Saturday, June 29, 2019

Global State of Freedom of the Press (2019)


“For the third year in a row, 251 or more journalists are jailed around the world, suggesting the authoritarian approach to critical news coverage is more than a temporary spike. China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia imprisoned more journalists than last year, and Turkey remained the world’s worst jailer. ”

A CPJ special report by Elana Beiser, New York City, December 13, 2018

Global Press Freedom in 2019. This map gives a quick understanding of the state of journalistic freedom around the world.
Via: Freedom House; Washington, DC

The latest report from Freedom House (based in Washington, DC), “Freedom and the Media:A Downward Spiral,” published in 2019, is worth reading. One important of it many important findings is worth emphasizing:
According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World data, media freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade, with new forms of repression taking hold in open societies and authoritarian states alike. The trend is most acute in Europe, previously a bastion of well-established freedoms, and in Eurasia and the Middle East, where many of the world’s worst dictatorships are concentrated. If democratic powers cease to support media independence at home and impose no consequences for its restriction abroad, the free press corps could be in danger of virtual extinction.
In terms of rankings, the latest from Freedom House is its 2017 Freedom of the Press, which lists Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands as the top three nations with a free press. Other notable nations with a robust free press are Iceland (10th), Canada (20st), Germany (25th) the United States (33rd), and the United Kingdom (38th). At the bottom of the 199 territories surveyed are Crimea (197th), Uzbekistan (198th) and Turkmenistan (199th). The full list of 199 territories and nations can be found [here].

It seems that not much has changed. The 2017 report points out:
The report found that 13 percent of the world’s inhabitants lived in countries with a Free press, while 42 percent had a Partly Free press and 45 percent lived in Not Free environments. The population figures are significantly affected by two countries—China, with a Not Free status, and India, with a Partly Free status—that together account for over a third of the world’s population. The percentage of those enjoying a Free media in 2016 remained at its lowest level since 1996, when Freedom House began incorporating population data into the findings of the report.
Another important ranking comes from Reporters Without Borders (or in French, Reporters sans frontières (RSF), based in Paris, France); in its 2019 report, Norway, Finland and Sweden rank in the top three; Canada is 18th; France (32nd), the United States is 48th. At the bottom of the list, where there is the least press freedom in the world, are China (177th), Eritrea (178th), North Korea (179th) and Turkmenistan (179th). The full list of 179 nations, and their rankings, can be found [here].

Its latest 2019 report confirms what Freedom House says above; it writes:
The RSF Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories every year, shows that an intense climate of fear has been triggered one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment. The hostility towards journalists expressed by political leaders in many countries has incited increasingly serious and frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists.
Press freedom is an accurate barometer of a nation’s democratic institutions; in nations where press freedom is high, one can be assured that its democratic institutions are operating not only well, but also fairly. This translates to a high degree of personal freedom and autonomy, in keeping with the favorable values and ideals of liberal democracy.

One of the primary roles of journalists is to hold governments accountable; this can only happen when governments see journalists not as enemies, but as a necessary part of democracy. It is the role of journalists to ask the hard questions; it is the role of journalists to speak truth to power; it is the role of journalists to unearth and gather the facts, and present it to members of the public. In essence, it is the role of journalists to pursue the truth. That is what many do, and the best and the bravest always do.

Journalists are jailed; journalists are tortured; journalists are killed for simply doing their job (34 journalists murdered in 2018, at least 251 jailed). This has become the new norm in authoritarian regimes around the world, not only to silence dissent, but to silence the news. Period. What this says is that much to the detriment of liberal democracy, these fundamental ideas of liberal democracy, founded on the heels of the Enlightenment, have been overtaken by illiberal ideas in many parts of the world. This is the central idea that these two non-governmental non-profit organizations, among others, are stating in their reports.

This might seem gloomy, but what else can one say when the facts speak so clearly? Lies will not do; lies will no longer comfort; is it not true that an edifice built on lies is what got us into this mess? What is true is that the news in regards to democracy is not generally good, and that change for the better would be more than welcome today, if not yesterday.  Yes, such is a truth that most of us would find agreeable.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

When Wasabi is Not Wasabi

Japanese Food

The Truth About Wasabi looks at the world’s most expensive plant to grow, and why few of us are actually putting wasabi on our take-out sushi. What remains equally puzzling is why fake wasabi (that green paste we all consume) is still called wasabi, when it is really not.
Via: The Atlantic & Youtube

Have you ever eaten wasabi with your sushi? Unlikely, says Edwin Lee in an article (“The Truth About Wasabi;” March 18, 2019) for The Atlantic, writing that most of us who think we are eating wasabi with our sushi are truly not; Lee says:
Most sushi eaters—even in Japan—are actually being served a mixture of ground horseradish and green food coloring, splashed with a hint of Chinese mustard. Worldwide, experts believe that this imposter combination masquerades as wasabi about 99 percent of the time.
The reason boils down to supply and demand. Authentic wasabi, known as Wasabia japonica, is the most expensive crop in the world to grow. The temperamental semiaquatic herb, native to the mountain streams of central Japan, is notoriously difficult to cultivate. Once planted, it takes several years to harvest; even then, it doesn’t germinate unless conditions are perfect. Grated wasabi root loses its flavor within 15 minutes.
Now that this has been clarified, the next question is where one can find the real thing, i.e., authentic wasabi. In North America, for example, you can order from Pacific Coast Wasabi Ltd., Vancouver, BC, which says on its site that the “[f]resh sawa-quality rhizomes grown in Washington state are not harvested until after your order is received.” The cost for 250 grams is $100. If you really want the authentic thing, and you can afford it, then it is likely worth the cost.

And the difference between fake and authentic wasabi is tangible; one site, Atlas Obscura puts it as follows:
Connoisseurs say that, unlike horseradish, the aromatic spice of actual wasabi enhances—but doesn’t overpower—the delicate taste of raw, fresh fish. The wasabi and horseradish plant are both members of the Brassicaceae family, which contain heat-packing chemicals called isothiocyanates (ITCs) that fill the nasal passage. While most of the heat in horseradish comes from an ITC known for its intense, radishlike pungency, wasabi contains a wide range of ITCs that have been described as “fresh, green, sweet, fatty, fragrant, and picklelike.”
For more on wasabi, go to [The Art of Eating].

