Tag Archives: Socialism

How To Be A Patriot

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It seems to me that anyone who really cares about their country, who is a genuine patriot, has to care for everyone. Life is NOT a zero-sum game, where the gains enjoyed by others are a loss to you and yours. No, life and human society are highly complex, interdependent systems where every part has a role to play, and when we don’t provide optimal conditions for the health and well-being of some of the parts, the whole body suffers. Would you want your car’s engine to go without one of its spark plugs? While it would still get you to where you were going, it wouldn’t do it as efficiently, nor as effectively. In the end, it would almost certainly cost more to deal with the results of an imbalance in the engine than it would to ensure all its components were kept in good working order.

Yet many approach life as though they are living on an island. It’s difficult to fathom the level of insensitivity, blindness to reality, and the callous lack of empathy it takes to turn one’s back on people who may not directly affect your life in a way you can feel immediately, but who nevertheless impact the organizations and institutions you deal with all the time.

For instance, by not ensuring all children receive healthcare, adequate nutrition, and early education, we ensure our up and coming workforce will be less prepared than they otherwise could be for the kinds of jobs that will be available in the near future. The net result is we not only handicap those children, we also handicap their families, their friends, and the entire nation. By guaranteeing they need more help for far longer than might otherwise be the case, we add to both their burden and ours.

We hobble ourselves with mistaken, outdated, unsupportable notions that give far more importance to diversity as a bad thing; as something that takes away from our sense of worth, of self. Instead of understanding, celebrating, and taking advantage of all the ways in which we complement and enhance each other, too many of us turn those virtues into imaginary vices and use them to divide and separate us. What a pity.


A Death Cult

Quite some time ago, I finally came to the conclusion the Republican Party has no business being in government. The job of a public servant, which is what a member of Congress is (both Representatives and Senators,) is to protect their constituents, the oft-referred to “American people.” Yet, it’s quite clear the Republican Party doesn’t care about the American people, which they have amply demonstrated by their obstruction of any program that might have alleviated much of the pain suffered by millions due to the Corona virus and the near collapse of our economy. It’s also clear to me their definition of economic growth, and their criteria for success, skew heavily in favor of capital and the inexorable forces of consolidation and monopoly.


Image by herotimes from Pixabay

If the shenanigans of the Republicans during this last election hasn’t shown you who they are, I submit you’re either not paying close enough attention or you’re a closet Republican. How does one explain the constant drone of allegations of election fraud, which are made more ridiculous by the reality not one Secretary of State—Democrat or Republican—has come forth with any evidence of fraud?

In fact, what little fraud has been uncovered was a couple of instances of people illegally voting for Donald Trump . . . and what are we to make of the revelation by the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia that Lindsey Graham suggested he find a way to dump legitimate Democratic ballots?

Now we find ourselves in the unenviable position of having a lame duck POTUS for the next 64 days. Unbeknownst to the majority of us, the transition period between administrations has always been a time of heightened vulnerability and, thanks to the narcissistic sociopathy of the outgoing president, this time may be the most dangerous in our nation’s history.

Trump has always been the show pony, the elephant at the circus, designed to keep our attention while the guys under the bleachers steal our wallets and photograph our daughters’ underwear. The grift should be ending on January 20, but you can bet your house the Republicans will be jockeying for position to mingle under the bleachers.

We need to stop this cycle. Think of how much cleanup there was after the GWB administration; an eight-year period that made Dick Cheney a far richer man than he had been, while coming close to bankrupting the entire country. Seems like every time we have a Republican president, at least through the last three to five, we’ve had to claw our way back to solvency. Did I mention the thousands, maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands of deaths resulting from our knee-jerk reactions (and over-reactions) to 9-11 and the ongoing, so-called “war on terrorism?”

I’m not letting the Democrats off the hook entirely, either. The majority of the Party are enthusiastic supporters of capitalism, an economic system that has, in my opinion, outlived its efficacy and needs to be adapted and adjusted to meet the exigencies of the times we’re in.

