Thursday, November 28, 2019

Out of Commission: Falling

I injured my right arm—dislocated shoulder and a fracture near the shoulder joint (i.e., a proximal humerus fracture), a result of a nasty fall last Thursday. A reminder, albeit a painful one, to always be careful when going up and down any stairs

I spent a few hours in ER, arriving by ambulance. This is never good at any age, but worse when you are older, as I am. I have terrible bruising on my arm, shoulder and upper chest cavity. Not a pretty sight, to be sure. My arm has ballooned to double the size, not a good sign of healing, but of the opposite, I think. The pain is bearable and manageable, but I do have pain. I also have increased neuropathy of my right hand, which is annoying.

My son is typing this on my behalf. I will be out of commission for some time, likely a few months from what I have read and been told. Now, I am waiting for surgery (typically the use of plates and screws) to secure the displaced bone fragments.

Addendum: 8:52 a.m.: I have just been told by phone by Sunnybrook Hospital that I have no scheduled surgery and that they can't for some unknown reason schedule it in the future. That I have to show up at emergency and ask to be admitted. And only then will I have surgery to repair my arm whenever there is an opening, an available spot. No assurance when that will be. No doubt that this is the way it works here in Ontario.
     Perhaps this symbolizes the overall wellness of the Canadian healthcare system today, dysfunctional and out of touch with average Canadians after decades of neoliberalism and cuts. Alas, we Canadians are not supposed to complain; and it is true that few listen to such valid complaints. Yet, we now see the results of such a heartless motto of Greed. Here's mine: Don't fall and don't get sick, lest you fall into the hands of a merciless and uncaring system.
     To this, you can add accepted incompetence, inhumane efficiencies, and banal corruption to a system that has seen most of the good and compassion hollowed out in the pursuit of profits over patient care. The latter can never serve the former, yet it continues for the few that do benefit. I am neither proud nor happy about Canada's Medicare System, and certainly not how it is managed in Ontario.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Alice’s Restaurant (1969)

The 1960s CounterCulture

Alice’s Restaurant (1969), a film directed by Arthur Penn is worth seeing today.  
Via: Youtube

In a film review (“Alice's Restaurant;“ November 11, 1969, Roger Ebert, who gives it four stars, writes:
Arthur Penn's "Alice's Restaurant" is good work in a minor key. It isn't a great film, but you never get the feeling that it wanted to be. You sense that Penn achieved what he set out to do: to make a relaxed, unstudied portrait of some friends, and some months in their lives, and some births, deaths and marriages.
To this degree he has been faithful to the spirit of Arlo Guthrie's original recording. A higher-pressure film would have been inappropriate. You almost wish, in fact, that the rudimentary thrusts toward a plot had been left out. "Alice's Restaurant" is at its best when Arlo is on the road, going to college, hitchhiking, playing his guitar, getting drafted, taking his Army physical, going to see his friends Ray and Alice and things like that.
Unhurried is apt description, when today it is so hurried and people pushed to move quickly, even if in the rush to do so the purpose or reason is unknown. There is too much distraction; too little real contemplation or thinking. The film is about America, on how it was and on how some saw it. It does not so much glorify hippie counterculture as just show it. 

What was all the fuss about? The same as today, although the scenes are written in a different way and the faces are different. It's always about freedom. Freedom from and Freedom to. If this generation of the 1960s was about not trusting authority, we have come full circle to seeing how placing too much trust in authority has led to authoritarianism in many ways that stifle our freedom to be. We have today more rules and social conventions than during my youth. 

We have also lost innocence, and replaced it with cynicism (a sign of despair mixed with anger). More’s the shame, because innocence in youth is good and necessary to enjoy freedom. This generation, that of my children, might be the least free generation in the last 100 years, or more, even though there is so much stuff around them. Much more than in my youth, to be sure. They, the young, for the most part (albeit with some fine and good exceptions), have been indoctrinated to not only obey authority—even when it is wrong, abusive and immoral—but to also regard it as wrong or unduly oppositional to even question it—the Authority and power structure that denies and demeans. 

Thus, in doing so, the young generation are taught to not trust their own instincts; to not trust their own judgments; to not trust their own moral compass.  They are told that they have no time to contemplate and think about what it is they genuinely want or want to do. In short, truly finding and forming yourself as an individual. (I don’t think it is going to be found on social media in particular or on the Internet in general, which is generally a place to sell and consume.) The freedom to think unhurriedly and deeply, without interruption, is a freedom above all freedoms, without which it is hard to have a conscience and make good moral choices, notably on what kind of person you want to be and what path to take to become such a person.