Monday, June 24, 2019

Helping the Monarch Butterfly

Pollinator Plants

Creating Your Monarch Butterfly Rest Stop: In  an article (“Monarch butterflies are dying out. Here’s how cities can help;” June 20, 2019) for National Geographic , Stephen Leahy writes: “To help protect migrating monarch butterflies, U.S. citizens are using a simple yet powerful tool: gardening. Gardens full of milkweed and nectar plants can serve both as rest stops for adult monarchs and as nurseries for their eggs.” We, my youngest son and I, planted milkweed seeds (genus Asclepias) in our backyard a few weeks ago towards this effort to help the monarchs (Danaus plexippus). Let’s hope that this comes to fruition. I shall report on any results, including on any sightings of the monarch butterfly. So far, I have seen only one this year, but not in my backyard.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Not Enough Bees To Make Honey

Ethical Honey

Lawyers, Guns and Honey is the first part of a six-part documentary series called Rotten (2018) on Netflix, which looks at how profiteering has resulted in many parts of the food industry cutting corners. This excellent documentary is produced by Zero Point Zero.
Via: Youtube & Netflix

Honeybees (Apis mellifera) and the process of honey-making is fascinating to behold, to watch these hard-working insects, a wonder of the animal world. If you have watched then work, going from flower to flower, you will admire them for life. Yet, their numbers have been declining since 2006, and last year was no exception, with beekeepers in the United States reporting a 40 percent loss in bees last winter. This is worrisome for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its effect on honey production.

The last 13 years have been difficult for the bees and the beekeepers who take care of them. I have written before about colony collapse disorder, or CCDthe great loss of honey bees, which still remains a mystery and no single cause has yet been determined. The loss of commercial hives has led to a situation where the world’s demand for honey exceeds supply. (It might also have a great effect on crop production, particularly on the variety of crops that commercial farmers can produce, but more on that subject in another post.)

In response to the honey shortage, China has come up with a solution, but not a good and honest one, the documentary points out. China ships adulterated honey (watered down with cheap corn syrup or rice syrup) to many parts of the world, including to the United States. Adding insult to injury, making the honey worse than it already is, much of it also contains chloramphenicol, an antibiotic banned (in Canada, the U.S. and the E.U.) for use in food products.

Moreover, as a way to bypass an American anti-dumping duties on Chinese honey, in place since December 2001, honey producers from China decided to “honey launder,” producing the same honey in China and then dishonestly labelling it as coming from other Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippine and India—nations that do not have a known honey-producing industry. This dishonest practice of transshipping is not surprising to those in the know about China; it has lax food regulations and, at the same time, seems intent on dominating all commercial markets, but not with well-made and necessarily safe products.

I would not knowingly or willingly buy any honey emanating from China, or from any of these nations that China uses to honey launder, given what I now know after watching this documentary. It would be better if China would learn the lessons of its Asian neighbor, Japan, and emulate it when it comes to making and selling quality products. Sadly, such is currently not the case. Until this happens, consumers need to be knowledgeable and ensure that the honey they buy is legitimate and safe, and that it can trace it to the source nation. i.e., its true nation of origin.

In the U.S., there is such an organization. True Source Honey, the site says, “has developed the True Source Certified voluntary system of traceability for those participants who wish to demonstrate through an independent third party that their sourcing practices are in full compliance with U.S. and international trade laws. This system permits honey to be tracked from the consumer back through the supply chain to the country of origin and the beekeeper that harvested the honey from the beehive.”

For more on honey certification, go to [TrueSouece].

For more on the loss of honeybees, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Neil Young: Rockin’ in the Free World (2009)

Music of Freedom

Neil Young [born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1945] performs “Rockin’ in the Free World” at Glastonbury Festival [June 24-29], in Pilton, Somerset, England, on June 26, 2009. The song is found on both the first and last tracks of Young’s album, Freedom, released on Oct 2, 1989, which was during the first year of the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
ViaYoutube &BBC

Tyrants, totalitarians and all freedom haters of various stripes hate and detest this kind of music. Only in a free society is such music welcome and enjoyed. The number of free societies in the world has been shrinking since 2005, after a positive period between 1988 and 2005. We see, for example, what is currently taking place in Hong Kong [population 7.4 million persons], but this is not surprising.

The protesters, who came out in large numbers, are right to demonstrate and give voice and support to the idea that they will not accept any further erosion of their freedoms. It will be interesting to see what happens, if there will eventually be a victory for freedom for the citizens of Hong Kong. China, its overlord (since 1997), hates dissent, hates individual thought, hates liberal democracy and most of all, hates freedom in any and all forms.

It, the communist regime, has increased its repressive measures, notably since  2012, when Party Chairman Xi Jinping assumed office—even as it has embraced some form of economic capitalism in the last 30 years. Some say that such an economic system—capitalism—will lead to more freedoms. So far this has not been the case. Although it has monetarily enriched party officials.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Number of Displaced Persons Worldwide Increases, UN Report Says


An article (“Nearly 71 Million People Forcibly Displaced Worldwide In 2018, U.N. Report Says;” June 19, 2019), by Ashley Westerman, in NPR, says that the number of displaced perssons has increased by 2 million from a year ago. As concerning as this fact is, more concerning is that there are 65 percent more displaced persons in the world than there were a decade ago. In other words, the numbers are increasing dramatically.

Westerman writes:
A record 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced by war, persecution and other violence worldwide at the end of 2018, according to the latest annual Global Trends report by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The figure represents an increase of over 2 million in the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people from the year before, and a near 65% increase from a decade ago. It is also the highest number in UNHCR history.
"The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters in Geneva at the launch of the report, which comes just a day before World Refugee Day.
The report reveals that 13.6 million people were newly displaced in 2018. Ethiopia topped the list with more than 1.5 million people newly displaced during the year, most of them within their own country. Syria was next with nearly 900,000.
"There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones," Grandi said. "The old ones never get solved."
This is indeed the crux of the problem, is it not? So, what can I add that I have not said so many times in these pages? Will there be a day that I do not have to write such news on this site? that I will have to not report this? A good dream would be that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would be disbanded only because it would no longer be necessary for such an organization to exist. That there would be no need for a UN refugee agency.