This pandemic has made it clear we need to take better care of our people. We need universal healthcare. One’s health, and the health of one’s family, should not depend on where you work or how long you’ve been there. Healthcare should be seen as a right, not a privilege.

We also need to institute a much fairer way to distribute the wealth of our nation. We produce so much of value, yet the majority of that value is captured by a very small percentage of the population, hence the constant referral to the 1%. It’s a bit more nuanced than that, since there’s a lot of wealth that goes to the top 10%, but there should be little doubt the value produced by the labor of the 90% is not inuring to the benefit of those who create it.

Although I voted for Joe Biden, and I will support his presidency for the most part, he was not my first choice. In fact, nobody in the Democratic Party actually represents or advocates for the direction I’d like to see the country go in, which is socialism as the predominant form of economy. I’ll have much more to say about this in the weeks, months, and years to come.

I have long said I would be a Democrat, but they’re too conservative for me, but I was not only a member of the Simi Valley Democratic Club, but served as an officer (Corresponding Secretary) for the years 2018 – 2019. I only left that post because my youngest daughter was threatening to drop out of school. Since she was a sophomore in High School at the time, I had to work hard to show her what a bad idea that was.

As of today, she’s not only thriving in this online schooling methodology, she’s actually improved her grades dramatically and is doing very well. I still have to help her, but I refuse to do her work for her. She’s gaining confidence as she’s learning her subjects. Now I have to go and take her to the orthodontist. Hopefully, they’ll be removing her braces soon. She’s really tired of them.


Power to the People

Corporations, conglomerates, and industrial organizations aren’t the enemy, ipso facto. In fact, they make socialism not only possible, but necessary, IMO.

What is the enemy is unbridled greed, rampant cronyism, nepotism and, especially, the codification of deep income inequality. It is not good for a society when individuals can amass fortunes they can’t possibly spend. That they then turn some of that fortune into philanthropy and charitable organizations doesn’t change the fact that it should be criminal for one individual to take that much surplus value from the workforce that made their fortune possible. It’s estimated Jeff Bezos makes (not earns) around $2,500/second. Dafuque does he do, other than own Amazon stock?

I’m not saying inventors, creators, entrepreneurs, etc. aren’t entitled to profit from their efforts, but they shouldn’t be able to continue siphoning profit off an organization that has reached a point where it could easily survive without them. By the same token, intellectual property law has expanded patent and copyright protections way beyond their original intent, creating other avenues of indecent profit-making.

And getting back to what I said about making socialism possible and necessary, without large profitable organizations, we’d all be living off mom & pop’s and craft-making. Many of the products we enjoy, and that provide the grease that skids civilization as we know it, would not be possible without large factories, laboratories, and other institutions. By their very nature, though, they transcend the control and direction of any one individual, and I believe our pay/profit structure needs to take that much more into consideration, providing a larger share to the workers who have helped make the org successful.



Time to be Thinking Hard About Our Future

I wrote and posted the following on my Facebook Timeline and shared it with several groups to which I belong:

The feedback has been positive, with the exception of a few Trump supporters in a local community group known for the number of people on it who are averse to anything negative about their “dear leader.” I posted it there on purpose, just to stir the pot a bit.

As the corona virus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., and people come to grips with how it’s going to affect them, I’m seeing more and more posts from folks outlining just how hard the most vulnerable among us (economically) are going to be hit, even if they don’t get sick at all.

If ever there was an argument for universal healthcare and a strong, resilient social safety net, if not UBI or a socialist economy, I think this might be it. Our fear of socialism is actually a fear of authoritarianism, but the two are not inextricably intertwined. Also, we’re already living under an authoritarian regime and it’s only going to get worse as long as Republicans have anything to say about it.

Donald John Trump, and every one of his brain dead sycophants, represent a clear and present danger to the health and well-being of the people of the United States. Everything he does, every choice he makes, is predicated on assuaging his fragile ego and is aligned with his re-election campaign and his economic interests. Even when he appears to be looking out for the nation’s economy, it is only inasmuch as it affects, and reinforces, his own financial interests. He needs to be gone immediately but, thanks to the greed and avarice of the Republican party, we will have to wait until near the end of next January to remove his worthless ass.

