington, DC, and lobbied for new laws that exempt them from school-board oversight, as they drain public education dollars out of local districts.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed taking away the cap on private charter schools for the entire state of New York, selling charters as the solution to “failing” public schools.

That plan ran into a major speed bump in New York, when parents rejected the idea that their children had suddenly become a lot less smart, and have not been eager to embrace the charter school “solution”.

“It’s really shock doctrine—where blow something up and then come in and say we need to fix this,” Slekar says about the combination of tests that show mass “failure” and the charter-school expansion.

Nowhere is this more evident than in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter school district, which just happens to be hosting the national charter schools conference next week. Stay tuned for more reporting from the Progressive on that.

Vouchers

School vouchers started in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 25 years ago as a “ticket out” for poor kids who could use the money spent to educate them in public school to attend private schools.

Today, a new sector of cheap, fly-by-night academies has popped up to take advantage of school vouchers.

Despite poor results, Republicans in Wisconsin have expanded the voucher program statewide, and the school voucher concept has spread to thirteen states and Washington, DC.

More than 75 percent of new voucher recipients are families that never sent their kids to public schools. School vouchers drain money from the public school system to provide a straight subsidy for private school parents who get a break on tuition.

I wrote about the shocking state of Milwaukee’s voucher schools in crumbling office buildings, strip malls, and former car dealerships last year

I watched an eighth-grade science class learning creationism, and observed a school where kids are learning the Bob Jones curriculum.

An anti-intellectual current is part of the attack on schools.

Last fall, in Colorado, students walked out of Jefferson County schools over a rightwing revision of the AP history curriculum.

Attacks on teachers and schools

Likewise, the attacks on teachers we’ve seen from the likes of Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindal draw on a deep strain of cultural antipathy toward education. Whether they are busting teachers unions, replacing professional teachers with Teach for America volunteers, or doing away with certification requirements so anyone can teach, there is a concerted attack on this female-dominated profession.

Defending Schools Drives Electoral Victories

One year ago, Ras Baraka, a high school principal and member of the Newark City Council, won election as mayor of Newark despite massive opposition from Chris Christie and the hedge fund managers and corporate education “reformers” who want to turn over more public schools to corporate charter school chains. On her blog, Diane Ravich quoted supporters who called it “the most important election in the nation regarding the future of public education.”

This year, the Los Angeles school board elections pitted charter-school advocates against public-school proponents, and the results were mixed in the school district with the nation’s largest number of charter-school students. “The billionaires dropped a few million into the L.A. race, principally to defeat [public-school defender] Bennett Kayser,” Diane Ravitch pointed out. They suceeded in replacing him with charter founder Ref Rodrigueaz, but charter proponent Tamar Galatzan also lost her seat to a retired public school teacher.

Tom Wolf beat Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett in a race that focused on Corbett’s failed educational “reforms.” The new state budget in Pennsylvania includes more funding for schools that serve the neediest kids. Wolf has also signaled that he is ready to to end Pennsylvania’s charter-school expansion.

In the California race for state schools chief, Tom Torlakson beat Marshall Tuck despte millions of dollars in support for Tuck from the charter school industry.

Now what?

In 2016, one of the biggest national political questions in the Presidential election will be what to do about public schools?

Will the rightwing assault on education succeed, based on decades of propaganda funded by the Bradley foundation to spread the message that “public schools have failed”?

Or will Democrats and Republicans alike take a stand for public education?

A lot will depend on how much pressure a growing pro-public-school movement can put on the candidates.

All across the country, there are real signs of hope.

Superintendents, school boards, as well as administrators of local public schools have been writing letters and testifying against the privatization and defunding of public education.

Parents are engaged as never before.

Communities, from urban mostly black and brown districts to conservative, rural areas, are rising up against budget cuts and the threat of school closures.

“It’s not too late,” one impassioned letter from a group of school superintendents declared, urging citizens to stand up and resist the defunding of public schools and their privatization.

