Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Reading Now: Evicted (2016) by Matthew Desmond


“Some white Milwaukeeans still referred to the North Side as “the core,” as they did in the 1960s, and if they ventured into it, they saw street after street of sagging duplexes, fading murals, twenty-four-hour day cares, and corner stores with wic accepted here signs. Once America’s eleventh-largest city, Milwaukee’s population had fallen below 600,000, down from over 740,000 in 1960. It showed. Abandoned properties and weedy lots where houses once stood dotted the North Side. A typical residential street had a few single-family homes owned by older folks who tended gardens and hung American flags, more duplexes or four-family apartment buildings with chipping paint and bedsheet curtains rented to struggling families, and vacant plots and empty houses with boards drilled over their doors and windows.”

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in America (2016) 
by Matthew Desmond:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in America (2016) by Matthew Desmond: It follows the lives and struggles of eight families in Milwaukee, who have the misfortune to have insufficient money in a nation that now worships money. Equally important in the telling is that the book follows these eight families during the financial crisis of 2007–2008, known widely as The Great Recession, caused by the same predatory banking practices prevalent today. This book is written with the insights of an academic, equally matched with the heart of a novelist. Even if you are a hard-core arch-capitalist, an adherent and a true believer in neo-liberalism, you will find this book both moving and troubling. Your hardened truths will be shaken to the core. Housing should not be a privilege for the fortunate few, but a right. It would be if America was a just nation; but there is hope, that it will be walking on this path of righteousness and freedom, if America adopts an “Economic Justice Bill of Rights”  (see here). This book won won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction; it also won a number of other awards. Matthew Desmond teaches sociology at Princeton University.
Photo Credit: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, October 26, 2019

FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Speech: Second Bill of Rights

A Just Society

FDR’s 1944 Speech: During his 1944 State of the Union Address, on January 11, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt puts forth the idea of a a Second Bill of Rights, basic economic rights, delivered as a Fireside Chat from the White House in Washington. 

As a bulwark against dictatorships and fascism, President Roosevelt proposes guaranteeing economic rights to its citizens:
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
This never came into fruition. Even so, this is an idea, which was right then; 75 years later it remains as important as it was then. Perhaps more so, since America has regressed so much during this time and most people are looking for a more just society. You got to wonder what kind of person or persons would be against guaranteeing basic economic rights. The wealthy have already taken so much; it is time for them to give, and give up taking, that is. Given where America is, this is a no-brainer.

As much as this is true, and undeniably true, there is only one presidential candidate who has spoken about this time and time again, making it the central part of his campaign. It is personal, as it should be, because persons are affected by the stats quo. Bernie Sanders, running for president, echoes these democratic and just values—democratic socialism—which truly resonate with a great majority of Americans:
As FDR stated in his 1944 State of the Union address: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”
Today, our Bill of Rights guarantees the American people a number of important constitutionally protected political rights. And while we understand that these rights have not always been respected and we have so much more work to do, we are proud that our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, a free press and other rights because we understand that we can never have true American freedom unless we are free from authoritarian tyranny.
Now, we must take the next step forward and guarantee every man, woman and child in our country basic economic rights – the right to quality health care, the right to as much education as one needs to succeed in our society, the right to a good job that pays a living wage, the right to affordable housing, the right to a secure retirement, and the right to live in a clean environment.
There is nothing objectionable in what Sanders says, in what he proposes as just remedy for bettering America. It is all good and made with a good conscience; and in proposing this, Sanders is trying to complete the unfinished business of the New Deal. The full text of FDR’s 1944 speech can be found [here]. For more on this speech, go [here] and [here] and [here].

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Bob Dylan: Gotta Serve Somebody (1980)


Bob Dylan: “Gotta Serve Somebody” at the 1980 Grammy Awards at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, on February 27, 1980. It is the first track on the 1979 studio album, Slow Train Coming, released on August 20, 1979. The song won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance for a Male Artist at the 22nd Grammy Awards.
Via: Youtube

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ray Charles: What’d I Say (1961)

Soul Music

Ray Charles [1930–2004] performs “What’d I Say,” at the Antibes Jazz Festival—Jazz a Juan, in Juan-les-Pins, France, on July 18, 1961. It is the title track of the same-named album released on October 17, 1959. Many musicologists attribute this song as the birth of soul, the fusion of gospel and blues. In addition many British rock bands (e.g., The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals) claim this song had an influence on them in their decision to become musicians and how to play music before an audience.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Freedom Riders (2010)


