Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Today I am reprinting a blog from Harry Targ's Diary of a Heartland Radical reporting on the widespread misery in Indiana, thanks to more than ten years of hard right government. It illustrates the terrible price we have to pay for the millionaire ideologues that are running the country.


Harry Targ

Social and Economic Wellbeing Survey Shows No Progress

A flurry of newspaper stories appeared the first week of February in
 The Wall Street Journal and several Indiana newspapers reporting on data from a “health and wellness” national survey about the performance of the 50 states. Indiana according to several measures was ranked as the fourth “worst state” in the country. The national survey consisted of data from 177,281 people interviewed by the Gallup and Healthways organizations. Data included responses to questions about feelings of community support and pride, physical health, and financial security. 
According to the survey The Times of Northwest Indiana, (February 8, 2017) reported, “31.3 percent of Indiana residents are obese, 30.6 smoke, and 29.4 percent don’t exercise at all.” Only 24.9 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree (one of the lowest percentages of any state).  The NWIT article indicated that median household income of Hoosiers was $5,000 less than the national median income.

 The Wall Street Journal put it: “Indiana is one of just a handful of states to rank worse in every category of well-being--sense of purpose, social life, financial health, community pride, and physical fitness--than most other states…”  On all these measures combined Indiana’s rank was only ahead of Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Previous Data on the Indiana Economy
The centerpiece of Indiana public policy since 2004 has been corporate and individual tax cuts and reduced budgets for education, health care, and other public services. Indiana was one of the first states to begin the privatization of the public sector, including transferring educational funds from public to charter schools. It established a voucher system to encourage parents to send their children to private schools. Also Indiana sold public roads; privatized public services; and recruited controversial corporations such as Duke Power to support research at the state’s flagship research universities. Meanwhile the manufacturing base of the state shifted from higher paying and unionized industrial labor (automobiles, steel, and durable goods) to lower paying service jobs and non-union work such as at the Amazon distribution center.
The narrative about Indiana economic growth presented by the former Governor Mike Pence varied greatly from data gathered between 2012 and 2014. For example, between 2013 and 2014, despite enticements to business, Indiana grew at a 0.4 percent pace while the nation at large experienced 2.2 percent growth.
Indiana’s economy historically was based on manufacturing but has experienced declines since the 1980s (with only modest increases in recent years).  However, newer manufacturing between 2014 and 2016 has been mostly in low-wage non-unionized sectors.   For example, the Indiana Institute for Working Families reported on data from a study of work and poverty in Marion County, which includes the state’s largest city, Indianapolis.  Four of five of the largest growing industries in the county paid wages at or below family sustainability ($798 per week for a family of three) and individual and household wages declined significantly between 2008 and 2012 (Derek Thomas, “Inequality in Indy - A Rising Problem With Ready Solutions,” August 13, 2014, (
Further, Thomas quoted a U.S. Conference of Mayors’ report on wages and income:  “…wage inequality grew twice as rapidly in the Indianapolis metro area as in the rest of the nation since the recession.” This is so because new jobs created paid less on average than the jobs that were lost since the recession started.
Thomas pointed out that the mayors’ report had several concrete proposals that could address declining real wages and stimulate job growth. These included “raising the minimum wage, strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit, public programs to retrain displaced workers,” and developing universal pre-kindergarten and programs to rebuild the state’s crumbling infrastructure. They may have added that declining real wages also relates to attacks on unions in both the private and public sectors and the dramatic reduction in public sector employment.