Just to take note of one statistic of many from the above UNHCR report, here is one that I found noteworthy, notably in light of what I wrote and shared two days ago (“Life Overtakes Me & Resignation Syndrome (2019);” June 19th) about the detrimental effects to children of the fear of deportation: “By the end of 2018, about 3.5 million people were awaiting a decision on their application for asylum.” Almost half are children.

The Global Trends Report can be found at [UNHCR.]; the complete article at [NPR].

Thursday, June 20, 2019

None Without Sin (2003)

American Masters

None Without Sin (2003) examines the relationship and friendship between director Elia Kazan [1909–2003] and playwright Arthur Miller [1915–2005] and what it take to create art, even or especially in a hostile environment. For Miller, such an anti-freedom environment infused the United States in the 1950s when right-wing ideology took over the minds of many American politicians—a type of mass hysteria symbolized by McCarthyism [1950–1954], the Second Red Square [1947–1960], the House of Un-American Activities Committee [1938–1975] of the U.S. Congress, red-baiting and blacklisting. As a countervailing force was art that defied this illiberalism, its overarching theme, if you will, was art that defined the individual in a society, and his place in it—all things that we now often take for granted.  But we shouldn’t, since there is again a resurgence of right-wing ideology, illiberalism and anti-immigrant nationalism in America—a noxious and toxic brew. Such is a drink—a poison—which harms freedom, hampers individual thought and conscience, and has no place for doubt. Its path is narrow and straight. Its path is without humor. Its path is without mercy or compassion. Its path is void of the kind of trust that builds cohesive social bonds. In other words, its path is the death of the individual and of art; it is a path that takes no notice of the common man, the Willy Lomans of this world. This is Part 1; Part 2 can be found [here]. This TV episode was written and directed by Michael Epstein; it originally aired on PBS-TV, as part of its American Masters series, on September 3, 2003. For more on Arthur Miller and his artistic achievements, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube & PBS-TV

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Life Overtakes Me & Resignation Syndrome (2019)

Childhood Lost

Life Overtakes Me & Resignation Syndrome (2019) is a  39-minute documentary, by Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas, about a mysterious illness that affected a particular group of refugee children, in Sweden, one whose families were facing deportation. It is a type of prolonged trauma, similar to PTSD, but greater in that the children completely withdraw from the world and reside in a coma-like state, much like in the fable of Snow White. It is, when all is said and done, a result of children feeling powerless and helpless and without hope of positive change and outcomes. I watched this last night and I was affected deeply, and moreover saddened and angered at the fact that there are children who are traumatized by living in so many brutal places, which are too many places in this world, but made worse by living with great insecurity when they are refugees in another nation, where they have to live with the uncertainty of whether they will be given “status” and a permanent home. To a large degree, it is about the trauma of facing deportation, of dislocation and of deprivation. And what a trauma it must be. There is only so long an individual can stay resilient, notably children, who are without power or influence. There is a humane solution, which in the end is a political solution. Resolving the uncertainty, particularly as it revolves around the issue of asylum and finding a permanent home, forms a good part of the medical resolution for these vulnerable children. There is a lesson here; nothing good can come out of insecurity. The political will has to be present, emboldened by a humane desire to correct the wrongs that have been done to these children and their families. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube & Netflix

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Holocaust Survivor Band Plays Klezmer

Musical Memory

Holocaust Survivor Band: Joshua Z. Weinstein writes (“Holocaust Survivor Band;” May 2, 2019) for The Atlantic: “Saul Dreier and Reuwen ‘Ruby’ Sosnowicz, both Polish nonagenarian Holocaust survivors, endured dramatically different circumstances during World War II. Dreier survived three concentration camps; in one, a cantor created an impromptu choir in the barracks, and Dreier learned to play drums by banging two spoons together. Sosnowicz spent the war in a barn among cattle, hidden by a Polish farmer. Afterward, he took up the accordion to pass the time in a displaced-persons camp in Germany. The men didn’t cross paths until retiring in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2015, they formed a klezmer band, based on the musical tradition of their childhoods as Ashkenazim in Eastern Europe. They decided to call themselves the Holocaust Survivor Band. Joshua Z Weinstein’s short documentary Holocaust Survivor Band is an amusing portrait of these men, for whom music has played a cathartic and redemptive role over the years.” The redemptive aspects of music are important, but likely not as important as the freedom to play what you want, to play the kind of music that you find uplifting or cathartic or inspirational or fun. Freedom is always important; and in the most dire circumstances, music can undoubtedly offer such freedom, even if it is short-lived. The post-war acceptance of liberal democracy has been considered one of the fundamental tenets of western democracy, with all its attendant human rights and freedoms. This has always been viewed as a victory over totalitarianism. This makes current trends worrisome—the increase and acceptance to the point of normalization of extreme right-wing ideology and illiberal populism in many parts of the world, including in some long-time liberal democracies and more recent ones, too.
Via: The AtlanticYoutube

Monday, June 17, 2019

The World’s Disappearing Plants


Plant Extinction Map: Heidi Ledford writes for Nature: “The researchers found that about 1,234 species had been reported extinct since the publication of Carl Linnaeus’s compendium of plant species, Species Plantarum, in 1753. But more than half of those species were either rediscovered or reclassified as another living species, meaning 571 are still presumed extinct.”
Source: Nature & Humphreys et al.

