Thursday, March 31, 2011

CIA and MI6 Intelligence Officers work Libyan "ground"

By Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, New York Times,  March 30, 2011
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency has inserted clandestine operatives into Libya to gather intelligence for military airstrikes and to contact and vet the beleaguered rebels battling Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces, according to American officials.
While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.
In addition to the C.I.A. presence, composed of an unknown number of Americans who had worked at the spy agency’s station in Tripoli and others who arrived more recently, current and former British officials said that dozens of British special forces and MI6 intelligence officers are working inside Libya. The British operatives have been directing airstrikes from British jets and gathering intelligence about the whereabouts of Libyan government tank columns, artillery pieces and missile installations, the officials said.
American officials hope that similar information gathered by American intelligence officers — including the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots and the clusters of government troops inside towns — might help weaken Libya’s military enough to encourage defections within its ranks.
There will be those who consider the CIA to be "putting boots on the ground" in a conflict whose permitting U.N. resolution forbids such a move....and perhaps this is another of those cases in which it is easier to seek forgiveness than to ask permission.
With the defection of the Foreign Affairs Minister from the Libyan dictator's "government" as yesterday's set-back for the dictator, there is nevertheless mounting evidence that the rebels are being repelled by forces loyal to the dictator.
Clearly the cunning, brutal and relentless dictator will not go easily, and there a many in his country who do not support a move to provide exile for him in another country. Given the crimes against their loved ones, these people want the Libyan dictator to be tried for war crimes, or for crimes against humanity, and thereby prevent a quiet departure to a comfortable exile. We support their legitimate aspirations, but doubt the world community will go that far. It would appear that the removal of the Libyan dictator would faciliate most of the ambitions of those inside and outside Libya.

Dukes v WalMart in gender discrimination case at U.S. Supreme Court

By David Olive, Toronto Star, March 30, 2011
Wal-Mart, in trying to stop this case in its tracks, falls back on the usual excuses in cases where corporate conduct is under scrutiny. It says it has never condoned discrimination, of course. And it insists that any acts of gender bias are isolated incidents by rogue local managers.

“The evidence is contrary of (bias),” claims Wal-Mart lawyer Theodore Boutrous.
But that assertion is at odds with the sworn depositions of more than 100 of Wal-Mart’s women employees. And also with that of the San Francisco trial court judge who ruled the Wal-Mart case could proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That judge said his ruling derived from “largely uncontested, descriptive statistics which show that women working in Wal-Mart stores are paid less than men in every region, that pay disparities exist in most job categories, that the salary gap widens over time, that women take longer to enter into management positions, and that the higher one looks in the organization, the lower the percentage of women.”
You might think just from the achievements of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, astronaut and scientist Roberta Bondar, and the women CEOs at Kraft Foods Inc., PepsiCo Inc. and Guelph-based Linamar Corp., which Linda Hassenfratz has expanded into a thriving multinational in the teeth of the worst auto-making downturn since the Great Depression, that women can do anything.
But if Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke, who pulled down $19.2 million (U.S.) in pay last year compared with the average female Wal-Mart employee’s $13,000 in 2001 when the class-action suit was first filed, needs more specific evidence, it exists in abundance.
Among my favourite cases are the world-renowned orchestras that were confronted some years ago with accusations of gender bias. When their hiring committees finally were persuaded to conduct “blind auditions,” there was a 50 per cent jump in women advancing from preliminary rounds of consideration. And the likelihood of the women candidates being hired increased by several multiples.
Naturally, we add our voice to the many who are clambering for gender equity, not only in Wal-Mart, but in every workplace on the planet. And to that end, we applaud the class action of some 1+million women against WalMart, in an attempt to bring their plight to light. If WalMart, like so many other private sector employers were open to permitting their workforce to become members of a labour union, there would be some protection for those employees.
However, such a development is not going to happen.
When price-cutting is the core of the business model, all other factors in the busines equation must pay homage to that driving goal. Consequently, working conditions, the nature of the hires and the prospects of those hires to move up the ladder will be subject to the limited whims of those who are given supervisory responsibility. Perceptions and attittudes do change with exposure to different perceptions and attitudes. However, begun in the rural U.S. where Sam Walton saw there were no stores providing access to goods similar to those available in American cities, WalMart has consistently vaccuumed marginal workers, seniors and many from those areas where their stores are located, and consistently paid them less than their city peers would make, in order to maintain the wage ceilings that make their "price-cutting" heart continue to beat.
And those workers, both male and female, continue to show up every day, because they have a job although those jobs for both genders pay at best minimum wage, and provide minimal opportunities for advancement.
WalMart knows that the vast majority of their workers will continue to show up for those base wages, while the company makes huge public relations initiatives in support of one-off family disasters in many communities. Once again, the biggest bang for the smallest buck, for the company!
If the U.S. Supreme Court does permit this case to proceed, because they believe there is enough evidence, (and observers from yesterday's opening session seem to think there were at least 5 or 6 justices who appeared uninterested in extending the case, with the 3 female justices showing more interest), it will be a landmark case, especially if the lawyers for the women can and do make their case effectively.
If, on the other hand, WalMart were to open its mind to the option of workers' rights and workers productivity, as seen differently from the mere ink on the balance sheet, and were to manage those people with the goal of enhanced worker productivity and enhanced customer satisfaction because their workers actually treated customers with welcoming and helpful attitudes and interactions, the WalMart brand might actually move from one of being a social pariah to one of a social enrichment, without hurting and potentially growing the bottom line.
But that's not likely to happen any time soon either.
The only other effective option is for consumers to purchase fewer items, at slightly higher prices, at stores where workers are respected, valued and treated with both gender and performance equity. If such a silence greeted WalMart managers every morning, instead of the current overloaded parking lots teeming with stampeding customers, they might actually have to re-think their approach to the human side of the enterprise.
But that's not likely to happen any time soon either.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chris Hedges: Old Testament Prophet vs globalization

By Chris Hedges, posted on March 27, 2011 from website
The uprisings in the Middle East, the unrest that is tearing apart nations such as the Ivory Coast, the bubbling discontent in Greece, Ireland and Britain and the labor disputes in states such as Wisconsin and Ohio presage the collapse of globalization. They presage a world where vital resources, including food and water, jobs and security, are becoming scarcer and harder to obtain. They presage growing misery for hundreds of millions of people who find themselves trapped in failed states, suffering escalating violence and crippling poverty. They presage increasingly draconian controls and force—take a look at what is being done to Pfc. Bradley Manning—used to protect the corporate elite who are orchestrating our demise.
We must embrace, and embrace rapidly, a radical new ethic of simplicity and rigorous protection of our ecosystem—especially the climate—or we will all be holding on to life by our fingertips. We must rebuild radical socialist movements that demand that the resources of the state and the nation provide for the welfare of all citizens and the heavy hand of state power be employed to prohibit the plunder by the corporate power elite. We must view the corporate capitalists who have seized control of our money, our food, our energy, our education, our press, our health care system and our governance as mortal enemies to be vanquished.
Adequate food, clean water and basic security are already beyond the reach of perhaps half the world’s population. Food prices have risen 61 percent globally since December 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. The price of wheat has exploded, more than doubling in the last eight months to $8.56 a bushel. When half of your income is spent on food, as it is in countries such as Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and the Ivory Coast, price increases of this magnitude bring with them malnutrition and starvation. Food prices in the United States have risen over the past three months at an annualized rate of 5 percent. There are some 40 million poor in the United States who devote 35 percent of their after-tax incomes to pay for food. As the cost of fossil fuel climbs, as climate change continues to disrupt agricultural production and as populations and unemployment swell, we will find ourselves convulsed in more global and domestic unrest. Food riots and political protests will be inevitable. But it will not necessarily mean more democracy.
The refusal by all of our liberal institutions, including the press, universities, labor and the Democratic Party, to challenge the utopian assumptions that the marketplace should determine human behavior permits corporations and investment firms to continue their assault, including speculating on commodities to drive up food prices. It permits coal, oil and natural gas corporations to stymie alternative energy and emit deadly levels of greenhouse gases. It permits agribusinesses to divert corn and soybeans to ethanol production and crush systems of local, sustainable agriculture. It permits the war industry to drain half of all state expenditures, generate trillions in deficits, and profit from conflicts in the Middle East we have no chance of winning. It permits corporations to evade the most basic controls and regulations to cement into place a global neo-feudalism. The last people who should be in charge of our food supply or our social and political life, not to mention the welfare of sick children, are corporate capitalists and Wall Street speculators. But none of this is going to change until we turn our backs on the Democratic Party, denounce the orthodoxies peddled in our universities and in the press by corporate apologists and construct our opposition to the corporate state from the ground up. It will not be easy. It will take time. And it will require us to accept the status of social and political pariahs, especially as the lunatic fringe of our political establishment steadily gains power. The corporate state has nothing to offer the left or the right but fear. It uses fear—fear of secular humanism or fear of Christian fascists—to turn the population into passive accomplices. As long as we remain afraid nothing will change.
Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, two of the major architects for unregulated capitalism, should never have been taken seriously. But the wonders of corporate propaganda and corporate funding turned these fringe figures into revered prophets in our universities, think tanks, the press, legislative bodies, courts and corporate boardrooms. We still endure the cant of their discredited economic theories even as Wall Street sucks the U.S. Treasury dry and engages once again in the speculation that has to date evaporated some $40 trillion in global wealth. We are taught by all systems of information to chant the mantra that the market knows best.
It does not matter, as writers such as John Ralston Saul have pointed out, that every one of globalism’s promises has turned out to be a lie. It does not matter that economic inequality has gotten worse and that most of the world’s wealth has became concentrated in a few hands. It does not matter that the middle class—the beating heart of any democracy—is disappearing and that the rights and wages of the working class have fallen into precipitous decline as labor regulations, protection of our manufacturing base and labor unions have been demolished. It does not matter that corporations have used the destruction of trade barriers as a mechanism for massive tax evasion, a technique that allows conglomerates such as General Electric to avoid paying any taxes. It does not matter that corporations are exploiting and killing the ecosystem on which the human species depends for life. The steady barrage of illusions disseminated by corporate systems of propaganda, in which words are often replaced with music and images, are impervious to truth. Faith in the marketplace replaces for many faith in an omnipresent God. And those who dissent—from Ralph Nader to Noam Chomsky—are banished as heretics.
The aim of the corporate state is not to feed, clothe or house the masses, but to shift all economic, social and political power and wealth into the hands of the tiny corporate elite. It is to create a world where the heads of corporations make $900,000 an hour and four-job families struggle to survive. The corporate elite achieves its aims of greater and greater profit by weakening and dismantling government agencies and taking over or destroying public institutions. Charter schools, mercenary armies, a for-profit health insurance industry and outsourcing every facet of government work, from clerical tasks to intelligence, feed the corporate beast at our expense. The decimation of labor unions, the twisting of education into mindless vocational training and the slashing of social services leave us ever more enslaved to the whims of corporations. The intrusion of corporations into the public sphere destroys the concept of the common good. It erases the lines between public and private interests. It creates a world that is defined exclusively by naked self-interest.