Thomas recommended in 2012 that Indianapolis (and Indiana) should have taken these data seriously because in Marion County “poverty is still rising, the minimum wage is less than half of what it takes for a single-mother with an infant to be economically self-sufficient; 47 percent of workers do not have access to a paid sick day from work, and a full 32 percent are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($29,685 for a family of three).” 
More recently, November 10, 2014, the Indiana Association of United Ways issued a 250 page report on the state called the “Study of Financial Hardship.” The study, parallel to similar studies in five other states and prepared by a research team at Rutgers University, introduced the concept of  Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or (ALICE). ALICE refers to households with incomes that are above the poverty rate but below “the basic cost of living.” The startling data revealed that:
-a third of Hoosier households cannot afford adequate housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.
-specifically, 14 percent of households are below the poverty line and 23 percent above poverty but below the threshold out of ALICE, or earning enough to provide for the basic cost of living.
-570,000 households are within the ALICE status and 353,000 below the poverty line.
-over 21 percent of households in every Indiana county are above poverty but below the capacity to provide for basic sustenance.
Referring to those within the ALICE category of wage earners who have struggled to survive but earn less than what it takes to meet basic needs, Kathy Ertel, Board Chairperson of Indiana Association of United Ways said: “ALICE is our child care worker, our retail clerk, the CAN who cares for our grandparents, and our delivery driver” (Roger L. Frick, “Groundbreaking Study Reveals 37% of Hoosier Households Struggle With the Basics,” Indiana Association of United Ways, November 10, 2014,
Indiana Politics
Perhaps the starkest fact to note in reference to the growing economic insecurity in the state of Indiana over time is that in 1970 forty percent of Hoosier workers were in unions, then the state with the third highest union density. By the dawn of the second decade of the twenty-first century only 11 percent of workers were in trade unions. Recent legislation has disadvantaged Hoosier workers including passage of a Right to Work law and repeal of the state version of prevailing wage. The Mitch Daniels/Mike Pence administrations (2004-2016) have used charter schools and vouchers to weaken teachers unions. In addition, in his first day in office in January, 2004, newly elected Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order abolishing the right of state employees to form unions. 
In 2005 the Indiana state government (legislature and governor) passed the first and most extreme voter identification law. Voters were required to secure voter identification photos. Michael Macdonald a University of Florida political scientist estimated that requiring voter IDs reduces voter participation by 4-5 percent, hitting the poor and elderly the hardest. In addition, Indiana law ended voter registration in the state one month before election day. And polls close at 6 p.m. election day, among the earliest closing times in the country. Finally, requests for absentee ballots require written excuses. 
Traditionally when Democrats were in the Governor’s mansion and/or controlled a branch of the legislature, they too tended to support neoliberal economic policies, but less draconian, and had been more moderate on social policy questions. In recent years, many legislators and the two most recent governors have been friends of or received support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC) funded by major corporations and the Koch brothers. 
With ALEC money, some active Tea Party organizations, the growth of rightwing Republican power, and centrist Democrats, Indiana government has been able to initiate some of the most regressive policies in reference to voting rights, education, taxing, and deregulation in the country. And as the data above suggests, the political economy of Indiana has increased the suffering of the vast majority of working families in the state. Other data suggests that the quality of health care, education, the environment, and transportation have declined as well.
In sum, the working people of Indiana enter the coming period with little economic hope, a politics of red state dominance, and the number two person in the White House who bears some responsibility for the economics and politics left behind. Social change in Indiana, as with the nation at large, will require a vibrant, active progressive program in the electoral arena, the 2018 elections for example, at the same time that mass movements direct their attention to improving the lives of the 99 percent.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Road Ahead