Freedom Riders is a 2010 American historical documentary, directed by Stanley Nelson and produced for PBS “American Experience.” It was first aired on May 16, 2011, 50 years after the seminal event for racial justice and civil rights took place in the U.S. American Experience writes: “Freedom Riders is the powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws in order to test and challenge a segregated interstate travel system, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.”
Via: PBS-TV & Youtube

The basis of human rights is freedom and that all persons, all peoples are equal in society and before the law. The basis of a free society is the free and unimpeded movement of all citizens, and of equal importance, of all persons within its borders. Such was not always the case in America, most remarkably in the Deep South, even 100 years after the end of the Civil War that tore the young nation apart. The South still had traditions encoded in laws that said blacks were inferior to whites, that blacks and whites could not sit together, eat together, travel together, etc. In a word, segregation was an instituted norm.

Segregation: What seems odd today for most people was then accepted as true and necessary. As an accepted way of life, as a way to protect tradition. (For this reason, it still has currency in the form of gender separation among some religious groups, including Orthodox Jews, who dislike the consequences of modernity, pluralism, and equality.)  This is instructive for today, since there is still much work to be done to overturn accepted “truths,” accepted ways of life that now deny a large and increasing minority (“The Other America;” and also [here]) the pursuit of happiness and a peaceful way of life.

Institutionalized poverty, for example, is one glaring example; another is mass incarceration. One often leads to the other, or in other words it is the poor (notably Blacks and Hispanics) who face greater scrutiny, arrest and incarceration in private for-profit prisons—often for minor infractions. This, too, has to be overturned as an accepted truth, as an accepted way of life in America. Institutionalized and state-sanctioned violence of all forms has done great harm and brought shame and deep wounds to America, which requires acknowledgement and change, if not redemption—the healing of souls.

This documentary shows many things, including courage and dignity in the face of evil and the determination and perseverance of youthful idealism, both admirable qualities for today. Equally important,this documentary shows that freedom is not a given; it is a struggle and fought for before it is legislated into law, often years if not decades before hearts and minds can be changed. This is what these Freedom Riders (black and white Americans) accomplished through their courage, common cause and moral convictions.

This documentary is revealing of the way things were and how changes came about through continued and non-violent struggle. You can never do wrong when you are in the right.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Martin Luther King, Jr: The Other America (1967)

Poverty & The Poor

Martin Luther King, Jr: The Other America (1967) in a speech that he made at Stanford University’s Memorial Auditorium on April 14, 1967. The speech, calling for a more just society, has great relevance today, and will remain so until such a society comes into fruition, comes into being, becomes a reality for everyone. But first we must know and admit the truth of the way our society is, how it leads to inequalities, and how it is structured, and Dr. King lays it out here in this speech, as he has done numerous times. He offers solutions. Real solutions. Real Hope. It will take the overcoming of ignorance and lies; it will take seeking the truth; it will take social and political will. It will take overcoming the Reactionary Right--both its political class and its religious class. The full text of the speech can be found [here].
ViaThe Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change & Youtube

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Other America: 1962–2019

Poverty & The Poor

The Other America: Poverty in the United States by Michael Harrington (1962)
Photo Credit: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum

This book is still relevant more than five-and-a-half decades after it was published, to critical acclaim. In some ways, the lives of the poor have bettered; in other ways they have worsened. Things improved in America after Michael Harrington wrote The Other America (1962), which influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to publicly declare two years later an unconditional War on Poverty.

There was initial success until about 1978, and then America in the last 30 years began to regress, regardless of which political party was in power, thereby eroding any gains that the poor previously made. Under the politics of neo-liberalism, The War on Poverty became The War on the Poor.

The poor might not be as invisible as they once were, but they are still ignored and left without any say or any opportunity in how to better their lives. For more, see my recent essay, “Born Poor, Staying Poor” (May 10, 2018).

The poor, the less successful, the underclass, are still ridiculed and blamed for their poverty, even as the super-wealthy pile up bags of money in obscene, ingenious and immoral ways, doing so without shame or fear of conscience. As for the the middle-class, they are too busy trying to stay middle-class to worry about the poor, including a large group of working poor, fearing that they too are a step or two away from joining this ignoble but growing cohort of the downwardly mobile.

That this is taking place with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the political class of both parties, with few exceptions is a failure of great consequence, to be sure, and the people at the bottom feel it keenly. There is hope, however; Bernie Sanders being a bright example of an individual fighting the good fight, speaking the truth.  As he points out time and time again, the blame lies elsewhere, as ought the shame, if it is to be found among the wealthy and super-wealthy.

There is no doubt, and it is shown and proven in so many ways, that the poor are at the mercy of a capitalistic predatory system that has no mercy; its list of opportunists are many, including both the financial and religious fraudsters, as well as, of course, the political opportunists, who never fail to seize what is not rightfully theirs, using the cover of law (but not justice) to do so.

Then there are those that use the cover of religion to do their dirty deeds and to hide their rapacious appetites, which is to build a tower of money that serves no good purpose. Defending such actions as the excessive accumulation of money (as is common among the billionaire class)  says much about the persons who do so. I guess that what predators do. But is this the way we all want to live, among predators?

Yes, the poor will always be among us, but whether that is congruent and necessary to a healthy and sane society is highly doubtful. That only the few chosen ones are meant to be rich and the rest struggling to get by is a sure sign that something is wrong, terribly wrong. No, it is more than likely a sign of a sick society, one that is rotten and decaying on the inside.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Vacant Lots Theory

Abandonment & Alienation

An article (“The Other Side of “Broken Windows;” August 23, 2018), by Eric Klineberg, in The New Yorker examines the relationship between abandoned urban lots and crime, which tends to shed light on where the “tough on crime” approach, made famous by the “broken window” article (Wilson and Kelling; The Atlantic; 1982) and its follow-up policing approach failed to address root problems of poverty, especially among black families; Klineberg writes:
But what if the authors—and the policymakers who heeded them—had taken another tack? What if vacant property had received the attention that, for thirty years, was instead showered on petty criminals?
Afew years ago, John MacDonald, the Penn criminologist, and Charles Branas, the chair of epidemiology at Columbia University, began one of the most exciting research experiments in social science. Branas is a leading scholar of gun violence, having become interested in the subject while working as a paramedic. He met MacDonald in the aughts, when they were both working at the University of Pennsylvania, in a seminar on gun violence at the medical school’s trauma center. Both were frustrated by the science that linked crime to neighborhood disorder. “A lot of it, from ‘broken windows’ on, was just descriptive,” Branas told me. “You didn’t know exactly what counted as disorder. And it wasn’t actionable. Outside of policing, which was obviously complicated, there wasn’t much you could do about it.”
The two began meeting on campus. While they were brainstorming, Branas was invited to discuss his research at a conference in Philadelphia. During his presentation, he briefly mentioned his interest in running an experiment on the physical factors related to gun violence. “When I finished, someone from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society approached me,” Branas recalled. That person was convinced that vacant properties—Philadelphia had tens of thousands of empty lots—were driving up violent crime in poor neighborhoods. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, or P.H.S., had incredible data, and offered to help.
The tough-on-crime approach always seems like a good approach, often because it is a simple approach, and appeals to our instincts for justice. But what if the chief problem is poverty, injustice of another kind, and this is made apparent by thousands of vacant and abandoned buildings, overgrown by weeds and by garbage?

What if the city authorities decided to do something about these vacant properties, to beautify the poor areas? To persuade the property owners to take care of what they own, whether privately or publicly?  Wouldn't that be something? I bet that many cities will say that they do not have the public money for such a beautifying project.

Yet, I bet that they do. That the small amount of money necessary to do this can be found, but only if the will is there. Let's call it a coalition of the willing.

For more, go [here]

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Bob Dylan: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (1986)

Bob Dylan: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”as part of the Hard to Handle concert film,shot during the Australian tour in 1986. Bob Dylan is backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in what is a fantastic rendition; they play well together The song, written by Dylan for the 1973 Sam Peckinpah film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, is the second track on the flip side of the (almost) same-named album, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, which was released on July 13, 1973. That long black cloud is comin’ down/I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door. Yeah, that black cloud is coming down. Can’t you see it. Feel it.
Via: Youtube