The ideological proponents of globalism—Thomas Friedman, Daniel Yergin, Ben Bernanke and Anthony Giddens—are stunted products of the self-satisfied, materialistic power elite. They use the utopian ideology of globalism as a moral justification for their own comfort, self-absorption and privilege. They do not question the imperial projects of the nation, the widening disparities in wealth and security between themselves as members of the world’s industrialized elite and the rest of the planet. They embrace globalism because it, like most philosophical and theological ideologies, justifies their privilege and power. They believe that globalism is not an ideology but an expression of an incontrovertible truth. And because the truth has been uncovered, all competing economic and political visions are dismissed from public debate before they are even heard.
The defense of globalism marks a disturbing rupture in American intellectual life. The collapse of the global economy in 1929 discredited the proponents of deregulated markets. It permitted alternative visions, many of them products of the socialist, anarchist and communist movements that once existed in the United States, to be heard. We adjusted to economic and political reality. The capacity to be critical of political and economic assumptions resulted in the New Deal, the dismantling of corporate monopolies and heavy government regulation of banks and corporations. But this time around, because corporations control the organs of mass communication, and because thousands of economists, business school professors, financial analysts, journalists and corporate managers have staked their credibility on the utopianism of globalism, we speak to each other in gibberish. We continue to heed the advice of Alan Greenspan, who believed the third-rate novelist Ayn Rand was an economic prophet, or Larry Summers, whose deregulation of our banks as treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton helped snuff out some $17 trillion in wages, retirement benefits and personal savings. We are assured by presidential candidates like Mitt Romney that more tax breaks for corporations would entice them to move their overseas profits back to the United States to create new jobs. This idea comes from a former hedge fund manager whose personal fortune was amassed largely by firing workers, and only illustrates how rational political discourse has descended into mindless sound bites.
We are seduced by this childish happy talk. Who wants to hear that we are advancing not toward a paradise of happy consumption and personal prosperity but a disaster? Who wants to confront a future in which the rapacious and greedy appetites of our global elite, who have failed to protect the planet, threaten to produce widespread anarchy, famine, environmental catastrophe, nuclear terrorism and wars for diminishing resources? Who wants to shatter the myth that the human race is evolving morally, that it can continue its giddy plundering of non-renewable resources and its profligate levels of consumption, that capitalist expansion is eternal and will never cease?
Dying civilizations often prefer hope, even absurd hope, to truth. It makes life easier to bear. It lets them turn away from the hard choices ahead to bask in a comforting certitude that God or science or the market will be their salvation. This is why these apologists for globalism continue to find a following. And their systems of propaganda have built a vast, global Potemkin village to entertain us. The tens of millions of impoverished Americans, whose lives and struggles rarely make it onto television, are invisible. So are most of the world’s billions of poor, crowded into fetid slums. We do not see those who die from drinking contaminated water or being unable to afford medical care. We do not see those being foreclosed from their homes. We do not see the children who go to bed hungry. We busy ourselves with the absurd. We invest our emotional life in reality shows that celebrate excess, hedonism and wealth. We are tempted by the opulent life enjoyed by the American oligarchy, 1 percent of whom control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

The celebrities and reality television stars whose foibles we know intimately live indolent, self-centered lives in sprawling mansions or exclusive Manhattan apartments. They parade their sculpted and surgically enhanced bodies before us in designer clothes. They devote their lives to self-promotion and personal advancement, consumption, parties and the making of money. They celebrate the cult of the self. And when they have meltdowns we watch with gruesome fascination. This empty existence is the one we are taught to admire and emulate. This is the life, we are told, we can all have. The perversion of values has created a landscape where corporate management by sleazy figures like Donald Trump is confused with leadership and where the ability to accumulate vast sums of money is confused with intelligence. And when we do glimpse the poor or working class on our screens, they are ridiculed and taunted. They are objects of contempt, whether on “The Jerry Springer Show” or “Jersey Shore.”

The incessant chasing after status, personal advancement and wealth has plunged most of the country into unmanageable debt. Families, whose real wages have dropped over the past three decades, live in oversized houses financed by mortgages they often cannot repay. They seek identity through products. They occupy their leisure time in malls buying things they do not need. Those of working age spend their weekdays in little cubicles, if they still have steady jobs, under the heels of corporations that have disempowered American workers and taken control of the state and can lay them off on a whim. It is a desperate scramble. No one wants to be left behind.
The propagandists for globalism are the natural outgrowth of this image-based and culturally illiterate world. They speak about economic and political theory in empty clichés. They cater to our subliminal and irrational desires. They select a few facts and isolated data and use them to dismiss historical, economic, political and cultural realities. They tell us what we want to believe about ourselves. They assure us that we are exceptional as individuals and as a nation. They champion our ignorance as knowledge. They tell us that there is no reason to investigate other ways of organizing and governing our society. Our way of life is the best. Capitalism has made us great. They peddle the self-delusional dream of inevitable human progress. They assure us we will be saved by science, technology and rationality and that humanity is moving inexorably forward.
None of this is true. It is a message that defies human nature and human history. But it is what many desperately want to believe. And until we awake from our collective self-delusion, until we carry out sustained acts of civil disobedience against the corporate state and sever ourselves from the liberal institutions that serve the corporate juggernaut—especially the Democratic Party—we will continue to be rocketed toward a global catastrophe.
Editor's note: While for some these words may have a ring of catastrophizing, the apocalyptic warning trumpet, and sometimes I, too,  have to walk away and return, because they are so dramatically harsh and frightening, nevertheless, if the world does not consider these words as a wake-up call to an unconscious civilization (thanks to John Ralston Saul's book of that title), and take back the power of the individual worker through some form of collective organization and the governments that have sold out to the corporate "suits" and their tyranny, who really does know what the future might look like?

Saying "Yes" to Ignatieff...NOW!