In an article (“World’s largest plant survey reveals alarming extinction rate;” June 10, 2019), for the scientific journal, Nature, Heidi Ledford writes:
The world’s seed-bearing plants have been disappearing at a rate of nearly 3 species a year since 1900 ― which is up to 500 times higher than would be expected as a result of natural forces alone, according to the largest survey yet of plant extinctions.
The project looked at more than 330,000 species and found that plants on islands and in the tropics were the most likely to be declared extinct. Trees, shrubs and other woody perennials had the highest probability of disappearing regardless of where they were located. The results were published on 10 June in Nature Ecology & Evolution1. 
The study provides valuable hard evidence that will help with conservation efforts, says Stuart Pimm, a conservation scientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The survey included more plant species by an order of magnitude than any other study, he says. “Its results are enormously significant.”
If you care about nature and the beauty of biodiversity, this news is not good; it is in fact worrisome and shows that human activity is largely the reason why we are seeing the disappearance—to the point of extinction—of so many plant species. This is part of a larger United Nations study that shows up to one million plants and animals face extinction, chiefly as a result of human activity. Such knowledge, based on facts, ought to encourage governments to take measures, to enact laws that make conservation as important, or, better yet, more important than building and development.

If you would consider a personal observation, we do not require more high-rise condos or office towers in Toronto; these towers are as unsightly as unnecessary and prove the problem of overdevelopment (in addition, how boring it is to see another 50-storey tower.). Moreover, they remove, for one, badly needed wetlands, which are natural ecosystems and a barrier to flooding. Acknowledging this as fact will help change the mindset from development is progress to conservation is progress. It is not easy to change, but questions need to be asked.

Is it really a zero-sum game? Who benefits? Should democracy work like economic game theory?  I for one do not think so. Real progress today is to stop this crazy unhealthy and unsustainable level of development, which benefits only the few economically (i.e., some get wealthy), while a vast majority of inhabitants suffer. Continuing with blind and blithe ignorance as we are now doing comes at a great cost—locally to our human health and wellness and globally to our planet.

Now is the time to consider the latter more important. Now is the time for real progress, the kind that benefits the many, the majority. I want to enjoy a city with less concrete, asphalt and steel, and one with more wild plants and flowers and with a greater abundance of natural beauty. Now is the time to conserve what we have before us, that is, before it is too late. The extinction of plants, as a result of human activity, remind us of what is at stake when they disappear.

For the complete article, go to [Nature].

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father’s Day (2019)

Days to Remember Dads

Backyard Yellow Irises (Iris pseudacorus) 1
Photo Credit: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

Backyard Irises (Iris pseudacorus) 2
Photo Credit: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

Mike + the Mechanics: The Living Years (1988)

Father's Day

Mike + the Mechanics: The Living Years (1988), sung by Mike Rutherford, and written by him and bandmate, B.A. Robertson for this British band. It is the second track on the album. Living Years.

The song is about the regrets of father-son relationships, about not saying words of thanks, appreciation and love to a father when the opportunity is present—when he is alive to hear them and take them in. I felt this pang of regret when I heard this song in my car in early 1989, driving home at night from somewhere far on a dark and lonely highway.

My father had died of cancer nine years earlier, and this song reminded me of the positive effect and role that he had in my life, shaping and influencing my political and social worldview to what it is today. I think that he would be proud of what I believe; and, yes, it is important for me to consider that, to know that.

You see, when you think about it, everyone is essentially his father’s son, and this realization becomes more real when you yourself become a father. It is a tough job, more often than not unrecognized, undervalued and underappreciated, but it has its rewards, especially when your children, sons and daughters, often only after they have children of their own, thank you for all your efforts.

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers out there.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

My View of Democratic Socialism


At the core of democratic socialism are old-fashioned ideas that were at one time part of liberalism, before it morphed into neoliberalism (on the right) and progressivism (on the left). It has a certain way of viewing the world, like all political ideologies. At its core is democracy; at its core is fairness, human dignity and justice. Such are fundamentals for a fair society, fundamentals that are sorely lacking today. As an example, there remains some unfinished economic business dating to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration [1933–1945].

Economic inequality affects almost everyone, except for the top 10% of society: I and my family are far away from that social class, and my sympathies primarily lie with the working class and the lower middle-class, which we are squarely a part of and will remain so indefinitely. For me the biggest issue, one that the majority of persons can agree on, is economic justice. Many would agree, perhaps only privately, that we have had enough of right-wing neoliberalism and its many permutations that favor the few, including market capitalism, corporate capitalism, and the oligarchism. It is about ideas; for example, the ideas of Milton Friedman [1912–2006; born in Brooklyn, NY] greatly influenced American economic policy in the 1980s and onward, and still live on long after his death.

Perversely, in America, socialism in the form of corporate handouts for corporations is acceptable; for individuals not. The former is good business; the latter a personal failure. Why this is so explains and shows clearly the problem, the unfairness and the corruption of such ideologically driven ideas. Let’s be honest: the ruling class has no intention of allowing any change, particularly if it affects in any way their wealth. This needs serious airing, serious discussion and debate. It is time to see reality and time to openly discuss it. It is time for change.

In the end, we need new ideas for the 21st century to replace these outdated ones. In short, one has to enter a way of thinking that looks at actual social conditions, what are its root causes and what can be done to better society. This is why I wrote about the need for a modern, 21st century, New Deal for America, similar to the scope of FDR’s New Deal (see “Time For Another New Deal;” March 5, 2012), but taking into consideration the needs of the majority of persons living in America today, in the 21st century. Identity politics, at the moment, might not be as important as economic issues, the so-called bread-and-butter issues. These issues affect far more people than any other issue.

I view such economic issues (i.e., jobs, housing, education, healthcare, etc.) as needing to be front-and-centre and a necessary way to show unity in a battle against powerful and influential forces that have no desire to relinquish control or make any changes economically. They, the ruling class, will not let go willingly, which is what history tells us. It will take a struggle, it will take a show of unity; it will take millions (if not tens of millions) of people doing what is ever legally and ethically  and morally necessary to make the changes that will bring about economic and social change.

Now is the time for old-school liberals to stand up and be counted; now is the time for old-school liberals to make their voices heard, notably among the working class and the lower middle-class, which used to be represented by the Old Left, but no longer, and not for decades. Now is the time to effect economic justice, by completing the unfinished business of FDR and the New Deal. This is the way I see it.