Politics is clearly on the top of the agenda these days. But there are very different ways of doing and thinking about politics. On the one side are those whose political opponents are their enemies. They are the good people; their own opinions are correct. People who disagree are bad and dead wrong.
On the other side are those who understand that if we are going to live together in a democracy, that is if we are going to govern ourselves together then we must be able to work together and before we work together we need to be able to talk to each other. The slogan here is: “let’s come together.”
That is an important recommendation, but what exactly do we have to do to come together? It is important to ask and to answer that question. If we don’t, if we do not understand the next step, we will be frustrated and, after it while, angry and that leads to destructive politics.
Here is how this talk about “coming together” goes off the rails very quickly. We conclude that in order to come together we must avoid being hostile, we must not exclude anyone and therefore not build a wall between the United States and Mexico or refuse to allow Muslims to come to this country or, if they are already here, make them register. But now the idea of coming together just shows that we have been right all along, that some of the central demands President Trump and his folk are unjustified.
Others may interpret " coming together" as an affirmation that women should have control over their bodies and their reproductive choices, or that different forms of sexuality should all be legitimate. Such an interpretation of course would not sit well with the opponents of abortion or with people troubled by the legalization of gay marriage. Giving this interpretation to " coming together" would make it very difficult to form a unified opposition to the current Administration in Washington to include groups with whom we do not agree on everything.
Finally, some people may identify "coming together" with working in electoral campaigns, with recommending over and over that people go to the polls and vote. That would exclude the people who believe that political demonstrations are extremely important and that sometimes resistance has to be openly violent, or at least leave open the possibility of violence when protesters state their views strongly and publicly.
If we are reaching for unity we have to acknowledge that we have very different ideas about the appropriate forms of political action. A unified movement must find ways for these different tactics to be employed.
It is not difficult to see that identifying our specific views on controversial topics as “coming together” is an attempt to impose our world view on others. This line of talk will not bring anyone together except those who are together already. We cannot very well pretend to try to come together with those who think differently from us if all we’re doing is repeating once again what we believe to be true and good.
When we try to explain what it means to “come together” we often call for holding a conversation. We need to talk to the people who disagree with us. But what sort of shape will that conversation take? Proposals for conversations are often animated by the hope that if we can just sit down with people who see the world very differently from us we can persuade them to change their mind, to come over to our beliefs. We are not really hoping that the others will persuade us, that we will emerge from this conversation condemning abortion and gay marriage or shouting “America First!” or insisting that working in elections are the only proper tactic for political activists.
But this hope for a conversation that will overcome significant differences among us by bringing everybody around to see that we are right is, of course, a fantasy through which we avoid facing how serious the differences are in our nation. Would that our differences and difficulties were that easy to resolve!
There are people who have thought about this problem for a very long time and this is what they often suggest: people who hold to very different principles and who therefore may very well have different styles of talking and expressing themselves should be asked to talk to their political opponents. Some of them and some of us may well be willing to give that a try, even if we are not optimistic about the outcome.
We would talk not about what we disagree about because we understand that to be a waste of time. The question would instead be: are there projects we would be willing and able to cooperate on? In some places pro-choice and pro-life women have come together in projects aiming at preventing unwanted pregnancies or facilitating adoption for women who do not choose, for whatever reason, to raise the children they are giving birth to. It may be possible that individuals who have very different views of immigrants may still want to help immigrants already here to flourish and to become productive citizens. Persons who have very different ideas about the causes and remedies of poverty, may nevertheless want to cooperate to make sure that poor children get enough to eat.
We live in the same country and we participate in the same institutions. We share many common concerns. We can only cooperate to address these concerns if we talk to each other and foster cooperation even among people who disagree profoundly and may be inclined to distrust one another. That would be one way of coming together.
We can do this and secretly hope that after a long time of working together, we might have some good conversations not in order to persuade one another but in order to understand better how these people we have come to like and trust in the course of our common projects could have beliefs which we find quite wrong and, frankly, unattractive. But for the time being we need to be content to create projects on which persons of very different persuasion can learn to cooperate and learn to trust one another.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The War on Terror is once again in the center of attention after the Executive Order banning all Syrian refugees from entering the United States and banning anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from coming into the US for from 60 to 120 days.

Questions have been raised about what countries are and are not on this list. Why is Egypt not on this list, or Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan? The answer is unclear. But in all the countries on the list, US military or para-military forces have been active. The CIA fomented a revolt against a duly elected government in Iran in the 1950s, putting the Shah of Iran on his throne and thereby making a powerful country in the region into an enemy. When in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, we supported him for a while. Since 1991 we have conducting open or covert war against Iraq. We bombed Libya into chaos where, now, the country has two governments, neither able to govern effectively. We have conducted military actions in Sudan, and involved ourselves in the civil wars in Somalia and Yemen.