By Tim Harper, Toronto Star, March 30, 2011
For the legions not yet watching, a peek inside that store window will reveal a man (Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff) who is remarkably comfortable and confident on the campaign trail, a candidate who can counter-punch, stay on message and sprinkle a little passion into audiences who waited in vain for the same from Stéphane Dion in 2008.
There is so much "general talk" that says, "We really want Ignatieff to win this election, but really don't believe he can" among voters that the urgency of his next thirty-some days could not be more clear.
There was a moment recently in caucus, in Ottawa, when Ignatieff set fire to his troops, when he was the impassioned, articulate "man-on-message" according to all reports that filtered into the public media.
It is that Ignatieff that needs to walk onto the bus this morning and every morning from now until May 2, not an angry Ignatieff, not a Harvard professor Ignatieff, not an aloof academic who writes some 17 books and  inaugurates a human rights curriculum, but an extraordinary Canadian who is able to wake us up to our own best selves and to re-awaken our highest hopes and ideals because he knows that they are there, not too far below the surface of our scepticism.
Michael Ignatieff is now facing the 30 days the country offers to demonstrate to Canadians that his alternative is worth "buying" because he alternative is more closely identifiable to the picture most Canadians have of our country. There is a slight shift already among the reporters that he can do what he has to do, although no one has openly stated that perception yet. There is a slight tilt to the landscape that was not there even a month ago in the public mood, that suggests the door is ajar in our hearts and minds to at least wonder about the guy and his party, and his thoughts for the future of the country.
"No jets, no prisons and no special tax breaks for the corporations"...leaving some room for options for ordinary people....this is a staked-out position that can and will find resonance, traction, credibility and hopefully millions of "x's" on millions of ballots.
This country also needs to awaken to its own best interests...after a half-decade of "Harper" corporatism and disdain for the opposition and for parliament, it is time to take a different turn.
Perhaps Ignatieff could invite some prominent Canadians to step up and lend their good name in endorsements to his campaign. Everything that can be done, including the best recruiting of the country's best minds and leaders, will be required to push, shove, drive, exhort, and convince Canadians of the need to change direction.
This little voice in this little space will continue to invite Canadians to move toward the Ignatieff option for Canada, simply because it is the best option to change the direction, the tone, the attitude and the policy in Ottawa...And such a change is overdue.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Canadian fight for the "centre"

By Edward Greenspon, Toronto Star, March 28, 2011
Under five leaders in the first 84 years of the 20th century, the (Liberal) party didn't, with a single exception, fall below 37 per cent of the popular vote. Its average electoral take was 43.5 per cent. Michael Ignatieff, the fifth leader since Pierre Trudeau, can look back on eight recent elections in which the average tally was 34.1 per cent. Last time out, the Liberals won the lowest proportion of the popular vote, 26.2 per cent, since John A. Macdonald thumped them in 1867.

University of British Columbia election specialist Richard Johnston says Liberal support, although camouflaged at various junctures, has been on the wane since 1921. The party's base steadily peeled away — first Western Canadians and farmers, then small-town residents and small business owners, eventually francophone Quebecers and suburbanites. Now the Conservatives are making their play for visible minority communities. “That's the last rampart,” Johnston says.
Through it all, the Liberals at least retained definition. They were successively anti-imperialists, social reformers and keepers of national unity. Mostly, they were the party that governed.
Trudeau fashioned a coalition of Quebecers, urban progressives, linguistic minorities and those new Canadians now in play. Through such measures as bilingualism, multiculturalism and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, his Liberals stood for an essential inclusiveness in the Canadian dream. Since 1984, the party has failed miserably in redefining its mission — New Canadians could reasonably ask “What have you done for me lately?” — while indulging magnificently in perpetual leadership politics.
In a digital world in which access to everything produces concentration on very little, centrists are disadvantaged in the battle for definition. The left and right can more easily mobilize a corps of militants — such as trade unionists or evangelical Christians — who will provide organizational muscle and funding packets. Liberals must work all that much harder....
For all its neglect, Liberalism actually stands for something important. It is, in the words of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, not a neutral concept but “a fighting creed.” It says: “That is not the way we do things” in the face of illiberal behaviours, whether these be misleading MPs about signatures on documents, failing to disclose the costs of fighter jets or prisons, proroguing Parliament rather than abide by rulings, attacking the legitimacy of independent watchdogs from Elections Canada to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, jamming the judiciary or weakening the channels of knowledge by which decisions can be taken on the basis of evidence rather than belief.

It is not an accident that our actual paper constitution is quite brief, leaving much to the intuitive grasp of Canadians to "know" how it is that things take shape here. We know, for example, when someone oversteps or over-reaches in the exercise of power; it is not something that we need to litigate, in the formal sense of that word. We know, also, when the country is being led in a direction that is not in keeping with the tenour of our history. We know, for example, that "sovereignty" as expressed by the Bloc Quebecois, is not in keeping with our national traditions, even though we would prefer to debate them with words than with bullets, as is the case in many parts of the world.
We also know that our heritage of a public health system is one of our signature traditions requiring our detailed and attentive focus, in order to preserve the best parts of its care for all, no matter what our economic status or ability to pay. We know that we are a "peacekeeping" nation, that strives to engender a modest view of the application of political and military and economic power, in the interests of all segments of the society. We also know that we are not American, and find many of the public policies of the former Bush (Dubya) administration quite offensive, (for example, both the privitizing of the prison system and the rapid growth of that "industry") and do not wish to replicate it here. We know that the "way" we do things is as important as the "content" of the legislation we pass, and when that way is contravened, it does not take either a somewhat sleep-walking media or a legal degree to figure out that it has been transgressed.
We know that tolerance for and embrace of the French fact of our history and culture, including the open acceptance of the difference(s) of Quebec from the rest of the country, enriches all of our people, including those who have arrived here in the last three or four decades, from other countries. And the choice of these hundreds of thousands of immigrants is largely based on the belief and confidence in our capacity to embrace a multitude of cultures within our national vision.
These features of what it means to be a Canadian are the result, not merely of a "managerial" party having governed for much of the last century, but of a capacity of the Liberal party to seek "the centre of the road" and in so doing, to resist veering too far into the ditch on the right or the ditch on the left. In fact, there is a maritime expression, when one is leaving on a trip that quips, "keep it between the ditches" to the prospective motorist...
Tony Blair, in his memoir My Journey, notes that all politicians must "get it" about the real dimensions of any specific issue, in their governing. When it came to the issue of "the fox hunt," he readily acknowledges that he did not "get it" that so many people felt so deeply, on both sides of whether or not to keep the tradition or to ban it. Consequently, he was dragged into a political quagmire from which he nearly failed to emerge with his political hide.
It is, arguably true, that in Canada, a prime minister has to "get it" as Blair contends, only in our case, it is about much broader and more complex and more subtle matters of how the state is governed. And, if we could apply one word to that, as the essential, the sine qua non, it would be "modesty."
Stephen Harper simply does not "get it" that Canadians want and even demand a "modest" prime minister..
  • whose ministers do not have to shout and scream in parliament to make their points,
  • whose ministers do not even wish to mislead parliament,
  • whose ministers become exceptionally proficient in "getting" the details of their portfolio and do not rely exclusively on the Prime Minister to do their heavy lifting for them
  • whose ministers know and respect the legitimate right of parliament to access to the information needed to debate the issues fully
  • whose ministers eagerly explore new edges of possibility in legislation to untangle, for example, the terrible treatment we have afforded our First Nations people, with new and creative and effective ways of giving them a hand up, and not a hand out
  • whose ministers are passionately engaged in the minutiae of their portfolios, without constantly seeking the approval of their political "master," the Prime Minister
  • whose government is readily welcomed at the table of the Security Council of the United Nations and
  • whose government does not have to put on millions of dollars of make-up when world leaders visit
  • whose ministers are not so dependent on polls and targeted segments of voters that they can and do see the broader interests of the nation in an increasingly complex and segmented society
Canadians want, need and even demand a Prime Minister who "gets it" that ordinary people have legitimate needs, aspirations and dreams with which the federal government can offer encouragement, without the state becoming a "nanny state" that phrase so despised in the U.S. And, in seeking to meet those needs, aspirations and dreams (of the ordinary people) the government and the nation it leads become more sensitive, more compassionate and more enlightened, not less, and the differences in personal incomes decline rather than grow, as they have been for the last several years.
It was former Toronto Star columnist Jim Travers who wrote that Canada is a centre-left country by nature and by tradition and that Stephen Harper was attempting in everything he did to change that. Succinctly, he simply "doesn't get it" about who we are and who we are proud of being.
Can Mr. Ignatieff succeed in bringing a renewed Liberal party with platform that "gets it" about the core nature of the Canadian essence? We can only watch and hope he and his team can achieve that goal, for our country's long-term stability.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mandela's in Middle East?...doubtful

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, March 26, 2011
This is what the new leaders of these Arab rebellions will have to do — surprise themselves and each other with a sustained will for unity, mutual respect and democracy. The more Arab Mandelas who emerge, the more they will be able to manage their own transitions, without army generals or outsiders. Will they emerge? Let’s watch and hope. We have no other choice. The lids are coming off.

