Monday, February 28, 2011

Sell-off: the business of ethics derailed

Nellie Furtado gives to charity the one million dollars
from a forty-five-minute show for ghadafi in
Italy while
madman moammar denies there is an uprising
in his country "where everybody loves me" and
there are no hired mercenaries from Chad
killing Libyans
Charley Sheen demands a one-million-dollar
raise to do the last eight shows in his contract with CBS for
Two and a Half Men
and Kevin O'Leary chimes
'greed is good and I love money' on CBC
as corporate suits turn a blind eye to the
corruption with which they comply, in order
to bank those profits in countries without
decency, civility and hope for their
and governments cling to their polling
stations waiting for "how the wind blows"
before condemning the dictators after
sleeping with them for decades to feed
the insatiable appetite for oil, or
diamonds, or sales of guns, planes and
all of it blessed by the church hierarchy
as an ex-priest is expected to seek
penance for too much care and compassion
and withholds his apology and humility
because his soul has not been sold for
thirty pieces of silver, or a multibillion
contract for oil and weapons...
or sacrificed to a 'vision' of ten percent more
people and fifteen percent more money
from a 'christian' bishop to his diocese
and we all ask ourselves
who is betraying whom? and when?
and why? and when will it stop?

Spiking food prices:part of a perfect storm without adequate global responses?

From GPS on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, February 27, 2011
From the What in the World segment of this "appointment television" program, Zakaria pointed out several pieces of information that, collectively, have and will continue to impact global politics for the foreseeable future.
The subject is the rising cost of food:
  • coffee beans up 100% in the last twelve months
  • the cost of wheat up 60% in the last twelve months
  • the cost of corn up 80% in the last twelve months
  • the UN says is now costs one-third more to stay well fed than it did one year ago
  • the IMF says there are now 1 billion people in the world who are hungry
Government responses vary from food subsidies, to prevent unrest, even violence from breaking out in the streets (China) to blocking exports of select foods considered essential to the diet of their people (India with onions) to raising the amount of money available for the citizens to purchase enough food to stay alive....
Yet none of the measures so far adopted seems conducive to growth; according to Zakaria, most governmental steps to address this issue have been restrictive and inward looking.
Once again, the world has the statistical information needed to generate some global initiatives on this issue but lacks the political organizational structure to make decisions that would generate both more production and better distribution. The world also has the analogic data that pours out of every television screen on a 24-7 basis, screaming about the unrest that the collisions of poverty and unemployment with giant spikes in the price of food. However, it lacks the political organization and the political will to make decisions on a global basis that would see the abundance of some shared with the scarcity of others, at prices that those facing scarcity could afford.
Watching the extremely lame political responses to the violence in Libya, and the tepid offers of help for the other North African countries whose citizens, like the crysalis emerging into the butterfly, are finding their wings and attempting to move out of the cocoons that have so impaled their people for decades. The world has so many layers of government, and yet lacks any form of global governance that has the necessary mandate and the accompanying sustainability in government commitments and funding and staffing to make the kinds of decisions that are needed, while avoiding the significant danger of imposing the will of one country or block of countries on a single fledgling country...
Are we witnessing the decline of the nation state, as we knew it?
Are we witnessing the pace of change on the street outstripping the capacity to adapt to that change and its pace by the several governments of the several countries to whom the world looks for leadership, for guidance and for support of these uprisings, based as they are partly on the spectre of starvation, as a consequence of the vortex of  what some consider a perfect storm, including the rising price of food?
Are we coming to the end of the usefulness of the United Nations, as currently structured?
Are we in need of a new vision of global interdependence that takes on global initiatives like climate change, food production and distribution, financial regulation, the provision of health care, crisis intervention, international peace-keeping and global communications and research?
Are the problems we face simply so complex and so large that they have far outstripped the capacity of our political organzations to deal with them effectively in an integrated approach of multiple overlapping equations, since to deal with any problem in isolation is to neglect many of its implications that reach into so many other "files"...that word that protects politicians while avoiding the complexities of reality?
Are our current realities now beyond the capacity of the totality of the NGO's to meet the needs of the people who are starving, dying, protesting, unemployed and in combat...when all they want is to be fed, working and earning a decent income to sustain their family?

Ontario inaugurates money management curriculum for grades 4 through 12

By Kate Allen, Toronto Star, February 28, 2011

The province is set to unveil a new, multi-million dollar program on Monday aimed at teaching kids how to manage money.
Aimed at students in grades 4 through 12, the Ministry of Education’s financial literacy initiative will be integrated into the curriculum this coming September.
The Ontario Securities Commission is providing almost $2 million in funding for new resources, including training for teachers and video and electronic activities for classrooms. The ministry will also be working with the Investor Education Fund, a non-profit educational arm of the OSC, to develop the program.
While the investor part of the program is worthwhile, the fact that the province, supported with cash from the Securities Commission, is getting into the money-management curriculum for students from grades 4 through 12 is a good thing.
Unfortunately, it comes when the whole world is fixated on the issues of money, to the exclusion of most other matters, and that means that impressionable students will grow up with a sense that money is even more important than it deserves to be.
I recall the scientist/activist David Suzuki once making the statement on national television that the economy must serve the people and not the other way round, as it is currently.
Similarly, if this curriculum puts the student in charge of his/her financial options and obligations, including how to negotiate with his employer, his parents, and eventually his partners (both domestic and professional) then it will have accomplished much.
As one U.S. trained psychiatrist commented recently privately, the fact that there is no teaching of financial management shows up in our practices, often and far too late.
And now, if the province would also consider the equally radical move of entering the curriculum business with respect to teaching all students the skills of relationship-building, two glaring and gaping wholes in our education system would have been filled...long overdue, but better late than never.
Perhaps it is also an indication that political leaders who have refused to provide adequate regulation for the financial services sector and by their hands-off approach contributed to the recent financial meltdown, and the serious global implications, have found their legs in opening the gates to the kind of information that will, in future, make it impossible for a financially literate public to tolerate such complicity with the greed that drives the market.
In addition to making household budgets more easily and competently regulated, by those whose responsbility it is to pay the bills and balance the accounts, perhaps the economies of companies and states/provinces will also benefit from having this kind of literacy and skill spread across the social demographics.
Politically, the McGuinty government needed a useful, credible and far-sighted cornerstone for their upcoming attempt to gain another majority in October. With both the full-day kindergarten and the financial literacy curriculum, it has two pieces of the puzzle of a platform to which Ontario voters can re-think their offer of confidence to their current government. These two planks certainly do not assure McGuinty of re-election; however, they will not impede his path to another majority.
Now, if he can get the health care system's long-term funding renegotiated with Ottawa, with some assurances that it is sustainable for at least the next decade, he might have brought himself and his government knocking on the door of electoral success...but there is so little time.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Excommunication for apostasy: rich Christian tradition....

There is a history, perhaps even a tradition, in the christian faith, of excluding apostates. It is well documented, even revered in the Roman Catholic church, called "Excommunication."
And, the protestant churches have a similar history, without the threat of papal excommunication.
Those who do not subscribe to the tenets of the faith, depending on the person, or group, or authority figure doing the judging, (and it could even be a gang of religious thugs demanding purity from their peers, and/or their leaders), are "ridden out of town" in the fashion of a "western movie".
The tradition has become deeply steeped in the culture of the United States, and even carries over into their statutes. For example, shooting another in self-defence, is recognized in select juridictions as permissible. While carrying guns is recognized as not only permissible, but even encouraged, in order to support and sustain the Second Amendment which provides the right to carry arms (even though it originally meant only for the establishment and sustaining of a militia force against outside enemies).
On the other hand, while killing in war, and killing in the act of stopping or preventing a crime is supported and encouraged, the spectre of a single penny of government funds going to a therapeutic abortion is national apostasy, and one state (South Dakota) is even considering legislation making the killing of anyone serving in a clinic that provides therapeutic abortions permissible, and not in itself a crime.
Currently, unions form the next targeted group of apostates according to the dogma of the wing-nut right-wing theocrats. Among those unions, teachers are high on the list as another group of apostates. Less public outcry seem focused on firefighters and police, presumably because the public considers them more essential, and less easily targetted, by the mobs of dogmatists, who, refusing to waste a crisis, have their political guns pointed at the target they have painted on the backs of public service employees, especially teachers.
One of the current "popes" on the search for apostates, in the U.S. is the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has painted a target on the back of President Obama, as an apostate to the dogma of whatever business and coporate elite want, is whatever the Republicans will provide, and Obama is an obstruction to that end.
Obstruction is the chief arrow in the quivver of McConnell, as it has been for the last two plus years since Obama was elected. And it is with a religious fervour that McConnell seeks to "excommunicate" Obama from further participation in the government of the United States, as envisioned by the Republicans.
Apostasy, excommunication, obstruction....these are just different names for the same thing: the purification of the republic through the elimination of those who do not measure up to the standards set by those seeking another governmental vatican, ruled by the proper ruling class, the elite.
After all, the elite think more clearly, earn more money, entertain more sumptuously, converse more sophisticatedly, dress more fashionably, ride in more limousines and attend more of the exclusive parties in all of the cities in all of the states, with more of the "beautiful" people attending their soirees as honoured guests, than the plebians, those from the other side of the tracks, those who went, if at all, to the state universities, not to the private colleges, and whose mothers and fathers served as labourers and clerks and tradespeople and nurses and teachers than their more elegant elites.
And so, what is really going on in Wisconsin and other state capitals, allegedly because there is a shortfall in the state budgets, is a war on the poor and the middle class, stripping away the unions right to collective bargaining, as a measure to reduce the state deficits and debts...when everyone knows, as do the Koch brothers who are funding Scott Walker's campaign of "cleansing" of the proletariat from the negotiating tables of state bargaining sessions, that the unions and their worker-members are not the cause of the deficits/debts, nor is their gutting the solution to the overspending of the economic crisis.
In large measure, it was the greed, and the failure to oversee that greed among the hedge-fund managers by their political puppets in Washington that generated this massive economic dislocation.
And now, another form of "excommunication" or extermination (of the unions and their collective bargaining rights) by the Republican Vatican is dancing across our television screens in hundreds of thousands of pixels, some in High Definition and some in 3D, with a few in the old standard "low definition."
One has to wonder about the contempt of some christians (the rich ones) for the apostasy of their poor borthers and sisters (whose only sin is that they do not worship at the golden altar of  the gold standard and its accompanying riches), and who also believe in the unbelievable...that the state exists for the benefit of all, and not just those who can buy their privilege and their status and their power. Some apostasy!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Poor teachers given one year to improve, before firing (U.S. Union Leader)