The Cast:
Arlo Guthrie: Arlo Guthrie Patricia Quinn: Alice Brock, as Pat Quinn James Broderick: Ray Brock Pete Seeger: as Himself Lee Hays: as Himself, Reverend at Evangelical Meeting Michael McClanathan: Shelly Geoff Outlaw: Roger Crowther Tina Chen: Mari-chan Kathleen Dabney: Karin William Obanhein: as Himself, Officer Obie Seth Allen: Evangelist Monroe Arnold: Blueglass Joseph Boley: Woody Guthrie Vinnette Carroll: Draft Clerk Sylvia Davis: Marjorie Guthrie Simm Landres: Private Jacob / Jake Eulalie Noble: Ruth Louis Beachner: Dean MacIntyre Dixon: 1st Deconsecration Minister Arthur Pierce Middleton: 2nd Deconsecration Minister (as Rev. Dr. Pierce Middleton) Donald Marye: Funeral Director Shelley Plimpton: Reenie M. Emmet Walsh: Group W Sergeant Ron Weyand: Cop #1, as Ronald Weyand Eleanor D. Wilson: Landlady, as Eleanor Wilson Neil Brooks Cunningham: Medic, as Simon Deckard Thomas De Wolfe: Waiter, as Thomas DeWolfe James Hannon: Himself, as Judge James Hannon Graham Jarvis: Music Teacher John E. Quill: Cop #2, as John Quill Frank Simpson: Sergeant Alice Brock: Suzy

Arlo Guthrie: Alice’s Restaurant (1967)

Political Satire
Arlo Guthrie (born in 1947 in Brooklyn, NY), the son of Woody Guthrie, performs “Alice’s Restaurant” (1967) in this video with wonderful illustrations by Andrew Colunga. It is a satirical song with real-life meaning.  As we all now know, war is not only about causing death and destruction, but about making money. Yes, sir, there are people—merchants of death—who profit on the needless, unjust and immoral killing of others. (There are very few "just wars.") Yes, ma’am, there are people who find this acceptable in this day and age. It is hard to imagine that such enlightened people, many with stated religious convictions, can justify the killing of others.
Via: Youtube

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Woody Guthrie: All You Fascists Bound To Lose (1944)

Woody Guthrie: “All You Fascists Bound To Lose” in a 1944 radio broadcast in defense of his values and ideals, which at the core are American values for the vast majority of people living in the United States. There is a vocal minority who think otherwise. Yes, you fascists, you will eventually lose. As will you right-wing reactionaries and regressives (both religious and secular) and as well the hyper-capitalists and neolibs. Democratic socialists and progressives and others on the Left are on the march, and will not be denied. What was before is now again, an old enemy of the people returns and needs to be taken on, weakened and defeated. In a New Yorker article (“A Story About Fred Trump and Woody Guthrie for the Midterm Elections;” November 6, 2018), Amanda Petrusich writes: “Guthrie worked vehemently to spread and express deep empathy for his neighbors. Now Guthrie’s trajectory feels like an antidote to Donald Trump’s: sometimes, within a single generation, everything can and does change. ‘We’ll show these fascists what a couple of hillbillies can do,’ Guthrie announced on a 1944 radio broadcast, before launching into ‘All You Fascists,‘ a ninety-second song about bending the arc of history.” The moral arc of history, that is, bending toward justice.
Via: Youtube

I’m gonna tell you fascists
You may be surprised
The people in this world
Are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Travellers: This Land is Your Land (Canadian version)

Folk Songs

The Travellers: “This Land is Your Land“ (Canadian version), in this 1958 recording, with Canadian lyrics describing Canada's geography, of the Woody Guthrie American  folk song. What is true of the United States is also true of Canada, particularly when it comes to struggling against and overcoming the reactionary and regressive forces that are currently present in our nations, and in many others, as well. Canada is a nation for you and me.
Via: Youtube

The Travellers
Sid Dolgoy: Mando-Cello Simone Johnston: Soprano Jerry Goodis: Tenor Jerry Gray: Banjo

This Land Is Your Land
(Canadian lyrics)

This land is your land, this land is my land From Bonavista, to Vancouver Island From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake waters This land was made for you and me As I was walking that ribbon of highway I saw above me that endless skyway I saw below me that golden valley This land was made for you and me I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps To the fir clad forests of our mighty mountains And all around me a voice was calling This land was made for you and me And the sun came shining, and I was strolling And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling As the fog was lifting, a voice was chanting This land was made for you and me This land is your land, this land is my land From Bonavista to Vancouver Island From the Arctic Circle to the Great Lake waters This land was made for you and me

Woody Guthrie: This Land Is Your Land

American Folk Songs

Woody Guthrie [1912–1967]: “This Land Is Your Land,” which Guthrie wrote in 1940 and first recorded in 1944. A great song which many say could be America's second national anthem, since it not only speaks of freedom in the greatest sense of the word, but also of a pluralistic nation that includes and embraces you and me. Some favour this view. I do. I remember learning this song in my elementary school in Montreal during the 1960s, as well as the Canadian version by The Travellers (1955); I had some great teachers then.
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Taxing Excessive CEO Pay Is Good for America

Worker Inequality

Bernie Sanders Asks Serious Questions (2009):  Where Do Bank Profits Go? After the 2008-09 Financial Crisis caused by the greed and recklessness of Wall Street, and the subsequent $700 billion TARP bailout (i,e., welfare for corporations) by the U.S. Federal Government, the American people deserved answers. Senator Sanders, as representative of the people, is here asking questions, looking for answers. He was not, however, getting any real satisfactory answers from the CBO director, who was either being evasive or honestly couldn't answer the questions for lack of knowledge. Both scenarios are not good. The major players of Wall Street and Corporate America broke many laws and for now have gotten away with it.  But not forever. “When people break laws, we generally try to prosecute them,” Senator Sanders says in a matter-of-fact way.
Via: Youtube

It is common knowledge that CEOs of large corporations are paid exorbitant amounts. In another good measure to discourage such obscene wages by chief executives, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation that  hopes to rectify this gross level of economic injustice.