As John Pavlovitz posted on Twitter recently:

This President didn’t create this virus, but he ignored it, denied it, joked about it, weaponized it, politicized it, and exacerbated it. He is culpable for the chaos and the unnecessary illness, and yes, the preventable deaths because of it—and his supporters are too. This is the human cost of the MAGA cult delusion, and we’re all paying for it now equally.

https://twitter.com/johnpavlovitz/status/1238127737031864321?s=20

I have one disagreement with John, however. We’re NOT paying for it equally. The most marginalized of us will suffer far more than those of us higher up on the economic food chain. Since I’m semi-retired and, when I do work, I can work from home, if school is cancelled my youngest, who’s still in high school, will have someone at home to care for her and my oldest, who works with 4th graders through our local Boys and Girls Club, will also have a comfortable home and whatever she needs until school resumes. They will not go hungry, unless we’re forced to stay inside for longer than a couple of weeks.

There are millions of children who depend upon school breakfasts and lunches to get a good, reasonably nutritious meal (sometimes the best meal of the day) and there are lots of parents who cannot afford to miss work should they be required to stay home for a week or two. I have no doubt many on the right see this as a matter of survival of the fittest, but I can’t go along with such a callous view of how we are to function as a society.

We are social animals and we thrive when we take care of each other, recognizing that we are all dependent on our collective strengths to overcome our individual weaknesses. It’s time we recognize this basic reality of our humanity . . . and pay homage to it by lifting all boats, not just those of the wealthy and powerful.

The word ‘equality’ shows up too much in our founding documents for anyone to pretend it’s not the American way.

Martha Plimpton

Let’s Clean Our Own House!

I posted the following on Facebook late yesterday, partly in response to all the angst that’s being spit out by the chattering class about Bernie and Fidel:

How come, when we talk about the suffering of Cubans, Venezuelans, and others from dictators and (horrors!) socialism, we don’t also talk about the role of U.S. Imperialism and historical colonialism?

So far it’s been liked by over thirty of my friends and it’s received nine comments and four shares. As of now, that’s after 14 hours since I posted. I don’t know if it will get more, but the response is interesting. What I was attempting to point out is something that really chaps my hide about my fellow Americans. A lot of y’all are really uninformed; either that, or you’re abysmally stupid and incapable of understanding history, economics, and society.

Now . . . to temper what I just wrote, let me add that I’m of the opinion most of us can’t be blamed for this ignorance of our history and what we’ve wrought in the world wherever—and whenever—we’ve put our grubby little money-making hands to work. As I was writing this, I noted another post by a friend who had liked the post I refer to here. She shared a comment from someone else and I think it’s quite relevant to the point I’m making here. Here’s what he said:

“There’s been a lot of criticism of Bernie Sanders for his praise of the Cuban literacy program that was initiated very soon after the 1959 Revolution. Under this program, young people who had been fortunate enough to learn to read and write were sent out into the rural areas, where most people hadn’t, armed with literacy materials and a kerosene lantern. During the day they helped their host family with whatever needed to be done; at night, they taught reading and writing. Cuba became one of the most literate countries in Latin America.

“According to the critics, this was a bad thing. The people learned to read, but they couldn’t read anything they wanted, and what they were given was propaganda extolling the virtues of the Revolution. So there’s 60 years of this evil stuff going on in Cuba. I’d just like to point out that we in the US have a much longer history of propagandizing, extolling the virtues of our system of predatory capitalism in classes like ‘civics’ and ‘social studies.’ The virtues include denying health care to many, keeping many from full involvement in the political and economic life of our country, enculturating people into the happiness that is being less-than-living-wage laborers at the mercy of shareholders and CEOs.

“Nobody in the US has any business calling what other countries do ‘propaganda’ unless they are willing to acknowledge our own long history of it.