Bernie Sanders, FDR & Old-School Liberalism (2019)

Democratic Socialism

I thought that Bernie Sander’s speech a few days ago at George Washington University, in Washington, DC, was insightful, factual and on the mark, a defense of democratic socialism, everyone wrote. While this is factual and true, it is also true that Sanders’ platform for change is to a large degree a modern form of old-school liberalism, drawing on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his liberal New Deal politics.

Modern liberalism, it must be remembered, moved in one form to the right in the late 1970s (i.e., neoliberalism.), influenced by conservative economic ideas (i.e., a market-based economy) that primarily favored the wealthy. They have done nicely since then; everyone else, well, the numbers show, not so well.

Yet, the mainstream corporate media has not been so kind to Sanders, for obvious reasons (fearing socialism in the label, democratic socialism), and thus wish to undermine his message of hope and change for all Americans. They fear his message, since it runs contrary to unfettered capitalism, which they favor, and which favors only the few. There are reasons why. Many, if not most influential journalists and writers, are of the higher classes, part of the professional or upper middle class. It is not likely that any are residing with the working or lower middle classes.

Even though I am educated, and have professional degrees, this is where and how I grew up and where I am now economically, and hence my views run accordingly. The same must be said for the influential and well-known journalists and writers. No doubt, their “social position” and standing influences their worldview, and I would say, it does to a very large degree. In the end, people’s sympathies tend to align with their social class and culture; it takes vision and courage and an appreciation for justice and fairness to think outside such powerful self-imposed boundaries.

So, who speaks for the majority of Americans on economic or bread-and-butter issues? Not many politicians outside Bernie Sanders, as far as I know. And not many writers and journalists; such views are likely not considered “healthy” in a market capitalist system, whose primary goal is to increase consumption of mass-produced products. Many can ill afford them, yet many buy them (on credit). It is a poor situation to be in, a poor way to live.

It also undermines and weakens liberal democracy, because it then fails at what is most important—allowing those without power to have a say. In a liberal democracy, you hope and expect voices to speak not only for the powerful and influential, —only a thin minority—but also for the great majority. It seems that in a great many western liberal democracies, this has been turned around, and there is really little genuine questioning of the status quo. There is thankfully some.

There are opinion writers in some newspapers who are given space to voice other views, but rarely to give space to those of the lower classes. It might make the upper classes uncomfortable. This general lack explains, I would argue, the rise of identity politics and ethno-nationalism in the last decade. Various groups and peoples have felt left out and have found common ground and common cause in small groups—small as a percentage of the population. But this is not a real victory, because it divides people and groups into smaller units, each fighting for a shrinking piece of the pie.

Real victory can come about only by uniting for a larger common cause, one that affects the most number of persons and families, one that has real-life consequential effects. There is such an issue that everyone can understand, one that has never been achieved by the majority of workers—economic freedom. Bhaskar Sunkara, who, in an opinion piece (“Bernie Sanders just made a brilliant defense of democratic socialism;”  June 13, 2019), for The Guardian, writes:
We’re used to politicians that vacillate, triangulate, “evolve”. Sanders has done none of these things – he has maintained astounding message discipline for half a century. Inequality is undermining the promise of America, he has always argued, and a coalition of working people organizing against millionaires and billionaires can change things for the better.
Sanders still has a portrait of Debs in his Washington DC office, and in the 1980s he curated an album of the legendary socialist orator’s speeches. But yesterday’s address was a reminder that even though he still embodies much of the old socialist spirit, he has found ways to soften its edges and make it more accessible to ordinary Americans.
At George Washington University, Sanders once again railed against the billionaire class and “the profit-taking gatekeepers of our healthcare, our technology, our finance system, our food supply and almost all of the other basic necessities of life”. But instead of citing his hero Debs, he drew on Franklin Delano Roosevelt – a president who saw himself as the liberal savior of the capitalist system. Yet in 1944, shortly before his death, Roosevelt put forth a sweeping manifesto he called the Second Bill of Rights. Existing political rights alone haven’t given us “equality in the pursuit of happiness”, Roosevelt argued; we need to complement those political rights by guaranteeing access to employment, housing, healthcare, education and more.
It was not socialism per se, but a blueprint for a social democratic safety net in the US – one that sadly never came to fruition.
By pointing to this history, Sanders is signaling that he’s running to win the Democratic primary and the presidency. He aims to be the candidate of a party of governing power – the party of Roosevelt, not the party of Debs.
You got to admire Sanders’ consistency over the decades; you got to admire his lack of guile; you got to admire his courage and his convictions. I do.

For more on this article, go to [The Guardian].

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism (2019)

Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism (2019) defines the two differing visions of America, where unfettered capitalism has had a long run of a many decades, benefiting the few and hurting the majority, chiefly made up of working class and lower middle-class (together making up two-thirds of U.S. families) struggling to get by. Worse off are the 40 million poor, another 14%, meaning that only 20% of Americans at most are living the American Dream. If America does not change, that percentage is sure to move lower.
Via: USA Today & Youtube

Bernie Sanders [born in 1941 in Brooklyn, NY]  begins his speech with the following sobering and truthful words:
If there was ever a moment where we had to effectively analyze the competing political and social forces which define this historical period, this is that time. If there was ever a moment when we needed to stand up and fight against the forces of oligarchy and authoritarianism, this is that time. And, if there was ever a moment when we needed a new vision to bring our people together in the fight for justice, decency and human dignity, this is that time. In the year 2019 the United States and the rest of the world face two very different political paths. On one hand, there is a growing movement towards oligarchy and authoritarianism in which a small number of incredibly wealthy and powerful billionaires own and control a significant part of the economy and exert enormous influence over the political life of our country. On the other hand, in opposition to oligarchy, there is a movement of working people and young people who, in ever increasing numbers, are fighting for justice.
Sanders delivered the speech at George Washington University in Washington yesterday, June 12, 2019. I wish Sanders well in persuading America and Americans, especially young people (and old ones like myself, too), to consider what he is saying; he cited FDR and the New Deal for a reason, a good one. Sanders will no doubt meet resistance, including from the right wing of the Democratic Party, backed and influenced by the monied brokers of Wall Street, an elite group with an inordinate amount of economic influence and political power. He will also get no support from the corporate media.