In an article (“Sanders, Lee, and Tlaib Partner to Combat Outrageous CEO Pay;” November 13, 2019) in Common Dreams, it reports:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) introduced the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act, which rewrites the federal tax code to tackle the inequality crisis created by corporate America’s unrestrained greed.

The typical restaurant employee at McDonald’s would have to work for more than 2,000 years to earn what the company’s CEO Chris Kempczinski received last year. A retail worker at Gap Inc. would have to work for more than 3,000 years to receive the annual compensation of Gap’s former CEO Art Peck. Peck’s pay was increased by 33 percent in 2018, even after he presided over years of declines in sales and stock prices.
The Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act would pressure corporations to curb these outrageous pay gaps that are the norm today, by imposing graduated taxes for companies that pay their CEO more than 50 times the pay of the median worker. The tax penalties would begin at 0.5 percentage points and rise to 5 percentage points for firms compensating their chief executives at more than 500 times the rate of their workers. A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies found that 80 percent of S&P 500 firms paid their CEOs more than 100 times the pay of their median worker.
Many of the firms lavishing multi-million-dollar compensation packages on their top executives rely on taxpayer support—through public housing, nutrition assistance, and Medicaid, for example—to assist full-time workers who struggle with poverty wages.
Another great Bernie idea; real solutions to real problems that average Americans face. Taxing excessive CEO pay by taxing wealthy corporations is good for America, chiefly because it says America cares about fairness and economic justice. Equally important, this says that it cares about the average worker as much as it has cared about the wealthy for decades.

Equally important, I wish excessive CEO pay would be discussed by political candidates and leaders here in Canada. For example, in the latest report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, CEO pay among the 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada was 197 times the average yearly wage ($50,759); in other words, CEOs make about $10 million a year. Taxing excessive CEO pay is also good for Canada, especially since Canadians consider themselves fair-minded and just people. Is anyone in Canada listening?

For more about America, go to [Common Dreams].

For more about Canada, go to [Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives].

Monday, November 18, 2019

(Not) Oppressing the Stranger in Israel

The African Migrant

“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
Exodus 23:9

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus 19: 33-34

Unwelcome Stranger: An African asylum seeker in Israel (2017): There are about 40,000 asylum seekers from Africa (Sudan and Eritrea) residing without status and with uncertainty in Israel; this tiny number hardly represents a “demographic threat” to the State of Israel, yet the government acts as it does, with threats of expulsion and imprisonment. In reality, Israel has decided to become not a democratic state, but only a Jewish one, and even then for only particular kinds of Jews who hold approved views. The government and a large part of Israeli society, with a few exceptions, want to drive these African migrants out of Israel.
Via: Youtube & The New Humanitarian

What happened to the biblical injunction found in the Hebrew Bible to welcome the stranger? It seems that this is not true in Israel, where migrants are called “infiltrators” and much worse. Few of these asylum seekers from Africa get their asylum applications approved by the Israeli government. Only a handful so far, no more than 200 (0.5 percent), according to latest reports.

In The New Humanitarian Roopa Gogineni writes:
At first, some of the arrivals – who now number around 40,000 and are mostly from Sudan and Eritrea – were granted temporary residency. But even though Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention (and once took in several hundred Vietnamese “boat people” in the late 1970s), it has only ever granted refugee status to nine Africans.
As the numbers of asylum seekers have grown, so tensions have heated up in South Tel Aviv, where many Africans live side-by-side with Israelis.
In 2013, the Israeli government passed a law that deemed the Africans “infiltrators” and allowed them to be imprisoned in a desert detention facility, where they were first kept indefinitely, then for a 20-month maximum, and now for up to a year at a time.
It has also attempted to send asylum seekers to African countries that are not their homes, including Rwanda and Uganda. Some who were shipped back have reportedly been pressured to leave those countries, and fled to Europe. A few were killed by so-called Islamic State or drowned in the Mediterranean.
The asylum seekers have their supporters inside Israel. It’s not lost on some Israelis that many of the country's first citizens were survivors of genocide in World War II. Of course, the creation of Israel also kicked off the Palestinians' own refugee crisis – and politicians often refer to the "demographic threat" the Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and those in the occupied territories, pose to the country that defines itself as a Jewish state. Like the Palestinians, many of the African asylum seekers are Muslim.
The majority are, however, Christian. There are about 40,000 asylum seekers from Africa (Sudan and Eritrea) residing without status and with uncertainty in Israel, a precarious position; this tiny number hardly represents a “demographic threat” to the State of Israel, yet the government acts as it does, with threats of expulsion and imprisonment. In reality, Israel has decided in recent years to become not a democratic state, but only a Jewish one, and even then for only particular kinds of Jews who hold approved views. The reactionary and religious right, which is very strong now and has been picking up steam the last few years and decades, has greatly influenced government policy.

The government and a large part of Israeli society, with a few exceptions, want to drive these African asylum seekers out of Israel. This hardly represents the history and the views of the Jewish People, who have had and understood persecution and oppression and, equally important, know and believe that is is important to welcome the stranger. It seems that recent governments care little about international positions or pressure, viewing itself as an exceptional state. It has also taken the entrenched position that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism—not only a false and dangerous idea but also wholly illiberal and authoritarian.