~ Ronald Kephart

I’d like to point out that, although I am a Marxist (i.e. a socialist) I’m not much of a Bernie Sanders supporter. Nearly four years ago I posted my reasons for voting for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary of 2016. That post is located here. I just voted in the California primary for this year’s election and, again, I did not vote for Bernie. However, as I stated back then, should he secure the nomination I will vote for and support Bernie with gusto. Despite my misgivings, he’s head and shoulders better than Trump or any Republican currently in office. I’d even vote for him if he was running against Bill Weld.

So . . . the point of this post is not necessarily defend Bernie but, rather, to point out the incredible hypocrisy of those politicians (including Democrats running for POTUS) and pundits who are criticizing him for what he said about Fidel and the Cuban revolution.

There’s a doctrine in equity called “The Clean Hands Doctrine,” which states that one can’t complain about, or seek equitable relief from, an offense when one has participated in or supported actions that are as offensive as the action being complained about. I think it fits rather nicely into the common trope about socialist countries and leaders who have wrongly punished their opponents.

I shouldn’t even have to list anything the United States has done to make this point . . . but I will list a couple of the most egregious ones:

  • Our treatment of native Americans
  • Slavery & Jim Crow
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act
  • Japanese internment camps

I would also suggest that anyone who wants to really understand how the United States, by its actions (mostly done to protect predatory economic interests) has created most of the problems we’re now dealing with, especially those issues related to immigration from the southern half of our hemisphere, should read “The Enemy: What Every American Should Know About Imperialism,” which can be found here.

We may not like what Fidel did after the revolution in 1959, but we drove him into the hands of the Soviets back then by being indecisive in our dealings with Cuba. We later initiated an economic blockade that was unwarranted and immoral, IMO. There are literally dozens of other actions we’ve taken over the years throughout Central and South America that resulted in the deaths of thousands and that kept the economies of numerous countries from thriving. Felix Greene spelled it out a half century ago. He wasn’t wrong then . . . and his analysis is still instructive today.

PS – I’m leaving out the effects of our Imperialism in the Middle East, as that’s another clusterfuck that’s likely going to come home to haunt us. Perhaps I’ll address it at a later date.


Why Charity Sucks

When I feed the poor,
they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food,
They call me a communist.

~ Dom Helder Camara

Most of us would agree charity is important. There are, after all, large numbers of people who need a helping hand at times and who, without help, would fall between the cracks of society and suffer needlessly; perhaps perish as a result.

But we don’t seem to ever ask ourselves why charity is necessary; why there are always millions who haven’t enough to get by comfortably. It’s understandable in the face of natural disasters and unfortunate accidents, but more difficult to accept when it’s merely the “way things are.” I haven’t always done so myself.

Shortly after my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I was asked to join one of my city’s local Rotary clubs. I knew many of the city’s leaders were involved in Rotary and I also knew the club I was asked to join held a yearly Cajun & Blues festival on Memorial Day each year that was wildly successful and raised a lot of money for the community.

I was happy to join and discovered one of Rotary International’s projects was to eradicate Polio—a worthy endeavor in my estimation. I became fairly active in my club, taking on the responsibility of using social media to promote our activities and volunteering for many of the club’s activities, including providing a full Thanksgiving meal at our senior center, assembling bicycles to give to children for Christmas, and spending an entire weekend (sometimes more) during the Cajun & Blues festival.

Nevertheless, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the realization that quite a few of the members of my club were uncomfortably conservative; some of them clearly harboring deeply bigoted concepts of entire groups of people I felt were undeserving of their scorn. After all, I live in Simi Valley, home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and also known for the acquittal of the police officers who beat the crap out of Rodney King.

I celebrated my fourth anniversary with the club in October of 2016, though I had been attending breakfast meetings for nearly six months prior to becoming an official member (there was some kind of SNAFU that held up my membership.) I had long been uncomfortable with a large segment of the members and, after the election of Donald Trump, I decided I needed to use my limited discretionary funds for something other than rubber chicken circuit breakfasts and a glossy magazine I seldom had time to read.

I tendered my resignation in December and immediately started monthly contributions to five advocacy groups I felt were more aligned with the direction I wished to see society go in. Those organizations included Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the NAACP Legal & Defense Fund, MALDEF, and the Standing Rock Water Defenders. The last of these stopped accepting donations when they were unceremoniously kicked off the land, and I replaced them with my local Democratic club, of which I had also become a member.

So . . . my point here is that, while charity is important because many are struggling and need a helping hand, it is also an indication (a powerful one, IMO) that something is wrong with our society. Why does such a wealthy nation have such a large population of people living on the razor’s edge of existence? Why are people like Jeff Bezos allowed to amass fortunes in the billions while others are left to starve on the streets? I know it’s the logic of capitalism, but I don’t think it makes much sense from a systems or holistic view of humanity and society . . . even of economics. At twice the national poverty line (~$50K/yr) Bezos’s worth of $110,000,000,000 would bring a reasonably comfortable level of income to 2,200,000 families of four (that’s approximately 8,800,000 people.)

Many are beginning to realize income inequality is deeply hurtful to a society. Large segments of the population can’t possibly contribute as much as they’re capable of when they’re struggling to stay alive and healthy. I’m of the opinion we have a hard time understanding this because we are not conversant in the language of systems; we don’t see the interconnections between all of us and our actions and how such large segments of our population who are under stress is stressful to our society as a whole.

Whether it’s Universal Basic Income or a shift to a more socialistic economic system, I believe something needs to be done to allow as many as possible to reach closer to their full potential as contributing members of our society. Until such time, I don’t see how we can truly call ourselves “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The status quo is anything but freedom enhancing, and its acceptance is hardly an act of courage.


Socialism is NOT a bad word!

Capitalism means money (specifically investment, not wages) is society’s primary consideration. Socialism means people (workers, humans) are society’s primary consideration. I know what I prefer. How about you?

Sure . . . there are thorny issues of ownership and incentivization, what deserves to be nationalized and what can remain in the private sector, but they will be addressed with people, not capital, foremost in mind. And don’t come at me with that tired old trope that socialism has been tried and it’s failed. That’s not even close to the truth. Most examples given are usually of a country that attempted to go straight from feudalism to socialism, without experiencing capitalism at all.

If Karl Marx was correct, and I believe he was, economies need to develop and evolve through various stages, and attempting to circumvent one of those developmental stages isn’t a good idea. This is why I believe the U.S. economy is ripe for becoming socialist; it already is to some extent. Our economy is, if not the most advanced, one of the more advanced capitalist economies in the world. Yet, many of its sectors are—or have been—treated as worthy of receiving benefits in the form of subsidies, grants, and tax breaks that are tantamount to them being socialized.

Most importantly, many larger sectors of the economy are highly developed, with a few being in nearly monopolistic control of their market. This is what Marx called late-stage, monopoly capitalism. It suggests that larger industries, which have become monolithic, are ripe for worker ownership and a more equitable distribution of their profits to the people who actually make those profits happen.

Let’s stop treating the concept, let alone the word, of socialism as if it’s still some sort of disease or bogeyman. The forces of reaction and fascism have long told us to be afraid . . . be very afraid . . . of socialism, but they’re crying wolf and their arguments are dishonest and disingenuous. That is to say, they’re fucking liars and can’t be trusted. They don’t care about you and me. Don’t expect them to be helpful, unless they’re helping themselves.


Santa Claus is Definitely No Republican

One of the, shall we say, more charming practices of my Rotary Club is that of having someone play the role of “Ratfink” at most meetings. The Ratfink usually resembles either a stand up comedy routine or a roast. Either way, members of the club are generally involved, though when the roast format is used it can get a little snarky . . . to say the least.

My club’s last meeting was treated to a bit of a roast and, for the first time in the slightly over two years I’ve been a member, I was the butt of the routine. The presenter was a gentleman who is a political operative for a local, Conservative Republican of some stature and I know him reasonably well. He and his wife recently celebrated the arrival of their second child and I believe he is a good, devoted husband and father. We are Facebook “friends”.

Let me say something about Rotary International, in general, and my club, The Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise, in particular. Without getting into too much detail, I have come to see Rotary as a challenging, useful organization with goals I have no trouble agreeing with. The motto “Service above self” has always been dear to me, though my experience with it was mostly exhibited in how I performed my job and in my willingness and ability to help others around me. The Four Way Test is also a statement of principle I am in complete agreement with, to wit:

Of the things we think, say, or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOOD WILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Now, I truly have a hard time arguing with these principles, yet have no trouble recognizing there are some for whom they are merely words and the reason they are involved in Rotary is either because they’re looking for business or social connections or because it’s a way to be “charitable” without too much effort. I do believe those people are a small minority, though. But, I digress.

I live in what I believe is a reasonably conservative city; the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. My Rotary Club consists of some very (did I say “very”?) politically conservative individuals. I make no secret of my political proclivities, which tend to lean far to the left and many of my fellow Rotarians, like last meeting’s Ratfink, are Facebook “friends” who, since I am pretty prolific in my postings, must see some of the stuff (sometimes rants) I post. I do fret a little about upsetting them too much, as I believe we all want the best for our City, though we may disagree on how to get there. I do not question the motives of most, while reserving judgment on some who I believe are either horribly misguided or total assholes.

Santa's a Socialist

That Fat Bastard is at it Again!

The man who served as Ratfink, however, is not one of the latter. He had me stand up, which is customary during a roast-like rendition of the role, and pointed out that one of the “drawbacks” of being as vocal and public as I am on Facebook is that others who might not agree with me can see who I really am (or something like that). I should point out, at this stage of my life I don’t much care. In the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” I have had to spend the vast majority of my life being very careful what I said in order to avoid being ostracized. I don’t plan on going to my grave without showing my “true colors”, so to speak.

He then went on to point out to me that Santa is a Republican, evidenced by the fact he wears red. Now I’m quite certain there were many watching who relished this bit of roasting I was “receiving”, though I couldn’t see as I was at a table closest to the front and I was facing forward toward the speaker. I quietly took my medicine and, when he was finished with me and moved on to the next person, I sat down. However, when he was finished and was returning to his seat, which was only a table away from mine, I audibly pointed out my conclusion that Santa was actually a socialist, as he gives toys to children everywhere in the world. Never mind that red is in most of the world considered a color of revolution and that the old Soviet Union’s and the current People’s Republic of China’s flags are mostly red.

I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with him since, as we had a wonderful program of carolers provide us with entertainment and, afterward, everyone scurried off to their jobs or whatever it was their day was going to bring them. We also won’t have our next meeting for another two weeks as both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Thursdays, which is the day we meet. However, I know I will be speaking with him. In fact, he has offered to help introduce me to the right people within our City government so I can introduce my concepts regarding the future of work, the collaborative economy, and the use of social media to facilitate the governance and conduct the business of the City and its inhabitants. I’m looking forward to it.

I trust everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus (for the rest of us) or whatever (if any) holiday you might observe. We also just experienced the Winter solstice; the shortest day of the year and many have celebrated the beginning of a new cycle in which the days will now begin getting longer until the end of June. Truly a festive time of the year. Now we have New Year’s revelry before us and I have a lot of work to do for the first time in quite a while. I wish everyone who comes to my little slice of the blogosphere much joy and happiness. With those two, prosperity is a relative thing and, of course, I wish for your health and well-being as well.


Not So Tough Now, Are We?

Cuban Palm Trees

An Early Spring Morning Outside Havana

Mornings in the fields outside of Havana were something special. I had been arising before the Sun since I became a teenager, largely because any day there was a school holiday I would have to work with my father. My Bar Mitzvah coincided with him leaving his job at Faber’s Ham Shop in the Grand Central Market to strike out on his own as a peddler of luncheon meat. Every check I received for my thirteenth birthday was immediately signed over to him so he could purchase the truck he needed in his new venture. Until I graduated High School and moved on, I was his “swamper” whenever I wasn’t required to be in school.

At first I hated getting up that early, but I eventually learned to love and appreciate being awake before sunrise. I still enjoy the sights and the smell of the early morning, though I don’t see – or stop to see – it as frequently as I did earlier in my life. But outside Havana, in the campo, seeing the sun rise in mid spring surrounded by tall, swaying palm trees was a sight to behold.

The year was 1973 and I was a member of el sexto contingente de la Brigada Venceremos (the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade). Me and 99 of my best friends from the U.S. and Canada, traveling to Cuba to deliver books and medical supplies, working construction (with one-half day cutting sugar cane – whew!), and attending numerous cultural, historical, and political presentations.

Most every morning we were there, the day would begin quite some time before sunrise, when we would awaken to a breakfast of cafe con leche and pan. After eating, as we filed out of the mess tent, there would be three bowls on a table. One bowl contained candy (sugar!) and the other two cigarettes. The only names I can recall for the cigarettes were suaves and fuertes (mild and strong). The suaves were stronger than any cigarette I ever smoked in the states and, needless to say, I didn’t even bother with the fuertes. The tobacco was kind of coarsely chopped and in almost every pack there was at least one cigarette that would “flower” when the heat reached a piece of tobacco that was tightly compacted. It was mildly entertaining – mostly annoying.

This one morning came at the tail end of a couple of days in which one of my fellow brigadistas had been riding me hard. I couldn’t figure out what was bothering him, and didn’t have a clue how to deal with it. Although the group of people I was with ranged from members of the Democratic Party to card-carrying Communists, we were all there to show our support for the Cuban people, to protest the economic blockade of Cuba, and to learn what we could of their economy and politics. A large part of what we did was to provide labor, mostly for construction of some small homes and an elementary school.

So there I was, standing out in the middle of the countryside on the outskirts of Havana, getting ready for the workday to begin. I was enjoying the fresh air, made palpable by a slight breeze, and taking in the effects of the rising sun on the slightly swaying palm trees. It was refreshing and I was very content.

I heard a noise that didn’t sound familiar and looked in its direction to see what it was. To my chagrin, it was my so-called camarada, charging at me with his arms flailing. Now this guy was a Pinto, an ex-con and – as I said – he had been messing with me for days. He outweighed me by about twenty pounds, which didn’t make him all that big since I only weighed about 170 at the time.

Part of the reason I was in Cuba with the Brigade had to do with my political activity for the past few years, most of which was within the anti-Vietnam War movement, though some was in the general Peace & Justice movement as well. I had been studying Hapkido with a group of people who became the premier providers of security for most demonstrations, concerts, and other politico-cultural events in the Los Angeles area.

I had done everything from bomb searches to building security to armed bodyguard work. I had been the lead for organizing all of the security for Jane Fonda’s Southern California swing during the run-up to the 1972 Presidential election, including a couple of stints as her personal bodyguard. I was not quite 26 years old and in my prime. I guess he took my silence in dealing with him over the previous few days as intimidation. He was wrong.

As he got close I stepped toward him and placed a side thrust kick into the middle of his chest . . . hard. It drove him back and he fell to the ground, muttering after he hit “What’d you do that for?” There was no answer for so silly a question so I remained quietly in a ready stance. I had seen his friend standing nearby and knew he was a black belt in some form of the martial arts. I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Fortunately, that was the end of it. He got up, dusted himself off, and I never heard about it again. He did stop talking to me, which brought no objection on my part. I had learned long before that just because someone professes to have the same political goals you do, it’s quite conceivable their methodology won’t mesh well with what you think is proper. It’s also possible they won’t respect you based on their perception of you. This was surely reinforcement of those lessons. It’s been nearly forty years and I remember it well.

Aside from the time I had to take out a rooster who was threatening me and, more importantly, the two-year-old boy on my shoulders I was walking with around a farm in Morro Bay, this episode is the only time I have ever used what I learned in the martial arts in seriousness against a living being. The greatest lesson I have ever learned from my studies is that once you actually have to touch someone you’ve lost. I would have preferred it had never reached the point it did. In this case I felt I had no choice. Perhaps he learned something out of it. I doubt I’ll ever know and I’ve not lost any sleep over it.


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