It will be a tough fight, but it is one that he is well prepared for. His whole life has brought him to this defining moment in America .Most important, he knows of what he speaks. The system is broken, limiting opportunity, advancement and freedom to everyone except the few; everyone knows this and the elites are afraid to admit it--for obvious reasons.

I have been writing about such issues since 2010; Sanders, however, has been consistently faithful to the cause of justice, decency and human dignity for more than four decades. The full 45-minute speech is worth watching in its entirety. it explains the reality of what is taking place, backed by facts. His speech gives hope to young people, something sorely lacking today, in America and elsewhere in the world.

The transcript of the speech can be found at [Vox].

A Visit to Mill Pond Park (2019)

Urban Nature

Here are some photos of a beautiful park in Richmond Hill, not far from where we live in Maple. It is populated by Canada geese and ducks, as well as many other smaller birds.

All Photos: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Reading & Understanding ‘1984’ for Today’s Times

Fiction & Truth

One of the ways you can arrive at truth is to read good fiction, often called literary fiction or literary novels, many of which are listed on my site; Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in June 1949 by George Orwell [1903–1950] is one such novel. Although 70 years old, I recommend that you read it in its entirety and also read an excellent article (“Doublethink Is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined;” July 2019), by George Packer, in The Atlantic, who writes:
What does the novel mean for us? Not Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, where Winston is interrogated and tortured until he loses everything he holds dear. We don’t live under anything like a totalitarian system. “By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Lynskey acknowledges. Instead, we pass our days under the nonstop surveillance of a telescreen that we bought at the Apple Store, carry with us everywhere, and tell everything to, without any coercion by the state. The Ministry of Truth is Facebook, Google, and cable news. We have met Big Brother and he is us.
I could not agree more. This is one of the overarching themes of my blog the many years I have been thinking such thoughts and writing them down for public view, all with the hope of engendering similar questioning thoughts. Sadly, I have not had many people who would agree with its sentiments, people of the left and the right taken in by totalitarian thinking, mostly unaware that they have been. It takes great intellectual effort and the reading of many classic books, as well as discussion and analysis, to see the world and its peoples the way it truly is and not as the lies of doublethink and newspeak say it is.

The answer will be found at your local public library, one of the greatest sources of knowledge and truth. That is where the books are, in the stacks of libraries. Go there and read. Keep on reading. Freedom and individual thought starts and ends in the mind, and it is both risky and foolish to give it up so easily, particularly to corporate entities who sell your thoughts (call it data)—notably your likes and personal tastes—for money to advertisers.

Greed and corruption have no limits, it seems. But some thoughts ought to be private; not everything should be shared. That being the case, it is true that it takes great effort to remain independent and have your own thoughts, and it is true that your efforts will not necessarily be rewarded in a monetary sense. Yet, it has at least one noted and important benefit—you will know yourself, you will know that you have been true to said self, and you will know the road to freedom.

Equally important, you will have a standard of truth, always important in navigating a world of confusion and chaos, which did not start with the current U.S. president, who is only more bold and assertive about spreading fabrications, falsehoods and disinformation—often as a means of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. Truth and truth claims are always necessary to investigate and measure with the weight of facts, always the basis of truth. This is always important; and this becomes more important later on in life.

You can read the complete article at [The Atlantic] .

Monday, June 10, 2019

Noise Pollution & Its Effect on Our Health


Toronto is a big city; it is also a noisy city. Urban dwellers tend to shrug off the noise of cars, trucks, motorcycless, airplanes, construction vehicles and construction equipment as part of city life. There is also the regular and routine noise all hours of the day of emergency vehicles—ambulances, fire trucks and police cars—rushing up and down Bathurst Street near where we live.

The last few years, I have found this noise not only an assault on my ears, but an assault on my health. And your health, as well, my fellow urban dwellers, whether you live in Toronto, in New York City, in London or in Paris. Particularly appalling and annoying are the piercing sirens of emergency vehicles, the whirring sounds of leaf blowers and the deafening roar of unmuffled motorcycles, all of which happen too frequently, marring the possibility of peace and quiet. I deem these as aural assaults and dangerous to my health and yours, as well.

The World Health Organisation says that the average level of traffic noise should not exceed 53dB in the day and 45dB in the evening, levels that are rarely ever met in major citie around the world, including the one in which I reside. Peace and quiet ought to be an enshrined human right, chiefly because it has a great effect on over-all health.

We are a long way from this happening, and yet, it is indeed my opinion that noise pollution is a public health crisis, and should be taken seriously by politicians at all levels of government. An excellent article (“Is Noise Pollution the Next Big Public Heath Crisis;” May 6, 2019), by David Owen, in The New Yorker supports this claim with reams of scientific facts and studies.  Here is what Owen wrote about one such European study conducted by Bruitparif in Paris, France:
In February, Bruitparif, a nonprofit organization that monitors environmental-noise levels in metropolitan Paris, published a report that combined medical projections from the World Health Organization with “noise maps” based partly on data from its own network of acoustic sensors. It concluded, among many other things, that an average resident of any of the loudest parts of the Île-de-France—which includes Paris and its surrounding suburbs—loses “more than three healthy life-years,” in the course of a lifetime, to some combination of ailments caused or exacerbated by the din of cars, trucks, airplanes, and trains. These health effects, according to guidelines published by the W.H.O.’s European regional office last year, include tinnitus, sleep disturbance, ischemic heart disease, obesity, diabetes, adverse birth outcomes, and cognitive impairment in children. In Western Europe, the guidelines say, traffic noise results in an annual loss of “at least one million healthy years of life.”
If such is the noise of progress, I can easily live without it. If I am sounding like a grumpy old man, blame the noise pollution; it has affected my health, my well-being, my sense of contentment and happiness, if you will. After all, such “progress,” a debatable term in this writer’s view, comes at a great cost to us all—both human and animal. Yes, there is a true social and economic cost. And yet the noise seems to be getting worse each year; and so does the health of urban dwellers. Noise pollution affects everyone; and it is an issue that ought to concern everyone.