Any nation can and ought to be criticized, including Israel, when its actions run contrary to moral positions. Silence for the sake of community peace is never a good idea when a wrong is committed. Silence tacitly means condoning and agreeing with the aggressor, the wrong-doer. As a Bundist and a Jewish democratic socialist, I view such views and actions as morally and ethically right—to break the silence and speak out against injustice. Ignoring the humanity of black asylum seekers is immoral; it shows a lack of moral clarity on the part of the Israeli government.

It could still turn around and take another view, one based on the Hebrew Scriptures and on the thousands of years of Jewish history when the Jews in the diaspora believed—as some still do today—that it is important and imperative to treat the stranger as you would treat yourself. After all, one never knows the future; and, moreover, it is better not to make enemies and have more true and good friends. Good friends speak the truth.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Black Socialists for America

American Socialism

Paul Robeson [1898–1976]: “The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

An article (“In the McCarthy Era, to Be Black Was to Be Red; November 13, 2019), by Mohammed Elnaiem, in JSTOR Daily looks at black radicals during the McCarthy era in America who identified as Marxists, sympathies that were shared by a large part of the Afro-American intelligentsia; Elnaiem writes:
Society adored them, but the U.S. government thought they were dangerous: black radical leaders Paul Robeson, Alice Childress, and Lorraine Hansberry transformed the cultural sphere in the U.S and beyond. They were playwrights, singers, and performers, but they were also rabble-rousers, dissidents, and even enemies of the state.
Paul Robeson was a giant, both in the struggle for civil rights, but more importantly as an actor, playwright and singer. He shared the world peace prize with Picasso and Pablo Neruda. He could count among his friends Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, and Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. The famed anarchist Emma Goldman, no friend to statesmen, also considered him a dear friend.
Robeson sounds like someone's company I would enjoy, an artist with a conscience, who makes a choice and takes sides, fighting for justice and speaking out against injustice. If he and others like him are considered radicals, then it says that anyone who is pursuing truth and justice and doing good is radical, as is fighting for the underdog and the oppressed. To me, this sounds good and true and right, a struggle for a better America.

Speaking of which, I just discovered the organization Black Socialists of America (BSA), who are proposing what is called Scientific Socialism, while not scientific in the way the natural sciences are, does rely on observation, the gathering of facts, and the obtaining of knowledge on the ways that humans and societies operate. It is true that the Economic Model needs updating in keeping with modern society and its social and technological changes. While I view myself as a democratic socialist and a Jewish Bundist, I find that their site is thoughtful and comprehensive and makes for interesting reading and discussion.

For now I take the cautious view that capitalism can be reformed, even in the face of convincing and mounting  arguments that this ship has long passed, that the system is too corrupt and that the rot is too deep for any meaningful and long-term reform; that we are now witnessing the pernicious effects and the casual cruelty of late-stage (wreckage) capitalism that causes misery to millions, if not 80 percent (or more) of the world.

The economists share much blame for putting forth and placing their faith in economic theories that are nonsense, and for convincing governments around the world to follow them. Pure bunk. The average person knows this is mumbo-jumbo, a house of cards, a Ponzi scheme. Crackpot ideas. Working class people are tired of being pushed around and being pushed aside. The current political-economic system, an arrangement by the few for the few—of neoliberalism and unfettered market capitalism—undoubtedly richly rewards corruption, oligarchy and plutocracy.

Points well taken. Even so, I am hoping that the world's economic system can be reformed, first by dumping all these economic theories—especially homo economicus—and retiring those foolish economists to a nursing home, where they can babble to and bore each other, as is their way. Hard-Left Socialists will say my hope is misplaced, naive. I respect their views and understand their misgivings. We shall see which way the wind is blowing.

For more, go to [JSTOR].

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Green New Deal for Public Housing

Housing Justice
Green New Deal for Public Housing is a common sense proposal by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. All kinds of people live in public housing; they deserve good housing. This legislation solves real problems for real people; it is open and transparent, as are the people talking on this video.
Via: Youtube & Senator Bernie Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (cosponsored by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren) put forward a new bill, a Green New Deal for Public Housing, which they announced last Thursday, November 14th in Washington. This bold initiative would cost $180 billion over 10 years and bring the nation’s 1.2 million federally owned housing units to modern standards. It would create 250,000 jobs, many high-paying union ones.

In an article (“Bernie Sanders and AOC Unveil a Green New Deal for Public Housing;” November 14, 2019) in CityLab, Kriston Capps writes:
At a press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez said a bill focused on public housing reflects the larger aim of the Green New Deal to prioritize “frontline communities”—those that are most likely to be harmed by the climate crisis. “In the Bronx alone, 2,400 public housing residents may be going without heat tonight. That is inhumane,” she said. “That is environmental injustice.”