The early signs are not that hopeful. With yesterday's reports that Al Qaeda emerging in Yemen as one of the opportunists seeking to seize power in the vaccuum created by the rebels, and with the Muslim Brotherhood already ensconsed in harmony and unity with the Egyptian military which actually controls the country in the wake of the departure of Mubarek, there is reason in the west for a little circumspection.
With the forces of Sunni and Shia continuing their inevitable and seemingly unending struggle for control of the Islamic state(s) and the forces for violence still attempting to "show the way" for Islam to rule the world, these Middle East countries are already spawning terror as one of the most useful, and economically accessible weapons for radical Muslims.
Hopeing for many Mandela's to emerge from this cauldron is like hoping for the fight-wing political operatives in the U.S. to start to debate the issues with facts and logic and vision and some discipline, rather than seeking to destroy their enemies, as in the case of the Wisconsin history professor who, after he weighed in to the political debate in his state, on the side of the people, against the governor and his Koch brothers funding machine, faced a public demand for all of his e-mails from the right, in their hope of finding something to smear his reputation.
We see a similar approach in the Canadian election, with Harper and his cronies attempting to smear the Liberal leader ( a Harvard PhD in History) with the word "coalition" as another attempt to scare the voters, when, in fact, in Great Britain, the current coalition is working very effectively.
Ad hominum attacks are far preferable to the right than open honest debates on the issues, because attacking your opponents in the hope of destroying their reputation actually seeks to eliminate them from the scene.
In the cold war, at one Ontario university, where a defected Russian taught Comparative Education, Tony Ramunus used to tell his students, that the Russian method of dealing with a difference of opinion, was to "eliminate the problem" by eliminating the opponent.
Seems the playbook has found its way into the rightwing primary readers, because they do not and will not read anything beyond a primer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"I'm cold!" "So am I!"...(Harper's)...So are all Canadians with Harper

"I'm cold!" (Mrs. Stephen Harper)
"So am I!" (Her husband)....these are the words we heard as the PM turned away from the mic, immediately after his tirade about the legitimacy of only a "winner" forming a government, not the leader of the party who receives the second most seats in a Canadian election.
In counselling, we learn and speak often about something called 'parallel process.' In those terms, the conversation of the client with the counsellor parallels much of the experience that is simultaneously occurring between the client and his life outside the counselling room.
These two people, the Harpers, were, as the reading on the thermometer told, "cold" from the cold air that was blowing through Ottawa, off the Ottawa River, on Saturday morning, outside Rideau Hall, on March 26, 2011. The reason for the visit, of course, was for the government leader to request the dissolution of the parliament of Canada, and the agreement of the Governor General to issue an election writ.
From a perspective of "parallel process," it struck this observer that the words were also fitting, in the sense of the relationship between the country and this prime minister.
He is, if not the most, certainly one of the most "cold," calculating, shark-like species to inhabit 24 Sussex Avenue, the residence of the Prime Minister. His lecture about the "evils" of a coalition, completely unsupported by the constitution, or the history of the British and Canadian parliaments, was a cold, calculating and impersonal lecture as if to a class of undergraduate legal students, or perhaps undergraduate political science students. It would take those few minutes of this lecture for this observer, if I were a student again, to reject enrolment in this professor's class.
Not only has Gilles Duceppe left Harper's argument in shreds, merely by exposing a letter initiated and signed by Harper himself, in 2004, calling on the then Governor General to consider a different option than a federal election should the then Prime Minister, Paul Martin, lose the confidence of the House. In fact, Harper, according to Duceppe, led the charge to facilitate a decision that would have made him the Prime Minister, in the event that the Martin government lost the confidence of the House.
But also, Harper himself, has exposed his most vulnerable flank: his perception of what the British used to call the 'divine right of kings' as his right to a majority government, as the only option to that "insidious" coalition.
  • Telling the major departments of the government to begin to issue statements beginning "The Harper Government" announces....rather than the Government of Canada announces...
  • Refusing to provide adequate information to parliament about the costs of prison reforms, based on a complete misrepresentation of the crime rate (it is falling significantly, not rising as Harper warns)
  • Refusing to come clean about the cost of those 65 F-35 Fighter Jets (The government's own civil servant estimates it to be at least twice the announced cost...$30+ billion, not the $19 billion announced
  • Dismissing the "contempt of Parliament vote" as a mere "parliamentary procedure" about which the people of the country do not care...Harper did this in his statement outside Rideau Hall Saturday
  • Repressing all government ministers to the mind control, and muzzlement of the PMO, before any announcements can be made about the policy direction of their departments
  • Dropping a few budgetary "snippets" of support for selected voter segments, especially seniors and immigrants and family care-givers
  • Generally having and showing contempt for the plight of hundreds of thousands of Canadians whose budgets have so atrophied they can barely make ends meet...
These reasons are enough to throw the current government out, and  toreplace it with, preferably a Liberal majority, or alternatively, a government comprised of both the Liberals and the NDP...that could shape a far different domestic policy based on the  interests and needs of the people of the country, not the arrogance of the Prime Minister's personal need for absolute control, power and domination that necessarily invalidates the voices of all others, including even those in his own cabinet.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Canada Votes for New Government, May 2 (Letter to Quebec)

After a vote finding the government of Stephen Harper "in contempt" of Parliament, that government has lost the confidence of the House of Commons, and the Governor General has agreed to prorogue parliament and issue an election writ for May 2, 2011.
All party leaders want to see a "stable national government" and depending on your point of view, that means a minority, a majority or some form of coalition....but there is a major obstacle to any party's capacity to form a majority government. That obstacle is a predictable heavy and even majority commitment by the voters of Quebec to a sovereignist group of Bloc candidates, if the last couple of votes is any indication.
Now let's think about the implications of such a commitment by a single, unique province to a majority of members in the House of Commons who wish to break up the country.
First, such a commitment eliminates mathematically the option of any other party forming a majority government. Without a relatively sizeable number of seats from Quebec, a majority is simply unwinnable for any of the national parties. The people of Quebec, by so voting, are effectively saying that they merely want a voice that cries, "Quebec wants more!" from Ottawa and the federal government. The reciprocal part of any relationship of balance and equity is also prepared to say, "How can we help the Canadian nation?" in its voting motivations. While the tradition of electing candidates whose political motivation and raison d'etre is to dismember the country may hold true in the British parliamentary tradition, there are significant negative forces that accompany such a development, for example, in single-issue demands for "more" for Quebec, without regard to the national needs, agenda or vision.
Second, approximately fifty members from the Bloc will never even come close to approaching the depth and degree of influence on government decision-making that would accompany the appointment of one-third of the Cabinet from the members of a party receiving a majority of the seats, and thereby elegible to form a majority government. Surely, a thoughtful Quebecer would prefer to have one-third of the Cabinet posts held by Quebecers than to have fifty sovereignists, albeit lead by an articulate and intelligent leader in Gilles Duceppe, speaking on their behalf in Ottawa.
Third, the history of government leadership and policy ideas that have reached the level of  Canadian government policy and legislation is replete with the biographies and intellectual insights of legions of Quebec political luminaries, all of them from the beginning agreeing to maintain their unique French voice and culture, while serving the larger and more complex interests and needs of the whole country of Canada.  This exchange has enriched the life of Canada and Quebec mutually, and contributes to a unique country, whose complexity would/will be dramatically reduced with the removal of Quebec.
Fourth, people living both within and outside Quebec in Canada have looked to the compelling bilingual linkage of what is a unique Canadian experiment as an examplary model of  future world relations of both multilingualism and multiculturism by bringing a different culture and language to the children in tolerance, and in enriched appreciation of "the other" no matter the language, culture, history or religion of the other.
Can anyone really argue that the Canadian Charter of Rights would have been born and sustained in a country that did/does not have a history of proud and productive relationships between two founding peoples plus third in the aboriginal peoples? As John Ralston Saul puts it in Fair Country, there are three legs to the Canadian cultural history: English, French and First Nation. And we have created a unique country different from Europe and with different archetypes, dependent on the continuing contribution of all three. And the circle is incomplete without all three participating fully, actively and for the long term.
Fifth, there is a slice of the history of relations between Quebec and Ottawa that smacks of what the U.S. calls "earmarks" or special shovels full of cash being targetted to specific groups of voters, for the political benefit of the politicians responsible for securing that cash. It is not a tradition exclusive to Quebec; it also applies to First Nations, and reduces the federal government to the "rich daddy" for the moment of the announcement and the ensuing election, while removing additional responsibility thereafter to see that the results of such cash have made the kind of contribution that both benefactor and recipient can be proud.
The recent debate about an arena in Quebec city for a future NHL team is an example.
We need a government who does not feel crippled by such expectations, no matter where those expectations originate. And the sponsorship scandal is one of the most insidious examples in Quebec-Ottawa relations that patronizes the Quebec electorate, in a blatant and brash manner with transport loads of cash (not to mention brown envelops of the stuff), for which all Canadians are embarrassed and for which all Canadians owe Quebec a deep and profound apology. Personal interests and greed can and should never trump larger political issues, like preserving the unity of the country.
Lastly, the people of Quebec have a long-standing interest in and benefit from being part of Canada. And that interest and benefit continue, more effectively articulated and executed if and when the people of Quebec vote for political parties whose primary purpose and interest is the preservation and enhancement of the citizens of the whole country including Quebec. There is no long-term advantage to a vote for the Bloc, and the short-term premise of such a vote curtails the potential of both a stable and sustainable national government and a healthy relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Both Canada and Quebec stand to benefit from the votes in Quebec on May 2 being directed to one of the three Canadian parties, Conservative, Liberal or NDP and a vote for the Bloc is reductionistic of the potential for both sides of the equation, not to mention the long-term sustainability of the government of Canada. Intellectually, the people of Quebec know this; emotionally, they may be open to arguments that portray the option of voting "within" the three party offerings of both leaders and policies as viable for the long-term future of Quebec and Quebecers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fatigue and aging can be dangerous