 It is not unreasonable to expect that natives of any of these countries might attempt some sort of terrorist attack in our country. We have interfered in their nations militarily . In several cases we have bombed their cities and used drone strikes that killed civilians.

Terrorist attacks on us are not as they are often said to be " unprovoked." It is true, that for any particular terrorist act , it is not easy to explain why the perpetrators chose to do what they did, and when they did it. But it is important to realize that the same is, of course, equally true of our actions.

The earliest of these events, the overthrow prime minister Dr. Mohamed Mosaddegh in Iran, had the goal of securing control of the petroleum resources in Iran for us and other Western powers. But subsequent history shows that this was an extremely ill-considered action. Iran is not a good enemy to have. The US government officials who cooked up this project did not consider the consequences of their actions at all well. It is unclear how anybody could have thought that we could manipulate the internal politics of a fairly large and flourishing modernizing country for any length of time without paying a high price for that manipulation. What were they thinking?

There is indeed a war on terror , but that is only one half of the war because the other half is a war of the United States against a large number of countries concentrated in the Middle East, a war that surely sows terror among the citizens of these nations. We are not merely the victims of terrorism; we are terrorists.

We bring to bear our fearful military power with most advanced technology. They fight back flying airplanes into buildings, by killing a few civilians, or military personnel . The imbalance between our military actions in the Middle East and the terrorist response is pathetic. We have a much much more powerful military than they do, but we are not winning. Neither are the people in the countries affected, witness the flood of refugees in Europe. No one is winning.

This is the fundamental lesson we should draw from these events: it is impossible to justify most, if not all wars. Our military attacks on Mid Eastern countries and the terrorist response by inhabitants of these countries creates enormous pain on all sides . The only people that profit are the arms manufacturers and maybe the generals. The enormous burden of suffering is borne by the foot soldiers and by the civilians who lose their lives , their family members , their homes and their livelihood.

Instead of continuing to kill and destroy, instead of continuing to sow hatred between people who do not know each other —how many Americans even know exactly where Afghanistan or Iraq are on the map? — we should learn the lesson that is so very obvious. Most wars -- and the present ones are clearly among them-- have no reasonable justification. They are entered for poorly thought-out reasons or, as the second war against Iraq, are justified only by lies and deception.

We must stop.

We must seriously reduce our military expenditures and use the money saved to build the roads and bridges and schools the president has promised us.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The American Dream 
 I have been thinking about what a friend told me about his father and his uncles. They had fled a civil war in the Middle East when they were young men and, while they came away alive from the experiences in their home country, they bore serious emotional scars.
Most of them fared well in this country. They became business owners or professionals, they married and had children, they owned their own homes. Many people would say that they achieved the American Dream. But as my friend tells the story, they tended to be glum, depressive. Several had problems with substance abuse. Their marriages ended in divorce; their children too were mostly addicted to alcohol or drugs. They did not enjoy working in their businesses even when they were reasonably successful; their professions did not seem fulfilling. They were boring.
How shall we think about this? We can say that these men were ungrateful, self-indulgent whiners. They should cheer up and be grateful for what America allowed them to achieve--a standard of living that would never have been accessible to them in the country they came from.
 A somewhat less harsh form of this criticism might wish them some help with the damage done to their psyches in their native country and its brutal civil wars.
But perhaps we should pause a minute and consider more carefully what it means to achieve the American Dream. The most common idea considers the American Dream to be all about becoming a property owner, of making a good living, of owning personal property such as a house and cars, of being able to send their children to good schools where they could learn to make a good living, to own their houses and all that.
But is this too limited? What about love, close friends, work that excites and challenges, personal growth, acquiring new skills, new knowledge? A wise friend said to me once: "Earning a good living is not enough; you want a life that is meaningful."
But did these men not to have meaningful lives? They earned money in order to enable their children to have better lives. What could be better?
What makes human life meaningful is not easy to say. Different people may give different answers to the question about what makes life worth living. But is the life of the rich really the best life?
Consider this. All over the world there are religious persons who take a vow of poverty. Do they thereby foreclose the possibility of leading a meaningful life? Don't we rather want to say that religious persons lead good lives because they have found a cause to which to dedicate themselves completely? The daily trials and tribulations of our lives, the pressure of desires, hunger, fatigue do not affect them seriously because their days are dedicated to a greater cause, the worship of their deity.
I have talked before about the myths that Americans hear constantly and rehearse for others, about the blessing of capitalism, or that our political system is a democracy.
The myth of the American dream is another part of this mythology. But on examination it turns out to be dried up, impoverished. The good life is reduced to owning property.
All of this is very important at this moment when a new president promises to "make America great again." What does it take to make our country great? Must we have our names on everything we own? Must we have gold faucets in our bathrooms?
I would think that in a great America everyone would lead meaningful lives. Everyone would have access to education in the subjects that really fascinate them. Everyone would have a chance to be as good an athlete as they could. People would actively participate in the affairs of their neighborhood, in their schools and playgrounds. Instead of complaining about the failures of city government they would build small parks to enhance shared living spaces. Americans today are spectators of sports, of politics, of their neighbors lives. They depend on well-paid “experts” to tell them what to think and how to understand the events of this world. They consume information and understanding much like they consume food and drink.
We have become utterly dependent for almost everything we use. In a great America, everyone would once again be active, creative, inquisitive and thinking for themselves and sharing their ideas and their dreams with their neighbors regardless of how expensive their car is or their house. In a great America what matters is what we are devoted to, not what we earn.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Message for the new year 

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, there has been a great deal of soul-searching. A number of explanations of this unfortunate event are popular. Some people blame the schools for not teaching children how our democracy works. Others blame the media for misleading the public. Others again blame the voters for making a very unintelligent and uninformed choice.

These and other explanations ignore a very important fact about the American public. Americans live by a number of myths which are widely shared and never subjected to any critical scrutiny.  If the voters have proven ignorant in this election the ignorance is shared among all layers of the population and is supported and perpetrated by the media, by school teachers, and ministers.

No one wants to talk about capitalism. Creating jobs, for instance, was a big theme during the last electoral campaign. All candidates promised to create jobs. No one wanted to talk about why that was a necessity. Donald Trump blamed the export of jobs to Asia and has all kinds of remedies for that. But he did not want to talk about why jobs were exported to Asia. Nor did anybody mention, what should be common knowledge, that many manufacturing businesses are buying more and more robots that replace living workers. Why are they doing that? No one talks about that either.

The truth is that in our economic system profits are the main goal of all enterprises and making a profit is more important then treating good workers decently and preserving their jobs at  a good salary. Jobs get exported to Asia where wages are much much lower than here. Robots replace human beings because robots do not join unions, robots do not go on strike for higher wages or better working conditions. Buying robots increases profits and in our economic system profits come before people.

There is a problem about jobs and pay for the working and the middle class because corporations care more for profits than they care for people. Corporations do not  care more for profits because their managers are any greedier than the rest of us but because they work in a specific economic system which expects them to change well-paying jobs into jobs that pay really poorly, that anyone can do after half a day's training. That way the wage bill is lower and profits higher.

But nobody wants to talk about that. If anyone talks about capitalism they talk about its blessings, the newer and more powerful cell phones and all sorts of other gadgets which are making life easier - except if capital has taken your good job and converted it into one that barely keeps you alive.

For one group of Trump supporters - middle-aged white working-class men who have not gotten a decent raise in 20 years - their experience is totally incomprehensible as long as they're being told over and over again that the economic system is the best there is and is the source of their well-being. If the true nature of capitalism - its motto  " profits before people " - were better understood by the people who are its victims, they would not be as likely to be taken in by Trump’s promises.

But the mythology of the benign capitalist system goes hand-in-hand with another mythology, namely that the U.S. is a democracy.  In a democracy the people are the source and seat of power and they manage the government through the mechanism of periodic elections. But for the white working-class male who has been treated shabbily by the system for a long time that is again very confusing because if he has any  power to change his condition he has not noticed that.

 But, of course, the United States is not a democracy but an oligarchy run by the very rich and by the leaders of the economic system. They managed not only the government but also what everybody is told to believe every day. It is not surprising that the mythology of capitalism and democracy are so dominant.
That is just what a capitalist oligarchy wants everyone to believe.

 While freedom of the press is always in danger it still exists to a considerable extent. If you want to inform yourself and be able to see behind the “great blessings” of capitalism and the US democracy, here is a list all websites that I would recommend. They are more likely than the New York Times, or Washington Post to give you an honest account of our current condition:

Common Dreams Your daily news presented without concealing the problems of the existing institutions.

Democracy Now!
- Democracy Now! is an independent, global weekday news hour anchored by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González.

The Guardian.  Latest US news, breaking news and current affairs coverage from

The Nation. The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, and the most widely read weekly journal of progressive political and cultural news, opinion and analysis.

Truthout is a progressive news organization in the United States that operates a web site and distributes original political news articles, opinion pieces.

Look at any of these sources of news and you are less likely to be misled by the dominant myths of our society.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

            A Christmas Message

    It is the Christmas season, everyone is sending and receiving cards wishing for peace and goodwill to all men and women. But for most people this is just something they say. They do not  really mean it. They do not know, nor do they care,  how our government contributes to spreading the murder and abuse of innocent civilians by means of its military assistance programs.

    During  all this Christmas Season, as much as during the remainder of the year, our government gives away taxpayer money to the militaries of different countries which are well-known to torture and kill  civilians with complete impunity. Our government,  required by law not to give the weapons systems to countries that practice torture, simply ignores the law and continues to finance military establishments that disregard human rights every day.

    Here are a few examples:

    Israel receives the largest amount of military subsidies, more or less $3 billion a year. Their military harass Palestinians with random checkpoints, uprooting olive groves, and, according to some, maltreating children in their prisons.

    In our hemisphere, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia all receive generous military aid. According to Amnesty International " torture, massacres, disappearances  and killings of non-combatants are widespread [in Colombia] and collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary groups continues to this day." The situation in Colombia is so bad that Amnesty International has urged the US government to suspend military aid to the country. Our government has not responded to that suggestion.

    About Mexico, Amnesty International has this to say: "Federal, state, and municipal police forces also continue to commit serious human rights violations in several states. Women experience high levels of gender-based violence with little access to justice. Irregular migrants are at high risk of abduction and murder  by criminal gangs and abuse and extortion by corrupt Mexican officials. Women migrants are often raped. Journalists and human rights defenders are killed, harassed or face fabricated criminal charges. . . . Defending human rights can be a life-threatening job in Mexico. Scores of activists have suffered death threats, intimidation, and harassment in the last few years. Some of them have been killed for doing their job."  
    In Honduras the Clinton State Department supported a military coup that deposed a duly elected presidential candidate and replaced him with a right-wing candidate sponsored by the CIA. The police are accused of killing legitimate demonstrators with live ammunition or rubber bullets. Violence against women on the part of police is widespread and well known; rape by police officials is common.    

    Similar reports come in from other Latin American countries where the military and police forces, generously financed by the Department of State and the Department of Defense of the United States, abuse and murder civilians with complete impunity.

    Observers all around the world report on death and harassment of civilians paid for by US taxpayers.

    Before you send out one more " Peace to the World and Goodwill to Men" card, go and inform yourself on the Amnesty International website about the many ways in which our government brings war and brutality to many countries by generously giving weapons to police and the military.

 Once you see the facts, join those of us who protest these policies.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The American Flag and Patriotism

After the last presidential election and the surprise victory of Donald Trump, the students at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts took down the flag on their campus. Someone burned an American flag.

The flag being a symbol of America, they expressed their rejection of the sort of America that they consider Donald Trump to represent, an America that is loud, aggressive, and racist. It was a way of disassociating themselves from the America that had come to the fore in this last election.

The members of a nearby Veterans of Foreign Wars Post were very disturbed by this disrespect of the American flag and held a number of demonstrations across from the campus to ask that the flag be restored to its customary place.

Respecting the flag is involved in patriotism. The disagreement over flying the flag on campus was clearly a disagreement about what it means to be a patriotic American.
There are different kinds of patriotism. Patriots, for whom respecting the flag is  a large part of being patriotic, are often ill-informed. They are likely to drive around with a bumper sticker saying "America Number One;" they are surprised and incredulous when they hear that America is, in fact, not number one, when they find out that America spends more on medical care than other countries while our medical care is inferior to that received by citizens elsewhere. They don't believe  that other countries provide better education for more of their children than we do. They do not know that America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country except Russia, more than Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Their love of country most likely is a way of making themselves feel better in a life that is profoundly unsatisfactory. If they are white, their love of country is likely to include a hefty dose of racism.

Here is where the story about the flag on the Hampshire College campus becomes interesting. The patriotism of the members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post across from Hampshire College turns out not to be of the standard sort.

These are the leaders of this veterans organization: Victor Nuñez Ortiz, who was seven years old when he came to the US with his parents, fleeing the Civil War in El Salvador; Gamalier Rosa born in Puerto Rico. Both objected strongly against any hate messages directed at the students. Both reject racists and bullies. A third vet, very active in the Post is an Army veteran, Brianna MacKinnon, who is transitioning from male to female.

This coming week Ortiz is going out to North Dakota to stand with Native Americans at Standing Rock in their protest against building a pipeline that will endanger their water supply and violate sacred burial grounds.

Ortiz clearly understands that America is not Number One, but that, on the contrary, the values we cherish are always in danger and need to be protected. This is why hundreds of veterans are assembling at Standing Rock. His patriotism is a critical patriotism. As an immigrant, he values the shelter America provided for  him. But he also understands how precarious those protections are.

Lowering the flag, the veterans felt to be disrespectful for their military service in Iraq. That, too, is a complex matter. From the perspective at home, the Iraq war was a terrible mistake. From the perspective of those who served there, their experiences, their losses as well as the enormous losses of the Iraqi people, should not be denigrated by people in the United States. One can reject the war as an immoral undertaking and treat those who fought it, and those who were victimized by it with the respect they deserve.

This matter of respecting the flag has many complications because there are different kinds of patriotism.  Some patriots are ill-informed and are proud of a country that is best in all respects, that is, of course, a mere fiction. This sort of patriotism can be found everywhere and it is equally despicable everywhere, whether that be here at home, or in Serbia, or in Ruanda, in India and Pakistan, in Argentina  or Brazil, or in most other countries in the world. It frequently is trotted out to justify wars of conquest and genocide. It only serves to mislead gullible populations.

But there is also, of course, a very different patriotism. It does not brag about our wealth and military might. It values our political institutions. It understands that we never quite succeed in living up to our political ideals and  that patriots must therefore dedicate themselves to helping to make them as real as we can. They care less about making America great than about equality and respect for the freedoms of all.

Respect for the flag means different things. It may honor men and women who fought in one of our wars. It may honor a country that exists only in a fictional universe. Or it my serve to remind us that the institutions we are proud of such a our democracy or the legal system are always endangered, never more so than today, and it is the patriots’ work to loudly identify the dangers and to try to protect these institutions.

That is what respect for the flag means in the conflict over flying the flag at Hampshire College.