At the same event, Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said: “We must build the political will to combat both the affordable housing and climate crises.”
The bill is an effort to bag two birds with one stone. America’s public housing portfolio is in a shambles, with deferred maintenance costs nationwide running into the billions. The bill introduced by AOC and Sanders would bring that backlog up to date while also reducing the energy consumption from this aging housing stock.
Overall, buildings are responsible for about 39 percent of global carbon emissions, and about one-third of emissions in the U.S. That puts energy retrofits front and center in debates about how to arrest climate change.
“For an estimate between $119 and $172 billion, you could decarbonize the country’s entire public housing stock,” said Billy Fleming, the Wilks Family Director of the Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology at the University of Pennsylvania. “If you think about that from just a pure carbon perspective, that’s the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road.”
Such are the facts. What is important in this proposal is that it was made at all. Kudos to Sanders and AOC for presenting it and for listening to the people, particularly the poor, the working class and the working poor and the people and organizations who advocate on their behalf. Sanders is the only presidential candidate of memory who is pushing for real solutions to America's problems. Decent and affordable housing is a human right, not a privilege for only the few. This is good for America.

The proposal, part of the comprehensive Green New Deal, is not only about economic growth or job creation (although both are surely possible with this initiative), but chiefly about ensuring public housing is made better and safer than it currently is for the 21st century, that families living in public housing should live in decent, clean and safe places, with heat, hot water and with dignity, knowing that the roof will not fall on their heads, knowing that they will not suffer lead poisoning, and that they could live in peace and quiet that all humans need and want.

There should be no shame in living in public housing. There should be no shame in not being wealthy, or even close to it. There should be no shame in being part of the working class, the working poor. It is about dignity. This human dignity ought not be for only the wealthy. This Green New Deal is about giving hope to the people who need it most..

For more, go to [City Lab].

Friday, November 15, 2019

What The Jewish Bund Means to Me

Social Democracy

In an article (“My American Bundism;” October 2, 2017) in Tablet, Clare Kinberg writes how she has found a home in the Jewish Labor Bund. Despite not having grown up with its ideas, it becomes clear that Kinberg’s discovery of the Jewish Bund and their ideas of social and economic justice has given her needed comfort and meaning.

Like many who have today discovered the writings of the Bund, her cumulative life experiences, including work in the needletrade, awareness of injustices and a desire to do good, brought her in this direction. Kinberg writes:
I come from a family of junk dealers, committed to Judaism through membership in a Reform congregation and an entirely Jewish social network. The Bund came into my life, not from family or community, but through books and what feels like existential necessity.
In the late 1970s, when I was in my mid-20s, I was part of a lesbian feminist publishing collective in St. Louis, my hometown. We wrote and printed newsletters, fliers, and posters that addressed a wide range of issues such as opposing anti-union “right to work” laws, support for a movement trying to keep a public hospital from closing, and reproductive rights for all women.
My day job was on the sewing floor of a coat factory where I did piece work running hems in cheap outerwear. I was active in the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, but significantly, I was the only Jewish union member in a factory owned by Orthodox Jews. I was also teaching 7th grade in a Reform congregation’s Sunday school.
I came to these involvements haphazardly, through friends and following what seemed like the right thing to do. I had no ideological background, family connections, or social experience in the “left.” But I read a lot. I discovered the Jewish left through books, beginning with Emma Goldman’s two volume autobiography, Living my Life. I devoured and memorized Nora Levin’s While Messiah Tarried: Jewish Socialist Movements 1871-1917, which is where I first read about the Bund. But it wasn’t until I read the work of poet Irena Klepfisz, who did grow up in a Bundist community, in the anthology of lesbian writing, Nice Jewish Girls, that I began to see that my own idiosyncratic labor, feminist, lesbian, Jewish writing and activism had solid antecedents, first in Eastern Europe and then in the United States.
What has been lost is now found again, and for some very good reasons, the same as before. Again, we witness a growing resurgence of right-ward political activity, of reactionary regressiveness, and of anti-progressive thinking in many parts of the world, including in America, in Israel, in Russia, in Hungary, in Brazil, and in India. Moreover, I have witnessed in my lifetime the right-ward shift in my home nation of Canada, notablty economically, making it no socialist paradise.

All in all, such reactionary and merciless thinking  segregates, marginalizes, and shames in its pursuit of  money and power. It engenders fear, apprehension and insecurity. It is evident in Europe, in Asia and in North and South America. It exploits and stokes fear of immigrants and of ethnic and religious minorities in the name of nationalism and national security, essentially employing an “us versus them” mentality and bringing about a small view of the world, and, perhaps, of life itself.

As Bernie Sanders says in a recent Jewish Currents piece:
We see intolerant, authoritarian political leaders attacking the very foundations of democratic societies. These leaders exploit people’s fears by amplifying resentments, stoking intolerance and inciting hatred against ethnic and religious minorities, fanning hostility toward democratic norms and a free press, and promoting constant paranoia about foreign plots.
All of these are dangers to democracy, to a humane and sane society, to freedom itself. As are the stupid and cruel economic ideas of homo economicus, neoliberalism and wreckage capitalism, which give license to the worst of human nature—selfishness, greed and antisocial behaviors.

