Even before the Cold War and the so-called “McCarthy Period” (named after Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy), individuals and groups on the political and theocratic Right have flung the term “Socialist” from their metaphoric sling shots into the faces of their political opponents to discredit their characters and dismiss their political ideas and policies, and to sway the electorate toward a conservative agenda. This continues to this very day as evidenced by the Tea Party’s representations of President Obama and of various progressive politicians.
As destructive and as freedom-killing as the Right would have us believe,Socialisminvolves “a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole,” where each of us has a stake and advances in the success of our collective economy.
No country in the world today stands as a fully Socialist state, but rather, some of the most successful economies combine elements of Capitalism with Socialism to create greater degrees of equity and lesser disparities between the rich, the poor, and those on the continuum in between.
As the Fourth of July is celebrated across the United States – and as economic reports, our ballooning prison system, and a barrage of climatological studies, among other pieces of evidence, lead ever more people to consider whether our collective way of life is in need of a fundamental transformation – an examination of the ostensible objects of our celebration (independence and democracy) seems in order.
Credit: Creative Commons/buildscharacter.
Aside from the concept of independence (and the question it implies: independence from what?), democracy, it should be remarked, is an especially vague and ambiguous concept.
Because democracy can refer to egalitarian, emancipatory politics, as well as to the political-economic systems of slavery-based societies like that of the southern U.S. or ancient Athens-an initial distinction should be drawn between egalitarian forms of democracy (which tend to be organized more or less horizontally, with social resources distributed more or less evenly) and what, in practical terms, are really plutocratic societies – or what, perhaps, can be termed market-based democracies (which tend to be more or less hierarchical and representational). And it’s the market-based or plutocratic society that,with only minor egalitarian democratic interruptions and adjustments,exists today and characterizes what democracy has meant since the bourgeois democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century.
At dinner with friends recently, the subject of rents came up.It’s a big topic around San Francisco, because an influx of new money (from hi-tech, mostly) and other factors have made that city a landlord’s delight. When they moved out of their two-bedroom apartment, our friends told us, the landlord raised the rent a thousand dollars, to $3800 a month. “It was nothing fancy,” they said, “hadn’t been updated in years, an ordinary middle-class neighborhood.” The new figure was almost exactly the San Francisco median rent for a two-bedroom this year and a little below the corresponding average as of last month: $3898.
My friends had heard of renters offering well over the asking price – more than double the average in one case – to be sure of getting a place that was otherwise undistinguished but came with parking or a good location for errands and walks.
So that’s my main quibble with Nick Hanauer’s rather remarkable screed on Politico, “The Pitchforks Are Coming…For Us Plutocrats.” In this “Memo To: My Fellow Zillionaires,” Hanauer makes an eloquent (and perhaps disturbing to its intended recipients) plea for what San Francisco and Seattle have deemed a livable minimum wage, $15 an hour.
Have you noticed? Money changes everything. Almost daily, I get into conversations about compensation and fairness. Sometimes I even start them. But whoever starts them, by the time they get going, there’s always so much gray area that I have trouble finding my way to daylight.
I’m interested to know what you think. Let me share a few stories and a few questions that may cast some light on the subject.
Work or play? I work with many other artists who care about social justice and planetary healing and want to do our part. We get asked to contribute in various ways. Will you perform at our event? Will you donate a piece to our auction? When everyone is being asked to contribute – not just artists – that can feel just fine. But often that’s not the case. The people who mastermind the event, who set up and run the tech, who create the advertising, are being paid, but the artists are asked to volunteer.
This difference reflects some real challenges for those who wish to give art and culture their true value, those who understand that artists’ creativity is needed to surmount overwhelming challenges, to nourish our collective resilience, social imagination, and empathy. It seems to reflect the popular notion that artists are having too much fun for what they do to really be considered work: Sure, I’d like to sing and dance all day and get paid for it too. It devalues artists’ contributions, ignoring what we now know about the ways that stories, images, metaphors, and participatory actions can change more minds than the wonky work of white papers (which is almost always compensated). It seems to short-change organizing strategy itself, treating artists’ work as mere embellishment rather than a powerful path to change. These are hard attitudes to alter, because they are deeply embedded in the common culture. What would you do to transform them?
Going green is about more than buying all the gluten-free quinoa you can fit in your Prius. It’s about community organizing against corporate polluters and challenging environmental racism — and then enjoying your quinoa.
That’s the message from my good friend, the “Greenest Man in America.” If you haven’t met him yet, you’re in luck!
And no, he’s not Al Gore…
An enduring pattern has been inscribed on the struggle for cultural equity in this country. Those who get the biggest share of funding – them that’s got, as Billie Holiday put it – pay lip-service to fairness for those who get crumbs – them that’s not. But lip-service is generally the only currency they are willing to shell out. The haves counsel patience: Show up as members of the team, they say. Be part of the united front at budget hearings, go along with our program, and you’ll get your reward by and by.
Credit: Creative Commons
In San Francisco, people are tired of waiting. In March, the Budget Analyst’s Office released a study on allocations by Grants for the Arts (funded from San Francisco’s hotel tax revenues) to diverse arts organizations – those serving primarily people of color, ethnic minorities, women, and LGBTQ people. The findings show that the proportion of funding to these groups has remained steady for 25 years. For example, an average of 23 percent of the pie has gone to people of color (who now make up 58 percent of the city’s population, a figure that has been rising steadily since Grants for the Arts was first created), and 77 percent to largely white organizations.
For Argentina, so far so good at the World Cup in Brazil.
At the Supreme Court in Washington, however, Argentina suffered a catastrophic defeat that no soccer metaphor can accurately capture.
Debt campaigners hold protest against vulture fund attack on Argentina (Credit: Jubilee Debt Campaign)
On Monday, the Supreme Court announced it would not hear Argentina’s appeal of a lower court ruling in favor of a group of hedge funds suing the country for more than $1 billion.
The dispute is rooted in Argentina’s 2001 debt default. When the country defaulted, amidst economic and political turmoil, nearly 93% of its creditors accepted a deal and took less money than they were owed. But a small group held out. The hold outs included hedge funds that have been nicknamed “vulture funds.” The nickname derives from the funds’ strategy of buying up the debt of economically distressed countries for pennies on the dollar and then suing, targeting debt relief money for collection. That money, of course, is often earmarked for social services like AIDS prevention and school construction.
The court’s decision is a huge blow for Argentina, but it’s also a huge blow to the rest of the world. Here’s why.
Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons
On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.
On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.
In this sobering article, Gullette reveals how suicide has become a public health emergency for middle-aged men in the United States, exposing a deeper economic and existential crisis. Gullette explores how the American Dream, which promises not only rewards for hard work but also increased economic prosperity within one’s lifetime, is exposed as farce through the widespread phenomenon of unemployment and suicide among middle-aged men. What deeper changes to capitalism need to occur to end this suicide epidemic?
Tikkun‘s print articles are usually only available to subscribers who are logged into our website, but our publisher has agreed to make this one article freely accessible for one month! You can read it here.
Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission(FEC) is yet another nail in the coffin of U.S. democracy. The high court struck down the right of “We the People” to establish laws limiting overall campaign contributions by individuals. Such limits have been set in an attempt to create a level playing field in our democracy for rich and poor alike.
The political playing field was already unequal, since over the years the Supreme Court has increasingly granted civil rights and constitutional protections to corporations. This expansion of corporate rights culminated in the infamous 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC, which prohibits our right to limit corporate spending on elections through political action committees (PACs). The Citizens United decision resulted in the overturning of campaign finance laws at the federal level and in states across the nation. Today’s McCutcheon ruling is also disastrous for democracy.