Thursday, June 22, 2017

Are we the means to achieve the ends of others? If so, we are engaged in self-sabotage

If Hemingway is right that the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust that person, then we are in for a very long path back from the wilderness of a deficit of trust in our public institutions an din the people who are responsible for them.

Demographics, the division of attitudes and interests and beliefs into boxes, tiny statistical compartments, gives political, marketing gurus and practitioners a vocabulary of talking points. It also provides the illusion of a menu of the people in those tiny papier-mache boxes, as if they were discreet, immutable and committed to those specific perceptions, to whom to direct those talking points, in an attempt to “win” their purchase loyalty, their votes and their dollars for the campaigns to mount their respective sales pitches. For those of us cynical enough to believe that we are still holding to the tenet ascribed to Richard Nixon in the “election of a Coke Bottle” the American political and economic footings, on both sides of the ideological divide, depend on the euphemism, ‘the sales pitch”.

Garnering train-loads of cash from the most wealthy sources, (those whose perception of how the world should look and operate is mostly congruent with the voices they are buying) and then hiring message machines to tailor messages that are guaranteed to arouse the “base” of the selected demographics, using words, phrases, music, larynxes, and even “pitch-men-and-women” and the latest digital graphic techniques is just another form of profiteering. Seduction, regardless of the agents of the act, and regardless of the specific purpose of the act, remains seduction. And whether one is the seducer, or the target of the seduction, one is merely a transactional component of a much larger machine.

It was a highly respected philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, who told us never to be the means for another’s ends. And when the national and international leadership of the agenda of the world’s people is reduced to the massive accumulation of wealth and the influence that wealth can “buy” (however indirectly) then a legitimate case can be made that we have been embedded in a circle of seduction, through our own apathy, indifference, fear, and eroding balance in our personal, civic, provincial, national and international “trust” account.

Ironically, while serving one’s personal career ambitions, along with the interests and agenda of those writing the cheques, having already agreed to be an agent in order to serve the trappings of “success” and having agreed to “mouth” the talking points of the party establishments in order to continue the flow of cash and political “acceptability,” political actors sell out the public interest, the national agenda, and the search for and pursuit of global peace, security, environmental safety and security, including those underlying issues of income disparity, opportunity deficit, 
and the germ of political ego and narcissism that infects all governments through the Burke maxim, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Parents, very early, can see their “innocent” children try to manipulate them into the child’s favour starting even before the child has an articulated agenda….a smile brings another smile. And what parent is not amenable to the child’s happiness. The currying of favour has begun, perhaps unconsciously on both parts, but nevertheless it has started. A little later, if the relationship has become a little more problematic, the parent sets some boundaries, possibly with explanations to justify those restrictions. And a balanced and caring, mutually interdependent relationship can be and often is forged, through a narrative of several chapters in the shared  biographies. The parent learns which “levers” are effective in achieving compliance, and the kind of comportment that is both desired and acceptable. Some of these “conditioning” incidents develop out of societal norms and conventions, in the belief that all parents share a belief that they wish for their children to “fit into” those same norms.

To the degree that the child “fits” the expectations of his family, and then his daycare, and then his several classrooms, through a cumulative pattern of interactions, s/he achieves what the world deems success or failure. The pillars of that foundation are enforced through the parade of multiple encounters, with friends, foes, coaches, opponents, mentors and advocates, up to and including one’s taking his/her place in the “gainfully employed” category, or not.

And although “classical conditioning” of the kind Pavlov envisioned with his “dogs” is stripped of the nuances of highly sophisticated intellectual content, and equally highly sophisticated vocabulary and presentation skills, we all have developed a reservoir of “conditioning” skills just to manage our daily chores and relationships.

Smiling at the bank teller, (if we still visit one), smiling at the doctor, the accountant, the lawyer, and especially the teacher/professor/thesis advisor/department chair, supervisor, and maintaining a “professional” attitude and demeanour (even if the circumstances do not warrant such a veneer of respect) is still both expected and most often delivered. This is especially true in a cultural climate in which millions are without work and are therefore ready and eager to take the place of those who present ‘sand-paper’ to their organizations, especially if such ‘sand-paper’ is a response to unjust policies and supervision. We find ways to eliminate the sand-paper from our organizations, in the wrong-headed belief that our efficiency and our effectiveness as supervisors and managers depends on “no reports” of contention flowing upward in the hierarchy to whom the supervisor reports.

Psychic serfdom, political compliance, (also known as political correctness) has become the paint-by-number survival kit for aspiring entrants into the job market. Justifying this obsequiousness is the mantra, however specious in various situations, that ‘the seniority of management’ warrants obedience, and loyalty. It is not hard to witness the rust on the mantra in the current United States administration where “loyalty” (translate sycophance) is expected and demanded by the president. When Comey promises “loyalty to truth” (placing truth above personal serfdom) he is fired.
Similarly, whenever a marketing agent denigrates either the organization or the product or service it generates, s/he is dismissed. Whenever a political candidate disses the ideological “box” previously shared with the donors, the dependent candidate is thrown under the bus, and a new “widget” (candidate) is found to replace him or her.
Essentially, the process, through attrition, arrogant dismissal, fearful trashing, and the power of purchasing precisely whatever the money already amassed wants renders all participants, both consumers and producers, of the political agenda, and therefore the agenda of the jurisdiction in question, as eunuchs to a master who controls the words, the images and eventually the agenda of the jurisdiction.

And then the wars of opposing “machines”, even machines calling themselves “independents” who have tried to extricate themselves from the worst leg-irons of political parties, or corporations take the same “seducing” or warring steps to defame and destroy the opposition.

It is the metaphor of war, the absolute pursuit of absolute victory, including the elimination of truth, facts, national and international public interest, that drives the system, based on the personal career ambitions of its operatives. Clearly, that equation is lethal for those banking their careers on its stability and authenticity and it is also lethal for the advancement of the public interest.

On the personal career level, of the practicing politicians, (and that seems to include each and every one in the arena) their sacrificing themselves on the altar of power, and that power purchased though the wealth of the deep pockets, renders them as instruments of an agenda cooked in some board room where the names and the real agendas of the participants trumps their individual and unique perspective. Hence, the voter loses (most would argue lost long ago) trust in the individual representative and thereby in the process in which they are each enmeshed. Without the trust of the voter, ii the integrity of the person and the democratic process, a serious level of disengagement, detachment, apathy and cynicism forms a sand dune of separation between voter and representative.

Over and above the personal career issue, the public interest is defined, along with the relevant “data” or facts or science, by those holding the internal code, through their underwriting of the actors and the system.

Of course, a kind of cultural conventional cover exists to normalize these glaring failings. Corporations increasingly expect even demand of their workers a kind of obsequiousness to those in positions of authority (even if those individuals are not exercising that authority in a “responsible” manner)….and the language that  normally tries to make such an unjust system legitimate includes “we are all working on the same page, right?” and “we are all one happy team here” and “everyone must comply with all system requirements in order for the system to operate efficiently.

Under the rubric of efficiency, (read cost cutting) so many rules and regulations are imposed by those in desperate need for control, whether that need is identified or even monitored by those in supervisory positions of those middle managers. After all, without an open door policy that is enforced, whereby a worker can, and is encouraged to, take supervisory decisions to the next one, two or three levels of authority and responsibility higher in the organization, the injustice perceived and alleged coming from the  original agent, will remain locked within the department, keeping the secret of the abuse of power from the eyes and ears of those who have the authority and responsibility at the senior levels.

So there is the blatant purchase of our attention and ‘consumption’ not only of products but also of personalities and their ‘promises’, with little more than a thin veneer of factual information, and a giant dollop of theatrical effects, by which we are lured into conformity.

And then there is the outright buy-out of those products and personalities by those with the deep pockets. And then there is the framing of the agenda by the puppeteers whose hands are manipulating the strings of their puppets, for the purpose of using those puppets to ‘front’ for their sometimes hidden, sometimes flagrant, agenda.
Profit in cash, investments, dividends, or repeated success in electoral politics, or persistent rising stock prices and the bonuses that accrue from that dynamic….these are all at the heart of the human side of the enterprises.

And the balkanization of both the electorate and the elected representatives into some titular “identity” marginalizes both groups into the “means to achieve the ends of others” whom they neither know nor fully comprehend.

We are engaged in a massive duplicitous scheme of self-sabotage, as citizens, journalists, financial agents, corporate executives, political operatives and left out of the equation are those fighting to decide between food and prescriptions for good health, those who are rendered worthless as the poor, the incarcerated, the racially unfit, the uneducated and the refugee. Who, facing such imposing odds would not be likely to bend, if not break, under the weight of such gloom, depression and hopelessness.

Occasionally, as is the case of a young indigenous man in Alberta, when facing his own suicide from a high bridge over a fully flowing and deep river, finds the morning sun shining from above, as a warm glow, moving from his forehead to his nose and chin, and providing the kind of energy that permits his depression to slip from his consciousness and his shoulders. And then, having reversed his decision to take his life, he searches for ways to help others, creating his own indigenous art murals, attracting the critical acclaim of his peers and turning his attention to public service “so others will find the same kind of relief and promise and new life that has been opened to him. Statistically such examples are rare and for their uniqueness, are so memorable.
However, unless and until there is a dramatic shift in where power lies and how power is deployed, and for which agenda items (in the public interest) it is used, such stories of individual reclamation will remain the exception and not the rule.

And along with that kind of rarity, the missing trust for the other, the key to determining whether that trust is or is not misplaced, will continue to remain hidden. And so long as we do not trust enough to find out if the other is trustworthy, by trusting first, we will operate from a kind of deficit that is mountainous, even when compared with the American national debt.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

"Decade Zero" (Naomi Klein)....will we awaken in time?

Sometimes, it is important to revert our attention away from news broadcasts and concentrate on the weather reports, especially those that send red flags up the pole that demand the attention of every person on the planet. Such reports are not conservative, liberal, democratic, communist, alt-right or socialist: they are dire warnings about the future.

Yesterday, flights were cancelled in Sacramento CA, because the tarmac asphalt was too hot and soft to bear the weight of airplane wheels without breaking through and sinking into the ground. And this phenomenon has been occurring intermittently for many years in various locations across the United States.

Record temperatures are being recorded in many cities in the southwest United States, with some rising to some 124 degrees Fahrenheit. Such reports, by themselves, while unlikely to be disputed by the current U.S. administration, are apparently not adequate to ‘move’ decision-makers to an effective, conscientious and determined commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Jared Kushner’s single public statement yesterday, as one of the most influential voices in the White House about providing services to people through the private sector contributes not a single syllable or energy molecule to the global threat from rising temperatures. Private, for profit corporations will do everything they can to avoid, evade and counter any government regulations on their carbon emissions.

Recent drought-based incendiary outbursts in Portugal left some 60 dead, many having died in their cars while trying to escape the inferno. Simultaneously, an apartment tower in London is an unstable skeleton of its former self, with another several dozen dead and many more homeless, having lost literally everything they owned. While the London fire may not be attributable to global warming and climate change directly, the refusal of authorities to listen to legitimate and repeated cries of the impending danger from both occupants and building experts (who knew of the dangers of the cladding on the building) is a parallel process in the wider world. Authorities, especially the United States administration, are tone deaf, as well as climate deniers, to the growing chorus of plaintive and informed voices about the dangers we all face from global warming and climate change.

In her ground-shaking book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein calls this “Decade Zero” since she believes our shared situation has to be sorted out within the next ten years. Focusing squarely on the future of capitalism as culprit, Klein posits that if capitalism beats the climate, it means famine dramatic sea-level rise and increasing weather disasters. Maybe capitalism survives on a dying planet while holding power over increasingly depleting resources and thereby imposing even greater hardship on a voiceless minority of survivors.

Given her concept that 20% of the world’s population has generated 80% of the world’s carbon emissions, there is a clear and present danger in the starting point to reverse the process. Those responsible, the first world nations, are loath to sacrifice the necessary cash to the developing world to enable them to implement emission restricting technologies, and equally difficult will be the developing world’s leaders to let the polluters off the hook when it comes to implementing the nearly 200-country sign-off on the Paris climate agreement.

And there is an even more complicating reality to any resolution of the problem, permitting the planet to ‘trend’ toward a mere two-degree rise in temperatures. Since it is primarily for-profit corporations who have emitted the largest percentage of the choking carbon, any attempt to put the weight of both moral and ethical responsibility for the dangers as well as financial compensation to ameliorate the threat on those companies will take a kind of government so empowered with a titanium spine of all sitting legislators from all political persuasions, that the scenario is almost beyond the reach of most imaginations.

In many quarters ordinary people have lost trust and confidence in government institutions, given their apparent eunuch-behaviour to take action on most of the more grave files they face. And there is little to no indication that such trust and confidence can or will be readily restored looking at the current governments on which the world depends, and into the near and medium-term future.

Budget cuts on social policies needed by people, in order to provide tax relief for those least in need of such cuts, is an approach favoured by many conservative politicians and their capitalist cheque-writers. Already, then, the needs of workers, and those living in poverty, un-or-under-employment, those suffering from the impediments to a post-secondary education necessary for adequate employment in a rapidly changing job market are suffering, as are the individuals and families in those desperate straits.

The apparently permanent embedding of these attitudes of insouciance and indifference to the needs of the voiceless does not bode well for an effective resolution to the threat of rising temperatures rising sea levels and increased climatic disasters. In fact, these attitudes along with the accompanying greed, spell not merely anxiety going forward but sheer panic eventually if they are not countered, and dissipated and replaced by shared commitment to collaborate, to ‘go green’ and to shift the weight of the cultural pendulum in all countries away from corporate dominance, control and reckless disdain for all forms of life.

Rich countries continue to pour millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, and continue to purchase manufactured goods from the developing world where emission standards. The use of fossil fuels for manufacturing  and the mutual dependence on the products produced continues the clouds of noxious gases into the atmosphere. Animal populations are  being depleted, ocean ecosystems are being destroyed, pipelines and fracking increase the potential for pollution of clean drinking water for millions and some governments, especially the United States under trump, continue their wanton disregard both for the environment and for the people, plants and animals that are already suffering.

The scientific truth that a single storm, hurricane, tsunami, forest fire or drought cannot be directly linked to the ravages of global warming and climate change ought not to be permitted to excuse our collective failure to reduce emissions, and our equally heinous complicity in permitting the capitalists to continue to govern by their greed and their moral and ethical vacuity.

Their argument that jobs depend on the continued use of fossil fuels, too, cannot be substituted for the real evidence that green energy jobs have and could continue to rise at a rate even more rapid than the rate of fossil-fuel dependent jobs.

The culture war is not only about health care, about an opiod crisis, the raising or lowering of taxes for the rich or the increase in military spending. It is also a deep divide over whether the climate is in danger and whether there is still time to lower the dimensions of the threat.

So far the evidence of official institutional/governmental willingness to take the threat seriously seems minimal, when compared with the dimensions of the threat. The issue, too, is not amenable to a single bullet solution. Nor is the solution dependent on military intervention, which could result if nothing or not enough is done to prevent and to reduce the threat.

Will we turn down the planetary temperature in our lifetimes? There is such a little time left!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Citizens of the world...take action for decency, civility and hope

What a week!

·      A massive and potentially criminal fire kills (current count at 17 and rising) and leaves dozens homeless in the heart of London, after cries of flammable siding and an unsafe building for a long time.
·      A Special Counsel investigation in Washington that now points its investigators at ‘obstruction of justice’, money laundering, collusion with Russian authorities, and contempt for the constitution.
·      A planned and targeted assassination attempt of Republican Congressional members practising for an annual charity baseball game in Alexandria VA, leaving at least one man in critical condition after three surgeries.
·      A pathetic and universal ‘wringing of hands’ in Washington that such violence has come to impact the government representatives, following months, even years, perhaps decades of political rhetoric that can only be depicted as “hate speech” and character assassination…how ironic!
·      Russian designed and delivered propaganda denigrating the “gay” Canadian military personnel deployed to Latvia, with posters of former disgraced criminal Russell Williams, to defame the Canadian presence in the eyes of Latvians.
·      An epic miscalculation in political strategizing by Theresa May, crippled Prime Minister of Great Britain, whose negotiations with the Northern Ireland right-wing party to enable her to cling to power are threatened by Sein Fein.
·      Another massive attack by Al Shabab in Somalia against innocents.
·      A Russian claim to have killed ISIS leader Al-Zarkawi on May 28, whether true or not, is yet to be confirmed.
·      Putin’s smirking and haughty and ironic/sarcastic offer of “asylum” to fired F.B.I. Director James Comey, if he is suffering political persecution in the United States.

And none of this “news” even mentions the presidential tweetstorm calling the Mueller investigation a “WITCH HUNT” and efforts to prove collusion “zero”….or the counsel from the president’s wife that he would be wise not to fire Mueller.
There is a deep and tragic irony in the fact that the current occupant of the oval office called for the investigation and imprisonment of his presidential opponent throughout the campaign, and now the facts on the ground have him personally in the cross-hairs of the Justice Department initiated investigations. And who in the Republican party could not have foreseen this turn-around, even two years ago, on this date (June 16 2015), when the man descended the escalator to announce his candidacy for the highest office in the western world. His biographer(s) and his legal trail, his former tenants and unpaid workers and the many defrauded “students” of trump university could all have offered empirical, sworn testimony to the man’s “unfitness” for office. Yet none of the candidates who opposed him in the Republican party, and not enough of the voters were willing to see through the “fog of war” that enveloped his campaign.

There is also a glaring dis-connect between those “office holders” and their respective “electors”. In Britain, Theresa May is considered untrustworthy and arrogant, and out of touch. The decision to go to the polls, a “wooden” campaign and the apartment fire, linked to the cost-cutting she performed as Home Secretary resulting in fewer public services like fire and police have all taken their considerable toll.

In the United States, trump is clinging to a 36% popularity in the latest opinion polls, while his dis-satisfaction rating hovers around 65%. Every time he puts another ‘foot in his mouth’ on twitter, he drives another nail into both his political and legal coffins.  The shooting at the Republican ball practice, by someone who is purported to have volunteered in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, while a deplorable act of violence, also speaks to the social, political and cultural divide that is succeeding in tearing the political fabric needed for civility and for legislative governance.

Reports of some 154 mass shootings, 6880 gun-related deaths and 13,504 firearm-related deaths in the United States, in 2017 alone (Fortune magazine), are so reprehensible, unforgiveable and tragic that they comprise a cultural diagnosis verging on mortality.  

Most of these shootings go unreported, as do the deaths that result. However, make no mistake, the United States is, if not the most violent, certainly one of the most violent nations on the planet. And the verbal violence that comes in the many utterances from the president have clearly contributed significantly to the negative and dangerous trend. The National Rifle Association, through both funding of political campaigns and propaganda advertising have such a strong grip on the consciousness of the “right” that not only do they not “see” a problem with these statistics, they actually believe that more guns would make their country safer, and reduce the number of deaths resulting from mass shootings.

This kind of paradoxical belief system and turning reality upside-down, believing that more of the problem is the solution to the problem seems to be indigenous to many right-wing voices. A similar pattern is evident in the new EPA, whereby the removal of regulations initiated by Obama to reduce CO2 emissions, will result in more reductions; and a similar ostrich-approach seems to be emerging in the proposals for a health act, whereby some 24 million Americans will lose their health care coverage, while the $800 million cuts to Medicaid will generate a substantial tax cut for the top 1%.....and the Republicans will continue to call their bill (however it emerges from Conference) a “health care bill.”

If Theresa May is judged to be “out of touch” by a majority of British voters, imagine just how out of touch these American politicians must be. Their figures have to be off the charts, and with an election for all 600+ members of the House of Representatives coming in November 2018 (a mere 18 months from now) the results, should the current patterns of behaviour continue, could be (and hopefully will be) disastrous for Republican.

Turbulence, impermanence, uncertainty, and even instability are qualities now dominating the political culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Mix in the terror threat and the wariness that we all put on with our morning jackets when we venture off to work each day, and we have ample and in-our-face evidence that proves conclusively, “We really are all in this together!”

Trade, and the exchange of money are not the only matters flowing through the swiss-cheese borders of the world’s nations. Culture, in its many rooted aspects, is also flying around the world, not merely in news and information but also in attitudes and philosophies. Racism, misogyny, poverty, resistance to immigration, disease, hatred and especially hopelessness are marching with millions of bytes, thousands of assault weapons, and the flow of illicit money in various forms and faces, some religious and others merely ideological.

And the level of urgency that we collectively are bringing to the table to push back seems so entangled in what to these eyes seem to be narrow, narcissistic, parochial and delusional housekeeping, generating a fog of confusion, and inaction and feeding a petty appetite for vengeance, vindictiveness and bullying.

Of course, that last sentence is an over-simplification. However, it does make a point that we each have a growing responsibility to take whatever steps are open and available to us to become citizen activists for civility, respect, collaboration and a movement away from the superficial tokenism that feeds political careers, and not the peoples’ needs and interests. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Conspiracy theories, a noose around the neck of truth and human civility

If you think that trump’s megaphone declaring the main stream media “fake news” and the Russian investigation a ‘which hunt’ and his administration being “under siege” by the Democrats who will not accept responsibility for losing the election, then you might have been sleeping under a rock for the last few months.

The latest “conspiracy theory” complete with internet crowds of believers holds that the Sandy Hook massacre of first and second grade children and their teachers did not happen. They misrepresent it as another hoax (similar to trump’s attitude on global warming and climate change) and they are harassing the grieving parents accusing them of selling their children to a trafficking ring in smuggled children. Alex Jones, the voice of this conspiracy theory, was recently interviewed by Megan Kelly, new host of an MSNBC Sunday night program, recently of Fox news and trump target, is naturally arousing vehement and also tragic emotions among the grieving parents for his callousness contempt for the truth and for the dead children.

Formerly we had the holocaust deniers, Ernst Zundel who lived in Toronto before      his extradition back to Germany, being one of the more prominent North American voices for their contemptible cohort of disbelievers. And then we had the tobacco companies denying that their products generated cancer, and pouring millions into a disinformation campaign that stalled the truth, and sustained their profits, while killing millions, for decades. And then we had (and still have) global warming and climate change deniers like trump and the coal mining companies among others whom David Suzuki characterizes as a disaster on climate change.

Disavowing empirical facts, literally slaughtering and then burying those facts, is a legacy of every military conflict from history. To normalize that slaughter, far more significant and historically deforming than all of the abortions ever performed, both therapeutic and back-alley, is a perspective, attitude, believe and practice “up with which we will not put” (to quote Churchill). We, all citizens on the planet, have very few defenses left to protect us from the abuse of lying, deceiving, distorting and conspiracy theorists who seek to dominate our lives. The truth continues to hold our only hope for, not victory, but survival.

And we are talking about not merely political survival, nor planetary survival, but also personal survival. If the truth can and will be so defamed and disavowed in our public discourse, then of course it will be denied in our professional and personal lives. Our privacy is already threatened by the incompatibility of out-of-date laws and the out-of-control development of technology.

Just the night before last, my wife and I were involved in a car accident, which required our staying in our vehicle until police arrived. While we waited, some idiot with a smart phone must have taken a picture of the incident and posted it, without our permission and even without our knowledge to a facebook page, for the world to witness, and from which to draw whatever spurious conclusions. We are appalled at the abuse of our privacy, the ubiquitous presence of snooping cameras and our total powerlessness to prevent or to have the photo removed. (And we were not at fault. Imagine the wrath of the other driver!)

So, pushing back must continue and also grow louder and more effective:

·      on behalf of the grieving parents of Sandy Hook,
·      the grieving families of cancer victims whose lives were cut short by the greed and profiteering of the tobacco companies, and
·      the million of coal miners whose filled with coal dust, and
·      the millions of asbestos workers whose lungs filled with asbestos fibres,  and
·      the countless garment workers in the developing world whose lives have ended or been ruined by faulty building structures, greedy and unscrupulous capitalist owner/operators and omitted monitors and inspectors from the developed world countries and their own capitalists who cannot be excused for their complicity
·      the families of victims in Sandy Hook, Columbine, San Bernardino, London, Manchester, Paris, Madrid, Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, and New York (this list is becoming endless!)
·      the refugees drowning in the Mediterranean and their grieving families from warlords who refuse to seek truce and greedy smugglers who refuse to use safe boats

There is a growing army of people who are finding themselves (ourselves) caught in a vortex of unscrupulous venomous and potentially deadly conspiracy theorists, among whom must be counted the current occupant of the Oval Office. Whether we are suffering from the conspiracy theories of the trump campaign, the putin regime, the right-wing media, the terrorists or the dictators like Bashar Assad, or the refusal to answer legitimate questions by the politicians grafted to trump, we are living in a world “under the looking glass” and that world is simply neither sustainable nor generative of healthy living.

This morning’s news says law suits on the abuse of power, and the non-compliance with the emoluments clause have been brought by the Attorneys General in  Maryland and D.C. and Senator Blumenthal, respectively, against the president.

This piece applauds these legal initiatives and all other initiatives that plead the case for truth, and the pushback against the conspiracy theorists who wish to shape reality to conform with their tragic and deplorable need for absolute power and control, no matter how big the organization or how desperate the injustices they wish to perpetrate and/or deny.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

"Weather forecast in Washington"....turbulence foreshadowing hurricane

If there ever was any doubt about the narcissism of the current occupant of the Oval Office in Washington, Thursday’s testimony by fired F.B.I. Director James Comey put that doubt to rest.

Asked if the president ever asked about how the United States might begin to address the issue of Russian interference in the election in the nine conversations Comey had with the president, Comey answered, “I do not recall any.” Even to begin to act as a president is expected, even required, to behave, is simply beyond this person. His own personal reputation, mask, ego, and inordinate need for affirmation, confirmation, adulation, obeisance, and (his preferred word) loyalty are the bottom line agenda for the administration, and thereby for the country.

Policy be damned, replaced as it must be under this person, by an insufferably insatiable voracious ego! Drop a missile here, throw out a tweet there, toss off another ad hominum there, and keep putting all ten fingers and ten toes in the mounting number of holes in the dyke of normalcy, respectability, responsibility, truth and respect for the nation he has been elected to serve.

Forget the legal threshold for high crimes and misdemeanours for impeachment proceedings. The political threshold is far more realistic and appropriate. “Contempt for the constitution,” as one Harvard Law professor put it, is clear from this president, and that by itself is ground for impeachment. Not incidentally, there are reports of a Democratic Congressman from Texas who has announced he is preparing articles of impeachment, in spite of the death threats he is receiving. While that may sound like another ‘Texas-crazy’ piece of behaviour, it clearly sounds courageous, if not outright dangerous.

Sucking all the air out of the political discourse in the United States, trump is now in receipt of a congressional demand to produce “tapes”or “records” of the Comey conversations by June 23. Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, for his part, has hired the most capable and the smartest criminal lawyer in the country as part of his staff, signalling the potential trail to criminal proceedings toward “obstruction of justice” as a path he is now following. Comey, in answer to a question as to whether he believed the president had ‘obstructed justice’ answered that ‘that is a question Bob Mueller will be pursuing’. Comey’s answer to the question, “Why did you think it necessary to made notes on your conversations with the president?” pointed directly to the belief, “I thought he would lie about the conversations.”

Calling trump’s defamation of both him and “more importantly the F.B.I.” “lies pure and simple” is another layer of the onion peeling off the reputation of the chief executive. “Lordy, I hope there are tapes!” is another corroborating piece of evidence in a rising tide, that supports the credibility and the integrity of the fired F.B.I. director, echoed ever so vacuously by trump, “I would 100% agree to testify under oath to the Special Prosecutor”. Wherever there is a personal challenge, this fake pugilist has to ‘up the ante’ in an attempt to ‘best’ his opponent at every turn.

From bakeshops to village street corners, to the most banal business transactions, the Comey hearing was ‘top of conversation’ for the Canadians I encountered on Thursday. Almost lost on the horizon of the public consciousness was the British election, in which Theresa “Mayhem” (borrowing a tabloid headline from London, on Friday) grossly miscalculated in her pursuit of a “strong majority” to embolden her in negotiations to divorce Great Britain from the European Union. Lost too were the two speeches in the Canadian House of Commons, first by the Minister of Global Affairs and second by the Minister of Defense.

In Christia Freeland’s half-hour address, she outlined a new, almost revolutionary policy and approach to Canada’s attitude to the world, following the turbulence and shrinking from leadership of the American administration. More assertive, less dependent, more independent and less obsequious, in relation to the United States, some pundits are declaring this “Canada’s Declaration of Independence” moment. Counterpoint to the Foreign Affairs Minister’s speech, the Minister of Defense projected a $14 billion increase in spending on the Canadian military, including new war ships and 88 (as compared with the Conservative’s 65) new fighter jets, over a ten year period. Most of this defense spending is not projected to roll out before the next election in 2019, some of it even out as far as 2023 begging the question, “Is this a political ruse to “quiet’ trump’s call for more military spending, in the hope that he will have disappeared from the world stage prior to the actual roll out of the massive expenditures, without having to incur the wrath of Canadian “peace-niks” who could express their disagreement with the Liberals in the ballot box in 2019? (Count this scribe among those “peace-niks” who believe that no country is safer dependent upon the size and number of its hard power military instruments, in a cyberwar-focused world.)

Lost in the din of the trump-Comey furor too is the deep divide between the president and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, on the move to isolate Qatar by five neighbouring states, because Qatar is an active sponsor of terrorism. Tillerson called for those isolating states to soften their approach to Qatar while trump condemned the state in his press conference with the Romanian president at the White House. Such open gaps between a president and the Secretary of State, not only weaken the Secretary but sow seeds of doubt and confusion in world capitals about the real intent, trustworthiness and credibility of the United States.

Almost lost in this personality war between Comey and trump is the big elephant in the room, “Did the Russians have collusionists from the trump campaign in their cyber-war to interfere with the election in November 2016? So far, the tempest between Comey and trump is deflecting public attention away from that monstrous historic invasion. There is little doubt the issue will escape the purview of both the Special Counsel and the appropriate Congressional Committees.

All the while these various ‘riffs’ are playing, the “weakened” presidency grows as evidence across the many departments. We can see the theme in the approach to the environment, to education, to Medicare (proposing to gut $800 million in a new health bill), already in the Justice Department in both the failure to fill significant posts, and appointing people like Sessions who has already had to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. There can be no doubt that the first few months of this new administration have gone a long way to achieving the Bannon edict to “deconstruct the administrative state” as the hallmark of the white-supremacy-committed administration. There is nothing from this administration that would demonstrate a commitment or an intent to empower the vulnerable, to enhance to opportunity of the disadvantaged, to secure the hopes and aspirations of  the poor and the powerless. In fact, secretly, behind closed doors, taking advantage of the hullabaloo and the cleig lights focused on the White House melodrama the Republican Senate is currently preparing a health bill that will likely strip some 23-24 million Americans from health insurance leaving them to the mercy of emergency departments and life-defying choices.

Jazz musicians improvise while flowing around a common rhythm and even with a subtly inserted melody. To the ‘newby’s ear’ the sound they make may resemble a kind of cacophony. However, they are so ‘together’ and so engaged in a common musical purpose and their integrity is beyond dispute. The current American political/judicial turbulence, perhaps emerging as a full-blown hurricane in the not-too-distant future, has none of the ‘structure’ nor the license nor the imagination nor the unity and beauty of the polished jazz performance. Tragic! 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Is our self-imposed repressed conformity another self-sabotage?

Have you ever noticed how your eyes, and those of everyone in the room glaze over when listening to an accountant present a report on an organization’s financial landscape? Similarly, when an academic expostulates on the nitty-gritty of a theory in physics, astronomy, micro-biology, or on the algorithms that infest our digital devices? Or, even more traditionally, when a politician or a bureaucrat digs deeply into a matter of public policy….often that glaze morphs into total sleep.

There are, mixed with such cocktails, moments of what become epic in the life of an individual, family or country because they are so memorable, moving, uplifting, inspiring and authentic. And those moments are engraved in the hearts and imaginations of all who encounter them, in their original presentation, or from a “record” years later. Some examples include:

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your
 country.”(President Kennedy)

“Give Peace a chance!” (John Lennon)

“Yes We Can!” (Barack Obama)

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

(When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime minister and his divided Cabinet, ’In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck!” (Winston Churchill, Ottawa, Dec. 30, 1941)

Composers also generate melodies and rhythms that are so magnetic they become an integral, even intimate, ingredient in the public (and private) consciousness. There is a clarity and a particular quality to the ‘riff’ that evokes memory, long forgotten scenes, former friends and family, and they ‘connect us to each other. Similarly, painters, playwrights, novelists and actors, dancers and singers are constantly searching for that ‘aha’ moment when their life experience and vision and hope and purpose and meaning seem to align in what today we might call a “laser” insight.  This profound link between the one (originator) imagination and the rest of the world has so much resonance, we are moved to pause, drink in whatever is happening and somehow determine to “store” the feelings and the sensibilities for future reference.
The sources of our individual memory banks may differ. Nevertheless, we all share such moments, from our personal lives, as benchmarks, signs and markers in time that will live forever in and through us.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was the one who introduced this scribe to the notion “Politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose!” And while there is an obvious link between the two (poetic promises have to be executed in legislation), there is a different rhythm, melody, harmony and counterpoint to each.

Some argue that the tension that vibrates between the two kinds of experience (poetry and prose) is the kind of tension that beats through our veins and arteries, our horizons from morning to night, our seasons from hot to cold, and our personal choices. It is not that the binary oscillation does not offer multiple options between the extremes but that in our confusions, ambiguities, uncertainties, misunderstandings and fogginess we continue to search for beacons that help to orient us and to reassure us that we are not “losing it” completely.

Each of us has a small cupboard filled with aphorisms that we had “fed” to us in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood when we were most impressionable. And many of these shibboleths take on a life of their own through repeated expression and application in different situations with different people. Occasionally, one or two of them will be challenged by the events we go through, often shattering a belief or perception which we would never have previously believed was possible.

My father’s “good men do not choose divorce” when explaining his choice to remain in an obviously highly stressful marriage for over sixty years, is an example of such an aphorism. In fact, it could be argued that much of the maturing process involves the “shattering” of the myths or cracker-barrel philosophies that had embedded themselves in our families, towns, schools and cultures.

Such convictions, as that of my father, cut both ways: they provide a ‘firm’ foundation of moral propriety and ethical stability and they also lock the individual into a “belief” cell from which there is no key to unlock the door. Just as the inspiring quotes, riffs, canvases and dramas offer insight and inspiration, they can also so enrapture some to exaggerated adulation and commitment to a cause/person/cell/ideology.

Unfortunately, what we are watching and listening to in this culture is an exchange of inspiring and toxic reductionisms each vying to outdo the other side in their extreme natures. The One Love Manchester benefit concert on Sunday inflated the “love” balloon in a direct response to the venomous hate of the earlier terrorist attack in that city and the London attack of Saturday night. And as an emotional antidote to the hellish slaughter of innocents, for an audience of primarily adolescents, not only did it raise some $4 million to support the victims and their families, it was “a brief relief in the general drama of pain” (this time of terror). The quote is from the fatalist Thomas Hardy, from The Mayor of Casterbridge …”happiness is….”

What we humans are doing, (this is also not rocket science!) is processing both internal and external messages often when those messages are in direct conflict, and too often in conflict coming from the same source (our own or another). As processors within the natural system, we seek survival and a healthy life. And, at the same time, we know that we are incomplete and imperfect as is the world we inhabit. And riding a series of waves of emotion, some of which we consciously articulate and “manage” while others throw us off our little psychic ‘ski-boards’, we interpret and emit messages and interpretations of varying colours, tones, rhythms and moods sometimes consciously sometimes not.

Such a turbulent cocktail of both emotions and thoughts inside will inevitably generate a storm of conflicting ideas, feelings and conflicted and simultaneous moods. Of course, anyone near such volcanic eruptions will be confused and likely “put off” by the complexity of the many layers of the “message”. And yet, if we were to be truly and fully honest with ourselves and our fellow humans, we would openly acknowledge the profound variety, complexity, changeability and vicissitudes of our “living system” of our body/mind/spirit.

It is our hard-wiring to be “social” (meaning connected to the human race, and needing the human race for our continuing growth and development) that reverberates with vibrating sounds, words, looks and attitudes in direct response to our stimuli. As the one who “takes all the oxygen out of the room” (in his case the planet) the current occupant of the Oval Office operates as a repeating echo chamber of vacuity, while providing water-cooler conversation across the globe. Never mind his specific chosen media, his messages are full of sound and fury signifying nothing….except the hollow reverberations of his empty ego and self.

And we quite naturally respond in dismay, incredulous that such an example of humanity would have the nuclear code at his disposal. Similarly, we have deep and profound attitudes and reactions to other shouting “ghosts” like putin and kim jong un, and more recently duterte.

On the other hand, people like Obama, who spoke in Montreal at the invitation of the Board of Trade in that city, to a sold-out crowd of 6000+ returned to his consistent theme of confidence and hope in democracy, with glancing references to the American divorce from the Paris Accord, and the dismantling of Obamacare. His tone, vocabulary, openness, confidence and his very presence are not only the antithesis to his successor, but are also a kind of music that more closely evokes the music of love from Manchester, while avoiding the simplicity and the depth of emotion of that melody.

It is the great composers, poets, writers, painters and dancers who have given us a city of museums filled with examples of the juxtaposition of beauty in context, roses with thorns, phrases and characters and narratives that inspire and uplift while also causing tears and pathos. We hear so often of people who wish to be artists being counselled to “get a real job” as if the accounting, legal, medical, bureaucratic, scientific job market is more likely to pay the bills (and there is some truth in that wisdom).

Yet the truth is that “reality” of the human condition, including all wholistic assessments of its poetry and prose, its challenges and dreams can never be separated, segregated nor compartmentalized leaving conflicting parts divorced from each other. No matter how virtuously and energetically we determine to “box” emotions out of history, or feelings out of the lab, or hope out of the headlines of assassination, or aspiration out of the garbage of our landfills our efforts will, thankfully, always be in vain.

The artists and the prophets and the visionaries and the shamans and the seers all know this, accept it and continue to remind us, if we are open and willing to suspend our disbelief, that our reality, both internal and external is complicated,  complex, intertwined and not amenable to the most dramatic of chemical, physical, psychic, theological or philosophic experiment that would determine the distillate….the human spirit is not now, and was not yesterday, and will not be tomorrow amenable to dissection, regardless of how high the purpose of that pursuit.

And yet our headlong, headstrong determination to make sense our of reality by parsing it into micro even nano components, while enlightening for some abstract and perhaps even necessary application (the design of serums that comport favourably with our DNA, for example) will not help us to cross the threshold of accepting as both normal and edifying, instructive and cumulatively ennobling the truth that we embody conflicting thoughts, feelings beliefs and attitudes to the same people, topic or place, at the same time.

It is our so-called rational and pedantic intellects that demand we master our universe, and to do that we must reduce the scope of that universe so drastically that we delude ourselves and all others who cross our paths that we have indeed mastered our universe, our lives and our ‘truths’….when we all know that mastery is so much deception, of self and of course of others.

The internal tensions mentioned here are mirrors and lamps of the world around us, and our openness to all of their images, including those images we find unacceptable (as many kids do asparagus, or broccoli) can and will only nurture our persons in ways we cannot either imagine or predict.

Mozart’s symphony # 41 is said by some critics who should know, to be a compendium of conflicting sounds, melodies, rhythms and themes, so complex and complicated as to have slid into the record stacks of stillness and non-playing. And yet, this work, for all of its ‘extremes’ comprises one of the great symphonies of the great masters’s life work.

Here is how The Guardian writes about the 41st Symphony:

This C major symphony is written at the furthest edges of the possible for Mozart, in terms of seeing just how many different expressive and compositional contrasts he can cram into a single symphony. And he’s not doing that for the sake of reconciling these opposites or to create a greater unity…Rather I think he’s trying to achieve a complexity of emotional experience and richness of invention that is poised –sometimes on this side, sometimes on the other! – of a musical cliff-edge of coherence. A bit like the mixed metaphors of that sentence; what I mean is that this is a symphony of extremes, something that’s symbolized in the juxtaposition of the marital and the plangent in the two idea you hear in the symphony’s very first four bars.

Do we all not live on a similar cliff-edge of thought and feeling and observation and judgement and sensibility and conviction?

And if that is true, then why are we so desperate to keep ourselves and everyone around us confined and trapped in straight-jackets of convention, normality, and co-dependent conformity?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Reflections on transforming leadership in a fast-flowing changing culture

One cannot help but note the targets of the Islamic terrorist attacks, that seem to cluster around contemporary scenes and events: popular music concerts, bars, vacation venues, tourist soft targets like Nice on Bastille Day, crowd-magnets of innocent and unsuspecting innocents. One cannot help but note also that these monstrous tragedies feed more similar attacks, in which the most elementary and crude “tools” or instruments are used to kill: vans, transports, knives, home-made bombs strapped to suicide bombers and even fake combat vests to frighten all.

Recruitment, self-fulfilling and sustaining violence as the agent of fear, disorientation and the distraction of building a massive ‘homeland security’ apparatus that takes money and human resources away from the ‘normal’ provision of human services….these are totally irreconcilable forces. Normal anticipated and expected government initiatives (the provision of schools, hospitals, scientific research, foreign aid and even the national security apparatus) all have resources (both fiscal and human) pulled away from their normal pathways in order to be directed to protecting us from these monsters….really petty criminals whose toxic life purpose has been so squashed into wreaking havoc for the sake of more havoc.

One of their most favoured tools is the social media, whose censorship is complicated and impeded by the national laws rules and regulations that do not permit or encourage internationally-imposed restrictions. With most digital companies operating from the United States, for example, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is highly restricted in any impulse to ask that corporation to shut down all accounts accessed by the Islamic terrorists. Freedom of speech, a noble and laudable national value then is turned on itself by these terrorists, as an instrument both of recruitment and strategic planning and execution. And, thus far, the immediacy and urgency of the crisis does not give governments, including the legal systems, either time or open pathways to surgically block the flow of digital information that enables the flow of dangerous information (how to make a bomb) and the flow of money to finance these operations. Information sharing, another laudable and worthy value, especially between national security officials and departments, while potentially enhanced by digital technology, does not have a similar infrastructure that we have built to research and attack biological microbes like the ebola virus.

And this new transnational terrorist threat can be compared with a microbial virus, lethal, constantly morphing, spreading in ways we have yet to block, and for which we do not have an antidote sufficiently sophisticated that it can effectively combat this toxic virus. The military and the law enforcement components of our established institutions, while over-worked and potentially underfunded in many quarters, are by definition (not by competence) inadequate to defeat this enemy.

Even the galloping advances in technology are part of the “problem” in that the terrorist cells are on the cutting edge of technology, and the institutions that are designed to protect citizens in many countries are scrambling to catch up and to stay ahead of the moving and morphing technology. So there is both a micro and a macro aspect to just the technology divide: micro in the specific devices, and macro in the cross-border legal ‘protections’ and barriers to international co-operation.

To say that the world, no matter where you live, is growing increasingly uneasy, is an understatement. To say that the world will not surrender or yield to the terrorist threat is also an understatement. Witness, the upcoming concert in Manchester later today, both as an act of defiance and as a fund-raising opportunity, that will be broadcast around the globe. To say that Muslims of good faith have an integral role to play in the universal effort to combat Islamic terrorism is another understated truth. To say that the non-Muslim community does not fully comprehend the divide that currently exists within the Islamic world is obvious, and our individual and collective “ignorance” (I do not know) needs to be addressed is also obvious.

Touting platitudes, however, is little more than putting band aids on a deadly tumor: superficial, ineffective and probably more inhibiting than enabling of counter-terrorist research and initiatives by the people who really grasp the nuances of the “disease”. We simply do not comprehend actions like those of trump in selling $365 billion in military materiel to the Saudi’s over the next ten years, the demonstrated long-term funding source of the Salafi version of Islam around the world, and the violent enemy of the Shia Iran, thereby putting America in the middle of this intra-Muslim conflict.

We also do not understand the apparent balkanized efforts between and among nations to combat what muted voices are calling the “scourge of our time”. There is no country, and thereby no city that can confidently claim to be immune to this Islamic terrorist threat. Therefore, there is no perceptible reason to impede collaboration and co-operation even between countries normally at odds or even enemies, from working together deploying their best brains and their best intelligence and their research labs in a concerted, sustained and collaborative initiative on behalf of the world’s people.
Proposing ideas, that most likely have long been considered by the appropriate and deployed “brains” seems somewhat redundant also. The question of whether the world is confounded not by the most creative initiatives to fight Islamic terror but by the problem of securing geopolitical co-operation that is real and trust-worthy leaps to the fore. In many human issues, we face an ideological divide that pits immediate perceived domestic economic needs against longer term global exigencies. This is certainly the case over global warming and climate change, and potentially also over Islamic terrorism.

The Churchillian adage that America will do the right thing after it has attempted all other possibilities is no longer either acceptable or sustainable. Drawing up the draw-bridge over the moat that divides America from the rest of the world (as trump has done on climate) is not only dysfunctional on the issue, it is also modelling an attitude of the ostrich with its head in the sand on other issues. Not that the world defers to America as the sole or prime solution to all world problems. Yet, America’s seat at the table on all global issues can not and must not be left vacant when the world’s interdependence is so glaringly evident.

Devolution to the lowest common denominator, the most isolated and frightened electoral base, on terror and on global warming is not merely short-sighted but also highly dangerous to those very same people.

Collaboration, co-operation and international integration, of course, is far more complicated, and costly and more nebulous of easy identification of the leaders and the followers (not a playing field favourable to dictators) than personal edict. It is also at its root, the only pathway to a political, economic and balanced resolution with the most intransigent people and intractable issues. On intelligence sharing, ingenuity, deconstruction of national and sectoral barriers of pride and independence, and on the search for ways to do different things very differently than our history has previously done, these are at least a minimum that ordinary people of all nations should be able to expect from our political leadership.

We are growing tired of phrases like “We have been quite successful in deterring terrorist attacks” and demand more phrases and actions that demonstrate an international, collaborative and visionary plan that personal political careers are less important to decision-makers than the welfare of the people they serve, not only in their own country but around the globe.

These transnational existential threats will not succumb to merely national placebos or anodynes. Their complexity, severity and persistence require, even demand, the highest and most honest and trust-worthy leadership from all global leaders. And the media that serves as the microphone for world leaders will have to lift their eyes from the hourly ratings numbers, and the instant corporate dividend digital crawl and take stock of their responsibilities offering their audiences a far-more relevant and discerning perspective than the hourly or minute-by-minute dissection of how many people are running down which street and how many ambulances and fire trucks are on the current disaster scene.

We have to demand a different “framing” of our situation, one that serves the long-term interests of all humans, not merely the immediate narcissistic needs of the ‘big boys’ in politics, corporations and media. After all, without us, they are nothing!