In contrast to this selfish and cruel state of affairs, in contrast to fear and insecurity, as a bulwark against intolerance and hysteria, stands the Bund and its prosocial values, its commitment to universal values of social justice, economic justice and freedom, its empathy for mentchlekhkay; Kinberg writes, a reminder of what can be:
At its third world conference in Montreal in 1955, the Bund adopted a policy toward Israel that stated Israel should treat all citizens equally regardless of nationality, prioritize peace with Arabs, stop territorial expansion, and find a solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. In 1958, marking the Bund’s 60th anniversary, they published a pamphlet summarizing Bundist ideology and applying it to the State of Israel that stated, “reconciliation of the claims of the Jewish people with the rights of other peoples is the essence of the Bund approach to Jewish problems,” whether in Israel or in the nations of the Diaspora.
The Bund’s political discussions that led to these policies are the kind of discussion we need in the Jewish community today. They could be models for navigating our complicated commitments to our past, to land, to democracy. These discussions reveal that Jews have much in common with other peoples who also have old and continuing cultures—and modern problems—relating to diaspora and independence. The Bund’s commitment to secular Yiddish culture nurtured deep empathy for the human condition, mentchlekhkayt, and for the worlds that Jews inhabit, yidishkayt. When I see young Jews organizing against police brutality with the Black Lives Matter movement, joining with Standing Rock Sioux protesting the Dakota pipeline, and singing Jewish songs to tell AIPAC that they do not represent us, I see Bundism in action.
As do I. Bundist thinking makes me realize that I am not alone, that I join millions. It is a matter of restoring human dignity. It is a matter of restoring freedom. It is a matter of making society a better more humane, equal and just place for all, working  in accordance with the Bundist ideals, expressed in Yiddish as frayhayt, glaykhayt, and gerekhtikayt (freedom, equality, and justice).

For more, go to [Tablet].

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Yungt Himen: Bundist Youth Hymn

Yungt Himen: Bundist Youth Hymn or Anthem performed by the Workman’s Circle Chorus [date unknown]. This is a tribute to all those youth and young persons at heart fighting the good fight against fascism, against late-stage and wreckage capitalism, and against reactionary forces that deny human dignity and freedom. It is all about freedom and bringing about a better, more just and equitable world for all.
Via: Youtube

Lyrics by: Shmerke Kaczerginski [1908–1954] Music by: Basye Rubin The song, a hymn of human effort and struggle for good, was written during the Second World War in the Vilna Ghetto (circa 1943). Despite the circumstances and conditions in which it was written, it is hopeful and spirited. This is when many great partisan songs were written. As the site, Music and the Holocaust writes:
The Yugnt himn” (Youth hymn) was written by the Vilna poet and partisan Shmerke Kaczerginski and dedicated to the youth club in the ghetto, where it was performed at official meetings. The melody was composed by his fellow inmate Basye Rubin. The song mirrors the many partisan songs composed by Vilna songwriters, with its upbeat, major-key melody and encouraging lyrics, which describe how ‘young people storm in song’ and work together towards ‘a new and free age’.
Yes, this is still true today, to work toward “a besere velt.” Yung is yeder, yeder yeder ver es vil nor/Yorn hobn kayn batayt.

Yiddish lyrics Yugnt geyt foroys! Undzer lid iz ful mit troyer Dreyst iz undzer muntergang. Khotsh der soyne vakht baym toyer Shturemt yugnt mit gezang. Refrain Yung is yeder, yeder, yeder ver es vil nor, Yorn hobn kayn batayt. Alte kenen, kenen, kenen oykh zayn kinder Fun a nayer, frayer tsayt. Ver es voglt um oyf vegn, Ver mit dreystkayt shtelt zayn fus, Shteyt di yugnt zey antkegn Funem geto a gerus. Mir gedenken ale sonim, Mir dermonen ale fraynd. Eybik veln mir farbindn Undzer nekhtn mitn haynt. English translation Youth marches forward! Our song is full of sorrow, But brave is our cheerful step. Though the enemy looms at the gate, Youth storms forth with their song. Refrain Young is everyone who wants to be, Years have no meaning. The old can be children too In a newer, freer time. Those who wander the roads, Those who set forth with a bold step, Youth goes out to meet them With a greeting from the ghetto. We remember all of our enemies, We recall all of our friends. We will forever connect Our yesterday with today.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Learning From the Bund

Democratic Socialism

Bundist Youth: Open-air gathering of the Bundist Youth Organization, Warsaw, 1932. From the Bund Archives of the Jewish Labor Movement, New York

An article (“Lessons From the Bund;” January 2017), by Samuel Farber in Jacobin lays out how we can take lessons from the The Bund [founded in 1897 in Vilnius, Russian Empire (now Lithuania), officially The General Union of Jewish Workers in Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, or in Yiddish, Der Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln, un Rusland] on how to organize workers from various professions and backgrounds, into a coalition of the like-minded, to bring about economic justice and social transformation for all.