Let’s hope they are right.

© 2015 The Progressive

Ruth Conniff is editor of The Progressive magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @rconniff

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/22/school-year-ends-public-education-doubt

‘The American Century’ Has Plunged the World Into Crisis. What Happens Now?

Foreign Policy In Focus

by Conn Hallinan, Leon Wofsy, Common Dreams, June 22, 2015

U.S. foreign policy is dangerous, undemocratic, and deeply out of sync with real global challenges. Is continuous war inevitable, or can we change course?

There’s something fundamentally wrong with U.S. foreign policy.

Despite glimmers of hope — a tentative nuclear agreement with Iran, for one, and a long-overdue thaw with Cuba — we’re locked into seemingly irresolvable conflicts in most regions of the world. They range from tensions with nuclear-armed powers like Russia and China to actual combat operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Why? Has a state of perpetual warfare and conflict become inescapable? Or are we in a self-replicating cycle that reflects an inability — or unwillingness — to see the world as it actually is?

The United States is undergoing a historic transition in our relationship to the rest of the world, but this is neither acknowledged nor reflected in U.S. foreign policy. We still act as if our enormous military power, imperial alliances, and self-perceived moral superiority empower us to set the terms of “world order.”

While this illusion goes back to the end of World War II, it was the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union that signaled the beginning of a self-proclaimed “American Century.” The idea that the United States had “won” the Cold War and now — as the world’s lone superpower — had the right or responsibility to order the world’s affairs led to a series of military adventures. It started with President Bill Clinton’s intervention in the Yugoslav civil war, continued on with George W. Bush’s disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and can still be seen in the Obama administration’s own misadventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and beyond.

In each case, Washington chose war as the answer to enormously complex issues, ignoring the profound consequences for both foreign and domestic policy. Yet the world is very different from the assumptions that drive this impulsive interventionism.

It’s this disconnect that defines the current crisis.

Acknowledging New Realities

So what is it about the world that requires a change in our outlook? A few observations come to mind.

First, our preoccupation with conflicts in the Middle East — and to a significant extent, our tensions with Russia in Eastern Europe and with China in East Asia — distract us from the most compelling crises that threaten the future of humanity. Climate change and environmental perils have to be dealt with now and demand an unprecedented level of international collective action. That also holds for the resurgent danger of nuclear war.

Second, superpower military interventionism and far-flung acts of war have only intensified conflict, terror, and human suffering. There’s no short-term solution — especially by force — to the deep-seated problems that cause chaos, violence, and misery through much of the world.

Third, while any hope of curbing violence and mitigating the most urgent problems depends on international cooperation, old and disastrous intrigues over spheres of influence dominate the behavior of the major powers. Our own relentless pursuit of military advantage on every continent, including through alliances and proxies like NATO, divides the world into “friend” and “foe” according to our perceived interests. That inevitably inflames aggressive imperial rivalries and overrides common interests in the 21st century.

Fourth, while the United States remains a great economic power, economic and political influence is shifting and giving rise to national and regional centers no longer controlled by U.S.-dominated global financial structures. Away from Washington, London, and Berlin, alternative centers of economic power are taking hold in Beijing, New Delhi, Cape Town, and Brasilia. Independent formations and alliances are springing up: organizations like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa); the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (representing 2.8 billion people); the Union of South American Nations; the Latin American trade bloc, Mercosur; and others.

Beyond the problems our delusions of grandeur have caused in the wider world, there are enormous domestic consequences of prolonged war and interventionism. We shell out over $1 trillion a year in military-related expenses even as our social safety net frays and our infrastructure crumbles. Democracy itself has become virtually dysfunctional.

Short Memories and Persistent Delusions

But instead of letting these changing circumstances and our repeated military failures give us pause, our government continues to act as if the United States has the power to dominate and dictate to the rest of the world.