It is without a doubt an aural assault on us all, and it should be taken seriously by the politicians, the lawmakers who are supposed to represent our interests. Noise abatement needs to be written into law, using science as its basis, and the noise levels of cities, including its streets, its highways, its construction sites, etc., routinely measured  and mapped and then, equally important, publicly reported to its citizens. We should know the noisiest parts of the city.

There is knowledge that can lead to change, preferably backed by the power of law. As a result, there ought to be an official government team dedicated to noise abatement. Some things ought to be banned outright. First on the list will be leaf-blowers; many will applaud such a decision. Second on the list is loud motorcycles with altered mufflers and cars with broken mufflers. Third on the list is changing the high-pitched sirens and rules of use for all emergency vehicles. They have to be brought in to the 21st century.

In the end, there has to be consistent enforcement for it to work, for our cities to become quieter, and for our health to become better. All in all, lawbreakers should be warned and then fined or given a citation; repeat offenders jailed. This is of course a last resort, but a necessary one, if only to show the seriousness of the problem. If the penalties sound severe or punitive, they are and they need be, since this is a serious public health problem. Compliance is always preferable, and I am persuaded that most people will comply, once they understand that this problem affects their health, too.

You can read the complete article at [New Yorker].

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Rethinking Housing and Home Ownership


An article (“A Housing Economy for the Many;” June 5, 2019), by Elizabeth Capelle, in Dissent, says what must be said about the housing market economy and its dysfunctional ways the last 10 years or so. Conventional thinking holds that a simple supply and demand problem explains why home prices have escalated so dramatically, and that the solution lies in building more homes. Thus reducing the demand and thus reducing home prices.

It sounds true, but it’s not. This might be true for other consumer goods, but not for houses, which sit on lands that are limited in supply (there is only so much good land available to build). Moreover, with houses being viewed as anything other than shelter, in too many caes as long-term investments and as assets that appreciate in value, one can easily find an explanation for the housing mess in many cities, including in New York, in London and in Toronto, where I reside.

These cities, and many others in the world in the last decade, have simply become unaffordable, even for the middle class. At the heart of the matter, there is something called financialization, the growing influence of the financial markets in the economy of a nation. As a result a house, which until recently was deemed a home or shelter, has been turned to another financial instrument or a means of financial exchange; Capelle writes:
Financialization has tended to promote the exchange value of housing over its use value. Eased by the ready availability of credit and developments in finance technology, investment in housing has surged. Ordinary homeowners now see their homes as assets that will appreciate in value. In some cities well-to-do investors buy houses or apartments with no intention of living in them; they simply want a safe and profitable place to park their money. The securitization of mortgages has facilitated investment in housing by far-flung shareholders. Private equity and other types of firms have gotten in on the act, buying up rental housing across the globe, jacking up rents and fees, and doing their best to rid themselves of any rent-controlled tenants who may live in their properties. Speculation—the purchase of assets with the expectation that their value will increase—is now a central feature of the housing market, with dire consequences for affordability.
In other words, home ownership has morphed into big business for banks and other mortgage lenders. The one-time home buyer holds little interest for such large lending institutions, many of which are multinationals and transnationals. Their myopic dysfunctional thinking has created a housing mess of world proportions; cupidity cannot be dismissed as a reason; neither can stupidity. Again, no surprise that the deregulated banking system, Wall Street and its ways are chiefly responsible for this state of affairs, as they were for the 2007–2008 housing bubble. Capelle writes rather convincingly, citing Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing (2017), the following: 
Mainstream economists have failed to accurately account for the housing crisis not only because of their inadequate conceptualization of land and housing, but also, in the words of Rethinking, because of their failure “to properly conceptualise the role of the banking system in the economy and the flows of credit and stocks of debts it creates.
Such is the status quo, which favours a market economy and private home and land ownership. This, however, leaves out most working people, whose wages have not kept up with housing inflation. In other words, this works only for the small wealthy minority, who make up so few in number that their views should be dismissed as unrealistic and unfair. Governments worldwide must be made to understand that the status quo is not sustainable any longer for most persons, for most families, for the long-quiet majority, who have collectively borne the brunt of this insane economic and financial policy.

Change can’t come too soon; one excellent idea that is growing in strength in both Canada and the U.S. is community land trusts, or CLTs. In the end, change has to start by thinking of housing as a shelter rather than as a financial asset, which is the only rational, moral and normal way of thinking about housing. Any other way leads to the ugly mess that we are witnessing today. Therefore comes the need for enforcement and regulation; and this has to be allied with urban policies & planning as well as municipal and other federal laws that ensure this reality. Affordable shelter ought to be viewed as a fundamental universal right within society and not only for the wealthy or the elites.

You can read the complete article at [Dissent].

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Making Enough to Live

Economic Security

There is a big difference—as anyone who has found themselves in such a situation can surely attest—between living in poverty or even above the poverty line and having enough to live with more than a modicum of dignity, which is roughly defined as a “living wage.” Being above the poverty line in America does not equate to being free of any or all of the problems or ills of poverty; it only means that the U.S. government does not count you as officially poor, particularly as it applies to federal and state financial aid programs.