It was a cool March afternoon, approximately 4:00 p.m. when my wife and I returned to the car from a shopping trip for gifts for family for an upcoming trip to her home, where we would be staying. We had seniors, adults teens and pre-teens on our list to buy for. We had a list of potential outlets whose merchandise we had surveyed for different trips over the years, and found one or two new retail outlets for our perusal.
Those for whom we were making the shopping venture are ones for whom we care deeply as they do us.
One of their number has been recently diagnosed with a serious illness, and there is uncertainty about the prognosis. We were taking some extra care in our inspections, reflections and decisions.
Having inadvertently left the "cards" necessary for the actual purchases in the car, I volunteered to return to the car, retrieve them and return to complete our purchase. It was a fifteen minute walk each way.
By the time we returned to our vehicle, we were both a little on the fatigue side of normal. We buckelled our seat-belts; I turned on the ignition and being parked along a main thoroughfare, turned the wheel out into the traffic lane, only to hear the screeching sound of a car horn, coming from a motorist whose vehicle had stopped about four inches from the driver's side door.
I had, in my fatigued state, neglected to check over my left shoulder to verify that there was no oncoming traffic, and now was quite literally shaking with embarrassment, shame, fear and not a little regret.
As I looked over my left shoulder, the large male driver was vigorously removing his seat-belt, getting out of his car and, at the top of his voice screaming, "You piece of shit" over my lame, and less violent but sincere, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
He returned to his driver's seat, slammed the door on his large older model car and sped off up a side street.
Needless to say, I was now still shaking, full of apologies to my partner and trying to get my breath, in order to make the trip from the shopping area back home.
Naturally, we are grateful for the driver's quick reaction time, bringing his vehicle to a complete stop. We are both aware that, as we age, we lose our edge more quickly when we are fatigued. Learning the limits of aging is one of those lessons "that keeps on giving" becuase the limits themselves continue to move, leaving smaller and smaller windows of opportunity for physical activity, and for completing the ordinary routines of life.
Rest, extra sleep, even in the middle or late afternoon, have become a norm after an early start.
Next time, I can only hope that I will look over that left shoulder, before beginning to move the car into traffic.
Something else...the intensity of the reaction of the other motorist leaves me wondering about what kind of day he must have been having. What kind of pressure is he living under, to which my error added another layer? What kind of world is it where the tension is the dominant theme, including the anger, frustration and bitterness that poured from his larynx at that critical moment?
When we returned home, there was a story on television of the dismissal of an airtraffic controller for sleeping on his shift, making it necessary for two pilots, one from American Airlines, the other from United, to land their passenger jets at Reagan International Airport in Washington D.C. Both pilots had attempted in vain to rouse the control tower to facilitate their landing, and had decided to land, as if the airport were unsecured, or unattended, which, for all intents and purposes, it was. Both landings, thankfully, were without incident.dan
While I am very sad for that dismissed controller, I can easily understand how he must also be weary, working under exhausting conditions, having watched the numbers in his work pool drop, to save money.
We are all very weary for hundreds of reasons. And there is little relief in sight. Expectations of everyone have risen, for all people in all situations, with less and less "gas in the proverbial shock-absorbers" to provide forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, and even mutual respect.
We are a "gimme" society whose "gimme's" are insatiable! We are a society whose tolerance for error is eroded. We are a society whose patience with difference with with pain and with most suffering is minimal.
It certainly is not at all like the society I knew when I began my career some decades ago. It has changed, in may ways, for the better. Yet  our interractions seem to have slipped into the kind of cultural model that the large cities like New York and London and Mumbai might be noted for.
I recall a book by Michelle Landsberg, on her time living in New York, while her husband Stephen Lewis was Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. It was then for her a rainy day, on a busy thoroughfare in the bustling city, when she waited for a taxi. As one came to a stop in front of where she was standing, she reached out to open the rear door, only to find herself pushed away by another woman in a huge hurry, who opened the door, got in, and as she was closing the door, shouted, "This is New York, honey!" at the ambassaror's wife. The taxi sped off leaving Ms Landsberg, mouth gaping, standing in traffic in the pouring rain.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Workers' Rights: a global issue

By Frank James, NPR website, March 23, 2011
For those in Maine with doubts about how their state's Gov. Paul LePage would answer the old organized labor song, "Which side are you on?" they now have their answer.
LePage, a Republican who just started in his first term, ordered the removal from Maine's Labor Department building a mural depicting scenes of organized labor history in his state.
He's also renaming the building's conference rooms so they no longer honor Cesar Chavez and other famous leaders of the American labor movement.
This piece of "ethnic cleansing" of the walls of the Labour Department, a place for the celebration of the many fights to bring about some measure of fairness in working conditions (the 8-hour work day, and the weekend off, for example) if ever there was one, demonstrates the kind of mind-set that is galloping across the U.S.
It reminds one of the memo sent by then Premier Mike Harris of Ontario, early in his administration, to the curriculum designer(s) at Queens University, who were designed history couses for grades nine and ten, to remove all positive references of the contributions of the Labour movement, women and aboriginal people from the curriculum.
Conservative approaches to many things can rile the passions but this one, and the kind of symbolic gesture by the current, neophyte Republican governor in Maine, can certainly demonstrate profound disrespect for the hundreds of men and women courageous enough to confront despicable working conditions, unfair wages and a failure to participate in providing pensions and other health benefits that have given rise to the middle class in America.
One has to wonder if there are similar courageous leaders among the workers in America who will come forward to protect the interests of workers, against the propaganda onslaught, with deep pockets of Koch cash, that seeks to emasculate the labour movement and render it a relic of history, suitable only for the museums, but not for the legitimate protection of workers.
And this issue is not circumscribed by the continental borders. It has global implications. Every country where workers are being mistreated, underpaid, under-supported with health care, and environmental protection and pension benefits will need to find those courageous enough to bring a halt to the workplace unless and until the management actually comes to the legitimate conclusion that their workers are their most valuable resource, and cannot and must not be treated just like another piece of equipment or anothe piece of raw material in the production process.
In a period of severe budget restrictions, there will have to be limits imposed on all labour contracts, but to eliminate the protection of workers from the workplace can and will only lead to cutting corners in other phases of the business operation, given the low priority that is placed on the human side of the enterprise.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ignatieff meets his historic moment in vote (Canada needs him to succeed)

By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, March 23, 2011
Going into this election, Mr. Ignatieff has low expectations. His polling numbers across a wide range of indices have been embarrassingly low. In politics, low expectations can be a considerable advantage.

Another thing need worry the Harper Conservatives. In recent times, Mr. Ignatieff has been operating with increasing confidence and strength. For long periods in opposition he appeared plagued by ambivalence. He now seems resolved, comfortable in his own skin, ready for the fate that awaits him.
The campaign will begin with Mr. Harper enjoying a good-sized lead as he did in the 2008 campaign. But then he was up against the wobbly Stéphane Dion. While Mr.Ignatieff’s polling numbers are just as weak, he is considerably more gifted in terms of leadership potential. He is more articulate and trenchant. He is stronger in debate, better organized and surrounded by a better team. There will be no grainy videos arriving late at TV studios as there was under Mr. Dion. Mr. Ignatieff is unlikely to have to restart an interview several times, as did Mr. Dion, occasioning an embarrassing mishap at a critical period in the ‘08 campaign.
Now with the parliament of Canada:
  • engaged in debate over the "contempt of parliament" resolution of the Commons committee (the first in parliamentary history of the world), and
  • facing a budget that some dub as "without risk or vision,"
  • and knowing about the government's obstinate intention to purchase $30 billion of F-35 Fighter Jets,
  • and a sizeable but seemingly undicephered and unannounced cost to prisons,
  • added to a $6 billion in tax cuts for corporations,
while poverty, and hunger grow and the future of health care coming down the pike for renegotiation with the provinces in 2014 and no plan or even a hint of a commitment coming from the government..
it is now time for the Liberal leader and his troops to mount the kind of gripping, and grounded campaign to seize at least a minority government, or perhaps even a majority.
2011 is Ignatieff's only window on making is a tide to be taken at its height, an opportunity to be poetically grasped, and a turn in the road for the country, so badly needed that he cannot fail for the sake of the country. (It was Mario Cuomo, then governor of New York State, who said, Politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose.)
Should the Liberals not pass the ultimate test of electoral success, Ignatieff will become merely an asterisk in a footnote to Canadian history.
Should he and the Liberals succeed, the country can turn its back on those unnecessary Fighter Jets, turn its back on those unncessary new prison cells, turn its back on those unnecessary tax cuts for corporations, and turn its face toward investments in humanitarian needs like social assistance, clean drinking water, job opportunities, a more fair and just tax code and a government committed to considering the people not the corporate donors of the conservatives.

Female Hawks trump Male Doves over Libya

By Maureen Down, New York Times, March 22, 2011
(E)veryone is fascinated with the gender flip: the reluctant men — the generals, the secretary of defense, top male White House national security advisers — outmuscled by the fierce women around President Obama urging him to man up against the crazy Qaddafi.