The responsibility of those who set us on this course fades into background. Indeed, in light of the ongoing meltdown in the Middle East, leading presidential candidates are tapping neoconservatives like John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitzwho still think the answer to any foreign policy quandary is military power — for advice. Our leaders seem to forget that following this lot’s advice was exactly what caused the meltdown in the first place. War still excites them, risks and consequences be damned.

While the Obama administration has sought, with limited success, to end the major wars it inherited, our government makes wide use of killer drones in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and has put troops back into Iraq to confront the religious fanaticism and brutality of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) — itself a direct consequence of the last U.S. invasion of Iraq. Reluctant to find common ground in the fight against ISIS with designated “foes” like Iran and Syria, Washington clings to allies like Saudi Arabia, whose leaders are fueling the crisis of religious fanaticism and internecine barbarity. Elsewhere, the U.S. also continues to give massive support to the Israeli government, despite its expanding occupation of the West Bank and its horrific recurring assaults on Gaza.

A “war first” policy in places like Iran and Syria is being strongly pushed by neoconservatives like former Vice President Dick Cheney and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. Though it’s attempted to distance itself from the neocons, the Obama administration adds to tensions with planned military realignments like the “Asia pivot” aimed at building up U.S. military forces in Asia to confront China. It’s also taken a more aggressive position than even other NATO partners in fostering a new cold war with Russia.

We seem to have missed the point: There is no such thing as an “American Century.” International order cannot be enforced by a superpower alone. But never mind centuries — if we don’t learn to take our common interests more seriously than those that divide nations and breed the chronic danger of war, there may well be no tomorrows.

Unexceptionalism

There’s a powerful ideological delusion that any movement seeking to change U.S. foreign policy must confront: that U.S. culture is superior to anything else on the planet. Generally going by the name of “American exceptionalism,” it’s the deeply held belief that American politics (and medicine, technology, education, and so on) are better than those in other countries. Implicit in the belief is an evangelical urge to impose American ways of doing things on the rest of the world.

Americans, for instance, believe they have the best education system in the world, when in fact they’ve dropped from 1st place to 14th place in the number of college graduates. We’ve made students of higher education the most indebted section of our population, while falling to 17th place in international education ratings. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation, the average American pays more than twice as much for his or her education than those in the rest of the world.

Health care is an equally compelling example. In the World Health Organization’s ranking of health care systems in 2000, the United States was ranked 37th. In a more recent Institute of Medicine report in 2013, the U.S. was ranked the lowest among 17 developed nations studied.

The old anti-war slogan, “It will be a good day when schools get all the money they need and the Navy has to hold a bake sale to buy an aircraft carrier” is as appropriate today as it was in the 1960s. We prioritize corporate subsidies, tax cuts for the wealthy, and massive military budgets over education. The result is that Americans are no longer among the most educated in the world.

But challenging the “exceptionalism” myth courts the danger of being labeled “unpatriotic” and “un-American,” two powerful ideological sanctions that can effectively silence critical or questioning voices.

The fact that Americans consider their culture or ideology “superior” is hardly unique. But no other country in the world has the same level of economic and military power to enforce its worldview on others.

The United States did not simply support Kosovo’s independence, for example. It bombed Serbia into de facto acceptance. When the U.S. decided to remove the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi from power, it just did so. No other country is capable of projecting that kind of force in regions thousands of miles from its borders.

The U.S. currently accounts for anywhere from 45 to 50 percent of the world’s military spending. It has hundreds of overseas bases, ranging from huge sprawling affairs like Camp Bond Steel in Kosovo and unsinkable aircraft carriers around the islands of Okinawa, Wake, Diego Garcia, and Guam to tiny bases called “lily pads” of pre-positioned military supplies. The late political scientist Chalmers Johnson estimated that the U.S. has some 800 bases worldwide, about the same as the British Empire had at its height in 1895.