Money is a big deal, and it becomes a bigger deal–looming large—when you don’t have enough to live. Money is a sexy subject, but only when people have lots of it. When people have little, it loses its sex appeal. Despite the seeming contradiction, there is something worth investigating: what it means to live is important to flesh out; it is not the same as what it takes to survive. An article (“What a Living Wage Actually Means; June 5, 2019), in The New York Times, by Eric Ravenscraft, helps to explain the difference:
The term “living wage” gets thrown around enough by politicians and advocacy groups that the definition can get muddy. The legal minimum wage in the United States is $7.25 per hour, though some states and cities like New York City and Seattle are experimenting with minimums as high as $15 an hour. But are these wages enough to live on? And what is a living wage, anyway?
The minimum wage roughly meshes with federal poverty guidelines. According to the guidelines, a two-person household with a total annual income below $16,910 is considered to be living in poverty. To clear the poverty line, one of those two people would have to make $8.13 an hour or more. At least 17 states have minimum wages higher than that. The $15-per-hour minimum wage in New York City, for example, translates to an annual income of $31,200, which is almost twice the federal poverty level for a household of two.
However, anyone living in New York City can tell you how laughably low $32,000 per year is for a single-income household. Likewise, $17,000 may be a poverty-level wage in much of the country, but that doesn’t mean $18,000 is enough to get by. This flaw in the federal poverty guidelines was first described by the woman who developed them, Mollie Orshansky.
In 1965, shortly before the United States government adopted the guidelines Ms. Orshansky wrote: “There is not, and indeed in a rapidly changing pluralistic society there cannot be, one standard universally accepted and uniformly applicable by which it can be decided who is poor. … If it is not possible to state unequivocally ‘how much is enough,’ it should be possible to assert with confidence how much, on an average, is too little.”
For various reasons, many of which have been discussed on this site, there are many people in America who have and live on too little [official poverty rate: 12.7 percent; 39.7 million persons; yes, that is a lot of people]. To have an honest discussion on the matter, it is important to determine and agree on what is too little and what a living wage is, which varies from region to region in the United States. The article says: “In 2004, Amy Glasmeier, now a professor of economic geography and regional planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed the Living Wage Calculator.”

The calculator is a good tool to find out whether you make enough money to support yourself and your family depending on where you live in America. It is a calculator of basics. It only takes into account housing, food and transportation; it does not take into account extras like vacations, eating out, buying gifts, savings, etc., things that were once considered part of a middle-class life. It is no surprise that costs for basics have gone up, and they continue to rise.

Middle class is a whole other matter and another step up from the living wage, although in some regions, it is only a small step up, since the cost of living is so high and wages have not risen sufficiently to keep up. (The Canadian city of Toronto, where I reside—one of the most expensive cities in North America, largely due to high housing costs—suffers from this syndrome or, rather, malaise.) Nevertheless, with this calculator, you can find out not only whether you are living, but you can also find out using the Pew Research Calculator how far you are from (or above) middle class, if that is something that you aspire to.

Perhaps one day, the idea of economic security will become the norm in America and in Canada, as well, as the idea of the living wage takes on greater importance among sociologists, economists and other social thinkers and influencers, who might eventually move political policy in a more positive direction. For now, being part of the middle class might make you feel less poor—and part of a large cohort of like-minded individuals and families, comprising half of all American adults. For many, middle class is now the American Dream. The biggest fear is not being part of it.

You can read the complete article at [NYT].

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Childhood Memories of Perry, Utah


The New York Review of Books is one of the handful of publications I read regularly and with delight and appreciation; it has wide reach, an international appeal and audience and it is written beautifully and thoughtfully. It was founded by Robert B. Silvers [1929–2017] and Barbara Epstein [1928–2006], in 1963, during a New York City publishing strike. Who says that strikes can’t engender any good? In one case, it did, and perhaps in more cases, as well.

So, without further ado, here is an article that caught my eye, one that I would like to share with you. “Home Where the Heart Is: A Return to Perry, Utah” (NYRB; May 31, 2019), by Danny Lyon, who writes:

My father, Dr. Ernst F. Lyon, immigrated from Hitler’s Germany in 1934. When our country entered World War II, he volunteered and was made a second lieutenant, a doctor in the United States Army. In 1944, he was stationed at the Bushnell General Military Hospital in Brigham City, Utah, leaving behind in Queens his wife, Beba, and two small children, Leonard, age seven, and myself, age three.
Ernst was also an amateur photographer and filmmaker. He carried an 8mm camera West and filmed everything, including the arrival by train of my mother, who’d made a short visit to see him. When, growing up, I would say I remembered something from the West, like finding a railroad spike on the side of a mountain, my parents would say, “You don’t remember that, you remember the film.” Dad liked to project his films on a pull-down screen in our apartment.
In the summer of 1944, my mother, my brother, and I took the train from New York City to Utah, where my father picked us up at the closest station, and drove us to a small farm house in Perry, Utah. Leonard would enter school there, going to the second and third grades. I, a city boy who had never known anything but an apartment on Metropolitan Avenue, with a small park and sandbox across the street, would quickly morph from a city- to a country-boy.
This is a wonderful piece. It is about hearts and homes and memories; it reminisces and tells stories about childhood, about families, about growing up in a place far away, but becomes home nevertheless, as only a memory of childhood can do. It is also about love. Yes, there is innocence in the telling. And, yes, I am partial to the name of the town, Perry, a place of 4,000 persons. Such places have a charm of their own; they exist for a reason. Not only for country folks who like the solitude, but also for city slickers who want to know more.

You can read the complete article at [NYRB].

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Coffee Lovers: You Can Enjoy Your Coffee Guilt Free

My French Press: A new British study, as reported by Jason Daly in Smithsonian (“New Study Shows Coffee—Even 25 Cups a Day of It—Isn’t Bad for Your Heart;”June 3, 2019), says that drinking coffee, even large quantities, up to 25 cups, does not impair the arteries or increase the risk of heart attack or stroke (Though I would think five would be the desirable upper limit in terms of caffeine consumption). This is indeed good news for coffee lovers, many of whom might have felt a pang of guilt, chiefly as a result of previous studies admonishing coffee drinkers. I enjoy coffee, and like many people I wake up to my morning coffee and enjoy it—a ritual almost as old as I am. I had my first coffee when I was six, although it was more milk than coffee. In my early twenties, I used to consume about five or six cups a day; I now average about three cups a day and can even have a cup of coffee before bedtime with nary an ill effect. It just might be that it is not coffee that causes nervous conditions, but something else altogether different. You can read the original release, from Queen Mary University of London,  [here].
Courtesy: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Books on My Bedside Table


A Few Good Books: Here is what I currently have on my bedside table. As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a fantastic public library nearby. My youngest son and I go often, every other week, to borrow books to read. We are a family of readers. Lately, I have been reading a number of books at the same time, reading them at my pace until completion. It used to be that I read one book at a time, till completion, and only then start another. Some like to read only one book at a time; some do not. I guess that it would also depend on the kind of book, the writer, etc. Readers differ in their tastes and in how they read, perhaps agreeing only on their love of books. You can read a few reviews [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum