Friday, December 31, 2010

Humans not slaves to Trading Elite!

On the last day of a turbulent year, named 2010,  as we begin another calendar year named 2011, let's take a look at some of the kinds of resolutions that would make this world a little more receptive and welcoming and suportive to humans, or in the current vernacular, "user friendly"!
Let's resolve to begin a transformation in the way we measure the success of our social and our political lives, by counting and reporting, not the GDP and the unemployment rates, and not to the balance of trade figures, but the GLOBAL, MONTHLY
  • rate of increase in literacy ( how many more people can read this month than could read last month)
  • rate of decrease in disease and mortality
  • rate of increase in the average length of life figures
  • rate of increase in the number of people who are no longer starving
  • rate of increase in the number of young boys and girls who are enrolled in state sponsored learning
  • rate of decrease in the number of wars in which people are engaged
  • rate of decrease in the number of child soldiers
  • rate of increase in the number of people who support themselves, with help, in their own enterprise.
O.K. you get the picture.
We are concentrating, and have been for far too long, on those figures that the political class considers important, and the reasons they think the current numbers and reporting are important is that they think that economic output, especially production and trade, are the reason for the existence of the society in their country.
Unfortunately, they are wrong.
The trade figures are not the only, or the most important figures by which we ought to be forging our way into the future. They are not even the most important figures that justify the policies of government in any country.
They are the holy grail of the elite, and that holy grail and that elite will have to give way to the rest of the people, whose  lives and whose existence in peace, with adequate food and shelter and water and education and health care must be our global goal...and we must take on these goals in a collaborative, and global manner.
The G8/G20 does not exist for the benefit of the rich people or the rich countries. It exists so that the countries who consider themselves "have's" can negotiate a better life for all those who are "have-not's" both within those countries and across the globe.
We must develop a new global mandate and new global negotiating and arbitrating mechanisms that put our healthy survival as individual human beings at the top of the list of political and cultural 'to-do' list.
And those political and corporate leaders who currenlty believe that THEIR leadership including their unwavering support by the media is the only, and the inevitable and the proper 'way of doing business' must be both challenged and replaced with an agenda that puts our authentic and shared purpose of caring in the spotlight everywhere.
It is not longer tolerable to make and sell billions of dollars of weapons, as part of the economy of any country.
It is no longer tolerable to make and sell pollutants that kill our lakes and rivers and poison our water supply.
It is no longer tolerable to send billions of gallons of gases into the atmosphere, to suffocate the people who work in those industries.
It is no longer tolerable to watch children die because they do not have enough food, simply because we cannot provide an adequate distribution system, not because there is not enough food.
It is no longer tolerable that some children will be educated, and others will not.
It is not longer tolerable that some people are hired, by state governments, to kill other people.
It is no longer tolerable to consider the rest of the world our potential enemy.
It is no longer tolerable to consider "my" religion "better" than "your religion," or even my language and culture better than your language and culture.
It is no longer tolerable to say "we cannot do anything about these things," and turn a blind eye to let those in charge have the playing field to themselves.
Let's make 2011 a year when all people everywhere take back the agenda of our collective life together.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year ...not a bucket list, but an attitude

By Francine Kopun, Toronto Star, December 30, 2010
The most popular goals in Toronto, according to the site, are to stop procrastinating, fall in love, write a book, lose weight, get a tattoo, see the Northern Lights, travel the world, go on a road trip with no predetermined destination and to be happy.

Lose weight, save money and be happy are the top resolutions of 2011 so far, according to the site, which is at 48,000 New Year’s resolutions and counting.
Other lists on other sites range from the impossible and absurd to the predictable, whimsical, clueless and subversive. There are people who want to learn to read minds before they die, walk on water, be in two places at once, fly a hot-air balloon across the country, swim with dolphins and buy bath towels.
Everyone, it seems, has taken to making a list of all the things they want to do before they die. And the Jack Nicholson movie, The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman took the idea to the movie screen. Although I do frequently consider walking the streets of Paris and Rome and Athens and Jerusalem and Sydney and Perhaps even  Beijing and Singapore....I really liked the notion that Martin Luther King offered, to the effect that 'when you have found what it is you would die for, then you are ready to live'....
There is a qualitative difference between a list of actions that one wishes to complete and an attitude in which one wishes to go through each day.
It is a difference that is quite noticeable and the activities list is much more in tune with the culture of the moment, at least in the west.
I once interviewed for a consulting position with a small firm that imported testing materials from a Waco TX firm, to determine the specific skills and attitudes in candidates applying for jobs, so they could sell this 'tool' to prospective employers and thereby help them recruit the kind of candidates for their open positions.
Naturally, I answered the questions as honestly as I could, having been told that the answers would not impact the decision of the executive of the firm, about my potential hire. As part of the process, I was also hosted by a dozen current members of the company, in an attempt to find a fit.
After one of the lunches, the principal of the company noted, with some derision, "Everytime we ask you a question, you respond with a story; you never answer with a list!"
"That's because I do not think in lists," I immediately responded..."It is in stories that we both discover and reveal who we are, " I continued.
So in response to the question, 'what do I want to do before I die?' I would have to tell another story...
It is in rekoning with those people whom I have somehow offended, or pushed away that I would like to put it right.
It is in re-connecting with those people who have deliberately chosen to push me away that I would like to put effort.
It is in being able to tell three daughters just how proud of them and their lives and their accomplishments that I would like to move.
It is in building bridges between the have's and the have-not's that I see opportunity.
It is in thinking clearly about issues that seem to 'grab hold' of my attention, and in writing about those issues with as must clarity and passion and inspiration...that I would like to live each day..
So that includes reading and questioning, reflecting and imagining, intuiting and dreaming and reaching out...in all of the ways offered...including this little project...to inspire others to step up their game, so that they can grasp all of the opportunities that come each day, without having to climb a mountain, or swim an ocean or sailing around the world, or write the great novel, or act in some epic movie....
And as we close out another year, I like to recall holding my newest grand-daughter for the first time, while talking to her mother about holding her for the first time...
And I like to remember and recall those moments when I first met my wife and partner and recalling how they were and continue to be laden with promise...from her eyes, and from her inspiration and from her boundless hope all of which continue to inspire these many years later...
And I want to continue to reciprocate my own enthusiasm and hope into whatever activities seem appropriate...
Happy New Year!





Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Income disparity a national disgrace in Canada

By Linda McQuaid, Toronto Star, December 29, 2010
Over the last three decades, the tables of the rich have overflowed, with barely any scraps falling off. On the contrary, there’s been a massive transfer of income and wealth from Canada’s middle and lower class to the rich.

The result is that Canada has become a highly unequal society.
This is bad news, since a growing body of empirical evidence shows that extreme inequality has a clearly negative effect on a wide range of health, social and economic problems, as well as undermining democracy.
While some degree of inequality is inevitable and even desirable (allowing bigger rewards for those making bigger contributions), the level of inequality that exists today in the Anglo-American countries — the United States, Britain and Canada — is extreme, and almost unique in the advanced world.
This is a dramatic departure from the far greater equality that prevailed in the U.S. and Canada in the early postwar years — from 1945 to about 1980 — when the benefits of economic growth were more widely shared....
As a recent study by economist Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives documents, the top-earning 1 per cent of Canadians almost doubled their share of national income, from 7.7 per cent to 13.8 per cent, over the past three decades.

And the higher up the food chain, the bigger the gains. The richest 0.01 per cent — those now earning on average $3.8 million a year — more than quintupled their share of national income...

As a recent study by economist Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives documents, the top-earning 1 per cent of Canadians almost doubled their share of national income, from 7.7 per cent to 13.8 per cent, over the past three decades.
And the higher up the food chain, the bigger the gains. The richest 0.01 per cent — those now earning on average $3.8 million a year — more than quintupled their share of national income.
The massive upward flow of income has largely been invisible to the public, even though it may well amount to the most significant change in Canadian society in decades.
The impact on Canada’s social fabric is huge and likely to grow. Recent research — particularly the work of British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett — shows that less equal societies almost always have more violence, more disease, more mental health problems, higher infant mortality rates, reduced life expectancies, as well as less social cohesion. The effects are most pronounced at the bottom, but are evident throughout the society.
Perhaps most striking is the finding that people in less equal societies have reduced social mobility. In fact, there’s little upward mobility today in the United States. Those wanting to give their children a chance to actually live the American Dream are better off moving to Sweden.
There’s also evidence linking extreme inequality with serious economic problems. The level of inequality reached in 2008 was virtually identical to that of 1929, suggesting that large concentrations of wealth at the top create a dynamic leading to reckless financial speculation and Wall Street crashes — with their devastating consequences of recession and unemployment.
But perhaps the most important impact of concentrated economic power is on democracy. As the great American jurist Louis Brandeis put it: “We can have democracy . . . or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.”
Income disparity does not wear a turban, nor a burqa, nor a black, or brown or yellow skin, or a clerical collar, or a waitress' or a waiter's apron, nor a mechanic's coverall, nor a teacher's chalk dust, nor a technologist's lab coat....it wears all of these various garbs and identities.
The whole of the Canadian social fabric is stained with the slick oil of the deception of those responsible for this dramatic shift in opportunity, in hope and in confidence, not to mention all of the other more digitally represented deficits referred to by Ms McQuaid in her dramatic piece. There ought to be people rioting in the streets, as they know what is happening to their income relative to the incomes of those at the top of the economic and fiscal pyramid.
At least there ought to be a more audible and visible cry: 
  • for a national election to dump the Conservative government of Stephen Harper,
  • and for a re-written tax code,
  • and for a re-designed social assistance framework,
  • a re-negotiated national health act,
  • and for a national commitment to junk those F35 Fighter Jets and their $20 billion drain on the national budget
It is long past time for the country to dump a government that represents a mere 37% of the electorate but  the division of the votes between the various political parties, including the Bloc Quebecois with its fifty-plus seats, effectively denies any political party a majority in the House of Commons.
Hasn't the Liberal party been punished enough at the ballot box for the incredible misdeeds of its backroom "hacks" in Quebec? Does the country not see past those stupid and relatively minor infractions, to the larger history of a party that governed wisely and compassionately for nearly a century? Is the country more bent on revenge than on its own best interests?
Has the country not been held hostage for too long by a party seeking to dismember the federation?
Has the country not bent over backwards, in its own self-sabotage, for too long?
Only in Canada would the schools not teach the literature of the Canadian writers, while the rest of the world celebrates their work...and only in Canada would the parliament and the judiciary permit a political party dedicated to the dismemberment of the country to hold a large block of seats from a single province, thereby removing the opportunity for any other political party to gain a majority in the House of Commons, and thereby so 'balkanizing' the country politically, that a band of neo-cons can and has taken over the country on behalf of a minority of the electorate. And that minority has deep pockets, and grows them ever deeper.
And the income spread continues to grow, while I write this, and while we all go about our daily chores...silently, steathily and successfully.
As in Ontario, where it has taken decades to undo the damage of the Harris government, in Ottawa, it could take at least two decades to undo the damage inflicted by this government.
And Mr. Ignatieff, so polite and so elegant and so uninspired and uninspiring in his every utterance...on behalf of the millions who seek his party's return to government, (even if in a coalition with the N.D.P) demonstrates that political correcctness, and not political contempt for the policies and practices of the government, generate more interviews in italics and not in 72-point type as is needed.
"We are different from them" is hardly a cry that will echo through the coffee shops and the pubs and the union halls and the board rooms of the nation, when an election is called, as it will certainly be called, likely within the next six months.
These facts in Ms McQuaid's piece constitute a national disgrace. Surely others can and do see that.
Surely, Ms McQuaid is not writing in vain?
Here is just one example of the government's misguided approach:
By Sunny Dhillon, Globe and Mail, December 29, 2010
The (Canadian Taxpayers') federation’s annual study found that while virtually every worker in Canada will pay more, taxpayers in provinces with inflation rates above the national average will see a disproportionate increase. In the federation’s research scenarios, Ontario residents saw an average increase of 4.3 per cent. B.C. and Nova Scotia workers came in at 2.9 per cent.

Mr. Fildebrandt said much of the blame for the increase lies with the Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan programs.
“Nationally, the culprit is EI. The federal government has created new social programs that it’s decided will be funded through EI premiums, even though most of these things have little if anything to do with employment insurance as the words should actually mean.”
The federation – a non-profit group that advocates for lower taxes – pointed to a program that provides $246-million in EI funds as special benefits for fisheries.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Former Educator challenges Canada to redesign Education System

Special to the Globe and Mail, December 28, 2010 by Everette Surgenor
Everette Surgenor retired from B.C.’s education system after 30 years (as teacher, principal, superintendent of schools and regional co-ordinator for the Ministry of Education). He is the author of The Gated Society: Exploring Information Age Realities for Schools.

We’re a nation trapped in our Industrial Age past, struggling to find a future within the realities of a new age. We want to maintain our way of life, our economy, our value system, our cultural norms. But we face challenges that threaten our collective well-being, whether it be illiteracy, climate change, the urban-rural divide, the future of work, sovereignty, infrastructure renewal, privacy and technology issues, delivery of health and educational services, crime, policing or renewable energy. We are in a state of flux, and we feel that many aspects of our way of life are at risk.

There’s no consensus as to what needs to change and why. Consequently, when faced with challenge or change, we frequently revert to the status quo simply because we don’t know what else to do. We’ve enjoyed 200 years of success within the industrial paradigm. But that success poses our greatest threat, and it’s preventing us from making the changes we need to make.
Many people say we’re in the Information Age, but it’s really the shaping of information into knowledge and applications that’s driving this new era. Being able to work and learn in this new environment requires people to possess skills and attributes that would allow them to shape, build, acquire, share and develop knowledge. They must also develop the ability to “unlearn” and “relearn,” as well as adopt new ways to collaborate, co-operate and innovate.
But these aren’t the skills and attributes that most of us possess. Our educational systems were designed to serve another age. That’s why we must redesign those systems. The past two decades of piecemeal reform efforts have been a dismal failure. Any group or individual proposing single-purpose non-systemic reform should be viewed as incompetent and a threat to the common good.
Our country, indeed our world, is facing challenges unlike anything ever encountered. The requirements of citizenship in a democratic Information Age society are higher than those of its Industrial Age counterpart. We need our citizens to think systemically, to apply knowledge and applications, to problem solve and make appropriate decisions. Our very future is dependent on them being able to do so.
Redesigning our learning systems to achieve this outcome requires levels of co-operation and sacrifice not seen since the Second World War. It means designing and developing new models for governance and leadership, as well as assessment and evaluation. It means rethinking the curriculum, new applications for technology, new models for instruction and the training of teachers, new definitions of literacy, and rethinking schedules and organizational structures, as well as blending philosophical positions around a liberal arts education and training for the world of work. A new learning system is the building block for societal change.
Do we have the political will to do this? Well, if we collectively understood the imminent danger to our way of life, we might change. But history is full of examples that show people don’t change until disaster strikes. So who knows. Perhaps in this era of information and knowledge, we just might find the wisdom to shape a different historical outcome. Until then, I remain cautiously skeptimistic.







Bank Profits needed here at home!

By Ian Austin, New York Times, December 28, 2010
Now several of the (Canadian)banks are taking advantage of their solid balance sheets as well as the current revamping and consolidation of the American banking system to again look south for expansion. Last week, the Toronto-Dominion Bank agreed to pay $6.3 billion for Chrysler Financial. And earlier this month the Bank of Montreal bought Marshall & Ilsley, a bank based in Milwaukee, for $4.1 billion.

Given the uneven success of previous forays south of the border, however, few investors expect much good to come of either deal.
“We don’t think it’s a great idea for Canadian banks to be expanding into the American market,” said J. Bradley Smith, the head of research at Stonecap Securities in Toronto. “From a cultural perspective, we’re very similar. But from a management perspective, the American market is not an easy threshold to cross.”
Still, Canadian banks have few other options for expansion.
“The banks simply have no choice,” said Louis Gagnon, an associate professor of finance at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “They have to go beyond our borders to grow and the only market that makes sense is the United States.”
In their home market, Canada’s top five banks — the Royal Bank of Canada, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Montreal — offer a complete range of banking, from retail to investment banking through a nationwide chain of branches. Changes in regulation have also allowed them to expand, on a limited basis, into insurance while most brokerage houses became bank subsidiaries.
That market dominance, and some regulatory restrictions, mean that competition from foreign-owned banks in Canada is limited. At the same time, the managers of Canadian banks are immune from takeover pressures because of federal laws that prohibit any person or company from owning more than 20 percent of a chartered bank.
While that has made for a orderly financial system for Canada that is very profitable for bank investors, the banks now find themselves accumulating substantial capital without effective ways to use it to increase their businesses within Canada.
To the professor of finance at Queen's, one is prompted to ask: "Are there not other countries whose banking systems, while solid and growing, could not use a little Canadian expertise as well as a little Canadian banking investment?"
And also, are there not other ways for Canadian chartered banks to diversify their product offerings, and the role as stimulators of innovation in the Canadian marketplace?
We have a school and health care system that are both begging for substantial underwriting, and while the banks would not be able to invest directly in education as private investors, nor in the provision of health care, they could certainly stimulate scholarship, innovation, foresight, insight and ingenuity in the Canadian education marketplace, for their own long-term benefits. 
We have a derth of funded and cutting-edge research in Canada, excepting the occasional Roman candle like Blackberry, and the private sector is not investing in research at a level that befits, especially, the profits of the chartered banks. Of course, there is the argument that Canadian banks are more like religious institutions in that the are protected from private ownership, and therefore also from private whims.
However, with that protection also comes a social responsibility role.
Naturally, their shareholders need to be protected and that means a substantial return on their investment.Surely, the latest figures demonstrate that that goal has been, and will continue to be, more than adequately met.
It might seem both strange, and even ironic, for someone who did not pass Economics 20 and who has had a love/hate relationship with the banks, for me to be offering advice to these corporate monsters, whose services I both need,  and whose provision of those services I frequently find more than a little distasteful.
It is the arrogance, and the lack of accountability, and the refusal to take some pages from the books of the micro-lender banks in the third world in order to better grow the lives of individuals who could otherwise not afford to make their own way as entrepreneurs, and the subtle shifts in modus operandi with which the banks exercise their privileged position in the Canadian society that really offend this writer.
These corporate elite citizens are built in the form of Greek temples, especially in the older buildings across the country; they assume an air of sophistication and detachment befitting a member of the aristocracy in Great Britain, whose model they are presumably following; they compete like warriors for the business that has already found its way into their competitors files, vaults and accounts; they offer a mere 1-2% on interest-bearing accounts, and charge a whopping (by comparison) interest rate of 5% on home mortgages, and 8-9% on car and "toy" loans, thereby generating such mountains of profit, that they are now looking for "new frontier" to enhance their profiteering opportunity.
Could they not make an ever-so-brief nod, or bow to the Canadian account holders whose needs and whose business have generated such profits? Could they not change their business model, by widening it to include some imaginative, and slightly more risky proposals, so that the lid of risk-aversion that so elegantly serves as the archetype of Canadian financial services is lifted ever so slightly?  Perhaps the banks' profits might look a little smaller, while the number of new ideas, and new ventures and new proposals and through all of these individual iniatives, the cultural expectations of the next two or three generations might be raised because the door of opportunity might have opened just a crack wider.
There is a successful business man in New England, who does not operate a bank, but rather a large retail consumer business in the provision of natural soaps, tooth paste, deodorants and the like. His name is Tom Chappell, and his products are marketed under the brand name of Tom's of Maine. While his employees have the task of both donating 5% of their work-time to needy causes in the community, they also have the task of distributing 5% of the company's profits to other needy causes. Tom, himself, visits local high schools where he asks the faculty and principal to give him the name of those students most "off course" who have no idea what they want to do with their lives, and who are doing very badly in their academic grades.
He then invites these students to breakfast, once monthly, where he discerns their individual passion, and through a formal business plan, and a little financing, turns their passions into the student's own business enterprise. By meeting with them monthly, he is able to monitor and guide these aspiring entrepreneurs into their own success, and, in the process, reverse the downward trend of their grades, enhancing the likelihood of these same former "losers" attending and succeeding at post secondary education.
Why could the banks,with just a little of their profits, entertain and build their own model for such an education/life-skills/transformative experiment?
On another front, in Canada there are some 91 Kiwanis Music Festivals, many of them struggling for financial underwriting. Into these festivals, every year, thousands of young musicians enrol, after spending hours in rehearsal, and in other public performances and then perform for professional adjudication. Many of these young performers are later the recipients of Juno Awards, and go on to fill chairs in local symphonies, and chamber ensembles across the country and around the world. While every Canadian is proud to learn of the Giller prize for writing, donated by the Bank of Nova Scotia, through which the work of Canadian writers is not only juried, but also recognized ( it is certainly hyped as a writers' competition!) there are younger, and less established artists everywhere needing a little incentive. Sponsorships of writing contests, Kiwanis (and other service club sponsored Music Festivals) and local schools for the arts would do much to raise the level of both expectation among the young and among the parents of those same children, while at the same time putting those profits to platinum use.
And the benefits, both in direct revenue, and in public appreciation and in enhaned investment would grow for the next century, to the banks, to the individual artists, and the country generally.
Just a thought.


Monday, December 27, 2010

U.S.:Replace culture of dominance, in order to achieve military cuts

By Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, December 25, 2010
• The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.

• The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?
• The intelligence community is so vast that more people have “top secret” clearance than live in Washington, D.C.
• The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.
This is the one area where elections scarcely matter. President Obama, a Democrat who symbolized new directions, requested about 6 percent more for the military this year than at the peak of the Bush administration.
“Republicans think banging the war drums wins them votes, and Democrats think if they don’t chime in, they’ll lose votes,” said Andrew Bacevich, an ex-military officer who now is a historian at Boston University. He is author of a thoughtful recent book, “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.”
This Kristof piece shines a spotlight on the need to cut military expenditures, a taboo for both Republicans and Democrats. Of course, we agree with Kristof.
However, there is an even more important observation that emerges from this piece: there is a culture of dominance, of hard power, that supports these mega-expenditures. And it is the culture that needs to be shaken until it disintegrates.
And one way to shake that culture of hard power is to point out that, like every other neurotic obsession, it is based on fear, neurosis, of the body politic variety.
The bully in every class does himself more harm than good, by sabotaging his efforts at both respecting himself and at earning the respect of others. And he does this because he is afraid that he is not "seen to be" good enough, or strong enough, or brave enough, or powerful enough, or dominant enough, or 'in charge' enough, or enough of a leader....and the list could go on indefinitely.
Dominance, and the need to feel dominant, carries the seeds of its own demise.
Dominance feeds the insecurities of all of those who breathe the air and drink the water of a culture of dominance. In a sense, everyone drinks from the same 'kool-aid' bowl, and becomes infected with the national purpose of dominance.
That kool-aid is at the core of every American corporation: we must be Number One! We must dominate! We must win! We must build more factories and hire more people that anyone else in our industry. Coca-Cola, for example, bottles and distributes and markets and sells its beverage in 206 countries, more than all the countries in the United Nations. Now that's dominance! No doubt Pepsi's claim would be nearly equal to, if not surpassing Coke's claim of world dominance. McDonald's has a similar claim. The National and American Baseball Leagues claim to be the "best" in the world, as does the NBA. and the NHL (begun in Canada, but laterally taken over by American owners with American money).
And leading the way is the myth of American military dominance, not that it is not true in terms of numbers of forces, numbers and size of equipment, innovation of design and conduct combat operations. The myth is that "this empire within an empire is necessary for the nation to survive".
It is not necessary! It is no longer even justifiable on even the most basic of political power terms or definitions.
In fact, China has publicly declared that it will not build such a military fortress, but will, instead, concentrate on the new technology to carry out its military, offensive, aggressive needs. So, if the Chinese can already "read" the military and state secrets from the American digital technology (declared secret and closed for national security purposes, accessible only to a group whose size equals the population of Washington D.C.) what good will another fleet of submarines, or fighter jets be, in any conflict with the Chinese?
What kind of research is currently going on in the U.S. to determine the negative impact on the education and learning, not to mention hopes and dreams of this culture of dominance, through competitve advantage, in the classroom, in the theatre, in the laboratory, in the boardroom, in the ballot-box, in the subdivision (by the size and cost of the homes expected by such a culture of success measured extrinsically?
What philanthropic would even consider funding such research, because to do so could be considered treasonous, in some quarters?
Having lived and worked in the U.S., and having been raised and educated in Canada, I am one of the most grateful persons alive that  my home is Canada, however often I wish to visit the U.S. and however much I admire the American people.
Whenever I encounter the brashness of the American ambition to be the most powerful, I recoil into what Americans undoubtedly perceive as Canadian lack of self-confidence, or shyness, or reticence. I would never attempt to negotiate with that kind of obstinate pride, simply because to attempt such an effort, would render me impotent. That is not a force with which anyone can negotiate. It says, in large billboard letters, "It's the American Way or the Highway, Brother!"
I'll take the highway every time when and if offered that option, and so, too, will most other countries on the planet.
And on the environment, and the economy, and in education and in health care and the potential to achieve hopes and dreams, America is finding that its numbers do not keep up with its military might, inspite of the dollars it spends on everything, as the single most available and most conventially acceptable solution to every problem....throw money at it, and make it go away!
I hope I live long enough to witness an America that has come to accept the truth that being number one has more deficits and downsides than upsides, and the children of the next several generations will still be able to be happy without the Pentagon as their prime defender.
For once, their values will have to suffice, not enforced by their rifles, their bombs and their drones.
And they will learn that those values do not need their army, navy and airforce, nor their marines to keep them strong.









No Richler in Can. Universities; No Can. Lit. in Canadian Schools

By John Barber, Globe and Mail, December 22, 2010
A quick survey shows that neither Queen’s University, nor the University of Toronto, Concordia University, Dalhousie University, University of Alberta, York University, the University of Saskatchewan and Simon Fraser University name a single work by Richler in lists of texts for either undergraduate or graduate-level courses on Canadian literature.

Among the dozens of authors listed for study in the University of British Columbia’s undergraduate courses in Canadian literature, Richler is mentioned only once. And the Montreal author gets equal treatment in both undergraduate and graduate CanLit courses at McGill University – appearing on only one course list on urban writing as author of The Street, a little-known volume of early stories....
Richler (likewise) offends contemporary literary sensibilities, according to Foran, (author of a new Richler biography entitled "Mordecai: The Life and Times" by Charles Foran), especially what he considers to be the “pinched and ahistorical and impoverished notion of literature” that currently rules the academy. “More and more we want our novels – even those novels taught at the university level – to have simple and clear, preferably progressive thematic concerns,” he says. “They have to relate to progressive politics, they have to relate to social justice. What are these words doing mixed up with literature?”

There are no such programs in Richler novels. The author is condemned because “Duddy cashes the cheque,” according to Foran. The final event of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is the hero swindling his friend. The moral is opaque, to say the least.
Sanitizing the Canadian Literature courses by "respected" academics in Canadian universities, by 'overlooking' Richler's body of work, for reasons that might include Foran's take on the situation, and that might also include Richler's having offended virtually every minority from his own Jewish community to the Quebec separatists and their cause he so savagely ridiculed, is a sin of omission on which Canadian Literature scholars should be called.
This reminds me of an observation by an Ontario psychiatrist early in this decade that from what he could ascertain, no courses in Carl Jung were being offered at the university in the town where he practiced psychiatry for the previous thirty years. In discussion, the most discernible reason to emerge was that Jung's work focused on the unconscious and since empirical evidence for that subject was difficult, if not impossible, to gather, Jung's work was omitted from the study of psychology.
Having just completed reading Irving Stone's novel (Passions of the Mind) based on the life of Sigmund Freud,whose work also concentrated on the importance of the unconscious, and especially the sexual etiology of many, if not all, human neuroses, and learning of the many hurdles the iconoclastic medical researcher, who began as a student of nerology, I find it relatively easy to imagine the 'academic' justifications for not including either Richler or Jung from serious academic study. Another "establishment" feeds on its own credentialled and respected thinkers, avoiding the outsiders.
And yet, such omission seems to go with merely a public whimper of disagreement. We are, after all, dealing with the hallowed halls of the academic community and who would want to challenge the opinions of those whose life work focuses on doctoral studies of Canadian writers.
Compare, for example, the fact that while ten grants for research into the work of Margaret Atwood have been made by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in the last dozen years, only one such grant has been made for research on Richler's body of work (according to the Barber piece in the Globe and Mail.)
And here, for these many decades, I always thought, even wanted to believe, that the universities were created for the search for truth, and that truth included the insights of those writers and thinkers whose work did not fit easily into previously assigned and accepted categories of political correctness. Have we become so perfectly committed to our form of Canadian perfection, including a perfectly unsullied interpretation of our minorities, including the Quebec sovereignists, that Richler's savage treatment of their cause is off limits for the next generations of Canadian students? Are we afraid that those bodies who provide funds, including federal and provincial governments, and large corporations for whom the mere scent of conflict is radioactive, will not provide grants if we cross the line of political correctness? Is the study of Richler's work now being repressed because his iconic and ironic and satiric and even acerbic view of the world that excludes the outsider is so objectionable? What does that omission say about our compulsive attempts to avoid such consideration of the "outsider".
And there's more to upset the casual observer about the fate of Candian Literature in Canadian schools.
By Susan Swan, Globe and Mail, December 24, 2010
For starters, few Canadian books are taught in our schools, and with one or two exceptions, no province has a mandatory course in Canadian literature.

British Columbia and Saskatchewan have legislation ensuring that high-school students study novels and non-fiction books by Canadian writers. And some provinces, like Quebec and Newfoundland, enjoy teaching their own writers.
But for the rest of the country, there’s still a lingering attitude that Canadian literature is substandard, according to Jean Baird, a publishing consultant who fought for legislation that now makes it mandatory for every English Language Arts student in B.C. to study at least one Canadian text a year from Grade 8 to Grade 12.
“We may be one of the few countries in the developed world that doesn’t teach our own literature,” says Ms. Baird, who believes our education system is failing to grow the next generation of readers.
Eight years ago, Ms. Baird did a comprehensive survey of teachers, students and school boards for the Canada Council and found that not many high-school and elementary students could identify Canadian authors. As little as 31 per cent of schools had courses in Canadian literature.
It is not that long ago that, along with a few other secondary teachers, I was proud to host a Canadian Writer's Day for senior students with some dozen or more Canadian authors of some note, who spoke with, and answered questions, both in public forum, and in private conversation, posed by the students.
Earle Birney visited our school for a day, on a solo flight, as did Margaret Atwood, and the students were always very receptive of their presence, their insights and their celebrity, although it would not compare with Justin Bieber's of today. Other Canadians Writer's Days were held in various parts of Ontario, and some of us took students to meet authors like Farley Mowat and the infamous Judy LaMarsh, who had just recently written "A Bird in a Guilded Cage" as her political autobiography.
Were we so naive, and so unsophisticated, back then, that contemporary educators would now look on our work as pitiable and without scholarly merit?
Little wonder there is so little interest in Canadian affairs by Canadians, and governments can count on most of the population sleeping through most news stories, including this one.









Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blair's Faith Foundation: candle and/or canary in the coal mine?

By Tony Blair, Former Prime Minister of Great Britain, in Toronto Star, December 23, 2010
I started my Faith Foundation precisely to create greater understanding between the faiths. My reasoning is simple. Those advocating extremism in the name of religion are active, well resourced and — whatever the reactionary nature of their thinking — brilliant at using modern communication and technology. We estimate that literally billions of dollars every year are devoted to promoting this view of religion.

So my foundation has a university program — now underway in nine countries — that is designed to take religion out of the sole preserve of divinity schools and start analyzing its role in the world today. We have another program — in 15 countries, with others set to join — that links high-school students across the world through interactive technology to discuss their faith and what it means to them. And we have an action program through which young people work with those of another faith to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations-led program to combat world poverty.
We are just one organization. There are others starting. But governments should start to take this far more seriously. The Alliance of Civilizations, begun by Spain and Turkey, is one example. The king of Saudi Arabia has also shown great leadership in this sphere. Yet this is not just about bringing high-level people together. It has to be taken down into the grassroots of nations, especially into the media of their young people.
Finally, religious leaders must accept a new responsibility: to stand up firmly and resolutely for respecting those of faiths different from their own. Aggressive secularists and extremists feed off each other. Together, they do constitute a real challenge to people of faith. We must demonstrate the loving nature of true faith; otherwise, religion will be defined by a battle in which extremists seize control of faith communities and secularists claim that such attitudes are intrinsic to religion.
Both congratulations and gratitude to Mr. Blair for the establishment of his Faith Foundation to promote understanding and compassion and to counter the extremists in all faiths.
While this is a brief introduction to his Faith Foundation, it does not address one of the fundamental issues with faith, and that is the question of proselytizing. And it seems that Roman Catholics, Protestants of all strips, and Muslims of many faith colours are engaged in a process similar to the underlying processes of the private corporations, to grow their brand.
All of the means of communication, including digital technology, are being used to recruit followers.
And the battle, including the one engaged in by the Blair Faith Foundation, seems to be which side will win, take over the world and impose its will on the world.
In the West, there is a long tradition of law, based loosely on the Ten Commandments, yet revised multiple times, to more closely conform to the mores of the culture, language and traditions of that national culture.
There has also been a tradition of religious festivals that have become embedded both in law and in the cultural history and tradition of the various countries. We are in the middle of one such festival this week; for some it is called Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlemen. For others, it is called Hannukah, celebrating a Festival of Lights.
Rising quickly in what might seem like our "rear-view mirror," the Islamic faith has burst onto the scene in the West, and is growing its number of converts devoted to the teachings of Muhammed, calling their god Allah.
Currently, for many westerners, the Islamic faith has more of a political face and voice and goal, than what might be called a spiritual dimension. Nevertheless, many of those in the Islamic faith seek to impose their Sharia Law on the many countries where their numbers and their political influence in growing.
As precedent, Islam can point to the political conflicts that have consumed many people and dollars in campaigns on the issue of the "right to life" versus a "woman's right to choose". In the political and cultural vernacular, that conflict has become knows as the "pro" or "anti-"abortion fight. The fight continues among different sections of the "christian" community and faith, without showing any sign of diminishing.
In Canada, for example, while the public health system pays for a woman to have a therapeutic abortion, there are many who would and do seek to have this law overturned to have the society better conform with their personal and their religion's view of scripture.
In fact, in the West, politicians are very conscious of the "faith blocks" of votes and voters. Each individual political aspirant couches his/her rhetoric in ways that indicate some sympathy of the crowd that is in front of him/her. So church affiliation, and therefore religious convictions, are already a significant part of political life.
Another issue that confronts different faiths is the "status of women" issue, or framed a more politically correct way, the "equality of gender" issue. Beginning with the acceptance or rejection of women clergy, there is a deep divide, for example, between Protestants and Catholics on this issue, since Roman Catholics in the West do not accept or ordain women as fully practicing clergy.
In most western jurisdictions, there is some form of "no-fault" divorce law, attempting to render both men and women equal in the division of rights and responsibilities in the event of divorce. However, the Islamic tradition of Sharia Law, would have divorce settlements arrived at by a Sharia Court, for Islamic citizens.
In some ways, there has been a historic sound of foresight on matters of law and education from the First Nations communities and at least in North America, politicians have mishandled the "First Nations File" abysmally, generating long chapters of injustice in the history books.
In fact, if the issue of "faith" ever is framed inside the issue of "race", the last two hundred years of North American history would not provide a positive harbinger for a negotiated, compromised and mutually beneficial model of relationships between minority and majority groups.
If, however, the issue is framed on the basis of "truth" and "holiness" between faith communities (as in "my" faith is more religious, more just, more holy, more in tune with the will of God, more spiritual than "your" faith) in a competitive spirit, then the battle of faiths will consume much of the political will and time in any country with that dynamic defining its relgious relationships.
People of good will, and honourable intentions, and compassion and ethical respect for "others" will be more needed even to frame the issues around the next century's approach to how faith operates in the public square. Schools that inculcate a kind of superiority of faith tenets, among their students, of whatever faith, will do much to generate competition and ill-will between the children of different faith traditions. Even the current "sterilized" approach to excluding any words mentioning God, Christmas, Hannakuh, or any festival of the Islamic calendar from all conversations in schools in cities like Toronto are not what one might call shining examples of religious tolerance and respect for faith. The theory seems to be that educational leaders, paid as they are by the political masters, seek to avoid any charge of favouring one faith over any other faith, except in the schools formally and legally designated as Roman Catholic schools.
So, for the majority of students in Ontario public schools, religion is a matter left to the parent to discuss, and, of course, the media to report on its successes and its failures, including the murder of doctors who perform abortion, in their clinics.
If Mr. Blair is right that civilizations will have to pay more attention to the impact of faith among their people, there will have to be a very different animating spirit for such considerations, in order to strip any formal, and political and public debates of the inherent fears, biases and suspicions that any faith tradition brings to the table, based on previous tragedies like the Holocaust, or the Crusades, or the more recent jihads.
He is right, however, and it must be acknowledged, that many of the globe's conflicts have a religious basis, generating military and political conflict between religious positions and the people who espouse those positions. It has been said that more lives have been lost in the pursuit of faith and relationships with God than over any other human issue.
In order for such a tradition to cease, there will have to be a very different "take" on the relative merits of each faith, including an open acknowledgement that no faith has to "whole truth" or the "whole mind" of God in its dogmatic positions, and that each faiths might have something to teach the others.
And that process will require profound trust, and a seismic shift in human capacity to welcome the other, no matter where that "other" comes from geographically, linguistically, politically or religiously.
Growing "religiosity" as Blair seems to think, is not the same dynamic as growing a deep and profound spiritual experience, no matter in which faith tradition.
Karen Armstrong's books will have to become central to the curricula of all of those courses that are going to be offered in all of those universities, and the curriculum will have to be stripped of all attempts to win converts. Her The Case for God is an excellent example of the new "take" on faith, from her global perspective.
May God's blessing be upon all those whose life mission includes such lofty and worthy goals and objectives.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Are the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin Siamese Twins?

By Bruce Campion-Smith,Toronto Star, December 23, 2010
Canada may have been the target of a high-pressure sales job to buy the controversial F-35 fighter by a U.S. administration known to use “forceful” diplomacy to cement a deal, leaked diplomatic cables suggest.

Memos from the U.S. State Department reveal that Washington engaged in a carefully orchestrated campaign to persuade Norway to buy the American-made fighter jet in 2008. And praising the success of that “extensive, coordinated” effort, U.S. diplomats suggested using a similar game plan to make other foreign sales.
Two years later, Canada announced it would buy 65 F-35s at a cost of $9 billion, not including the cost of maintenance, a deal that raises questions whether Ottawa faced a similar full-court press by the U.S.
The memos, distributed by WikiLeaks, date from 2008 when Norway was deciding between the F-35 or the Swedish-made Saab Gripen jet as its fighter jet of the future.
While the notes don’t mention Canada by name, they do offer an intriguing window into the world of arms sales as government worked hand-in-hand with the private sector to secure a lucrative deal.
In this case, U.S. diplomats worked closely with officials from Lockheed Martin, the jet’s manufacturer, to combat negative media coverage, woo decision makers and publicly promote the fighter.
They even weren’t above putting Norway’s relationship with Washington on the line.
“We needed to avoid any appearance of undue pressuring . . . but we couldn’t let stand the view that the choice didn’t matter for the relationship,” one diplomatic note says.
If there is any truth to these "leaks" then the whole world has be aware that the U.S. government and its corporations are so intimately linked as to have become "Saimese twins"....because the interests of the nation have been identified with a single corporation, with regard to the F-35 Fighter Jets.
Lockheed Martin's slogan, We never forget who we are working for, is so clearly and unabashedly a sign of nepotism, and viewers around the world could easily, if we believe these "leaks," supply the word, "Pentagon" or "U.S. State Department" or "Washington" or "Lockheed Martin" itself...at the end of the slogan with the two "V's" intersecting.
When the lobbyists for a military provider of aircraft have so penetrated the intentions of the government of a nation (U.S.) that that government has linked its relationships with its allies to the purchase by those allies of a product produced by that military provider, then those countries can and must feel bullied, resentful and extremely cautious about any future dealings with that government.
The short-term interests of the company (Lockheed Martin) and the national interests of the U.S. can be seen to be so enmeshed as to make a mockery of the cries of "socialism" in the debate over health care, and government "take-over".
Let's not forget, either, that these leaked memo's are dated during the Bush-Cheney era and things may have changed with the election of President Obama.
It was the U.S. president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself the Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, who warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex (to which one listener to NPR added the word "financial" in a call-in to On Point this week, altering it to "military-industrial-financial" complex).
Apparently, the U.S. was not listening to the former president. Apparently, the U.S. government is so wedded to the military "establishment" as to render the intimacy "incestuous" rather than mutually supportive.
Has Lockheed Martin become the unofficial supplier of military fighter jets to the U.S. government, and through that relationship, to the allies of the U.S.?
Has Lockheed Martin so committed the legislators on the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Congress to its sales, that those committee members now serve as paid "pitch" men and women to Lockheed Martin, or have they protected themselves from such a charge by having their civil servants do that under-the-table work?
At least neutral countries like Norway (and Canada) would know that the government of Russia would have its fingers all over any attempt to sell Russian Fighter Jets to Norway, before any call were made. And one has to wonder if the U.S. has not become, for all intents and purposes one giant corporation whose tentacles have many different logo's, slogans and signs.
Is the U.S. government also selling hamburgers under the "golden arches" in China?
Is the U.S. government also selling caffeine-laden soda under the two logo's of Pepsi and Coca-Cola in countries around the world?
And one has to speculate....Have the U.S. government and General Electric, for example, struck a deal to jointly sell medical equipment, and financial services (under the rubric, General Electric Capital) to the world? Or, have the U.S. government and General Motors, for example, struck a deal to provide military transport vehicles to the world?
One observation is clear: It is time for the U.S. Congress to provide all the funds necessary for candidates to offer their names for election, to campaign and to pay the advertising costs...in a government funding bill.
Only in that way, can we be sure that there is no direct flow of cash from the mega-corporations to the individual candidates.
Another observation seems to be to have the Attorney General investigate a case of anti-trust involvement of the government with the various corporations. At what point does the government become another arm of a single corporation?

Friday, December 24, 2010

U.S. Corporate interests trump national interests?

By Jo Becker, New York Times, December 24, 2010
As the administration tries to press Iran even harder to abandon its nuclear program — officials this week announced several new sanctions measures — some diplomats and foreign affairs experts worry that by allowing the sale of even small-ticket items with no military application, the United States muddies its moral and diplomatic authority. ...

Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the United States government has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism, an examination by The New York Times has found.

At the behest of a host of companies — from Kraft Food and Pepsi to some of the nation’s largest banks — a little-known office of the Treasury Department has granted nearly 10,000 licenses for deals involving countries that have been cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business.
Most of the licenses were approved under a decade-old law mandating that agricultural and medical humanitarian aid be exempted from sanctions. But the law, pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups, was written so broadly that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, Wrigley’s gum, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that trains Iran’s Olympic athletes.
Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they passed a litmus test: They were deemed to serve American foreign policy goals. And many clearly do, among them deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve Internet connections — and nurture democracy — in Iran. But the examination also found cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear.
In one instance, an American company was permitted to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation. In one such case, involving equipment bought by a medical waste disposal plant in Hawaii, the government was preparing to deny the license until an influential politician intervened.
With the U.S. initiative to privatize its war-making activities, to companies like Blackwater, thereby compromising its military policy to the private sector, and to compromise its health care to the profit-motive of the insurance companies, and now its foreign policy sanctions on countries like Iran to the commercial interests of various corporations...one is prompted to ask, out loud, "Is the government in charge of the U.S. domestic and foreign policy, or are the various commercial, for-profit, corporations running the country, through their inordinate influence on the politicians?"
It seems to an outsider, that the U.S. political class genuflects whenever a corporation makes a request for a license to sell, to manufacture, to experiment with a new drug, or to develop foreign markets....whatever the corporate "master" wants, the corporate master gets...rendering the U.S. as a country, as slave to the interests of the corporations.
Is that the kind of country the voters and the citizens who pay the taxes want? Somehow, we doubt it.
So, perhaps, the protest against the war will be followed by some equally valid protests against the corporations...long overdue!



New Economic models needed...not just pursuing profit

From John Ralston Saul's book, The Collapse of Globalism, (Penguin, 2005), p. 23
The Jordanian intellectual Prince Hassan now calls for a redefinition of "poverty in terms of  human well-being rather than in tersm of monetary wealth.' Mapaysia has developed a Growth with Equity model. The Bhutanese, with their hard-headed yet orinic style, work behind something called GNH--Gross National Happiness. And China is now focused on a quality-of -life approach in the place of the GDP.Why?
The easy answer is that none of these nation-states sees itself as an outpost of Western economic theory. Each regards itself as a centre and one with urgent needs. These need have nothing to do with Globalization adn everything to do with strengthening their particular nation-state by focusing, as in the case of China, on their explosive levels of poverty, but in a more stable and locally appropriate manner.
Western countries, like those in North America and Europe have adopted the managerial, financial models of worship of the Gross Domestic Product, and the National Levels of Unemployment, as indicators of how their economies are doing. And the story has not been pretty.
One has to wonder if the rest of the world, by simply not adhering to a similar global model, whereby the rich get ever more wealthy and the number of people suffering from real poverty continues to climb, are declaring their independence from the kind of pursuit of short-term profit that so hobbles the west.
If that is the case, then the 'west' can only look to these countries, smaller, and historically less wealthy, for their future models of wellness, where the economy serves the interests and the needs of the people and not the interests and needs of the wealthy and the managerial class.
The world needs more leaders, creative thinkers, unconventional men and women who are not slaves to the models proposed by their business school professors, and their narrow-minded and short-sighted politicians like the archetype of the group, Mike Harris, former premier of Ontario.
And from the class of creative thinkers, who would and do frighten the managerial class, for whom there is really no problem, only situations requiring management, and only from the creative thinkers, will come the new models that do not focus all eyes and minds and hearts on the short-term acquisition of profit, as an end in itself.
Any civilization that sets profit as its national goal is inevitably going to fall into the trap of it own self-seduction, because such a goal is simply unsustainable.

No "Sacred War"...time to get out of Afghanistan

By Foster Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim, Associated Press, in Toronto Star, December 24, 2010 
Seoul has staged days of military drills in a show of force meant to deter North Korea, including live-fire exercises earlier this week on a front-line island shelled by the North last month. Angered by the exercises, North Korea threatened Thursday it would launch a “sacred” nuclear war if Seoul hit it and warned that even the smallest intrusion on its territory would bring a devastating response.

The two sides are still technically at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce not a peace treaty, and a U.S. governor who recently made an unofficial diplomatic mission to the North has said the situation on the peninsula is a “tinderbox” and the worst he had ever seen it.
Still, the latest rhetoric seemed likely to be just that, words aimed at stirring pride at home and keeping the rival at bay.
Defense chief Kim Yong Chun said North Korea is “fully prepared to launch a sacred war” and would use its nuclear capabilities, calling Monday’s drills a “grave military provocation” that indicated South Korea and the U.S. are plotting to invade the North.
Another threat of "sacred war" from North Korea, with the South beating war drums in exercises to "deter" the North from a possible nuclear attack...and then there is that other "holy war" declared by Islamic jihadists, in the name of Allah...
It seems that if one wants to start a war, it is de rigeur to declare it sacred or holy or in the name of a holy figure. That kind of declaration must make it right, or ethical, or spiritual or moral or above the political fray, in some kind of "speak it and it must be true" fashion.
It says here that no war is, or can be, sacred.
It says here that war, by definition, is excluded from the sacred.
It says here that war is not part of any holy, sacred, religious, spiritual or moral or ethical design.
In fact, there is a considerable case to be made to the contrary...that war is fundamentally wrong, indefensible, unjustifiable, and unsustainable.
That judgement includes the recent, and still continuing, war in Iraq.
It also includes the war in Afghanistan, which seems to have been started in retaliation for the 9-11 attack on the U.S. by then president, Dubya Bush. That war is now the "Obama" war, according to the pundits who seem more than ready to lay it at his doorstep.
Now, there is a question, openly debated, about whether the U.S. should invade Pakistan, and the hiding places of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, even if the Pakistan government authorities declare that move unacceptable. One of the "calculations" in that equation is the danger that Pakistan itself might fall, as it is so close to being a failed state without such an intervention. And the U.S. has clearly been flying drone missions in much greater numbers over the last few months, over Pakistan, in pursuit of Taliban and Al Qaeda cells.

Let's give this space over to Chris Hedges, Columnist for Truthdig.com 
This piece is from December 20, 2010, from the Truthdig.com website referencing the recent march in Washington of war protesters.
What can I tell you about war?

War perverts and destroys you. It pushes you closer and closer to your own annihilation—spiritual, emotional and, finally, physical. It destroys the continuity of life, tearing apart all systems, economic, social, environmental and political, that sustain us as human beings. War is necrophilia. The essence of war is death. War is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. It is organized sadism. War fosters alienation and leads inevitably to nihilism. It is a turning away from the sanctity of life.
And yet the mythic narratives about war perpetuate the allure of power and violence. They perpetuate the seductiveness of the godlike force that comes with the license to kill with impunity. All images and narratives about war disseminated by the state, the press, religious institutions, schools and the entertainment industry are gross and distorted lies. The clash between the fabricated myth about war and the truth about war leaves those of us who return from war alienated, angry and often unable to communicate. We can’t find the words to describe war’s reality. It is as if the wider culture sucked the words out from us and left us to sputter incoherencies. How can you speak meaningfully about organized murder? Anything you say is gibberish.
The sophisticated forms of industrial killing, coupled with the amoral decisions of politicians and military leaders who direct and fund war, hide war’s reality from public view. But those who have been in combat see death up close. Only their story tells the moral truth about war. The power of the Washington march was that we all knew this story. We had no need to use stale and hackneyed clich├ęs about war. We grieved together.
War, once it begins, fuels new and bizarre perversities, innovative forms of death to ward off the boredom of routine death. This is why we would drive into towns in Bosnia and find bodies crucified on the sides of barns or decapitated, burned and mutilated. That is why those slain in combat are treated as trophies by their killers, turned into grotesque pieces of performance art. I met soldiers who carried in their wallets the identity cards of men they killed. They showed them to me with the imploring look of a lost child.
We swiftly deform ourselves, our essence, in war. We give up individual conscience—maybe even consciousness—for the contagion of the crowd and the intoxication of violence. You survive war because you repress emotions. You do what you have to do. And this means killing. To make a moral choice, to defy war’s enticement, is often self-destructive. But once the survivors return home, once the danger, adrenaline highs and the pressure of the crowd are removed, the repressed emotions surface with a vengeance. Fear, rage, grief and guilt leap up like snake heads to consume lives and turn nights into long, sleepless bouts with terror. You drink to forget.
We reached the fence. The real prisoners, the ones who blindly serve systems of power and force, are the mandarins inside the White House, the Congress and the Pentagon. The masters of war are slaves to the idols of empire, power and greed, to the idols of careers, to the dead language of interests, national security, politics and propaganda. They kill and do not know what killing is. In the rise to power, they became smaller. Power consumes them. Once power is obtained they become its pawn. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, politicians such as Barack Obama fall prey to the forces they thought they had harnessed. The capacity to love, to cherish and protect life, may not always triumph, but it saves us. It keeps us human. It offers the only chance to escape from the contagion of war. Perhaps it is the only antidote. There are times when remaining human is the only victory possible.

In a quiet, little corner of this space, we are marching with Chris Hedges, and his band of protestors, some of whom were recently jailed for their protest in Washington, against all war.
It is time, according to Hedges, and we concur, for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan, to pull back the horns of its vengeful, national security, politics and propaganda machine and to find a way to withdraw with some kind of honour, that can only come from a complete withdrawal.
No country can become leader of the "free world" and continue to invade other countries. It was not Afghanistan who, that, invaded the U.S. on 9-11. That country could not then, and can not today, mount an attack on any other country. It was the terrorists of Al Qaeda living in the hills of that country that generated the destruction known as 9-11. And the U.S. response has, as one might have predicted, been "over the top" and now that the war has been privatized, left mainly to the mercenaries whose sole motive is financial profit,  groups like Blackwater are banking millions, perhaps billions. And everyone knows they could not care a whit about any of the various human components of the conflict.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seasons Greetings to the World, from Canada!

It is time for some Christmas reflections, from a grumpy Canadian white male. Just when I felt like dozing off, after some reading on globalization, the phone rang. It was number three daughter.
"Hi Dad!" she spoke into my ear, through the very clear technology of the new cordless.
"You're right in my ear," I responded, not giving her the advantage of my full experience, because of the new device.
And then I heard some burbling, and gurgling and almost singing in the background from her nine-month old daughter, who suddenly burst out crying.
"What's her problem?" I inquired.
"I took her glass away, and she doesn't like that."
"Oh, you mean she has a real voice!" I observed.
"She has a voice alright!" came the response.
And when I asked if her mother would put the phone to her ear, I spoke her name.
She became silent, looked at the device, and, according to her Mom, smiled and returned to her burbling an gurgling.
It is the intervention of technology, whether it is a new cordless, or skype, or Facebook, or Twitter, ro Linkedin or whatever that has changed how we communicate.
Nevertheless, being present, in person, in the flesh, with eyes and ears and full attention to the moment is still irreplaceable, by the technology.
It is very good for 'catching up' on the latest events, happenings, facts, even illnesses and concerns.
However, it is the human presence, in body, mind and spirit that still moves this old guy.
And like those who are now writing about experiencing the sacred in and through science, I love to walk, with my partner and eight-year-old Irish Wheaton named Molly, among the trees along the Trans-Canada Trail, on that portion known to locals as the Cataraqui Trail in Frontenac Township.
It is the trees and the rocks and the lakes and the wind, sometimes the snow and rain and the silence, the deep and unrelenting silence, except for the occasional bird-chirp, or dog-bark off in the distance that punctuates the silence and the breathing of the wind through the pines as we walk.
No matter the 'things on one's mind, or on one's heart'...the refreshing 'escape' for a couple of hours is like nothing else on earth.
It is a moment to reflect, and even to empty one's being of all distractions and to drink in the nano-seconds as one puts one foot in front of the other, in the path originally crossed by the iron and steel wheels of the rail system, now removed and leaving only the occasional tie jutting through the snow, as reminder of an earlier time.
And these trees and rocks as lakes and wind remind me of how miniscule a part of the landscape each of us really is, and even so, we are our own little piece of the whole, just like the little girl burbling and gurgling near the phone.
And the intricacies and the complexities and the intimacies of life...mine, her's, my partner's, the dog's, the trees, the bird....connect all of life in a kind of sacred mystery...from the delivery room to the nursery, from the day-care to the classroom, and from the playing fields to the boardrooms....frequently passing through the literal and the metaphorical 'trails' making us ONE...with each other and with all of nature.
And along with restoring our sense of well-being and our connectedness we are elevated into that mystery, a mystery we will never fully comprehend, or even fully appreciate, if we but take the time to open to its fullness.
At this time, when stories of mysterious birth, and mysterious traditions and how we were given both permission and support to enter into these mysteries, we can  but give a joyous thanks for the opportunity of life, and of being part of a part of the whole human family.
And even that experience, enhanced as it is through the mysteries of technology, does not change through the centuries across the continents, and among the various languages, faiths, political systems, geographies and neighbourhoods.
Thanks for the opportunity to write and to share this experience of the mystery and wonder of life, with each of you.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Canada-EU Trade Deal could make water "FOR SALE"

From the Council of Canadians newsletter, December 21, 2010
The Council of Canadians and The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) released a report last week raising serious concerns about the threat a trade deal with the European Union poses to Canada’s public water systems.
Public Water For Sale: How Canada will privatize our public water systems is a report to municipal, provincial and territorial governments regarding the Canada European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). It warns that public water in Canada will be lost unless the provinces and territories take immediate steps to remove water from the scope of negotiations.
CETA would open up public municipal water systems across Canada to privatization. Europe is home to private water giants such as Veolia Environment and Suez. At the request of these private, for-profit water corporations, Canada’s provincial and territorial governments are considering including drinking water and wastewater services in their services commitments under CETA. Once systems are privatized, public control and accountability would be lost.
“CETA is a water privatization deal,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “Our public water is being negotiated away behind closed doors. We need to act now or we will wake up one morning and our public water systems will be gone.”
CUPE and the Council of Canadians are calling on the provinces and territories to assert their jurisdiction and protect water from being opened up to private corporate interests.

We agree with both the Council of Canadians and CUPE that Canadian water must not be sold, under this, or any other agreement.
And...
We would like to point out that, if and when the deal goes through, as it likely will, once the intellectual property rights issue has been ironed out, then, when European Union representatives arrive at the door of a Mayor's office, or a Deputy Mayor's office, bearing gifts of millions of Euro's, the municipal politicians will bend over backwards asking, "How much water did you say you wanted, and for how many decades are you willing to pay that amount?"
Inside their heads, those politicians will be saying, "Just imagine how many jobs this deal will bring to our community, and how these dollars will support our tax base and perhaps even lower our tax rates, and then, just  think how this will look when it is time to campaign for the next election!" Chortling with glee, with visions of dollars and votes dancing in their heads, they will sign, almost before the EU representatives have removed their coats, for the simple reason that they will be "protecting the (short-term) interests of their municipality," not to mention the short-term interests of those politicians.
And, it will be wrong, and once the horse has bolted from the barn, it will be impossible to get it back. Once the deal is signed, the Americans will also be banging at those same doors, and the sell-off  (or the rape) will have begun.
And, since the deal is being negotiated at a time of year when most people are paying attention to "more important matters" like Christmas and Hannukah and family visits and dinners and Santa Claus, it will not get the scrutiny that it deserves.
Water, so says the U.N. declaration, is a human right, not just another commodity, and just because the current Canadian government did not sign that declaration, does not mean that, on this issue, the government speaks for all Canadians. It certainly does not speak for this Canadian, and let's hope there are so many other Canadians and people from all over the world who can and do see the long-term impact both of the U.N. declaration and a bi-lateral deal between Canada and the EU that could result in the sale of Canadian water, and force the Canadian government to opt for the former, not the latter.
Just like air, water must be available for all, as a human right!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

(Pt. 2) Media: Look in the mirror: you're missing your clothes

It goes without saying that I do not include Mr. Travers in the reference to "sycophancy" of the national media. However, he simply cannot be a solitary voice, or even one of two or three, when the choir is singing from a "sycophany" song sheet.
When both the science and so many other governments in so many countries take the evidence of the human responsibility for global warming seriously, how can Canada consider itself a thinking and sentient country when we have our collective heads in the sand on the issue. And just because Stephane Dion was "shellacked" (to use the word Obama used about the recent elections in the U.S.) when he proposed a carbon tax, at the behest of Mr. Harper, does not make Mr. Dion either wrong or unpatriotic.
In fact, Mr. Dion's courage to put forward such a proposal should be highlighted in many media releases, based on scientific interviews, for which multiple sources could easily be found. Instead, what have we? Utter silence from the Canadian national media!
Additionally, John Ralston Saul has been decrying the worship of  both the marketplace and the corporatism that accompanies or perhaps sustains the marketplace, for at least fifteen years, since the publication of his insightful work, The Unconscious Civilization.  I doubt if Mr. Harper has even read the book, (reminding us of the writer who continues to send the PM a book each month, without having received a single response, even of thanks). In how many newsrooms is such a book required reading? Probably few if any.
Just one quote to peak your interest, dear reader, in case you might like to find a copy of Saul's book:
The technocratic management, produced mainly by business schools and departments of economics, is most comfortable functioning in large management structures.
Today the most obvious vessel in which to release their desires is the transnational or the very large national corporation. Their training and these structures have very little to do with capitalism or risk. They are reincarnations of the seventeenth-centurye royal monopolies. They are, if you like, a modern version of mercantilism. All statistics show that these big joint stock companies, managed rather than owned in any meaningful way, are poor long-term investors and poor investors in research and development. Creativity frightens the administrative mind and so they have a negative influence on innovation. (Saul, op. cit. p. 120)..And from p. 122...
It is common today to run growth and bankruptcy together the way medieval Catholicism--through the Inquisition--would say God is strong, good and kind, therefore we must torture you.
It is the Canadian way to be in something akin to, if not exactly representative of, "awe" in the presence of power, especially when that power has money, status, big homes and several of them, and the right connections. And, for those who have chosen the fourth estate as their life's work, the people with the power, and the inside story on whatever file s/he is pursuing, are like the holders of the "holy grail" of unreported and sensational information...just the kind of information that Woodward and Bernstein were offered in the underground parking lot(s) from Deep Throat back in the 1970's when Nixon was impeached.
There is only one trouble: there was only one Nixon and only one Nixonian resignation, and in that story, the media were manipulated into playing a role that even they did not fully comprehend at the time.
When are we going to be offered some Canadian equivalents to the New Yorker in the U.S. or The Nation, or even Harper's in this country? When are we going to find an army of reporters whose ego's are not in need of messaging, because they are not neophytes, because their employers have considered them worthy of decent, even sizeable incomes, so that they can actually speak "truth to power" without fear and trembling, and their editors are not afraid, either, of the "blow-back" that will come when, for example, Quebec objects to the Macleans story about corruption. Thank God, Macleans did not apologize for their story.
But we need a similar kind of both muscle and courage in the national press.
And we need media owners and editors who are prepared to support deep investigation of the kind that Thomas Friedman continues to provide at the New York Times. (Incidentally, he is taking another leave at the end of January, to co-author another book on the American political culture...by once again telling truth to power.)
Who is the Canadian equivalent to Thomas Friedman? And the CBC is so anal in its politically correct ideology that when the government hints at cutbacks, it becomes even more obsequious. Why is that publicly funded corporation not providing more investigative work on the conflicting "positions" in parliament, for example, rather then gluing its coverage to the headlines and the mere outlines. Of whom is the corporation afraid? The public? The government? The CRTC?
And as for commercial (private radio and television) a child in second grade knows more than the 8.00 a.m. newscast provides.
For an example of a different kind of journalism look at The Tyee, from British Columbia, where good writing and courageous reporting have been linked in a digital format, only recently committed to hard copy.
It is this kind of journalism that is needed in Ottawa, and we can only hope that soon, it will bring its spine to that city, and to parliament, and we might watch things shift ever so slightly, as the rock of the neo-cons erodes with the facts of both wind and rain, both contaminated with the pollution that Ottawa refuses to even acknowledge.

Media: Look in the mirror: you're missing your clothes

By James Travers, Toronto Star, December 21, 2010
In a populist era, Ignatieff is a throwback to a time when deferential voters looked to cerebral leaders for thoughtful solutions to complex problems. Liberals who fondly remember Pierre Trudeau had that philosopher-king model in mind when they lured Ignatieff home from Harvard.

Once here, he, they and Canadians discovered the imperfect fit. Politics, it turns out, ruthlessly punishes the abstract, out-loud thinking that academia and public-intellectual journalism reward. Opponents, it seems, have no qualms or problem projecting Ignatieff’s sudden discovery of public service as an unstable amalgam of patrician noblesse oblige and ambitious self-promotion.
Ignatieff is least convincing when pin-balling between past and present. “Country-boying,” as the Americans aptly label dumbing-down leadership to match coffee-shop sensibilities, sadly diminishes who he was as well as what he might reasonably become in the flattering glow that illuminates opposition leaders who survive to become prime ministers.
Thoughtful leaders with solutions to complex problems are still needed...although we have surrendered many good ideas to the whim of the political shellacking that many political "ideas" have taken, along with their authors, simply because the media and the public were not willing to either listen or provide some thoughtful imput themselves.
The fact that Mr. Harper gets away with calling global warming and the carbon tax, for example, "crazy" is a national disgrace. And the media has to be held, in part, responsible. Ditto for a now perhaps $20 billion on fighter jets, when the gap in incomes, and in hope and even in the potential literally for survival has never been more gaping...and the media whispers the infrequent column in protest, and then only abstractly.
It is the sycophancy of the media, linked to the sycophancy of the public that I would argue is disguised as a then veneer of populism to which Mr. Travers refers.
Ottawa media, especially, have been for far too long, sucking from the bottle of power. Some have found their reward in their Senate appointment, hardly a sign of objectivity and courage and of serving their constitutents with the depth and breadth of both information and insight warranted in so complex a tidal wave of "privatized" or "secret" government business.
 While there are no simple answers to many of the complex problems faced by any contemporary government, being held accountable, and having the feet of those in power held "to the fire" of authentic public scrutiny starts with the information flow from the media.
Media sycophancy is not a new phenomenon; it is as old as the parliament buildings, and at least twice as treasured. Nurturing sources, keeping the talking heads talking, sticking to the conventional script...never daring to call for the head of any minister because, who knows what the repercussions might be.
And such behaviour must be supported and encouraged by their editors who supervise these scribes...in the most general sense of the word.
We need some heads to roll in Ottawa, and this government is replete with examples of which ones need to roll. And it starts with the head of the prime minister, in political terms. He runs a government that is addicted to newspeak and to protecting the interests of the right, the corporation and the enhanced power of the PMO and the media continues to call him "prime-ministerial" as the male host of Question period did, once again, on Sunday, in his vaccuous analysis that the next election would be based on the question, "Do you want to give Harper a majority government or not?"
Talk about simplifying the issues, to a soundbite...that's providing fodder to those who barely read the headlines.
And Ignatieff, while complex himself, and thoughtful and nuanced and cautious, perhaps even too much for his own good, is at least as good an alternative as the country has been offered since Trudeau left the stage, and, incidentally, he seems incapable of even attempting to manipulate the "fourth estate" which he obviously might have to begin, in order to survive.
Perhaps a little bite to his answers might put the media on notice that their refusal to get down and get dirty and call spades shovels is not acceptable. Ignatieff is not without substance and sometimes that substance needs a little acid, in order to be taken seriously.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Hunger at Crisis Point in Ontario... and elsewhere!

By Isabel Teotonio, Toronto Star, December 20, 2010
The only way to stop the growing rate of hunger is by increasing wages, investing in income security programs, providing affordable housing and improving access to community food programs, according to a list of recommendations to be released on Monday.

The Recession Relief Coalition is releasing 10 top recommendations that are key to combatting the troubling rise of hunger in the province. They are geared toward policy-makers at all levels of government.
“Hunger and poverty are at a crisis point,” said Dr. Gary Bloch, a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital and assistant professor with the University of Toronto, who helped draft the recommendations.
“We are facing the highest levels of food bank use and some of the highest rates of social assistance use ever,” said Bloch, noting his practice is largely comprised of people living below the poverty line and struggling for basic survival.
The recommendations were put together by a six-member panel after a full day of evidence at a hunger inquiry in late November. The panel — which also included a retired minister, celebrity chef and a housing advocate — heard from more than 30 front-line workers, social service agency staff, academics community leaders and people directly affected by hunger. The coalition’s full report is expected in January.
After decades of cutbacks to government revenues, through individual and corporate tax cuts, “a small reversal of these cuts” would provide funds for some basic social insurance programs to fight hunger and poverty, Bloch said.
“We are willing to pump ever-increasing dollars into health care, much of it to treat the health problems caused by high levels of poverty, but we seem unwilling to address the root causes of these problems,” he told the Star.
His comments were echoed by Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers, who was also a panelist.
Taxes in Canada have declined by five percentage points of GDP since 2000, representing $75 billion per year of foregone government revenue, said Stanford. If a small fraction of that was devoted to the sorts of measures proposed, hunger would be eliminated, he says.
“We are cutting off our fiscal nose to spite our face, when we short-sightedly fail to provide necessary income supports to the poor and hungry,” he said. “I would rather pay up front, in a concerted and integrated effort to prevent hunger, rather than after the fact, to try and fix the health and other problems caused by hunger.”
We at the acorncentreblog.com are struck every Friday noon drivin past Kinston City Hall, to see about a dozen men and women standing silently along  the front of city hall, wearing placards shouting in large letters, messages like, "Make Poverty History" and they have been there for months.
And no one listens, and no one really cares and, it seems, few, if any, do anything about the issue.
Even this report, another in a long line of reports, will likely fall on deaf ears in the provincial and federal governments, as the "shiny" story of the country's near escape from the ravages of the recession and our rise from the ashes into a more resilient economy march across the front pages of the nation's newspapers.
And at the same time, more and more events, proudly announcing "free admission" are now requesting "a piece of non-perishable food for the food bank" as the admission to the event.
At least that is a beginning to raising the consciousness of the public to what is really becoming a national crisis.
This story, from the Toronto Star, focuses on the province of Ontario, but the story is affecting thousands across the country, and in many other countries, not to mention the obvious countries like Haiti, or Somalia, or the Ivory Coast, or......
I really like Jim Sanford's comment:
“We are cutting off our fiscal nose to spite our face, when we short-sightedly fail to provide necessary income supports to the poor and hungry,” he said. “I would rather pay up front, in a concerted and integrated effort to prevent hunger, rather than after the fact, to try and fix the health and other problems caused by hunger.”
And we also continue to accord the accountants, and the Auditor General and the immediate numbers that the government releases as much more important.
What would happen in this country if, instead of announcing the figures for unemployment, and for the GDP, and for the Consumer Price Index, all figures that favour the interests of the wealthy and the investors, we daily announced the number of people who cost the health care system X dollars, because they did not have enough food or appropriate shelter, or adequate education....and we faced those figures weekly, or monthly, and the media began paying attention to the weakest and the most vulnerable, not only at the time of the Christmas Season, but all through the year?

Top 10 recommendations of the Recession Relief Coalition Hunger Inquiry
1.Employers pay a living wage so people working full-time can afford nutritious food, access to adequate housing and other life essentials.
2.The Ontario government immediately implement a substantial increase to social assistance rates.
3.The Federal government provide additional access to Employment Insurance beyond the normal 50-week maximum until the recession ends and unemployment rates decline and lower the threshold of eligibility to 360 hours down from the current minimum of 420 hours.
4. The Ontario government maintain the Special Diet Allowance at current funding levels to support prevention and treatment of disease and recipients not be required to reveal medical information to non-medical professionals.
5.Members of Parliament vote for Bill C-304, a bill for a National Housing Strategy, to enact a plan to increase safe, affordable housing.
6.Food banks remove restrictions to access based on postal code, number of previous visits and identification.
7.All levels of government include health outcomes as a measurement of the impact of social policy decisions.
8.All levels of government consider the long-term cost to the health system of not addressing poverty and hunger now.
9.All levels of government and funders invest in community-based organizations to create food hubs that provide nutritious food and cooking opportunities.
10.Governments and community-based organizations reject charity as a means of fighting hunger and consider access to food a basic human right.