The United States has long relied on a military arrow in its diplomatic quiver, and Americans have been at war almost continuously since the end of World War II. Some of these wars were major undertakings: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq (twice), Libya. Some were quick “smash and grabs” like Panama and Grenada. Others are “shadow wars” waged by Special Forces, armed drones, and local proxies. If one defines the term “war” as the application of organized violence, the U.S. has engaged in close to 80 wars since 1945.

The Home Front

The coin of empire comes dear, as the old expression goes.

According Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, the final butcher bill for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars — including the long-term health problems of veterans — will cost U.S. taxpayers around $6 trillion. One can add to that the over $1 trillion the U.S. spends each year on defense-related items. The “official” defense budget of some half a trillion dollars doesn’t include such items as nuclear weapons, veterans’ benefits or retirement, the CIA and Homeland Security, nor the billions a year in interest we’ll be paying on the debt from the Afghan-Iraq wars. By 2013 the U.S. had already paid out $316 billion in interest.

The domestic collateral damage from that set of priorities is numbing.

We spend more on our “official” military budget than we do on Medicare, Medicaid, Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development combined. Since 9/11, we’ve spent $70 million an hour on “security” compared to $62 million an hour on all domestic programs.

As military expenditures dwarf funding for deteriorating social programs, they drive economic inequality. The poor and working millions are left further and further behind. Meanwhile the chronic problems highlighted at Ferguson, and reflected nationwide, are a horrific reminder of how deeply racism — the unequal economic and social divide and systemic abuse of black and Latino youth — continues to plague our homeland.

The state of ceaseless war has deeply damaged our democracy, bringing our surveillance and security state to levels that many dictators would envy. The Senate torture report, most of it still classified, shatters the trust we are asked to place in the secret, unaccountable apparatus that runs the most extensive Big Brother spy system ever devised.

Bombs and Business

President Calvin Coolidge was said to have remarked that “the business of America is business.” Unsurprisingly, U.S. corporate interests play a major role in American foreign policy.

Out of the top 10 international arms producers, eight are American. The arms industry spends millions lobbying Congress and state legislatures, and it defends its turf with an efficiency and vigor that its products don’t always emulate on the battlefield. The F-35 fighter-bomber, for example — the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history — will cost $1.5 trillion and doesn’t work. It’s over budget, dangerous to fly, and riddled with defects. And yet few lawmakers dare challenge the powerful corporations who have shoved this lemon down our throats.

Corporate interests are woven into the fabric of long-term U.S. strategic interests and goals. Both combine to try to control energy supplies, command strategic choke points through which oil and gas supplies transit, and ensure access to markets.

Many of these goals can be achieved with standard diplomacy or economic pressure, but the U.S. always reserves the right to use military force. The 1979 “Carter Doctrine” — a document that mirrors the 1823 Monroe Doctrine about American interests in Latin America — put that strategy in blunt terms vis-à-vis the Middle East: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

It’s no less true in East Asia. The U.S. will certainly engage in peaceful economic competition with China. But if push comes to shove, the Third, Fifth, and Seventh fleets will back up the interests of Washington and its allies — Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and Australia.

Trying to change the course of American foreign policy is not only essential for reducing international tensions. It’s critically important to shift the enormous wealth we expend in war and weapons toward alleviating growing inequality and social crises at home.

As long as competition for markets and accumulation of capital characterize modern society, nations will vie for spheres of influence, and antagonistic interests will be a fundamental feature of international relations. Chauvinist reaction to incursions real or imagined — and the impulse to respond by military means — is characteristic to some degree of every significant nation-state. Yet the more that some governments, including our own, become subordinate to oligarchic control, the greater is the peril.

Finding the Common Interest

These, however, are not the only factors that will shape the future.

There is nothing inevitable that rules out a significant change of direction, even if the demise or transformation of a capitalistic system of greed and exploitation is not at hand. The potential for change, especially in U.S. foreign policy, resides in how social movements here and abroad respond to the undeniable reality of: 1) the chronic failure, massive costs, and danger inherent in “American Century” exceptionalism; and 2) the urgency of international efforts to respond to climate change.

There is, as well, the necessity to respond to health and natural disasters aggravated by poverty, to rising messianic violence, and above all, to prevent a descent into war. This includes not only the danger of a clash between the major nuclear powers, but between regional powers. A nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, for example, would affect the whole world.

Without underestimating the self-interest of forces that thrive on gambling with the future of humanity, historic experience and current reality elevate a powerful common interest in peace and survival. The need to change course is not something that can be recognized on only one side of an ideological divide. Nor does that recognition depend on national, ethnic, or religious identity. Rather, it demands acknowledging the enormous cost of plunging ahead as everything falls apart around us.

After the latest U.S. midterm elections, the political outlook is certainly bleak. But experience shows that elections, important as they are, are not necessarily indicators of when and how significant change can come about in matters of policy. On issues of civil rights and social equality, advances have occurred because a dedicated and persistent minority movement helped change public opinion in a way the political establishment could not defy.

The Vietnam War, for example, came to an end, despite the stubbornness of Democratic and Republican administrations, when a stalemate on the battlefield and growing international and domestic opposition could no longer be denied. Significant changes can come about even as the basic character of society is retained. Massive resistance and rejection of colonialism caused the British Empire and other colonial powers to adjust to a new reality after World War II. McCarthyism was eventually defeated in the United States. President Nixon was forced to resign. The use of landmines and cluster bombs has been greatly restricted because of the opposition of a small band of activists whose initial efforts were labeled “quixotic.”

There are diverse and growing political currents in our country that see the folly and danger of the course we’re on. Many Republicans, Democrats, independents, and libertarians — and much of the public — are beginning to say “enough” to war and military intervention all over the globe, and the folly of basing foreign policy on dividing countries into “friend or foe.”

This is not to be Pollyannaish about anti-war sentiment, or how quickly people can be stampeded into supporting the use of force. In early 2014, some 57 percent of Americans agreed that “over-reliance on military force creates more hatred leading to increased terrorism.” Only 37 percent believed military force was the way to go. But once the hysteria around the Islamic State began, those numbers shifted to pretty much an even split: 47 percent supported the use of military force, 46 percent opposed it.

It will always be necessary in each new crisis to counter those who mislead and browbeat the public into acceptance of another military intervention. But in spite of the current hysterics about ISIS, disillusionment in war as an answer is probably greater now among Americans and worldwide than it has ever been. That sentiment may prove strong enough to produce a shift away from perpetual war, a shift toward some modesty and common-sense realism in U.S. foreign policy.

Making Space for the Unexpected

Given that there is a need for a new approach, how can American foreign policy be changed?

Foremost, there is the need for a real debate on the thrust of a U.S. foreign policy that chooses negotiation, diplomacy, and international cooperation over the use of force.

However, as we approach another presidential election, there is as yet no strong voice among the candidates to challenge U.S. foreign policy. Fear and questionable political calculation keep even most progressive politicians from daring to dissent as the crisis of foreign policy lurches further into perpetual militarism and war. That silence of political acquiescence has to be broken.

Nor is it a matter of concern only on the left. There are many Americans — right, left, or neither — who sense the futility of the course we’re on. These voices have to be represented or the election process will be even more of a sham than we’ve recently experienced.

One can’t predict just what initiatives may take hold, but the recent U.S.-China climate agreement suggests that necessity can override significant obstacles. That accord is an important step forward, although a limited bilateral pact cannot substitute for an essential international climate treaty. There is a glimmer of hope also in the U.S.-Russian joint action that removed chemical weapons from Syria, and in negotiations with Iran, which continue despite fierce opposition from U.S. hawks and the Israeli government. More recently, there is Obama’s bold move — long overdue — to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Despite shifts in political fortunes, the unexpected can happen if there is a need and strong enough pressure to create an opportunity.