How odd to see the diplomats as hawks and the military as doves.
“The girls took on the guys,” The Times’s White House reporter, Helene Cooper, said on “Meet the Press.”
Rush Limbaugh mocked the president and his club of “male liberals,” saying: “Of course the males were opposed. It’s the new castrati. ... They’re sissies!”
Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador and former Clinton administration adviser on Africa, was haunted by Rwanda. Samantha Power, a national security aide who wrote an award-winning book about genocide, was thinking of Bosnia. Gayle Smith, another senior national security aide, was an adviser to President Clinton on Africa after the Rwandan massacre. Hillary Clinton, a skeptic at first, paid attention to the other women (putting aside that tense moment during the ’08 primaries when Power called her “a monster”). She also may have had some pillow talk with Bill, whose regrets about Rwanda no doubt helped shape his recommendation for a no-fly zone over Libya.
Taking the first opportunity to secure their bona fides as "just as much warriors as the men" or just as capable of "taking the gloves off"  these strong women, still untested and unproven in military leadership (oops...remember Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands?) have been "outed" as the forces that turned the president's mind from peaceful resistance to "no-fly" leadership.
Ironic, perhaps. And, this single piece of information will not make it any easier for the president to shore up the sagging commitment of the unwilling coalition, especially those in the Middle East (Quatar comes springing to mind: although signed up, she has yet to deliver a single piece of equipment, let alone a single plane).
Ironic, too in the common cause found by both the "women hawks" and Rush Limbaugh, who would use any derogatory name he could find to belittle the president, and "sissy" works just fine for all liberal men, including Obama.
Unfortunately, the women, perhaps, as Dowd suggests, motivated by previous unaddressed disasters (Rwanda for one) are not able to bring the current coalition into a command and control structure that seems ready and willing to take the lead, when the Americans try to hand it off. Furthermore, it was the male generals, those who know the unforgiving and relentless details of any military exercise, and the Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, who dragged their feet for as long as they could, in resistance to an unfocused, ill-defined, and vague if not totally missing exit strategy as defined by a successful mission.
Is the Libyan dictator in the sights of those Tomahawk missiles? Should he be? Would the mission leaders get their hands slapped by the U.N. if he were targeted? Should they for a mission creep that (oops!) crept beyond the original parameters?
And yet, if the Libyan dictator is not removed, and regime change is not accomplished, these female hawks could go down in history as being so far off base in their advice to the president as to eventually help make him a one-term president, not to mention leaving an open festering wound in Libya that is not cauterized for decades, with who knows what implications spinning through the pages of Wikeleaks also for decades.
And what would such developments do to other women who sought political power at the highest echelons?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Public seduction with public and private funds..WE NEED TRUTH

With the news that the Tokyo Power company, operator of the savagely damaged nuclear reactor(s) in northeast Japan, having faked the safety reports for over a decade (ABC News, March 20, 2011), the question of public integrity is at the top of some of our minds.
We already know that BP and their cronies in government made light of the regulations regarding the deep off-shore drilling for Gulf oil over at least the last decade. We are now learning that many of the discount bus companies operating in the U.S., when faced with detailed inspection, are seeing both their vehicles and their drivers removed from the road because of faulty safety precautions, and faulty human driving capabilities, "with many offences on their driving records," according to New York Senator Chuck Shummer.
Just last week, we learned that two pilots and two co-pilots and one flight attendant from the Mexico airline have been removed from their positions because they were found to be drunk while operating aircraft.
We have watched for two years, as the Tea Party demagogued hundreds of lies about various pieces of legislation, especially the Health Care Reform Bill, whose provisions they demonized as "death panels" and whose author, the president as "communist" and "socialist" and "unAmerican" because he was not born in the continental United States....and the media simply broadcast their lies, often without editorial comment or correction.
In fact, in the U.S., where Fox news is noted for twisting the tortured truth for political (right wing) purposes, it is only a requirement that the news must be true, in so far as you know it to be true, not nearly as high a standard as "no news may be broadcast that is not true"....a rebric they found when they attempted to establish their foothold in Canada.
We all know that many of the advertising content labels are "just smoke and mirrors" as corporates attempt to hoodwink an unsuspecting consumer with words like "natural" and "organic" into purchasing the latest products.
We also know that, for example from the interview on CBS' 60minutes with Archbishop Tim Dolan that much of the more recent history of the church focuses on the historic cover-up of child predators by the institution.
We know that Wall Street, in league with the regulators and legislators, stripped their financial services industry of the needed RULES necessary whenever the service provided involves the acquisition of clients moeny for services rendered, simply because of the potential for rampant human greed to come to govern the many transactions.
We know that lobbyists, most of them former political operatives, pitch the case for their various clients, using money from those clients, and have more than a little influence on the shape and size of the bills that come from the legislators and become the law of the land.
We also know that, as recently as the last couple of weeks, the Koch Brothers have literally purchased the changes in law and in protocols around both collective bargaining rights and the Environmental Protection Agency and the funding of NPR, as part of a political campaign purchased and delivered for the ideological tyranny of the Right.
Is it any wonder that the public has lost confidence in many, if not most, of the people and institutions that purport to have and to keep considerable influence over much of our lives.
Now, as we learn that many of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. are built on fault lines, similar to that on which the disaster in Japan was built, there will be more public inquiries into the truth-telling of the nuclear industry and its political cronies.
How can one not consider becoming a radical, searching for the truth, in a world drunk on the various "potions" being proferred by the various agencies of "public seduction" that taxes purport to purchase "for the benefit of the people?"

Sunday, March 20, 2011

News Exhaustion!

As someone commented earlier today on CNN's Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz, the media is simply exhausted from the last several months of world events. This observer is no exception.
The BP oil slick, the Haiti earthquake and subsequent human disaster which continues with little progress to health of human beings, the Haitian economy, the Haitian government, or little hope in a long-term prognosis for the future, although none of us wants to lost hope completely.
The global economy is recovering, at the top of the stock exchange and Wall street banks, yet remains woefully weak in terms of numbers of employed, re-employed, or first-time employed in the U.S. and in many other countries.
The war in Afghanistan is hardly a roaring success, in terms of breaking the back of the Taliban and the forces of counter-insurgency that face the American and coalition forces every day, in spite of the happy face that General Petraeus recently put on the war while testifying to congress.
Iraq's news is hardly generating confidence in the new government, or in the depth of the security apparatus that seems buffetted every day with another explosion "killing another 3 dozen people" as "another suicide bomber detonates another bomb in a crowded area of Baghdad."
The turbulent uprising in several Middle Eastern and North African countries, starting with Tunisia, moving to Egypt, and then to Yemen, and now Bahrain where the Saudi's have actually moved in forces in support of  the ruling regime, have all generated much ink, many sound bites, millions of "tweets" on twitter and facebook, while instilling more unrest about the many potential scenarios that could emerge from the various locations, none of which is either predictable or even worth a random guess, so limited is the knowledge of each of these countries among the rest of the world.
And now, after much behind-the-scene wrangling, and after securing the support of the Arab League the UN has passed Resolution 1973, in response to the Libyan dictator's efforts to massacre his own people, especially those who, having taken a page from the book of the protesters in neighbouring countries, are demanding the overthrow of a forty-two year dictatorship. As George Will of ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" put it, the means of the No Fly resolution is incompatible with the end, of removing the Libyan dictator. And there is no open acknowledged agreement among the countries currently engaged in establishing the No-Fly zone that the end result is, indeed, to remove the Libyan dictator. So, just what is really going on? Is this another "soft sell" to avoid a tsunami of negative press about the imposition of military violence to "protect" the rebels, while camouflaging the real intent of the mission, to decapitate the regime and its leader? And, certainly there are legitimate concerns in many quarters that the Libyan dictator is more than capable, and certainly must be assumed to be more than willing to exact revenge against his enemies, who now number most allies in the west, including France, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, the U.S. and who knows how many other countries who have committed military equipment and/or forces to execute Resolution 1973. Oh, and by the way, depending on your sources, there is more than a little confusion as to whether that Resolution permits "ground forces" or foot soldiers to be able to fight the dictatorship in direct combat.
And just this evening we learn that the Arab League is now expressing disapproval of the No Fly zone strategies and tactics! Yet they knew it was not going to be a cakewalk, if they had listened to Secretary of Defence Gates, who expressed the many complications of the proposal for weeks everywhere he went, so that there would be no confusion.
And all of this, without even mentioning Japan's worst earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in their history...and the political fallout continues. Just a few moments ago(on ABC New with David Muir), we learned that the power company that operated the reactor whose life has been effectively terminated, while it has threatened the health and lives of thousands, "faked" the safety reports for at least the last eleven years, essentially misrepresenting their lack of integrity for more than a decade...and the questions will continue for decades, while the lives of those still living and still needing safe and secure shelter will continue to be under medical scrutiny and uncertainty for decades. Already, radioactive particles are being discovered (what a surprise!) in the milk and spinach in Tokyo, if not also in other centres where food shortage are already plaguing the healthy recovery of thousands, if not millions.
And yet, the Japanese people continue to inspire with their courage, their dignity and their unflappability. They are the heroes of this story, and their faces and their tears and their broken hearts and dreams will be part of our lives as long as we live.
There are so many tunnels each of them with so little light...and they converge daily, hourly in our newscasts, our news papers and laterly our minds and that however optimistic and hopeful we might have been a year ago has changed dramatically and forever after another of what the Queen might legitimately dub another "annus horribilis" a horrible year!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spent Nuclear Rods: we need a global solution(s) before moving forward

By Eugene Robinson, on, March 17, 2011
(I)n the United States, nuclear plants must store their used fuel rods on-site, in pools similar to the ones at Fukushima. A typical plant generates more than 20 tons of such waste material each year, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. The fuel rods become less radioactive with time, but ultimately must be isolated from the environment for many thousands of years.