In the article, Farber writes:
Unlike Zionism, the Polish Bund insisted, under its doctrine of “hereness” (doikayt in Yiddish), that the right place for Jews was where they already lived. Trying to escape antisemitism by moving to Palestine — which, it reminded its members, was not empty land — and establishing a Jewish state would be unjust and provoke resistance. Instead, Jews had a duty to fight in alliance with the labor movement and with socialist organizations to establish a democratic republic in Poland.
The Bund’s demands for cultural autonomy put it on a collision course with the Russian Social Democratic Party (RSLDP), which it had joined in 1898. When its demands for autonomy were rejected in 1903, the Bund split and reestablished its separate existence.
Admittedly, some of the Bund’s demands — such as becoming the exclusive representative of all Jewish workers no matter what language they spoke or where they lived — could not be justified. But Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, influenced by their assimilationist expectations, refused to treat Jews like other national groups within the empire.
By the 1930s, the Bund was successfully recruiting left-wing support not only because of its defense of Jewish culture, but also because of its combative social-democratic line, which appeared as an alternative both to Stalinism and Zionism.
Bernard Goldstein richly portrays the organization’s history during those fateful interwar years in his recently translated memoir, Twenty Years with the Jewish Labor Bund. There, he speaks both as a Bund member and as head of its Warsaw militia. Taken with The Stars Bear Witness — his account of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and its 1943 rebellion, led by a coalition of Bundists, Zionists, and Communists organized into the Jewish Fighting Organization — Goldstein covers the Bund’s rise and fall.
The Bund is no longer the force it was before the Second World War. During its heyday, it inspired millions, and led to improvement in lives, and a feeling that change was possible when people are united topward a common cause. Even so, its ideas can do the same today, making you feel connected to the ideas of social and economic justice. (I grew up in such a household, infused by Bundist ideas and ideals.)

These Bundist ideas can counter such reactionary ideas as neoliberalism, market-based capitalism, wreckage capitalism and homo economicus that take from the majority and reward a tiny minority—and by doing so placing the workers in a position that denies them not only fair and equitable wages but also dignity and safe and secure working conditions.

It is not only about money, or lack thereof, but also about human dignity, respect and appreciating and understanding the worth of human beings, something lacking in most capitalist-driven workplaces. Such has been my experience and that of everyone else that I know. It is all too common and all too accepted, chiefly because workers, no matter their position in the hierarchy, feel powerless and dispirited.

The problems are clear and evident. As an example of such a denial is the business term “human capital,” which implies that humans are viewed merely as a means to increase the financial worth of a business, an enterprise, a corporation, with the ultimate aim of enriching its chief investors. It sounds all normal, and such is the problem with modern capitalism—the normalization of business practices that demean the human.

Yet, it is neither good, nor desirable nor normal for a sane society, for a healthy society. These ideas have to be overcome, but first is awareness of the problem. And, equally important, is knowledge of how we can learn valuable lessons from the past, as the Bund can teach us, and apply these for today to help bring about a more humane society.

For more, go to to [Jacobin]

Friday, November 8, 2019

Humans Are Not Calculating Entities

Human Beings

The idea of Homo Economicus should have been discounted and dismissed as a crackpot idea as soon as it was put forth by right-wing market economists in the mid 20th century, but since it was wrapped in the skin of “science,” it was given a fair hearing and acclaimed as the salvation for western capitalist democracies, if not for all of humanity. And the same awe was given to  neoliberalism, the child of such economic thinking, which has brought us the mess that we have all been living with the last 35 to 40 years.

This idea has touched us, humanity, in all ways—economic, political and social. It has shaped our thinking and raised our expectations while crushing our hopes and our dreams. It has taken centre stage in the arena of economic policy, and squeezed out all other ideas—some good, some excellent. When failure occurs, we gave been conditioned and taught to blame ourselves for not being up to the task. Some have killed others for it: some have killed themselves. Many have died in misery, thinking themselves as failures.

This is what happens when a bad and absurd idea gains currency, pushed forward by selfish humans with very real purposes and short-term agendas, none that I would say are altruistic or prosocial. Instead of bettering human lives, it has caused misery to billions of people on this planet. Yes, it is true and well-published fact that it is only a small tiny minority of persons have benefited from the misery of others.

This idea might be considered one of the worst and most ill-conceived ideas in the last century. Even some billionaires think so, seeing where late-stage wreckage capitalism has taken humanity. In an article (“How to Destroy Neoliberalism: Kill ‘Homo Economicus’ ;” September 28, 2018), in Evnomics, Nick Hanauer writes:
And how did we get to a so-called “ethics” of business that insists that the only affirmative responsibility of a corporate executive is to maximize value for shareholders?
I believe that these corrosive moral claims derive from a fundamentally flawed understanding of how market capitalism works, grounded in the dubious assumption that human beings are “homo economicus”: perfectly selfish, perfectly rational, and relentlessly self-maximizing. It is this behavioral model upon which all the other models of orthodox economics are built. And it is nonsense.
The last 40 years of research across multiple scientific disciplines has proven, with certainty, that homo economicus does not exist. Outside of economic models, this is simply not how real humans behave. Rather, Homo sapiens have evolved to be other-regarding, reciprocal, heuristic, and intuitive moral creatures. We can be selfish, yes—even cruel. But it is our highly evolved prosocial nature—our innate facility for cooperation, not competition—that has enabled our species to dominate the planet, and to build such an extraordinary—and extraordinarily complex—quality of life. Pro-sociality is our economic super power.
Hanauer, who is American and a wealthy member of the billionaire class, was the winner of the award, 2018 Harvard and MIT Humanist of the Year. Such was his speech. That he says this is good; that he knows that neoliberalism and homo economicus are both nonsensical ideas is notable for one who has derived great benefit from it. So much the better; it would be better, of course, if neoliberalism and homo economicus would both be viewed by economists as the evil ideas they truly are—two sides of a counterfeit coin.