By Trip Gabriel, New York Times, February 24, 2011
Responding to criticism that tenure gives even poor teachers a job for life, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, announced a plan Thursday to overhaul how teachers are evaluated and dismissed.

In her plan, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, addresses criticism of tenure.
It would give tenured teachers who are rated unsatisfactory by their principals a maximum of one school year to improve. If they did not, they could be fired within 100 days.
Teacher evaluations, long an obscure detail in an educator’s career, have moved front and center as school systems try to identify which teachers are best at improving student achievement, and to remove ineffective ones.
The issue has erupted recently, with many districts anticipating layoffs because of slashed budgets. Mayors including Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Cory A. Booker of Newark have attacked seniority laws, which require that teacher dismissals be based on length of experience rather than on competency.
Ms. Weingarten has sought to play a major role in changing evaluations and tenure, lest the issue be used against unions to strip their influence over work life in schools — just as Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Ohio are trying to do this week.
Critics say that removing teachers is nearly impossible because of the obstructions that unions have put up. Administrators also bear some blame. Most evaluations are perfunctory — a drive-by classroom observation by a vice principal — and hearings to prove incompetence can be long and costly.
Finally, a teachers' union leader with spine!
We have all known teachers whose performance was below par, yet who continued to walk into a classroom in front of three dozen young, innocents without worrying about whether any learning actually took place while there. And we have all fretted about what to do in such cases.
Here, at last, is one union leader of teachers, albeit in the U.S. (not in Canada) who knows that if she and her union do not get out in front of this issue, both she and the union will lose their credibility and any potentially effective role in developing better schools.
Of course, there will be teachers' union leaders around the world who will decry Ms Weingarten's position. They have become accustomed to protecting those underperforming teachers in every school system.
And their teachers havae become accustomed to that protection, at the price of enhanced learning opportunities for students.
It will be very intersting to watch the reactions from teachers union leaders around the to whether this sacred cow of the education system will survive. We have serious and legitimate doubts that it will, or can.

Global Elite begs international push-back (through political institutions)

By Christia Freeland, In The Atlantic, January/February 2011, in an article entitled: The Rise of the New Global Elite
One reason for the spikes is that the global market and its associated technologies have enabled the creation of a class of international business megastars. As companies become biggerm the global environment more competitive, and the rate of disruptive technologal innovation ever faster, the value to shareholders of attracting the best possible CEO increases correspondingly. Executive pay has skyrocketed for many reasons--including the prevalence of overly cozy boards and changing cultural norms about pay--but increasingly scale competition, and innovation have all playued major roles.
Many corporations have profited from this economic upheaval. Expanded global access to labour (skilled and unskilled), customers, and capital has lowered traditional barriers to entry and increased the value of anahead-of-the-curve insihgt or innovation. Facebook, whose founder Mark  Zuckerberg, dropped out of college just six years ago, is already challenging Google, itself hardly an old-school corporation. But the biggest winners have been individuals, not institutions. The hedge-fund manager John Paulson, for instance, single-handedly profited almost as much from the crisis of 2008 as Goldman Sachs did.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of U.S. workers, however devoted adn skilled at their jobs, have misse out on the windfalls of this winner-take-most- economy--or worse, found their savings, employers, or professions ravaged by the same forces that have enriched the plutocratic elite. The result of these divergent trends is a jaw-dropping surge in U.S. income inequality. According to economists Emmanuel Saez of Berkeley and Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, between 2002 and 2007, 65 percent of all income growth in the United States went to the top 1 percent of the population. The financial crisis interrupted the trend temporarily, as incomes for the top 1 percent fell more than those of the rest of the population in 2008. But recent evidence suggests that, in the wake of the crisis, incomes at the summit are rebounding more quickly than those below. One example: after a down year in 2008, the top 25 hedge-fund managers were paid, on average, more than $1 billion each in 2009, quickly eclipsing the record they had set in pre-recession 2007.
If anyone doubts not only the inequality of this dramatic trend line, but also the dramatic impact on the rest of the society, including the resentment, anger and profound feeling of injustice at these numbers, the just wait for the long-term impact of these numbers to unfold.
Along with their spike in wealth, these megastars do not give a fig for the rest of the society, because they believe it was the middle and lower class stupidity and gullibility and innocence that produced the crisis of 2008 in the first place, not the creation of derivatives and phony money instruments that were designed and sold to unsuspecting buyers around the world by Wall Street.
So the gap is not only in income inequality, it is also in belief systems, based on completely different perceptions of the truth and the reality of responsibility for the growing chasm.
So long as these two different worlds continue to beat each other up through the political debate, through the creation of legislation favouring the rich and stripping the social programs of much of their fiscal heft, and through the gutting of collective bargaining rights and the total evisceration of the middle class, the numbers of both mass demonstrations and mass conflicts will continue to grow, including violence and chaos.
And that chaos will not be restricted to a few cities in the Middle East, or in Wisconsin and Ohio.
So long as the political class continues to be a voice for the financial Gepetto's, there will be little grasp of the totality of the economic and cultural chasm among the political class. There will be fewer and fewer voices for the lower and middle classes. As the flood of private money flows into the coffers of the men and women who have been elected to vote for legislation, how can those men and women not become merely puppets for the sources of that wealth.
And as long as "winning" consists of the biggest pile of dollars, bonuses and coupons from stock options and that image is the "goal" of all the best and brightest minds in the universities and in graduate schools and then in the offices of the hedge funds, this class warfare will continue to escalate.
We need at least two or three Michael Moore's and Ralph Nader's in every town and city, courageous, imaginative, sensitive and compassionate and informed voices to bring some push-back to this tsunami of money in the hands of these megastars, including the Bill Clinton's and the Bill Gates' who, admittedly, do bring about a flow of some of this cash to some of the significant global causes and issues.
However, we need a political body of international players, with both financial and political clout, to mediate the international markets, to monitor and pass global legislation and regulations on the flow of money, on the payment of taxes, on the provision of global services and institutions that reach beyond national boundaries, in order to keep pace with the new world developments.
All nations have to give up some of their sovereignty, in order that all people will be represented in such an international political entity. Whether that means a restructured and reshaped United Nations, or a completely new and independent set of institutions is a little hair-splitting.
The need is obvious. The political will is, from all appearances, completely absent. And as long as a class of money managers is more powerful than their national political class, the irrelevance of that political class will continue to grow. That money, including the exorbitant profits and bonuses will continue to be taxed at rates that are able to evaded, through the designs and strategies and tactics of creative and courageous and highly paid accountants and lawyers, themselves captives of the same megastars.
The powerlessness of the United Nations, even in the face of the current violence in Libya, for example, to declare a no-fly zone and then enforce such a declaration, in the face of pirate planes firing on innocent citizens, and to bring together a United Nations Peace Force, to bring an end to the violence in that country, and to stand ready in the event more violence erupts in neighbouring countries, is an international shame.
Any argument of disengagement, as the one used by the leader of NATO, is like those arguments used to avoid and evade any interference with the Third Reich in 1938 and 1939, simply inexcuseable.It may be that NATO itself cannot decide to move in to Libya, but NATO forces could certainly be used, if requested by a respected body of world nations. And if the U.N. is not that body, (and the U.S. has certainly done its share of undermining that body), then the world needs to create an international political institution, including a law enforcement component, and a peace-keeping component, an enhanced international judicial system, and an international system of addressing the many and different threats to humanity in all corners of the globe.
And that suggestion does not mean we need a single global leader, but rather a collective group of political leaders to take the bull by the horns, at a level far exceeding the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, and the International Court at the Hague, and the G20 group of countries...
This is a kind of kindergarten of the kind of institution(s) that are needed. And the time is not unlimited, in which to develop such a proposal.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Politicians must be nation's "top chefs" of national menu of policy

By Bob Hepburn, Toronto Star, February 24, 2011
William Cross and Lisa Young, two political scientists who have written extensively on political parties, argue we should all be concerned that party affiliations and loyalties are falling.

“Party membership is a form of public service and thus contributes to the vibrancy of political life in the country,” they write.
The result of reduced relevancy of parties will be greater volatility at the polls, more polarized policies, more catering to special-interest voters, and greater reliance on money instead of volunteers.
As long as politicians of all political stripes continue to "sell" themselves to the highest bidder, and permit their political causes to be taken over by their political/fiscal masters, then it is the donors who are effectively shaping policy, and even legislation and consequently the cultural and political landscape of the country.
It is not only the sale of the individual politician that is troubling, but also the purchase of lobbyists by those seeking political influence, the large corporations in sectors needing relief from legislation, that brings cynicism and apathy to the political process.
There is a third dynamic that separates the people who form the inner circle of the various political parties from the "people" of the society. And that dynamic can be called a natural development: the right of those who have paid their dues, in terms of time and money to the local party association, from those who may be newly interested in the riding association and the processes dedicated to the emergence of national policy ideas.
A fourth dynamic that impedes engagement is the basic human reticence, unless one is personally committed to seek a specific political office, to take leadership in any organization where the established culture points fingers and promotes behind-the-back personal references to those in leadership, not to mention the hyper-extension of this "gossip" in the media focused on all political candidates.
Another observation, at least from the last decade, that might make it difficult to recruit new members to a political party's riding association is that, when we look at what is being done in the actual government, we have to wonder about the capacity to balance personal political ambition with national interests...and we are struck, at least with the current federal government with the spectacle of a group of mostly men who believe that through their leader, they are on the verge of taking a majority after five years of minority, who are pandering to their corporate puppeteers/financiers/fundraisers and who seem to be a little like teflon, given the impact on their futures of severe legitimate criticism from the media pundits.
Canada has no environmental policy worth mentioning, when the world is more than aware of the implications of the science of global warming.
Canada has no interest in a policy of war-mongering, and yet the government insists it must spend $20 billion for fighter jets.
Canada has a dismal record in both foreign policy and social policy, yet the government insists on a $6 billion tax break for corporations whose primary motive is profit, not social utility.
The government has no national strategy for working with the provinces, for enhancing national health care, for balancing competing interests in the international complexities of geopolitics, and no measure of its own and the country's potential for mediation on the international scene, a role our country has excelled in promoting and bringing to fruition in the past.
It is absolute power, plus the demise of the Liberal opponents, that motivates this group, and while that has driven some of us to become more active, to support their failure to achieve their goal of a majority, and to move the country to a more humane and inclusive and regenerative and redemptive and more equal society, even those generalities need to be defined by those leading both Liberal and NDP parties, in order to better galvanize the uncommitted, the undecided and the millions of voters whose lives are already filled with other activities, until just before the vote, when a few highly sophisticated lines from the professional message-makers will either catch the public imagination or not, and linked to the occasional stubbed "toe" from a prominent politician, will swing the balance of voters in one direction or another.
There are so many atractive options, beside the flood of public opinion polls, to engage voters..and they include public debates, think tanks generating research, and a better diet of politial conversation from media talking heads who are not sycophants and who are not afraid of their editorial masters or their advertisers...and yet at all levels, there seems to be a kind of pandering to the notion of "being inscrutably nice" at all that our conversations lack both heat and light and our people consider the political arena closed to their "general" interests and level of engagement.
There is some truth to the adage that we get the government we deserve....apathy will bring out those seeking personal aggrandisement, not those seeking national enhancement of lives of both the nation and its people.
Political leaders who will risk their candidacy, and that of their party, for national goals that are clearly defined and sustainably promoted, in the clear interest of a more equal and just outcome will, like home-baked fresh bread, bring voters to attention....and slightly warmed-over watery soup will not bring many to the table of the national political debate.
Politicians must start from the premise that they are the nation's top chefs, of the national menu of policy ideas and national aspirations looking for clients who share such a national experience...not volunteer hacks feeding the starving with whatever seems available, (to serve their own needs) without a care for the nourishment of those they treat with disdain and even contempt.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hard-to-get men more attractive to women? (research)

By Robert Cribb, Toronto Star, February 23, 2011
When University of Virginia researcher Erin Whitchurch and her colleagues asked 47 university-aged women to view the Facebook profiles of male students who had previously seen their profiles and expressed their varying levels of attraction, the results were a blow to every heart-on-sleeve one of us.

The women were told that the men either liked them a lot, liked them an average amount, or were uncertain. Asked to express their levels of attraction to the men, the initial results were predictable: They liked the men who liked them a lot much better than the ones that only liked them an average amount. That’s merely a confirmation of the so-called “reciprocity principle,” which basically holds that we like people who like us.
But here’s where reciprocity — and the quaint notion of honesty being the best policy — takes a staggering hit: The women expressed their deepest longings for the curious group of cads who withheld their feelings. To repeat the counterintuitive unfairness of it all: The women found the indifferent mystery men more attractive than men who had openly and honestly professed their affections.
“Whereas people may be very pleased that someone likes them, once they are certain of this fact they construct explanations as to why, and as a result the news loses some of its force,” concludes the study, titled “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction.”
“In contrast, when people are uncertain about an important outcome, they can hardly think about anything else. They think about such an event but do not yet adapt to it, because they do not know which outcome to make sense of and explain.”

And because the women reported thinking about the playing-hard-to-get men more, “this increased their attraction,” the study says.
Declaring interest in and attraction to a woman has been considered the honourable thing for any self-respecting male to do, when starting out into the shark-infested waters of human relationships. Only those whom the cliche would dub "macho" would withhold their intentions, because to withhold is to maintain complete control thereby maintaining a dominant position in an relationship that is still only a mere flicker in his eye and blip in his heart. So is it women's insecurity, or women's desire for an interesting story line whose direction and tempo and rhythm remain a mystery to her flailing imagination, or the desire to pursue and to conquer, making the interraction more dramatic and thereby more compelling the reason for her/their interest in those men who keep their intentions private? Or, perhaps more likely, some combination of all three motivations, and even several others, that raise the decibels and the pulse in a woman's first.
As in many aspects of human relationships, perhaps this research points to the question of timing....a very delicate and intimate learning curve for all individuals, both men and women, in their understanding of themselves and any potential partner.
If one declares too soon, any potential for challenge and mystery has been removed, and the male can and likely often will be taken for granted. On the other hand, if he waits too long to commit, and the romance novels are filled with his type, any interest that might have been ignited initially could and likely will have waned or disappeared. It is the complex sensitivity of "knowing" how to proceed with each person, in all things concerning human relationships, even those in the workplace and in the social gatherings that defines much of the success of those relationships.
The other equally elusive dynamic is whether one is the pursued or the persuer...or both. If one considers himself the pursuer, and excludes the potential of his simultaneously being the pursued, he reduces his own potential for being attractive. There is a kind of richness that accompanies living between these two archetypes, the pursued and the pursuer, that can help an overactive endocrine system to put the brakes on and live in the complication of uncertainty, something most males reject as "too complicated" for their arrow-like targetted-for-victory brains.
In the bush, while hunting, there is no ambiguity about who is hunted and who is hunter; the hunter carries his gun over his shoulder while the deer prance gingerly through the forest, hoping for protection from the trees and their own camouflage of colours, shapes and movements.
Such clarity does not attach to the complexity of the male-female mating dance, and certainly not in the 21st century after nearly a half century of feminism, not accompanied by a similar thrust from the male side of the equation.
Women, all of cultures and ages, seem completly smitten by a degree of mystery, especially one that seems to fit within her concepts of 'not too dangerous' and 'not boring'....and men have yet to learn many of the differences between the proverbial hunt (for the deer) and the hunt for the dear.
And that learning will, in the end, require all men to help each other...because women, too, do not wish to disclose too soon, in their avoidance of their own demise as healthy and honourable women.
And just imagine what the world of relationships would be like if both men and women were healthy enough to enter into their own best, most playful and most artistically imaginative consciousness of both disclosure and withholding...creating a mutual dance of jazz improvisation of which pianist Scott Peterson would be proud.

Union Busting: another canary in the coal mine(s) of the globe

By Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, February 23, 2011
What’s going on in Wisconsin should be of real interest to Ontarians. It is an extraordinary story of how a state renowned for its moderate — even leftish — views has decided to solve its fiscal problems by destroying public sector unions.

Like Ontario, Wisconsin has traditionally been home to a conservative kind of progressivism. It pioneered political party reform and workers’ compensation legislation. ...
But like the rest of North America, Wisconsin suffered from the recession and subsequent slowdown. Its unemployment rate rose; its tax revenues declined. A small state (its population is 5.6 million), its biennial deficit is expected to rise to $3.6 billion by 2011-13.
In relative terms, that’s not extreme (Ontario, with a population of 13 million, projects a current annual deficit of $18.7 billion). But it was enough to cause the state’s voters to elect hard-line Republican Scott Walker as governor last fall.
Campaigning on a platform of smaller government, Walker promised both $2 billion in tax cuts and a balanced budget. Aided by a Republican-dominated legislature, he has delivered tax cuts — which, of course, promise to increase future deficits. How then to balance the budget?
One part of the governor’s solution will be familiar to those who watch Ontario politics. Like Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak, Walker has pledged to end subsidies to green energy projects.
But his real focus is on teachers and others who make up the state’s 175,000-person unionized workforce.
Walker wants state workers to pay a higher share of their pension and benefit costs. They’ve agreed.
Beyond that, however, he wants to effectively gut their unions. Under proposed legislation affecting all state employees — with the significant exception of firefighters and police — hard-won collective bargaining rights would be scaled back to 19th-century levels.
First, workers would be forbidden from negotiating anything other than wages. Issues such as pensions, benefits, working conditions and even holidays would be out of bounds.

Second, wages could rise no more than the cost of living. So even where they could negotiate, unions would have little to talk about.
Third, all contracts would be limited to one year. Bargaining units would require annual certification votes and the payment of dues would become voluntary — moves designed to make the very existence of unions more difficult.
And this from the editorial page of the New York Times, February 23, 2011
Like a wind-whipped brush fire, the mass union protests that began in Madison, Wis., last week have spread to the capitals of Ohio and Indiana where Republican lawmakers also are trying to cripple the bargaining power of unions — and ultimately realize a cherished partisan dream of eradicating them. In each case, Republican talk of balancing budgets is cover for the real purpose of gutting the political force of middle-class state workers, who are steady supporters of Democrats and pose a threat to a growing conservative agenda.
And this by Eric Lipton, New York Times, February 21, 2011
Among the thousands of demonstrators who jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol grounds this weekend was a well-financed advocate from Washington who was there to voice praise for cutting state spending by slashing union benefits and bargaining rights.

 The visitor, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of what otherwise was a mostly union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits.
“We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation,” he said.
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts.
In the U.S. there already has been a significant drop in the percentage of workers who belong to unions. From a high of 30+% in the 1970's, that number has dropped to a current low of 7%, inspite of the fact that it was the union movement that essentially drove the creation of the middle class in that country.
Furthermore, to directly attack this fundamental right to collective bargaining one of the main causes of the budget deficit is simply opportunism, and misdirected at that. And there are several reasons for that.
First, the Wall Street debacle, causing a significant drop in tax revenues after the fall in house prices and the deluge of mortgage defaults, because of predatory lending practices, is a more significant contributor to the red ink than public sector union demands. Second, the union contracts pay public service workers, on average, about 5% less than their counterparts in the private sector, who are working without union contracts, including both wages and benefits. Third, the public sector workers provide, in many cases, essential services, similar to the military, at costs less than they would be, in most cases, if those responisibilites were turned over to the private sector, as has been done in Afghanistan where there are more private contractors than military personnel fighting the Taliban.
What is happening across the U.S. is that a wave of conservative revenge is sweeping across the country, focussing on the public services, for example, as provided by teachers, firefighters, police and environmental protection...all of them considered necessary in any civil society. Another of the targets of this movement is the recently passed Health Reform Act which provides health coverage for some 30 million Americans not now covered, while blocking insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, among other new benefits, like permitting children to stay on their parents' coverage until age 26.
Union busting, one of the hallmarks of Margaret Thatcher's government in Great Britain, is a favourite enemy and bogeyman of the corporate elite, just as, conversely, temporary jobs with no benefits are a corporate elite dream, thereby effectively removing any responsibility for workers from the corporate surge for profits.
What is effectively happening in this and several other moves, is the corporate take-over of the American state, in the right-wing's mistaken belief that when the corporations are in control of the governments, either by directly purchasing the politicians or by indirectly manipulating them through expensive lobbyists, then everyone will be reduced to the same kind of worker dependency on their corporate "overlords" where there is no assurance of employment, and no benefits except those purchased by the individual, and all public services will be provided by the private sector.
And, while there are still players associations in the professional sports leagues where the players while making large salaries and bonuses for their short careers, there will be no voice protecting the average workers from the whims of their employers. This is not anyway to generate confidence in a recovery program to which most corporate leaders are not entirely committed, except insofar as their company profits and their shareholder dividends and their CEO bonusus are concerned.
Workers everywhere, including those in sweat shops in the third world, including China, need to use their limited access to the internet, claim their collective voices and take back their legitimate and, in the long run, necessary worker protections in order to mitigate against more legitimate unrest and dislocation stemming from an economic form of repression to which the corporate agenda is increasinly committed everywhere.
Just another compelling reason for the revival, renewal and political empowerment of the International Labour Organization in all countries.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moammar Gadhafi vows to fight to a martyr's death

By Maggie Michael, Associated Press, in Toronto Star, February 22, 2011
CAIRO—Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight on to his “last drop of blood” and roared at his supporters to take to the streets against protesters demanding his ouster, shouting and pounding his fist in a furious speech Tuesday after two nights of a bloody crackdown in the capital trying to crush the uprising that has fragmented his regime.
It was the second time Gadhafi has appeared during the week of upheaval across his country.
Swathed in brown robes and a turban, he spoke on state TV from behind a podium in the entrance of his bombed-out Tripoli residence hit by U.S. airstrikes in the 1980s and left unrepaired as a monument of defiance.
At times the camera panned back to show a towering monument of a gold-colored fist crushing an American fighter jet, outside the building.
But at the same time, the view gave a surreal image of the Libyan leader, shouting and waving his arms wildly all alone in a broken-down lobby with no audience, surrounded by broken tiles dangling from the ceiling, shattered conrete pillars and bare plumbing pipes.
“Libya wants glory, Libya wants to be at the pinnacle, at the pinnacle of the world,” he proclaimed, pounding his fist on the podium.
“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents . . . I will die as a martyr at the end,” he said, vowing to fight “to my last drop of blood.”
With approximately 2% of the world's oil production, most of it going to Europe, the unrest in Libya has resulted in a signifiant spike in world oil prices, up $4 on New York prices, and up $6 in London.
While the source of supply may be threatened, the impact of Libya's ordering his people to take to the streets to fight the protesters will likely reverberate throughout the region. He is obviously not going to adopt the paths of the leaders of Egypy and Tunisia. And the Iranian regime seems as determined to fight the protesters as does Gadhafi.
And to listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "tell" the Libyan dictator to stop the violence against his people is a little like listening to one's own voice in a large cave, echoing several times, without having any impact.
In fact, one of the open questions of these uprisings in Africa and the Middle East is what kind and degree of leverage does the U.S. with individual leaders, armies and nations in the region.
Another open and significant question is whether oil will continue to pass through the Gulf of Hormuz and into the Mediterranean and from there to the rest of the world.
And given the nervousness of the markets already, is there little doubt that we could see oil prices as high as $125 --$150 if these disturbances are not quelled, repelled and/or quashed, by political action, moderation and negotiation.

Massive Solar Storm Brewing in new Solar Season?

Lesley Ciarula Taylor, Toronto Star, February 22, 2011
 Leading scientists are warning that a massive solar storm could trigger a $2 trillion “global Katrina” that short-circuits power grids worldwide.
“Power grids, air traffic control systems and intelligent transport systems need to be looked at,” Stephan Lechner, director of the European Commission Institute for Protection and Security of the Citizen, told a weekend meeting.
“And would our financial trading places have to shut down if the accuracy of the time stamp for an electronic order was not given any more?”

“This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big,” said Jane Lubchenco, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Both were speaking at a space weather session during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“There will be space weather storms that are more frequent and more powerful,” NOAA space scientist Joseph Kunches told the Star on Tuesday. “We’re entering a new solar season.”
Kunches is a former lead forecaster and operations chief at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which tracks solar storms.
The 1989 solar storm that knocked out Hydro Quebec and cut power to six million people for nine hours on March 13 was during a previous peak in the solar storm cycle.
Five months later, another solar storm shut down the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Now, the stakes are higher.....
Powerful solar flares ignite a geomagnetic storm that can shoot direct currents into the power grid, Kunches explained. The domino effect could cripple transformers and special equipment that could take months or years to replace, he said.

Power grids operate with expensive “not off-the-shelf” machinery. Hence, the $2 trillion price tag.
“The sun and its magnetic field become stronger and consequently more eruptive. If you take a magnetic field and change it, it generates an electrical current. The plasma is directed right at the earth. This is not far-fetched.”
Whether a climactic catastrophe will occur is “impossible to predict,” said Kunches.
But the growing volatility of the sun, the globe’s reliance on telecommunications and the need to protect power grids from a massive geomagnetic storm are very real.
Editor's Note: Please consider this piece an "early warning" of what might occur if a solar storm should erupt, as the scientists are predicting.

Universities and cash...a witches brew of "branding"

By Linda McQuaig, Toronto Star, February 22, 2011
With university administrators now heavily focused on wooing private funds, corporate money has become an increasingly potent force shaping our universities — a development prompting a group of concerned professors to hold a teach-in at U of T’s Bahen Centre this Saturday.

The concern is that reliance on corporate philanthropy risks skewing the university’s priorities to court the rich, and threatens to undermine the role of universities as key democratic institutions where society’s prevailing orthodoxies and power structures come under scrutiny.
Are universities likely to critically scrutinize power structures when their funding increasingly comes from those who dominate these very power structures?
This question surfaced last year with the firing of the director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs — which is heavily funded by billionaire Jim Balsillie — and affiliated with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Ramesh Thakur, an internationally renowned scholar, was fired as director after he clashed with Balsillie over Balsillie’s involvement in academic issues at the school. The firing was done by administrators at Wilfrid Laurier and Waterloo, but it appears they were acting to please Balsillie.
An investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers called this “the dark side of philanthropy,” faulting the universities for their “lack of commitment to . . . academic integrity” and “regrettable failure to educate the principal donor . . . Jim Balsillie, as to the donor’s proper role.”
Universities insist they vigilantly protect academic freedom. U of T’s Statement of Purpose pledges to protect critical teaching and research, since “no other institution . . . is the custodian of this most precious and vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit.”
Lofty words. But U of T’s written agreement with donor Peter Munk, establishing the Munk School of Global Affairs, seems to tell a different story.
The agreement reveals that $15 million (almost half Munk’s $35 million donation) will only be given to the university at some point after 2017 — and only after Munk has been satisfied with the outcome of the Munk School.
This certainly puts pressure on those running the school to take it in a direction pleasing to Munk. Is it likely they’ll hire academics doing research, say, on the role of multinational corporations in developing countries — where the mining operations of Munk’s Barrick Gold Corporation have come under attack?
Munk’s agreement with U of T calls for $2 million to be spent on “branding” — as if the school were a cigarette or designer handbag.
Another strange clause in the agreement sets an elitist tone that seems out of keeping with the university as a collegial academic community. It specifies that the school’s elegant heritage mansion will have “a formal entrance reserved only for senior staff and visitors to the School.”
Branding the Monk school, like the kind of social engineering that goes on in some business schools, and the flow of money from corporate interests like oil, insurnace and pharmaceuticals, for starters, are the kind of devolutions that universities do not need and  the society cannot afford.
Last night there was another example of a university using the public media to recruit dollars through enhanced reputation. Am orthopedic surgeon at Queens performed two cartilage reconstructions on two patients, using computer generated images to improve the accuracy of his technique in replacing missing cartilage from the knees of the two patients. Sexy, movement-restoring, life-enhancing surgery to be true; but also a not-so-veiled promotional piece by the Faculty of Medicine at the university where the recruitment of funds is an on-going campaign. Obviously the patients were compliant actors in this nationally staged drama.
It is the process of "what's sexy and what sells" that reduces anything, any institution or specific social organ including universities, to a "brand" in a reductionistic marketing perspective that is eroding the breadth and the depth of the academic purpose of the university: to challenge the very fundamentals of the society in which it exists.
And the implications are not restricted to turning the universities into "training schools" to fill jobs; they also include the reduction of eccentric thinking and thinkers because corporate funding does not readily seek to colour outside the lines. The implications also include the skewing of the universities to the sciences and the professions where extrinsic, empirical and socially useful research and experimentation are publicly observable, whereas in Literature and Philosophy the research and heavy lifting sit quite still for centuries behind the covers of books on library shelves...not at all sexy, or useful in recruiting funds.
It will be from the universities that, for instance, the arguments will be mounted to demonstrate the need for new approaches to global crises, be they economic, or tectonic shifts causing tsunamis, or earth quakes.
Similarly, it will be from the universities that arguments will be developed to demonstrate the need for new political institutions that  complement the United Nations in the global attempts to better protect and deploy workers, to better protect and defend against international crises, and to integrate the world's peoples in a complex and freeing system of communications.
While corporates will rush headlong into the breach, hoping to gain some advantage, and their puppet politicians will listen carefully and act according to their sponsors dictates, it will be the universities and their scholars whose lives are already full with work who are not riding the tidal wave of their "infamy" for their personal ego-massaging (lol, because they too have human impulses like the rest of us)...however we do legitimately expect some degree of both objectivity and social utility, even if it does not conform to the "groupthink" that corporates demand, from the universities. And that has already eroded significantly, and will continue that erosion over the next decades, to our national and global detriment.
Occasionally, after many years of research, funded presumably by the host university, research like that contained in the new book, The Spirit Level, will so provoke contrarian views of the growing gap in equality in so-called "advanced" societies like Great Britain and the United States, that the ripples in their argument will flow, hopefullly, upward into the board rooms of both governments and corporations, making significant dents in the slick and sleek systems that support those two increasingly incestuous institutions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

U.S. duped by computer "con" in war against terrorists?

By Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, New York Times, February 19, 2011
For eight years, government officials turned to Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, for eye-popping technology that he said could catch terrorists. Now, federal officials want nothing to do with him and are going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that his dealings with Washington stay secret
The Justice Department, which in the last few months has gotten protective orders from two federal judges keeping details of the technology out of court, says it is guarding state secrets that would threaten national security if disclosed. But others involved in the case say that what the government is trying to avoid is public embarrassment over evidence that Mr. Montgomery bamboozled federal officials.

A onetime biomedical technician with a penchant for gambling, Mr. Montgomery is at the center of a tale that features terrorism scares, secret White House briefings, backing from prominent Republicans, backdoor deal-making and fantastic-sounding computer technology.
Interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials and business associates and a review of documents show that Mr. Montgomery and his associates received more than $20 million in government contracts by claiming that software he had developed could help stop Al Qaeda’s next attack on the United States. But the technology appears to have been a hoax, and a series of government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force, repeatedly missed the warning signs, the records and interviews show.
Mr. Montgomery’s former lawyer, Michael Flynn — who now describes Mr. Montgomery as a “con man” — says he believes that the administration has been shutting off scrutiny of Mr. Montgomery’s business for fear of revealing that the government has been duped.
“The Justice Department is trying to cover this up,” Mr. Flynn said. “If this unravels, all of the evidence, all of the phony terror alerts and all the embarrassment comes up publicly, too. The government knew this technology was bogus, but these guys got paid millions for it.”
If this story continues in this direction, the hoodwinking of top government officials by another snake-oil salesman, another magic bullet against the potential ravages of terrorism, will only demonstrate the degree to which the U.S. (and potentially other countries as well) has become consumed, even obsessive and paranoid to the point of losing touch with healthy engagement processes at the spectre of terrorist-generated violence.
Repeatedly missing the warning signs (of this latest con artist) is a theme running through the U.S. government that apparently was (and is?) looking for the most secret and most effective thwarting of the AlQaeda ambitions to destroy the U.S.
And yet, after a few opening shots, there is a history of the mosquito scratching itself to death, from the fears generated by the prospect of losing face to some band of thugs in the mountains of Waziristan. And the terrorists did not even have to develop an insecticide that would lodge in the veins of those mosquito wings, as those who make insecticides for campers had to do.
There is a tragic aspect to this story; there is also a somewhat humorous know, the irony of the David and Goliath story, with the U.S. being Goliath in this case and Osama ben "David" on the other side.
Short-term fixes, while initially appealing to the most frightened usually do not have long-term benefits. And, let's hope this story does not reveal too many manipulative hoaxes having been imposed on the American people, thereby undermining the credibility of the "state" even further.
If this mosquito does scratch itself to death, a lot of people will be undone with it.

Violence predicted in Libya...and where else?

By David D. Kirkpatrick and Mona El-Naggar, New York Times,February 20, 2011
 CAIRO — A five-day-old uprising in Libya took control of its second-largest city of Benghazi and spread for the first time to the capital of Tripoli late on Sunday as the heir-apparent son of its strongman, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, warned Libyans in a televised speech that their oil-rich country would fall into civil war and even renewed Western “colonization” if they threw off his father’s 40-year-long rule.
In a rambling, disjointed address delivered about 1 a.m. on Monday, the son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, played down the uprising sweeping the country, which witnesses and rights activists say has left more than 200 people dead and hundreds wounded from gunfire by security forces. He repeated several times that “Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt” — the neighbors to the east and west that both overthrew their veteran autocrats in the space of the last six weeks.
Threatening to burn the nation's oil supply in an act of deterrence to the protesters, as some reports indicate the Libyan dictator's son did, is not going to solve the underlying political, social, economic and cultural divide that exists in Libya, just as it would not do in any of the other countries where uprisings have turned the political tables upside down in the Middle East.
With both Libya and Iran now experiencing their streets filled with activists/protesters who have become emboldened by the success of their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, the political genie of some form of "people-power" is out of the proverbial bottle and will not be put back in with a forced cork, no matter the size or the virulence of the force of dictatorship. However, for the rest of the world to think or to believe or even to imagine that the following days and months will bring an orderly transformation into a western style democracy is "dreaming in technicolour".
We are only just beginning to contemplate the many ripples and potential tidal waves of unloosed political power, and some of that newly-unleashed power will find weapons, both among the protesters and among those attempting to retain their power....and most of those weapons will bear U.S. production and sales marks.
The U.S. has for too long, been the prime generator of weapons both for consumer consumption by their people and for wider distribution on the world markets, both above the table, and under the table. In fact, the U.S. and the rest of the western community of nations may be coming to terms with a history of selling those weapons that will haunt geopolitics for the next decade or two, if not longer.
There will be transitional governments that do not meet the expectations of their political master, the protesters, and those protesters will up the ante by willingly  committing their lives to the cause of their personal, communal and national liberation, and guns or weapons of some kind will become an additional arrow in their quivver. And the military in whose hands the provisional, transitional government has been entrusted, will strike back, partly in frustration and partly because of a lack of both experience in dealing with such uprisings and a lack of imagination and sensitivity to the complexity of their huge task and responsibility.
So keep watching, listening and look for signs that the international community is actively monitoring and guiding this shift of power from the palaces of the plutocrats to the hovels of the humble. It will not glide easily as if through an antomatic transmission. And there will be many different forces attempting to derail its orderly transference.

A Call to Revive the I.L.O. or a new version

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, February 19, 2011
A study by the Marshall School of Business projects that the United States, despite its paltry welfare programs, will still be short 35 million workers by 2030; Europe, despite its generous decent minimum wages, will need 80 million. The most direct and politically feasible solution, the one most governments will continue to use to square the circle and fill the hole, will remain immigration....

As the world’s finance ministers gather here in Paris for another G20 summit, the economy looks like an interlocking set of paradoxes: Simultaneous inflationary growth and deflationary collapse, ultra-low interest rates and nobody willing to lend.

But one paradox, mysterious and misunderstood, seems to be tormenting almost every country today: simultaneous large-scale unemployment and large-scale labour shortages. Almost every government, from Beijing to Ottawa, is nowadays forced to use immigration to fill job shortages, at the same time as it devotes expensive social programs to helping the jobless. This, to put it mildly, has been creating tensions.
Listening to the unemployed, governments hear that the wages for many of the unfilled posts are so low that the social assistance from the government makes it unprofitable to take them. So some governments lower those payments, hoping to have a short-term fix to the problem. So opening up the borders to more immigrants who are willing to take these jobs is one approach.
Yet, as Saunders points out, in many countries with right-of-centre governments, the supporters of those governments are not keen on more immigrants. Their's is a fear of foreign influences in the society global NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard).
According to the January survey of employers by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 34 per cent of corporations now regard “shortage of skilled labour” as their main business constraint – and, tellingly, another 13 per cent regard their biggest problem as “shortage of un/semi-skilled labour.” That means almost one in seven companies can’t find enough uneducated, non-experienced people.

This is the case even though Canada now has a comparatively high unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent, which means that there are 1,449,600 Canadians over 15 years of age who are actively seeking work, officially. Several million more have simply stopped looking for work and have dropped out of the labour force.
Nevertheless, focusing on the numbers of positions not being filled only highlights the attitudes of business and management to labour generally. And those attitudes, generally, are fundamentally flawed. Management will pay the lowest possible dollar to anyone willing and able to work, and will provide the minimum of benefits, none if possible. And management increasingly wants to conduct their business without the "hassle" (read cost, inconvenience, lowered profits, unacceptable contentions for power or any of a number of other phrases) of having to negotiate with a union or a workers' association.North American consumers happily buy products, even high-end products, that have been made by, for example, Chinese workers who have no benefits, and no unions and barely a subsistence wage. And, of course, if the quality of those products is as high as if those products were made in the U.S. by union workers getting $20/hr plus health benefits and pensions, the companies will pay the shipping both of the raw materials to China and the finished products back to North America. So, North Americans support the abuse of Chinese labour, and the loss of North American jobs, so that those companies can reap the highest profit imaginable, in the short run.
Yet by creating pockets of unfilled, often unskilled jobs right here, we are also victims of our own short-sighted, selfish and parochial attitudes.
If there are a host of abusive dictators in the Middle East, whose people are unwilling to remain silent and oppressed, there are also a host of abusive corporate dictators who are skewing the global labour market to their narcissistic, profit-driven, abusive ends. It is time for a revival of the International Labour Organization, or a similar organization, to bring about both equity and fairness in the labour market in every country.
And that would include production standards that meet environmental benchmarks, and benefits like health care and pensions for all workers in all countries, with child labour laws preventing the abuse of children...
It is long past time for the rich to stop our complicity in the reduction of labour markets, (really human beings trying to put food on their tables for their families, and carve out a modicum of dignity in each country regardless of the political leaning of the government in that country.
If we think the people in the streets, many without employment, both among those with educations and those with little or no education are a new wave, imagine if the whole world were actually to waken to the
abuses of workers around the world and to bring that issue to the front pages. And the scales may just be tipping in that direction.
We simply cannot continue to remain blind and insensitive to the need for honourable work for those who seek it, and continue to serve, on bended knee, the whims and power-dictates of the corporations whose existence everywhere depends on a strong, educated and dependable workforce.
And there are certainly more "workers" available for work, and capable of doing that work, than there are corporations willing to take advantage of them....and only through a common voice in a common cause will there ever come a levelling of the playing field, both in the access to employment and in the conditions for that employment if workers speak with a single voice.
And governments that recognize their own complicity with the corporate "giants" and bend both an ear and a series of legislative packages in the direction of labour protection and fairness will see their social costs drop adn their productivity rise...and that's not rocket science either.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

News enterprise worth cultivating reciprocally!

By Linton Weeks, NPR website, February 19, 2011
As overwhelming as the rush of news — the comings and goings of despots, the rise and demise of movements — can be, there is some "comfort" to be found in the laws of the universe, says J. Richard Gott III, an astrophysicist at Princeton University and author of Sizing Up the Universe: The Cosmos in Perspective. For the news to outrun the event is an impossibility in this universe, he says. That's because of the "Planck time" — the smallest measurement of time possible, in quantum physics terms — that would occur between events.

"You can't change governments faster than the Planck time," he says. "Otherwise, you create a black hole and the events collapse into each other."
Phew. In that, one supposes, there's a quantum of solace.
Still, with news — and reaction to news — moving more quickly than ever, says Louis Gray, a Silicon Valley blogger who chronicles the ever-increasing speed of computers and companies, "it is safe to assume the public does not know about many top stories or issues, and cannot be assumed to have enough data to ascertain truth versus spin, and right versus wrong."
As a result, Gray says, "people are intentionally filtering the information they consume through sources they agree with, or are turning instead to entertainment and idle-time activities, becoming less informed."
News Finders, Not Makers
Steven Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are Creators, believes we will learn to navigate the new world with the help of other navigators. He wrote in The Huffington Post that we are living in "a world where abundance is assumed in the world of content — there's no shortage of content makers of all shapes and sizes. But the avalanche of content makes finding the content you're looking for significantly harder."
By choosing to read a certain story or subscribe to a certain blog — and letting others know that we "like" the stories and blogs — we are saving time for those who trust us, according to Rosenbaum.
"The world of curation will have lots of brand-name, well-known curators you know and trust," Rosenbaum wrote. "The new media moguls won't be makers, they'll be finders, endorsers and presenters."
In an interview, Rosenbaum adds: "Curious people will have more of an opportunity to engage in curated and complex editorial mixes, and people who define themselves as a political party, or an issue, or any other narrow set of filters will embrace sources that don't expose them to alternative points of view."
Everyday, at the, I scan various news sources looking for what I think might be important "FOR ME" to know, given the completely overwhelming smorgasbord of information that
cataracts across our screens every minute of every hour of every day of the year. While doing this, I did not know that I was serving as a "news curator" one who selects and gathers certain news stories because of their unique and perhaps significant impact on the world in which we live.
However, if this is an incubator of the "news curator" enterprise, along with hundreds or perhaps thousands of others around the globe, there is an important component to the process that is needed.
And that, dear reader, is not only your statistical feedback, as in the number of page reads this blog receives each day, but also your personal observations, reflections, disagreements, counter-information and perspective, from the many various languages and cultures in which you work and live and think.
For this blog to succeed in serving the needs of its adherents, including the "curator," it will increasingly depend on analogical feedback...because through such personal interraction, we can build a more resonant, and more complex and more reflective and potentially more global and communal perspective for additional selection and display.
Even if you feel somewhat limited in your command of the English language, please try a single word response to a piece you read here...even a single word can express a considerable freight of insight....and we would like to become more interractive with each of you.
Looking forward to hearing your comments, feedback, disagreements etc....

U.S. Ranks worst in Advanced Economies by I.M.F.

From the New York Times, February 20, 2011

Income inequality: worst
Food security: worst
Life Expectantcy at Birth : worst
Prison Population: worst
Student Performance on Math: Worst

Haroon Siddiqui: Required reading for Canadian voters...TURF Harper!

By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, February 20, 2011
Canada pays dearly whenever Stephen Harper lets his ideology, partisanship, controlling nature or stubbornness trump common sense or the advice of his ministers and civil servants.

While prime ministers have the final word, in his case it’s only his word that counts — regardless of facts or costs, in terms of our world standing or extra expenditures.
The Bev Oda scandal, as much as it is about her possible contempt of Parliament over a doctored document, is about Harper’s uncritical commitment to Israel, as have been several other controversies.
After Canada’s first-ever failure to win a seat on the Security Council, his minions blamed Europe’s 27 members for voting for Portugal. A better post-mortem came from Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League. In an interview in Cairo in November, he told me the 57-member Islamic Conference had voted as a bloc to protest Harper’s anti-Arab policies, from Lebanon to Gaza to the United Arab Emirates.
The tragic turmoil at Rights and Democracy, the Montreal-based human rights agency, was caused by Harper-appointed board members over three grants of $10,000 each to one Israeli and two Palestinian human rights groups after the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza.
The board hounded agency president Remy Beauregard. He died of a heart attack after a tumultuous meeting. The staff revolted. The board fired three managers and sent in investigators, lawyers and auditors, ostensibly to ferret out improprieties. They found nothing.
The cost of the probes: more than $1 million (about a tenth of the agency’s annual allocation of $11 million). The bill included $50,000 for board member Jacques Gauthier for services rendered. Yet he and another partisan director, Elliot Tepper, have been rewarded with reappointments.
The Oda affair entails a funding cut to Kairos, a Toronto group of 11 churches that has done development work abroad for 35 years.
It was refused $7 million not because it was not “efficient and effective,” as Oda says. In fact, civil servants had given it “a stellar evaluation,” according to Mary Corkery, executive director. They had recommended the grant.
But, as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney boasted in Israel, Kairos was cut off as part of his crackdown on anti-Semitism, implying that Kairos was anti-Semitic. He said Kairos had advocated boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. It had not. It had only called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands.
Kenney also cut off $1 million to the Canadian Arab Federation, whose president had criticized the Israeli attack on Gaza. In fact, he was only quoting Norman Finkelstein, a critic of Israeli policies.
Kenney went after another critic of Israel, barring British MP George Galloway from Canada. That decision was tossed out by the courts, giving Galloway a bigger stage and a megaphone to berate Canada.
The ruining of the trade and strategic relationship with the United Arab Emirates was triggered by Ottawa protecting Air Canada from competition by Emirates and Etihad airlines. But that wasn’t all.
For two years, the Harperites wouldn’t even meet the U.A.E. ambassador in Ottawa. That was the period when we were using a U.A.E. military airbase to get in and out of Afghanistan. And our wounded soldiers were being treated at a U.A.E. hospital, and flown first class on Emirates or Etihad to Canada, all free.
Now our $1.5 billion a year trade is at risk. And Canada is out at least $300 million for an alternate airbase elsewhere.
Another Harper ideological blind spot — a selective libertarian view of what government should or should not do — led to the fiasco over this year’s national census. Ignoring the advice of ministers Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement, as well as experts at Statistics Canada, Harper ordered that the compulsory quinquennial survey be made voluntary. Despite a national outcry and the resignation of the chief statistician, he wouldn’t budge. Now Ottawa is set to spend $30 million extra this summer to boost the voluntary sample only to get a less reliable national portrait, according to experts.
Yet another case of ignoring the advice of civil service is the yanking of a $3 million a year grant to the Forum of Federations. It promotes Canadian-style federalism abroad. An Ottawa source told me: “It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t extend the funding to the Forum, beyond that it was established by the Liberals. Maybe they’re just being vindictive. We know that they are nothing if not vindictive.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gene Sharp, quiet, shy American 'provocateur' of non-violence

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, February 16, 2011
His name is Gene Sharp. Stoop-shouldered and white-haired at 83, he grows orchids, has yet to master the Internet and hardly seems like a dangerous man.
But for the world’s despots, his ideas can be fatal.
Few Americans have heard of Mr. Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt.
When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around “crazy ideas” about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.
When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”
Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.
Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas have power.”
Mr. Sharp, hard-nosed yet exceedingly shy, is careful not to take credit. He is more thinker than revolutionary, though as a young man he participated in lunch-counter sit-ins and spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector during the Korean War. He has had no contact with the Egyptian protesters, he said, although he recently learned that the Muslim Brotherhood had “From Dictatorship to Democracy” posted on its Web site.

Manichean political shout-fests: not mature, responsible governance

By Gail Collins, New York Times,February 16, 2011
Nobody wants to see underperforming, overcrowded schools being deprived of more resources anywhere. But when it happens in Texas, it’s a national crisis. The birth rate there is the highest in the country, and if it continues that way, Texas will be educating about a tenth of the future population. It ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies.

Which brings us to choice two. Besides reducing services to children, Texas is doing as little as possible to help women — especially young women — avoid unwanted pregnancy.
For one thing, it’s extremely tough for teenagers to get contraceptives in Texas. “If you are a kid, even in college, if it’s state-funded you have to have parental consent,” said Susan Tortolero, director of the Prevention Research Center at the University of Texas in Houston.
Plus, the Perry government is a huge fan of the deeply ineffective abstinence-only sex education. Texas gobbles up more federal funds than any other state for the purpose of teaching kids that the only way to avoid unwanted pregnancies is to avoid sex entirely. (Who knew that the health care reform bill included $250 million for abstinence-only sex ed? Thank you, Senator Orrin Hatch!) But the state refused to accept federal money for more expansive, “evidence-based” programs.
“Abstinence works,” said Governor Perry during a televised interview with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune.
“But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country,” Smith responded.
“It works,” insisted Perry.
No, Mr. Perry it does not work! And all the research evidence from all the jurisdictions in the world demonstrate that abstinence only instruction does not reduce unwanted pregnancies.
However, there are other very disturbing signs in the Texas school situation: larger classes, fewer teachers, restricted curriculum and reduced budgets, even when federal funds are being rejected...and the right-wing trend will continue now that all talk of governance has turned to cutting spending, the holy writ of the right wing wing-nuts, in the Tea Party and in the rest of the Republican party in the U.S.
The United States shouts loudly in the halls of diplomacy around the world that it does not want to see theocracies bubbling up in former dictatorships, even if those dictatorships have been 'friendly' to U.S. interests, or have been paid for their loyalty by the U.S. State Department. It has proclaimed adherence and support for the ideals of democracy, and free and open debate, and respect for the will of the people in other countries, while, at home, there is a very dangerous and deeply embedded theme of complete rejection of those ideals, especially in the minds, public statements and bills passed by those on the right wing of the American political spectrum.
  • Forbidding money for contraceptives in public health care;
  • forbidding money for therapeutic abortions in public health care funding;
  • stripping teachers from schools and resources from the budgets of many schools;
  • closing many schools, even some that are performing above expectations and average
  • stripping funds from many supportive and needed social programs
  • stripping funds from research and innovation
  • removing collective bargaining rights from public service unions, after decades of fighting to win those same rights in the first place
  • gutting public service pensions for already retired pensioners
  • while at the same time leaving the Pentagon budget untouched....with virtually no cuts....
This manichean "either-or" dichotomy is a recipe for disaster. And fundamentalist thinkers, conservative thinkers seem unable to hold two conflicting thoughts in tension and with respect for both at the same time.
The President has announced both budget cuts and investments to "win the future" and the balancing of competing interests, both the short term debt and deficit problem and the potential route to new jobs, new industries and new revenues for individuals/families and for the state, local and federal governments through taxes based on those new revenues. His thinking seems incompatible with the mind-set of the black-and-white manicheans.
In fact political debate in the U.S. has suffered such a reductionism that it no longer qualifies as authentic debate. What has happened is a literal shouting match, where the side making the loudest, longest and most penetrating noise wins the argument, not the nuanced, sophisticated and balanced integration of ideas which might, on their surface, appear mutually exclusive.
One cannot be opposed, in principal, to abortion, while at the same time favouring public funding for therapeutic abortions in those cases where such a procedure is warranted. For anti-abortionists, there simply are no cases where such a procedure is warranted.
One cannot be serious about debt and deficit reduction, and at the same time, demonstrate a commitment to investing in new technologies and new industries and new infrastructure for the future.
In Texas, one cannot support budget cutting and support for education at the same time, because the latter trumps the former, in the perceptions of the opposition.
In Texas, one cannot seek to reduce the numbers of abortions and teen pregnancies, and also support the provision of condoms, and evidence-based education programs through public funding to the less fortunate, in whose demographics many of the single-parent pregnancies occur.
Just think, for a moment, about the messages these "either-or" dichotomies are sending to the students in all the schools and colleges and universities across the land...The essential purpose of education, to instill a capacity to balance, and to integrate and to wrestle with conflicting ideas simultaneously, in a reasoned and sophisticated and collegial manner  working toward implementation, is belied and denied, in spades, by those governing the country.
Life is complex; it posits competing interests on each kitchen table in each home in every state. It also requires that those sitting at those tables learn to discuss, weigh, listen, reflect and to compromise for the purpose of meeting the important needs of the family, without either breaking the bank, or the hearts of those at the table with what are in most cases, limited, finite and often diminishing resources.
If that lesson mandates itself around the kitchen table, why then is it so difficult to discover its legitimate application at the larger, more elegant and more significant tables where the leaders of the country also need to discuss, weigh, listen, reflect and compromise for the purpose of governing the country...and not for the purpose of serving individual political ambitions or the interests of those paying the piper, the lobbyists for the largest bank accounts for the largest corporations and special interests like the EXXON's and the Chevrons and the Roman Catholic church?
And it is a growing trend toward a manichean duality that obliterates the option of complex, nuanced, balanced, reasoned and reasonable discussion, debate and compromise, that renders those in charge unworthy of public support when voting time rolls around. And it is not only happening in the U.S. Canada has an active, myopic and intransigent right-wing political action committee: it is called the Harper Conservative movement! It does not merit the word "government"!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Imagine: "A protest on Parliament Hill to demand Harper's removal"

By Rick Salutin, Toronto Star, Friday, February 18, 2011
The trouble with elections as we know them is they tend to skip that organizing stage: there are only leaders and individual voters. So we miss out on the exhilarating phase where people come together, realize that they share concerns, and decide to act. The real democratic trick would be to combine the phases so the tedious business of choosing a government gets done but individual citizens aren’t largely sidelined in the process.

Most of the coverage here (Cairo) seemed to assume that Egyptians were just trying to get to where we already are: democratic elections. But I think it would do us as much good to go where they’ve already been: through Tahrir Square.
(First, congratulations to the Toronto Star for finding and uploading the outstanding writing that always emerges from Rick Salutin's mind!)
Now, let's look at what a trip through Tahrir Square would look like for Canadians.
Such a trip would need an organizing drive, a principle for which all, or at least a large number of Canadians, demand change to address. And that would require a significant wake-up call since, currently, of the 33 million people in the country, there are a meagre 2%, who even belong to any political party. That is a very small number of people. The large contributor number is even much smaller.
So let's imagine, for the moment, that Canadians do come to the (legitimate) view that Harper and his band of political aardvarks needs to be replaced because they have lost the confidence of the Canadian people.
Now, someone with tech savvy, likely in his or her twenties, would twitter a few friends, suggesting that they meet on parliament hill on a Saturday morning in April, after the winter storms, and before any vote in an election could be held. They would, in their note, comment that the oppression of the poor, the homeless and the unemployed, at the hands of the rich establishment (that demands law-and-order and a new military jet to solve non-existent problems but to satisfy their ego needs), has to stop and the only way to stop it is to remove the current leaders of the government. And the only way to do that peacefully and democratically is to demand a termination of the current parliament, through a trip by Harper to the Governor General to issue an election writ.
And first, the people on the hill, in April, would have to demand that the opposition leaders vote both to censure the government (goodness knows there are so many reasons to do this, the latest one being the behaviour of Bev Oda, Minister of International Co-operation) and then to vote lack of confidence in the government in the House of Commons.
Now, unlike Egypt, where Mubarak "held" power, through the support of the military and the U.S., Canadian leaders seem stuck in an archetype of leadership that renders them powerless, poll-driven and incapable of the final thrust that demonstrates their capacity to lead, including their capacity to face the electorate in a general election, so frightened are they of the polls which even the pollsters acknowledge are no longer reliable, given the difficulty of generating a representative sample of the electorate, now that millions have no home phone but only a cell phone.
So we have leaders running from their responsibility based on information that is admittedly unsound, and failing to lead, because they are moved more by their fears than their courage...
And, that notion just might be included in those tweets attempting to generate a crowd on parliament hill.
And then, of course, those tweeting would need to tweet a few reporters, and a few people to speak to the crowd (of at least 100) who would gather, after driving through Tim's for their Saturday morning mojo, to demand a change of government....
On second thought, there is more likelihood of a tsunami of protest through vandalism against the Mayor of Victoria because he refused to allow the homeless to camp in the neighbourhood where many other homeless people live....than there is of a crowd forming on parliament hill to demand the removal of the Harper-cons even with the tweets and the facebook messages and the blackberries in the hands of a highly educated electorate....sleep on a Saturday morning appeals to far more Canadians than walking up parliament hill and taking back the government....nice idea, Rick, too bad it wont work in Canada!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Victoria Mayor's home vandalised, over insensitivity to homelessness

By Dirk Meissner The Canadian Press November 5, 2010, in Toronto Star, February 17, 2011 
VICTORIA—Victoria’s mayor says he’s saddened and disappointed that his home became the target of vandals trying to make a point about homelessness.
Mayor Dean Fortin issued a statement Friday after discovering his home and car had been vandalized with spray paint.
“This incident does nothing to help us solve homelessness in our community,” Fortin said in the statement.
Victoria police were not confirming reports that the incident is linked to actions by unidentified homeless activists, but a letter from those taking responsibility for the vandalism was sent to city hall.
The unsigned letter said “militants” are fighting back after the city “declared war on the poor.”
Fortin was at home with his wife and two young daughters when he discovered a window on his car had been broken and the vehicle and the house had been spray painted.
The letter states the vandals spray painted PG 72 at Fortin’s home to refer to the city area Pandora Green, which is frequented by homeless people, and the recent closure of 72 city shelter beds.
The letter also states the vandals spray painted the letters A, C, A, B, short for All Cops Are Bastards, on the mayor’s car.
The letter states Fortin is responsible for recent City of Victoria bylaws that prevent permanent camping in the Pandora Green neighbourhood, which is near the city’s major homeless facility.
It states the vandalism at Fortin’s home was meant to leave him with a feeling of “shattered middleclass peace.”
It also accuses the police and bylaw officers of brutalizing homeless people.
“If [expletive] Fortin whines about the ‘violence’ inflicted upon his property, we’ll counter that he should instead reflect upon the fact that his own policies inflict violence and hardship on Victoria’s street community every day,” the letter stated.
I never thought or believed that, in Victoria, British Columbia, one of the most treasured enclaves of the retired in Canada, the mayor would have his car and home vandalized by protesters pushing back against what they perceive as "anti-homeless" policies and approaches.
How different this approach is from that of Calgary (see, February 15, 2011).
And how sad, that this issue has not become a national issue in the forthcoming federal election.
Perhaps, with enough conscious-raising, it will, and it will leave the current Harper neo-cons bare, without clothes,  a la "the emperor has no clothes" because they have no policy or interest in the issue.