U.S. officials have long sought a permanent solution for storing high-level nuclear waste. In 2002, after a long and bitter controversy, Congress designated a Nevada site, Yucca Mountain, as the nation’s permanent nuclear waste repository.
That seemed to be the answer. The spent fuel rods from the nation’s nuclear plants would be shipped to Yucca Mountain and forever entombed. Last year, however, the Obama administration filed a motion to withdraw the Energy Department’s application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to actually create and use the Yucca Mountain repository—thus effectively returning the whole argument to the vicinity of square one.
As practically every Nevada politician, of either party, will be eager to tell you, there are good reasons not to choose Yucca Mountain. It is not as remote as one might like—the Las Vegas metropolitan area is just 100 miles away—and the area is seismically active. While it is true that scientists believe nearby faults could never produce a large enough earthquake to breach a well-constructed repository, it is also true that scientists believed the Fukushima plant would never be hit by a quake of magnitude 9.0 followed by a biblical tsunami.
The Energy Department, aided by a blue-ribbon commission, is conducting a “comprehensive review” of the nuclear waste problem and will eventually come up with a plan. There are alternatives to simply putting all of the stuff inside a mountain—reprocessing, for example.
But one course of action that makes no sense at all is just to let the waste keep piling up at more than 100 nuclear plants across the nation. The chances of a mishap are quite small; the consequences, however, are wholly unthinkable.
This is the problem with the whole nuclear power industry, which employs a technology that is uniquely toxic. The impact of one miscalculation can be felt for a generation, a lifetime, even an eternity.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets it. She told her parliament that the Japanese crisis made her realize that Germany must make a “measured exit” from nuclear power and “reach the age of renewable energy as soon as possible.”
Merkel temporarily closed seven of Germany’s oldest reactors as a first step. After Japan, “business as usual” is not an option, she said.
No one in Washington seems to be paying attention.
Spent nuclear fuel rods and their storage is not an exclusively American problem. It is a global problem for which there needs to be a global solution. Here is one case, and so quickly and easily demonstrable, that the issues cannot be contained within national borders. Nuclear toxicity, from spent fuel rods, knows no national boundaries, no status, no political or economic privilege, has no religion, and no specific ethical or value system. It simply kills! And it has the potential to kill wherever it moves.
Consequently, it is long past time for an expanded, enhanced and internationally monitored and funded protocol for nuclear waster. If Yucca mountain is not a suitable answer for the 70,000 tonnes of spent nuclear rods now being stored at some 100 reactors across the U.S., nor at the hundreds of reactors around the world including the five reactors in Canada, then what solution is the world community going to agree to both establish and maintain so that our grandchildren can live in more safety than our parents and grandparents did?
There is obviously a significant international dilemma to reaching concensus among countries whose short-term interests seem to trump humanity's long-term survival motive. The IAEA while currently an existing body, is not empowered to inspect, without specific treaty clauses, the state of the spent nuclear rods in all countries where they are being stored. Keeping them "cool" or under water, in order to forestall their ignition and generation of a nuclear could, is, for all countries, merely a stop-gap measure. And before any country embarks on a program of nuclear reactor construction, the world needs to know, and to be able to verify a plan to which all nations have committed to both live under and to help fund and sustain, to move this issue from the "temporary solution" status  forward to a permanment, safe and predictable and repeatable "fix."
Is re-cycling a potential answer? In this method, those spent rods would be re-used in reactors in a changed state, under different conditions, to produce more nuclear power.
Is permanent storage in some abandoned mine, in a location on the earth where the geologic history demosntrates the unlikely event of an earthquake, a tsunami, or other national disaster? Are there more than one such site, and where are they located?
Are nuclear scientists currently working to provide the political leaders responsible for such decisions with options that can be demontrated to be safe, effective, and capable of implementation?
Is there a single university, or a cluster of universities, currently charged (and funded) with the task of "solving" this global issue, that simply will not go away? And if not, then why not?
Is there sufficient urgency, emerging from the disasters currently in Japan, and before that from Three Mile Isand and Chernobyl to provoke the leaders of the world to focus their considerable energy and clout on this emergency, whose effect on the radar screen of the public consciousness is so limited as to rise only when we are faced with another crisis.
Is it not in the nuclear industry's very survival interests to direct funds and its best brains toward a solution to the "spent fuel rods" question? And why would those countries where universities and nuclear scientists already engaged in nuclear research not wish to participate in research that would/could/must lead to appropriate and internationally supported solution(s).
The surrender of national autonomy, national pride, national limitations and national perspectives, on this issue could also lead to so many other significant initiatives that would embrace the concept of a shared planet, with shared and sustainable measures to achieve such a worthy goal.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day from Dropkick Murphys (Song Lyrics)


"Take 'Em Down"

When the boss comes callin' they'll put us down
When the boss comes callin' gotta stand your ground
When the boss comes callin' don't believe their lies

When the boss comes callin' his take his toll
When the boss comes callin' don't you sell your soul
When the boss comes callin' we gotta organize

Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down
Let them know
We gotta smash them to the ground
Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down

When the boss comes callin' you'll be on your own
When the boss comes callin' will you stand alone?
When the boss comes callin' will you let them in?

When the boss comes callin' will you stand and fight?
When the boss comes callin' we must unite
When the boss comes callin' we can't let them win

Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down
Let them know
We gotta smash 'em to the ground
Let em know

We gotta take the bastards down

We gotta take the bastards down

When the boss comes callin' they'll put us down
When the boss comes callin' gotta stand your ground
When the boss comes callin' don't believe their lies

When the boss comes callin' his take his toll
When the boss comes callin' don't you sell your soul
When the boss comes callin' we gotta organize

Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down
Let them know

We gotta smash 'em to the ground
Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down

Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down
Let them know
We gotta smash 'em to the ground
Let em know
We gotta take the bastards down

If you think the events that have developed in Wisconsin over the last few weeks, funded primarily by the Koch Brothers, using their Governor as their puppet, have passed into the oblivion of history, the Dropkick Myurphys are here to remind us that there is a resounding voice for the ordinary worker, whose rights took decades of fighting to achieve and who will not have them stipped without another equally rigorous fight.
This group from South Boston is about to launch a European tour, so watch for them...they may be coming to your town or city.

Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India ABSTAIN on UN No-Fly Vote

By Dan Bilefsky and Mark Landler, New York Times, March 17, 2011
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize military action, including airstrikes against Libyan tanks and heavy artillery and a no-fly zone, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
After days of often acrimonious debate, played out against a desperate clock, as Colonel Qaddafi’s troops advanced to within 100 miles of the rebel capital of Benghazi, Libya, the Security Council authorized member nations to take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians, diplomatic code words calling for military action. (However, the resolution bans ground action, according to the Toronto Star)
Diplomats said the resolution — which passed with 10 votes, including the United States, and abstentions from Russia, China, Germany, Brazil and India — was written in sweeping terms to allow for a wide range of actions, including strikes on air-defense systems and missile attacks from ships. Military activity could get under way within a matter of hours, they said.
Benghazi erupted in celebration at news of the resolution’s passage. “We are embracing each other,” said Imam Bugaighis, spokeswoman for the rebel council in Benghazi. “The people are euphoric. Although a bit late, the international society did not let us down.”
There was no immediate comment from the Libyan government. But the vote, which came after rising calls for help from the Arab world and anguished debate in Washington, left unanswered many critical questions about who would take charge, what role the United States would play and whether there was still enough time to stop Colonel Qaddafi from recapturing Benghazi and crushing a rebellion that had once seemed likely to drive him from power. After the vote, President Obama met with the National Security Council to discuss the possible options, European officials said.
While the people of Benghazi celebrate this news, and Canada agrees to send six F-18 Fighter Jets as part of the coalition that will impose the resolution, which goes far beyond a mere no-fly zone, to permit a vitual all-out attack against the Libyan dictator, once again 75% of the force for the application of this resolution will come from the U.S.
Effectively, that puts the U.S. at war with another Islamic state (a third), although the Arab League did participate in the request for the resolution, now known as Resolution #1973, for those keeping notes.
Don't look for the Libyan dictator to surrender any time soon; in fact, before the news gets better for the rebels and the coalition forces, it will likely get worse, in that the dictator will increase his attacks, and we will hear reports of serious casualties among the rebels, before either the dictator's senior officers, both political and military begin to defect, or to wage a coup, of the coalition actually attacks all of the dictator's locations, political, military and domestic, and forces him out or kills him.