Some might eventually come around, but most will do so against their will, for a number of reasons, including monetary gain, academic pride and, of course, fear of admitting failure. The problem is that economists themselves are deluded by the very idea they put forth, can’t see the forest for the trees.  Even so, they do so at a great loss to themselves. In an article (“The economics of love: Following the heart, not the head;” January 15, 2014),  in The New Statesman, Robert Sidelsky,  emeritus professor of political economy at the University of Warwick, writes:
Most people believe that marriage is about love, but the economist Gary Becker has shown that individuals, in making their choice of partner, calculate the costs and benefits of different types of relationships.
Similarly there are costs and benefits in telling the truth, not cheating at cards, buying one’s partner flowers, listening to music, reading a poem. Indeed, there is almost no form of activity one can think of that does not have attached to it at least the pretence of costs and benefits calculable in terms of money. And if one habitually makes this calculation before deciding to act, one will slowly but inexorably cease to be human.
The alarming thought is that, exposed to training in economics, human beings do start acting in the way economists say they should. In a marvellous book, I Spend, Therefore I Am, Philip Roscoe reports on research that shows that students studying economics are markedly more calculating than students of other subjects. Economics contaminates all our motives, forcing, in Amartya Sen’s words, “smallness on us”.
So, you see following such a restricted and limited path of economic thinking makes you small, both in mind and in spirit.  It also makes you a calculating and cruel person devoid of empathy and compassion instead of being a human emotional being, faults and all, but trying to do good. Which would you rather be?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Joan Baez: Diamonds & Rust (1975)

Human Love

Joan Baez: “Diamonds & Rust” (1975) in a hauntingly beautiful and personal song about her previous memorable  love relationship with Bob Dylan, one of the most beautiful songs of its kind. Now, love is essential for humans, which is why it is sought and why it is written and sung about; love has many qualities that are good. There is no replacement for love, only counterfeits, which some accept as the genuine article (e.g., I can't recall any songs or poetry claiming the virtues of money, yet some worship it.). This beautiful song is the title track on the same-named album, which was released in April 1975. Now you're telling me/You're not nostalgic.
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Joan Baez: We Shall Overcome (1963)

Joan Baez [born in 1941 in the NYC borough of Staten Island, NY] performs the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, on August 28, 1963. Joan Baez was prominent in the Civil Rights Movement then and remains so in the present. 
Via: Youtube & National Archives and Records Administration

There is still the need to overcome. What needs overcoming is the general sentiments of despair and hopelessness that has predominated American society for so long; what needs overcoming is the normalization of harshness, of cruelty and of neo-Darwinian ideologies (like neoliberalism) that pits one against the other; and what needs overcoming is resistance to the idea or belief that change is not preferable, not possible, not pleasing. 

It is so and on all three counts; and, moreover, it is necessary now more than ever to provoke it, the United States, to becoming a land where opportunity is spread out not only to the few—as is now clearly the case—but where opportunity can find a home among  the many: to wit, to all who seek it. Such is a laudable and worthy goal this season of elections, of promises and of politicking, where it is necessary to restore faith in a democratic system which will represent the interests not only of the wealthy class, but also of the other classes struggling to stay afloat. 

What is true of America is also true of my country, Canada, which ought not be complacent or smug. We are not far behind in the inequality race, Canada having taken up neoliberalism the last 35 years with the same enthusiasm as America and Britain. There is much work to be done here at home to also make it a better more humane place for all of us. To work on economic justice, to reduce inequalities that have brought people low. There are measures that could be done now, including changing our perceptions and views.

For one, it is anti-human to view humans as economic entities (“homo economicus”), calculating entities, calculating machines who continually calculate the cost-benefit of each and every action, each and every human encounter, including whom to marry, what job to take, etc. Such an idea is a foolish pursuit that leads to a life of unhappiness, since it runs contrary to human behaviour, and to what makes a life worth living. Yet, there are a small minority of influential people (e.g., free-market economists) who view this as true, or at least they use it as a means to propagate their ridiculous ideas and thereby enrich themselves monetarily.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (1963)

Civil Rights 

March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (1963) with Martin Luther King, Jr as the key and last of 10 speaker (“I Have a Dream”), his speech memorialized and standing as a symbol of everything good about this era and its struggle for dignity and freedom for all people. The march was organized, as Wikipedia notes, “by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who built an alliance of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations[4] that came together under the banner of ‘jobs and freedom.’ ” This is newsreel footage of a historical civil rights event on August 28, 1963, that drew between 200,00 and 300,000 people to Washington. Note it was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Is this not still true and necessary today; similar, if not same issues, bedevil us. Is this not the chief campaign message of Bernie Sanders, the Senator for Vermont, campaigning to become the Democratic Party candidate for president of the US. Is it not important to remember that when Sanders speaks, he speaks not about himself but about us? Perhaps now is the time that MLK’s dream will come to pass, or at least the beginning of the end of a cruel and inhumane society. We shall overcome/We shall overcome/We shall overcome, some day/Oh, deep in my heart/I do believe/We shall overcome, some day.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Montreal’s Mountain & Beaver Lake

The Mountain

In August, we returned to Montreal for a visit, which would not be complete without a visit to “the mountain,” Mont-Royal and Beaver Lake (Lac aux castors). Here are some of my snapshots, taken on a glorious summer day.

All Photos: ©2019. Perry J. Greenbaum