We do not claim to have ready-made solutions to the worsening crisis in international relations. We are certain that there is much we’ve missed or underestimated.But if readers agree that U.S. foreign policy has a national and global impact, and that it is not carried out in the interests of the majority of the world’s people, including our own, then we ask you to join this conversation.

If we are to expand the ability of the people to influence foreign policy, we need to defend democracy, and encourage dissent and alternative ideas. The threats to the world and to ourselves are so great that finding common ground trumps any particular interest. We also know that we won’t all agree with each other, and we believe that is as it should be. There are multiple paths to the future. No coalition around changing foreign policy will be successful if it tells people to conform to any one pattern of political action.

So how does the call for changing course translate to something politically viable, and how do we consider the problem of power?

The power to make significant changes in policy ranges from the persistence of peace activists to the potential influence of the general public. In some circumstances, it becomes possible — as well as necessary — to make significant changes in the power structure itself.

Greece comes to mind. Greek left organizations came together to form Syriza, the political party that was successfully elected to power on a platform of ending austerity. Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos Party — now the number-two party in the country — came out of massive demonstrations in 2011 and was organized from the grassroots up. We do not argue one approach over the over, but the experiences in both countries demonstrate that there are multiple paths to generating change.

Certainly progressives and leftists grapple with the problems of power. But progress on issues, particularly in matters like war and peace and climate change, shouldn’t be conceived of as dependent on first achieving general solutions to the problems of society, however desirable.

Some Proposals

We also feel it is essential to focus on a few key questions lest we become “The United Front Against Bad Things.” There are lots of bad things, but some are worse than others. Thrashing those out, of course, is part of the process of engaging in politics.

We know this will not be easy. Yet we are convinced that unless we take up this task, the world will continue to careen toward major disaster. Can we find common programmatic initiatives on which to unite?

Some worthwhile approaches are presented in A Foreign Policy for All, published after a discussion and workshop that took place in Massachusetts in November 2014. We think everyone should take the time to study that document. We want to offer a few ideas of our own.

1) We must stop the flood of corporate money into the electoral process, as well as the systematic disenfranchisement of voters through the manipulation of voting laws.

It may seem odd that we begin with a domestic issue, but we cannot begin to change anything about American foreign policy without confronting political institutions that are increasingly in the thrall of wealthy donors. Growing oligarchic control and economic inequality is not just an American problem, but also a worldwide one. According to Oxfam, by 2016 the world’s richest 1 percent will control over 50 percent of the globe’s total wealth. Poll after poll shows this growing economic disparity does not sit well with people.

2) It’s essential to begin reining in the vast military-industrial-intelligence complex that burns up more than a trillion dollars a year and whose interests are served by heightened international tension and war.

3) President Barack Obama came into office pledging to abolish nuclear weapons. He should.

Instead, the White House has authorized spending $352 billion to modernize our nuclear arsenal, a bill that might eventually go as high as $1 trillion when the cost of the supporting infrastructure is figured in. The possibility of nuclear war is not an abstraction. In Europe, a nuclear-armed NATO has locked horns with a nuclear-armed Russia. Tensions between China and the United States, coupled with current U.S. military strategy in the region — the so-called “AirSea Battle” plan — could touch off a nuclear exchange. Leaders in Pakistan and India are troublingly casual about the possibility of a nuclear war between the two South Asian countries. And one can never discount the possibility of an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran. In short, nuclear war is a serious possibility in today’s world.

One idea is the campaign for nuclear-free zones, which there are scores of — ranging from initiatives written by individual cities to the Treaty of Tlatelolco covering Latin America, the Treaty of Raratonga for the South Pacific, and the Pelindaba Treaty for Africa. Imagine how a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East would change the politics of the region.

We should also support the Marshall Islands in its campaign demanding the implementation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty eliminating nuclear weapons and moving toward general disarmament. If the great powers took serious steps toward full nuclear disarmament, it would make it difficult for nuclear-armed non-treaty members that have nuclear weapons — North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India — not to follow suit. The key to this, however, is “general disarmament” and a pledge to remove war as an instrument of foreign policy.