Pro-choice v pro-life in Canadian schools and universities

By Kate Hammer, Globe and Mail, March 15, 2011
Thunder Bay, ON:The anti-abortion message her schoolmates wore inspired Alexandria Szeglet to don her opinion too. Instead of the word “life” written along strips of red tape, the 15-year-old Thunder Bay resident wore the word “choice” written on strips of green tape stuck to her Catholic high school uniform.
She was minutes into her first-period drama class last Thursday at St. Patrick High School when she was called to the office and sent home.

Alexandria left, but the soft-spoken Grade 10 student had started a movement: In a show of solidarity, 24 of her peers followed suit, adhering green tape to their uniforms. Four of them were also sent home, some for a two-day suspension.
The suspensions, and the faith-fuelled debate behind them, are the latest evidence of growing friction between religion and public education in Canada.
Catholic schools are struggling to bridge a growing divide between popular opinion and church doctrine, and the strain is showing: A Catholic school board near Toronto won international notoriety in January after it banned gay-straight alliances, and a bedroom community near Edmonton, where Catholic education is the only public option, is currently embroiled in a battle for residents’ right to a doctrine-free education.
And this from Canadian Press, in Globe and Mail, March 7, 2011
Ottawa:The anti-abortion club at Carleton University is suing the school for $225,000 after five students were arrested last fall for attempting to set up a controversial display.

The Ottawa students were handcuffed, taken to a police van and charged with trespassing for trying to set up a graphic photo exhibit.
The exhibit, called the Genocide Awareness Project, uses images of aborted fetuses to compare abortion to various kinds of genocide.

The statement of claim issued by the group's lawyer says the university discriminated against Carleton Lifeline and violated the students' freedom of expression.
The statement says other clubs which displayed controversial images were not arrested or charged with trespassing.
Jason MacDonald, a university spokesperson, has referred to the exhibit as “offensive” and said the students were given the chance to display it at another part of campus.
These are clear signs that the schools and universities have become the theatre for this battle of religious ideology.
Clearly, neither side is going to change the minds of its opponents; clearly, the students are engaged in an deep and divisive struggle over a matter that cannot be reduced to a black/white "yet"/"no" decision without ignoring many complex and conscience-challenging twists and turns.
In a perfect world, no one wants to see a fetus aborted.
However, we do not live in a perfect world. And:
  • if my spouse or daughter were raped, I would want her to have the option of a therapeutic abortion so that she would not have to raise the child of that tragedy
  • if the life of my spouse were in danger, while carrying a child, again, I would want her to have the option of a therapeutic abortion
  • and if, in the unwanted and unlikely event that a child were conceived in a situation in which the mental health of the woman carrying the child were in jeopardy, it seems only compassionate to have the option available to such a woman
This religiously-based rigidity, right/wrong, dichotomy may be fine in an abstract theological discussion, or even a reflective paper on ethics, where the individuals are engaging in some form of "spiritual formation" where the principles are being forged and distilled. However, it is this very same rigidity of right/wrong that refuses to address the complexities, even those faced by the Jesus of the Gospels. Befriending the outcasts, loving your neighbour, spending time with those considered lower than the low....these are not indications of a spirit or an ethic that reduces situations to such simplicities. In fact, even hanging on the Cross, it is written that he is reported to have uttered, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
When any faith thinks it can decree the interiority of the mind of God, on any issue, and then proceeds to draw a line between the acceptance of those who follow that decree and rejection of those who do not follow that decree, in their faith journey, that faith has, it seems reasonable to contend, stumbled over the even deeper principle of forgiveness, and refused its availability, thereby playing God. And that is one sin for which the church seems unwilling to atone.
It is not only that the pro-choice position is the only one available to those who are truly pro-life, and that such a position is "popular"; it also seems both dangerous and spiritually limiting to define, for children, the limits of God's limitless love for all humans. Unless, of course, absolute control of the minds, hearts and consciences of those children is the ultimate goal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan understated radiation dangers:(U.S. Chair of NCR)

By David E. Sanger and Matthew L. Wald, New York Times, March 16, 2011
 WASHINGTON — The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave a significantly bleaker appraisal of the threat posed by Japan’s nuclear crisis than the Japanese government, saying on Wednesday that the damage at one crippled reactor was much more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged and advising to Americans to evacuate a wider area around the plant than the perimeter established by Japan.
The announcement marked a new and ominous chapter in the five-day long effort by Japanese engineers to bring four side-by-side reactors under control after their cooling systems were knocked out by an earthquake and tsunami last Friday. It also suggested a serious split between Washington and Tokyo, after American officials concluded that the Japanese warnings were insufficient, and that, deliberately or not, they had understated the potential threat of what is taking place inside the nuclear facility.
Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the commission, said in Congressional testimony that the commission believed that all the water in the spent fuel pool at the No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had boiled dry, leaving fuel rods stored there exposed and bleeding radiation. As a result, he said, “We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.”
If his analysis is accurate and Japanese workers have been unable to keep the spent fuel at that inoperative reactor properly cooled — it needs to remain covered with water at all times — radiation levels could make it difficult not only to fix the problem at reactor No. 4, but to keep workers at the Daiichi complex from servicing any of the other problem reactors at the plant.
Mr. Jaczko (the name is pronounced YAZZ-koe) said radiation levels may make it impossible to continue what he called the “backup backup” cooling functions that have so far helped check the fuel melting at the other reactors. Those efforts consist of using fire hoses to dump water on overheated fuel and then letting the radioactive steam vent into the atmosphere.
This is precisely the kind of announcement that the people of Japan have been wondering about the last several days, given their increasing scepticism about the accuracy and veracity of the announcement of their own government. If those spent rods have been uncovered, and if all attempts to fix the problem with reactor #4 are now off the table, this situation could be spiralling downward more quickly than the officials in Japan
can keep pace. And if those facts are more representative of the situation on the ground that the picture painted by the Japanese officials, then the split in "urgency" and in "accuracy" of the two assessments poses different problems.
Why, for instance, is there not an assessment coming from an international body like the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association) that is free from national interests?
Why are the Americans, having to/choosing to/being forced to/over-reaching to...provide this information?
Is this a legitimate attempt to protect the Japanese people from the real dangers of the radiation?
Is this an over-reach of the IAEA on the part of the Americans?
Is this a matter of politics, and not of science and humanitarian interests?
We read that this information came as part of Congressional testimony, and so, on the face of it, this man is providing assessment information to his own government. However, why was a representative of the IAEA not asked to testify before the Congressional  committee?
The whole world is attempting to ascertain just how dangerous the situation might be, and is likely to become and having two different governments presenting two vastly different assessments serves neither the people of Japan nor the people of the rest of the world adequately.
One Japanese woman, who called in to NPR's On Point, was astounded that her family and friends still in Japan have, for the last several days, disregarded her warning about the severity of the situation, until she, exasperated, purchased tickets for her parents who have now flown from Tokyo to Boston, in her words, "out of danger."
Economists, on the same program, however, tended to downplay the urgency of the situation, as economists would be expected to do.
Listening to the various broadcasts via television has demonstrated the capacity of the British reporters to assess and describe the various scenes of devastation in the most articulate and commanding language, although they have not been privy to the technical details of the actual dangers and the risks. One such broadcast (I think from an ITN reporter on PBS) told of a solitary man walking the rubble in his town, alone, at 5:00 p.m. the time when all towns in the region normally hear their particular musical selection; his, on this day four days after the initial shocks, was "Yesterday" note of which peeled over the destruction, as his body walked forlonly away from the camera. It was, to say the least, more than a little moving.
 North American correspondents, on the other hand, have focused on the immediate observations they have made from their notes, without attempting to paint a picture of the devastation. Their's is more of a narrow brush, illustrating the finer details, while leaving the broad bruch strokes, it would seem, to the British.

Secretary Clinton meets Libyan rebel leader in Paris

By Steven  Lee Myers, New York Times, March 14, 2011
PARIS — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met late Monday with a leader of Libya’s increasingly beleaguered opposition, but did so privately and without a public statement.
 The meeting reflected the Obama administration’s struggle over how much support it would, or could, provide to the rebels seeking to overthrow Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Mrs. Clinton met the opposition leader, Mahmoud Jibril, at her hotel here after attending a dinner with foreign ministers of the countries of the Group of 8, who discussed ways to increase pressure on Colonel Qaddafi’s government, including imposing a no-flight zone over Libyan territory. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Jibril met for 45 minutes but did not appear publicly out of concern for his security, an aide said.
Although aides to Mrs. Clinton said the foreign ministers shared a sense of urgency, they announced no new actions or proposals.
There is no commentator on the middle east who does not say something like, "We do not know who the rebels are in Libya," as the western nations deliberate on what and how to support those same rebels. There is a clear desire to see the dictator gone, and yet his forces and superior military might have driven them back, at least into retreat and perhaps into defeat.
After a few mis-steps, Secretary Clinton has continued to provide the U.S. and the West with a calm, professional and extremely competent voice and perspective through the multiple mine-fields that constitute the current list of files on her desk. She is earning her own unique and notable place in the history of her country at a time when the world literally spins from both exhaustion and dizziness with the severity and frequency of geo-political troubles.