4) Any effort to change foreign policy must eventually confront the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which in the words of former U.S. Central Command leader James Mattis, is a “preeminent flame that keeps the pot boiling in the Middle East.” While the U.S. and its NATO allies are quick to apply sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea, they have done virtually nothing about the continued Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands.

5) Ending and renouncing military blockades that starve populations as an instrument of foreign policy — Cuba, Gaza, and Iran come to mind — would surely change the international political climate for the better.

6) Let’s dispense our predilection for “humanitarian intervention,” which is too often an excuse for the great powers to overthrow governments with which they disagree

As Walden Bello, former Philippine Congressman for the Citizens’ Action Party and author of Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmasking of the American Empire, writes: “Humanitarian intervention sets a very dangerous precedent that is used to justify future violation of the principle of national sovereignty. One cannot but conclude from the historical record that NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo conflict helped provide the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan, and the justifications for both interventions in turn were employed to legitimize the invasion of Iraq and the NATO war in Libya.”

7) Climate change is an existential issue, and as much a foreign policy question as war and peace. It can no longer be neglected.

Thus far, the U.S. has taken only baby steps toward controlling greenhouse gas emissions, but polls overwhelmingly show that the majority of Americans want action on this front. It’s also an issue that reveals the predatory nature of corporate capitalism and its supporters in the halls of Congress. As we have noted, control of energy supplies and guaranteeing the profits of oil and gas conglomerates is a centerpiece of American foreign policy.

As Naomi Klein notes in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the climate movement must “articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals, but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis. A worldview embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”

International and Regional Organizations

Finally, international and regional organizations must be strengthened. For years, mainstream media propaganda has bemoaned the ineffectiveness of the United Nations, while Washington — especially Congress — has systematically weakened the organization and tried to consign it to irrelevance in the public’s estimation.

The current structure of the United Nations is undemocratic. The five “big powers” that emerged from World War II — the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia — dominate the Security Council with their use of the veto. Two of the earth’s continents, Africa and Latin America, have no permanent members on the Council.

A truly democratic organization would use the General Assembly as the decision-making body, with adjustments for size and population. Important decisions, like the use of force, could require a super majority.

At the same time, regional organizations like the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Arab League, and others, have to be strengthened as well. Had the UN Security Council listened to the African Union, which was prepared to start negotiations with the Gaddafi regime, the current Libyan debacle might have been avoided. In turn that might have prevented the spread of war to central Africa and the countries of Mali and Niger.

Working for a dramatic shift in U.S. policy, away from the hubris of “American exceptionalism,” is not to downgrade the enormous importance of the United States. Alongside and in contradiction to the tragic consequences of our misuse of military power, the contributions of the American people to the world are vast and many-faceted. None of the great challenges of our time can be met successfully without America acting in collaboration with the majority of the world’s governments and people.

There certainly are common interests that join people of all nations regardless of differences in government, politics, culture, and beliefs. Will those interests become strong enough to override the systemic pressures that fuel greed, conflict, war, and ultimate catastrophe? There is a lot of history, and no dearth of dogma, that would seem to sustain a negative answer. But dire necessity and changing reality may produce more positive outcomes in a better, if far from perfect, world.

It is time for change, time for the very best efforts of all who nurture hopes for a saner world.

© 2014 Foreign Policy In Focus

Conn Hallinan is a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist. Hallinan is also a columnist for the Berkeley Daily Planet, and an occasional free lance medical policy writer. He is a recipient of a Project Censored “Real News Award.” He formally ran the journalism program at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was also a college provost. He can be reached at: ringoanne@sbcglobal.net

Leon Wofsy, a one-time leader of Marxist youth organizations, is Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology/Immunology at the University of California at Berkeley. Visit his work at Leon’s Op-Ed.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/06/22/american-century-has-plunged-world-crisis-what-happens-now

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